CHAPTER X : wastelands

Sam was walking among the wasteland he had found himself into.

That lifeless land spread out in every direction.
He couldn’t tell for how long he had been wandering there.

Days probably.
Months maybe.

His beard was getting longer by the minute, and he had no way of shaving it since the whole area was only covered in rocks. 

All he had in this world were his clothes and his walking stick.

Even though he’d never had any particular use for it apart from supporting his weight, he was still glad he had it.

When he had arrived in that god-forbidden land, he was dying.
Appearing in a destroyed house which he thought dated back to the Roman Empire, he had really felt like these were his lasts moments.

But he had been too tired to care.
From his injuries, from the travel between worlds, from the sugar and narghile wearing off.

And so he had fallen asleep.
When he had woken up, he wasn’t hurting anymore.
His wounds had been healed, and there was a plate of fruit beside him.

But there was no one but him.
He had called out, in vain.

The entire city he was in was made of ruins and bizarre statues standing everywhere which looked like real people frozen in stone.

Some looked on the verge of moving, and Sam thought it was a really stupid thing to think. They were statues after all.

But when he wasn’t looking, move they did.
None had tried anything on him, so he had slowly accepted it.

There was always food on a plate lying next to him when he woke up.
He wasn’t certain, but he could bet it was the stones figures’ doing.

He had searched for a sign of life, a sign of food he could grab himself, but there was nothing but ruins, statues, rocks and dust.
And whenever he thought he was about to see the end of that wasted city, he realized he had actually come back on his footsteps.
He was still trying to find a way out; it was the only hope for him not to go completely crazy.

The city wouldn’t let him leave, nor die starving.
It was an endless journey, a battle against his own self, which confronted him to guilt every steps of the way.

Since the beginning of his travelling through worlds, he had sunk his friends’ duplicates in a boat he had lied was his, had brought Mog into this whole mess and gotten him killed by black-covered Indians.

He had crashed into his other self in a road rage.
He could still remember the sound of his body breaking on the windshield.
A car he had stolen.
But the worst had come when the drugs had stopped working.

His memory of that moment was still a little shattered, but he could still remember how bad he had felt.
This eternal journey through the ruins was probably his last sentence.
Maybe he would walk until he died of old age, a plate of fruit beside him.

Sam had felt depressed in his life, and a lot more recently.
But this was the worst.
He was in a deserted street, ruminating all that, when the strangest thing happened.

There in front of him, was a living person.

He ran to him, for the silhouette looked like it could use some help.
The form was curled up on itself, trying to stand on his feet.

Finally, he rose up and the sight was frightening: a black cape covered him, and he could not see his face as a heavy hood was covering his head.

But he was moving, and was not a statue so Sam couldn’t help but feel glad to stumble upon another living person, even if they were stuck in what looked like one of Hell’s gates.

“Are you alright? How did you end up here? Do you know of a way out?” Sam was shouting at him, which made him look like a mentally deranged folk.

The silhouette lifted his head to him, but he could only see a white polished mask covering his face.

“There you are.”

The words echoed like rumbling thunder through the ruins.
This wasn’t a nice way to start a conversation, Sam thought.
Plus, who could possibly be looking for him?
Everyone he knew was in different worlds.

“Are you sure you’re alright?”
Sam asked him again as he started to get the creeps from this strange figure.

But there was no need for words as the dark silhouette took off his mask, unveiling Mog’s face.
A really, truly angry and grim face Sam had never seen on his friend.

“Mog? How is that possible? I saw you die at the Indians’ cliff!”

“How do you know my name?” The Phantom demanded in an icy voice.
Then he ticked, looking closely at Sam’s face.

“Why do you have his face?” He clamored with a resentment Sam couldn’t understand.

“That’s my face. Always had it. Are you sure you’re okay? I can’t call for help because there is absolutely no one here but you and me, but I can still try to find you some food. How did you get here?”

“Glad to know there’s no one around. I don’t need help. But maybe you do.”
This time the cold in his voice was even more frightening.
“You killed my friend. I’ll kill you for that.”

“I really don’t understand a word of what you’re saying.” Sam was trembling.

“Don’t play dumb you little idiot! I still don’t get why you have his face but don’t think that it is going to protect you. You ran him over. You ran like a rat through a hole in a tree and disappeared. I don’t know how you did that but it didn’t stop me from tracking you down.”

Sam was shocked.
That man wearing Mog’s face had followed him somehow, from the previous world to this wasteland.

“Do you know of a way out?”
Was Sam’s only shameful response.
After everything, he was still looking for a way out, a way not to face his own doing.

The Phantom spat on the ground with a look of disgust.

“How dare you crawl to me like this? Have you no shame at all? You killed my friend! But first tell me why you have his face before I behead you, you worm!”

Sam knew there was no way back.
He knew he had to atone for his doings somehow.
All his life he had run, and now guilt was battling against his will to survive. 
He tried to find some dignity but all that came to him was self loathing.

He was sick of it.

Then he lost it for real, and acted like the madman the other Mog thought he was.
He laughed so much his stomach hurt.
And that bizarre sound resonated through the dead streets, as the statues almost turned their heads to him.

“This is all so fucked up!”
He was still laughing, making the Phantom’s face even more sinister.

“I’m from another fucking world! That’s right, you heard it! I drank a stupid potion that made me fall through worlds like water pouring down a sink! I can’t even control it! I lied to everyone, I killed them all! I lost myself in an amusement park island! I found a world filled with magic, real magic, and you know what? All I could do was complain, over and over! But you wanna know the worst of it?  I never truly belonged in my world! I was surrounded with friends, family and good intentions, but it was never enough! Despite all of it I was never happy, and I’m just running around and around, looking for a way to go back to some place I just hate! And the best part? I brought my friend, the one with the same face as yours, and got him killed into this mess! I killed my best friend, and now his face is hunting me down! So that’s okay I’ll let you kill me, you deserve your revenge and more than that I deserve it. But I’m not going without putting up a fight, I’m good with a stick and I saw your sword hanging from your waist, so just draw it and kill me now!”

Sam was already out of breath which was not a good sign, but in that moment, he felt more alive than before.

This time he was facing the truth.

His loveless life and his fear of being left out had turned him into a coward.
But now he accepted his fate.

One cannot hide in the shadow of their own life forever.

This time he was facing it all.

Now he was alive, truly alive.

Even if that was only for a brief moment.

The Phantom was confused.
This other Sam was completely delirious, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that in a way, it reminded him of his friend.

But that last thought crushed all sympathy he might have felt for the wrecked man in front of him.

Drawing his sword from the sheath, he let his words fall heavy like rocks between them:

“Then let’s get on with it.”