The young man kept next to John and kept silent. John watched as the young man’s eyes scanned the forever looking desert. They had moved in silence for hours and there wasn’t a thing in sight. That should have made John worry, but considering the recent run ins with zombies and mirages, he welcomed the nothingness.
“Where are we going?” John asked.
“Where we need to be,” the young man replied.
“Do you have a name?”
“Call me whatever your desire is.”
John bit his lip and kept walking. He chose not to ride Mystery for the time being as the horse looked hungry, thirsty, and tired.
“We need to get food and water,” John said.
The young man didn’t respond. John felt like he was talking to himself… or a mirage. John’s eyes looked to his guns and thought of a terrible idea. When he looked back up he saw Mystery looked back at him. For how much John longed for a conversation with another person, he now wished the young man was gone so he could talk to Mystery.
“How long have you been here?” John asked.
“As long as I’ve been here.”
John clenched his fist. He was started to get annoyed.
“Don’t wanna talk, eh?” John asked.
The young man said nothing. He just walked. Then John saw the way he walked – so stiff. Like a robot or something. And his clothes, they were all dirty and ripped. And then his muscles. They were well developed, well trained. John looked around desert… there was nothing. No food. No water. And certainly no gym to workout in.
John looked away again and saw Mystery looking at him again. He couldn’t tell what the look was.
“Just do something then,” John yelled to Mystery. “I’m not so sure anyone we actually have someone here with us.”
Mystery blinked and looked away. Then the horse started to pick up its pace.
“Are you real buddy?” John asked.
The young man walked stone faced, eyes scanning the desert.
Wait a minute, John thought. If he’s not real, how did he kill the zombies?
“You have to be real,” John said. He stopped walking and the young man continued.
John ran up behind the young man and poked him in the back with his finger.
“Feels real,” John whispered.
John made a fist and punched the man in the back. He stumbled forward but caught his footing before falling. Then he continued to walk.
John looked up at the bright sky. He felt the heat burning the inside of his body. He felt his mind scrambling with so many thoughts. He thought about the zombies. The guns. The bullets. The young man… then John thought about it all. If he was such a quick shot, then he wouldn’t have gotten caught by the zombies.
No way, John thought.
The zombies were just stupid creatures.
Hell, Mystery even killed one, he thought.
So the young man wasn’t real…
“You’re not even here, are you?” John called out. He started to run and got next to the young man. “You’re not here. You’re just another mirage. Another waste of my time. Well, in case you didn’t hear, I killed hundreds of myself in the last mirage.”
“Waste of bullets,” the young man replied.
“Oh, now you talk?” John yelled. He spit on the young mans cheek.
The young man did nothing.
The saliva ran off the young mans face, to his exposed thick shoulder, and then to the desert where it sizzled before disappearing.
“Waste of bullets,” John said laughing. “So come on, what’s the purpose of all this? Huh? The first mirage wanted to eat me and Mystery. The second one damn near had me kill myself. So what’s this? Are you talking my in the wrong direction?”
The young man kept a heavy step and moved forward.
John looked to his guns again. He felt his mind started to ache from the sun, the heat, and the thoughts. His stomach started to rumble again.
“So what if I stop walking right now? You’ll keep going and disappear?”
“I’ll be there,” the young man replied.
“Where?” John yelled.
“Where I’m going.”
John felt something just let go inside himself. Against everything he knew he should do, he pulled a gun out of the holster and shot. Except that he was looking at the end of smoking barrel of a gun. The young man had turned and shot faster than John did.
John dropped his gun and started to pat his own body down, checking for the wound. He assumed he was in shock and couldn’t feel the pain.
Behind him, he heard a sound. The sound of sand crunching and moving.
John spun around and saw a zombie being absorbed into the sand. He turned back to the young man. The young man put his gun back and turned and started to walk.
John looked at the zombie then to the young man.
That’s the second time he’s saved me, John thought.
John looked ahead and saw Mystery waiting for them to catch up.
“The damn horse knew I was losing my mind,” he whispered.
John caught up the young man and stood in front of him. He put his hands out and stopped the young man from walking.
“Listen, I’m sorry about that. It’s just this place…”
“Worse than hell,” the young man said.
“Yes, it is. I’ve been talking to a horse for who knows how long. And the mirages… I just wasn’t sure…”
The young man smiled. He stuck his hand out. “Name’s Athan.”
“Athan,” John said. “I’m John.”
“I know. I saw you battling that mirage before. I just wasn’t sure if the real John escaped or not.”
John felt a ton of weight come off himself. He had a real person to talk to.
“So, where are we going?” John asked.
Athan pointed forward and said, “Food.”
John turned and there was another bar.
“Oh no, not this again,” John cried out. “I can’t do this…”
Athan wrapped his strong arm around John and pulled him. “This one you’ll like. Enjoy every second of it. Once we eat, things are going to get rough…”