Listless, but not lost. The wanderer pressed onward. He knew very well where he stood, though his intentions stood purely juxtaposed. A confused part of him wanted to die, and a more stubborn part of him wanted to live.
As he hiked up the decaying mountain, the clouds shrouded him ambiguously, but he could not tell the difference in scenery, or between obscurity and clarity. His inability to differentiate did not trouble him but instead provided him a reason to remain alive: perhaps he would one day learn how.
Though he reached the peak of the mountain, it appeared identical to the bottom. And fittingly enough, the man and his character were at neither nadir nor zenith; he was trapped in the purgatory between the two. Though his clothes rotted quickly, at least they rotted quicker than his mindset, and a strong part of him remained optimistic—in fact, he had already seen the end of days, and it troubled him not. He saw no difference, and so began to make his own.
Searching for a solid but smooth rock to lay upon, he routinely mapped out a path through the mountains. The higher atmosphere clogged his lungs with unwelcome, artificial smoke. The heat of the surface, however, resulted in a body shimmering in blisters. Traveling in the middle was out of the question, because while it seemed a balanced approach, he would have to deal with the cannibals. And without a weapon, he stood no chance. He figured he would alternate between the two, like an inert sine function. When he could not deal with the smoggy atmosphere any longer, he’d deal with the heat, and vice versa. He needed only 1270 miles to travel. Or did he hear wrong, hearing twelve hundred instead of twelve thousand? Either way, it did not make a difference.
That night he remained ravenous, and as he vanished into a dream he began to think of eating human flesh. In his bizarre dream, he stood naked on an altar placed at the center of a theater. The curtains were crimson as usual but denoted a haunting and eerie atmosphere. In the audience were lifeless cloaks levitating just an inch above their seats. They watched monotonously as he drank blood from a golden chalice.
The man awoke suddenly but nothing had changed. As he sneezed, a large fly zoomed out of his nose. A centipede about several feet long crawled up his back, in and out of the holes present in his ragged coat. He tried to squish the nuisance but could only do so after several failed attempts. He looked towards the sky, managed a humble prayer, and began his trek downward. Mountain after mountain, he continued his journey for days (months?) but not a single sign of human life. In the elevated valley (which he thought a contradiction but nothing made sense anyway) he could spot cannibal camps, but there was no point in visiting there.
“My life before was…” the wanderer spewed. Some saliva escaped his mouth and made itself comfortable in his beard. The words were hard to speak, almost as if he had forgotten the purpose of language. They drained him of what little energy he had and before he could speak again he tripped over a jagged rock, losing his balance and nearly falling off the edge of the mountain. Plummeting to his death did not seem such a bad way to go. It would be quick and simple.
But he would not die, even though a strong part of him wanted to. The only way he would die is if death attacked him without warning.
“Before it was also cold,” he muttered, a stream of contaminated smoke leaving his mouth and nostrils.
The path spiraled downward but he was making progress, even if he only traveled a half-mile a day. But he needed food.
A swarm of gnats began to pester him as he reached the bottom, and he could see the waves of radiation poisoning his skin. He ate the gnats that he could, but they did nothing for him. Upon finding a small cavern, he set up a small camp with a heap of nearby rocks. He fell asleep and had yet another dream, this one more surreal than the last.
In this particular dream, he lived in a tree. A solitary tree in the midst of a field of flowers, some of which were dying and some of which bloomed freely. He could see nothing in either direction, except a setting sun that wouldn’t set. The moon was out but obscured by spontaneous clouds. Birds flew away from the tree but no matter how far they flew they would not leave his sight. The tree was surrounded by a small fence, and scattered around the fence were garden tools, a useless bicycle, and a telephone, connected to nothing. He could open a door at the bottom of a tree and he’d be inside a kitchen, and further back was his bedroom. When he had his share of the surreal horizon, he drank from a tea kettle, and fell asleep.
This caused him to wake up in real life, but at this moment he realized how surreal this whole adventure had been. He continued onward, but this time thoughts of fantasy flooded his mind. He heard music somewhere in the distance, but could not tell from which direction.
He was alone, and it was the end of days. The world continued to rot, and now this man was lost. Fantasy consumed him and at one point he thought he would be able to tell the difference between high and low, but now he could not tell the difference between what was real and what was not.
What little was left in his life was derived by his uncanny dreams, compromised by his desire to travel onwards, and threatened by the spontaneity of death.
But he pressed onwards when he could, eating whatever insects he found and stopping to rest more frequently, hoping that he would dream again and not wake up.
At the zenith (or was it the nadir?) of the next mountain, he scanned the rest of his journey, and could not see where it ended. As he looked, a teardrop fell from his face, and gently disappeared as it hit the sullen gray rocks beneath it.
“Be happy,” the man uttered. “Be happy, Jack.” With that, he cried more, but he wiped away the tears. He stood up straight, causing his back to crack. A sharp pain shot through his body, immobilizing his shoulder, but he lifted his arms as much as he could anyway.
“My life before,” he spoke, almost shouting. “In my life before, I had you, Bill. My son.” With that he fell to the ground and began to dream again.
“But you always told me, dad. You always told me that,” said a frail but gentle voice. The room was dark, completely devoid of any light.
“What?” replied the man, a hint of depression softening his half-question.
“That it doesn’t matter if we get there or not,” the soft voice coughed. “You just said we’re on a journey, but that we might not get there. To where we want to be. But you said it was fine. That it was all right.”
“I said that?” the man, the wanderer, uttered, a hint of surprise now.
“You said there’s no point in a journey if we’ve already arrived.”
With that the man woke up, crying relentlessly.
What he just experienced was not a dream, but an actual conversation he had with his son before he passed away. He could not recall how long ago that was, and he could not recall his son’s face. But he knew what he had to do.
The world was completely destroyed, and all ideas associated with living surpassing basic survival instincts were nullified. It truly was the end. But this man realized his journey would not end. If he arrived anywhere, it’d be the end of him. If he stopped his journey, he stopped his ability to think, or even feel. While it seemed tempting for him to rest within a cave and dream of surreal places, this would kill him. He may have been dead for the amount of time he had been traveling, but he could not differentiate.
There was only one thing he knew: his son would make him continue the journey, knowing very well he’d never arrive anywhere. That, and the fact that giving up would be to forfeit life. That would be the true end of him, and the end of days.