There they were again, those footprints with the long second toe, in the drying sweet sand. Albin crept to his hands and knees and sniffed the footprint. There was nothing he could smell but the faint scent of something between vanilla and coriander. He traced his fingers along the inside of the arch, tamping down slightly. He surmised that it was made less than an hour ago, just after the tide had retreated out into the bay. He looked at the direction of the footprint's travel--towards the ocean. Had Gjord gone for a swim? he wondered.
Albin sat down lightly in the sand, to the left of the print. He arranged the tatters of his pants to cover his legs to prevent unnecessary scorching from the twin stars in the sky. One was vast and red, a blood glow behind the constant haze. The other was white and tiny and focused. Albin once thought that together they looked like an eye, gazing down at him, but only after a few weeks, watching the white star orbit the red one, and after calculating that they would never set and that the planet was tidally locked, it just became an oppressive, angry backdrop. The only relief was when the planet's small moon eclipsed the suns, offering less than ten percent shade. What was worse, was that he could visibly see, on each eclipse, that the moon's orbit was decaying. Albin surmised that there was only a few earth months until the moon smashed into the planet. He doubted the event would be survivable.
"Margh," he muttered. His words were abandoning him. There was no need for them, now that Gjord had gone off. Run off. Run away. Off in the rocks somewhere, hiding from him. Only a few traces belied his continued presence: footprints, a pool of urine every so often, a sickly wet pile of shit behind the tall rocks.
Albin licked his finger then stuck it in the sand. He pulled it out and sucked on the grains until they melted. Sweetness. It made his teeth ache as it soaked into the porous enamel and attacked exposed nerve endings. It was the detritus of the planet's ocean, the fecal matter of the exotic microbes that turned the sea to iridescent sludge. Gjord had called it manna. Albin scoffed. It was simply sucrose. It was their only food supply, and over the months they'd been stranded, Albin had felt his bones deteriorate and his mind spin. There were trace minerals in the sand, which probably kept their bodies somewhat functional, but prolonged death.
He thought for a bit, debating again whether to try to find Gjord and apologize. He couldn't remember the argument though, and hated the idea of apologizing for something he might have been right about. He stood and stretched his wiry frame--his pants fell from his his waist to his hips, and he pulled them up, readjusting the makeshift belt. He'd lost so much weight. He wondered if Gjord would even recognize him now--he laughed haltingly.
Albin turned his back to the suns and followed his shadow up into the rocks. He knew them all like friends, or at least consistent and silent neighbors, since he didn't find them talkative enough to start up any friendships. He veered to his right, as he usually did when he came up this way. He stopped and suddenly wondered why. He turned and faced left. He furrowed his brow and scratched at his beard.
"Why is that?" he said, his voice barely a whisper. "Why do I never go this way?"
He started to walk in that direction, scrambling delicately over the rocks. He grew more excited.
"Gjord!" he shouted. "Gjord! I am here! It's Albin! Let's end this fight! We have been silly men, foolish men. We have been like children! Gjord I--"
He stopped. A few feet away was a mound of gray mosslike life. There were thin stalks rising up, waving in the breeze and capped in glossy red tips. He took a few tentative steps towards the mass and then knelt down beside it. The moon was beginning to rise from the ocean, a blackness, and started to eat into the red sky. Albin inserted his fingers between the stalks--this was novel life and he hadn't seen it before. The stalks were pliant and velvety. He slid down and pressed his hand into the mossy substrate--it was spongey and wet. He grabbed a bit of it between two fingers and pulled. It ripped away, and there was a waft of ammonia. He covered his nose with his other hand. He pressed further into the mass and felt tough fibers. He quickly pulled away more of the mossy layer and revealed a layer of matted hair.
Albin gasped and fell backward.
"Gjord!" he wailed.
He picked at the moss and found bare teeth--the lips tore away with the moss. The nose was relatively intact, but leathery and shrivelled. The eyes were go, replaced by curled up stalk threads, still white in the darkness of the skull holes. Albin slipped a hand underneath the skull and brushed the hair with his fingers. He rocked back and forth.
"Look at the suns Gjord. Do you see them?" He started to cry. "The moon is coming. It's coming for us. Do you see how it darkens the sky now? When we first came, it was just a dot, and now it brings a half-hearted night. Soon it will darken everything."
Albin withdrew his hands, letting the skull drop the inch to it's resting place.
"It was me all this time," he whispered. He looked at his feet. "I forgot I had lost my shoes."