I took a deep, heavy breath, fighting for some air. The heat was burning my lungs, confirming what I already knew – I’m in hell. I made another weak step forward, and then another, gathering momentum. I was only able to make some five or six steps at the time before falling down. The sand was burning my feet, but the pain was long gone, with everything else, so I didn’t care anymore. I looked at my scorched skin of my legs and arms with a numb feeling of non-attachment as if they did not belong to me anymore.
I tried to swallow the imaginary spit in my mouth and almost choked to death with pain. I knew that my time was near if I wasn’t dead already. It is funny, I thought, that even at the moment like this, even when I’m completely broken, the will to live still pounds inside the remains of my mind.
And, with that thought another one came, slowly tipping the avalanche of images and ideas in my head. I remembered. I remembered who I was before this and why I came here. I remembered the questions that I wanted the answers to, and the void I felt all my life. I remembered who I was, but I also remembered I have no idea who I am now.
I felt the sand slipping under my feet and I fell again, rolling down the sand dune like a wind-carried leaf. My own hands were kicking me in the face, then the stomach, and then throat; I had no control and the fall lasted forever. When I stopped, when I finally stopped, I felt nothing again.
I lifted my head and there he was, standing right in front of me, smiling. Why was he smiling?
– Who are you? – I asked, fighting to regain control of my body – “Can you help me?”
He didn’t move a muscle.
– Please? – I tried, and he smiled again.
– I can’t help you“ – he finally said.
– Why not? – I asked, feeling the anger growing inside me.
– Because I don’t exist.
– What? What do you mean?
– I don’t exist. I’m not real. I’m in your head, so I can’t help you physically.
– You mean, I’m crazy? – I snapped.
– That’s not what I said.
– No, I’m perfectly normal seeing someone and talking to someone who doesn’t exist, huh?
He didn’t say anything. But he did smile again, aggravating me even more.
– I came here because you have some questions“ he said, looking down on me.
– You came here? How can you come anywhere if you don’t really exist?
– Semantics – he said calmly.
– Damn right, semantics – I replied, finally able to get up and stand.
I looked at him. He was slightly taller than me and his grey hair made him look much older, but his smile made me doubt that. It was a smile of a child or a crazy person, I thought and managed a small smile myself.
– Semantics is all I have now – I said, pointing to the endless sea of sand around us.
– Hmm – he said, staring at me – you do realise this is a dream, don’t you?
– A dream? I remember the pain, ok? I remember the smell of my skin burning on the sand! I remember my dry mouth and swollen tongue! You don’t get those in dreams, my friend!
– And still – he said with a smile – Here you are now, screaming at me, alive and well.
I stopped. He was right, of course. Just two minutes ago I was about to die. Now, I didn’t even feel thirsty.
– How is this possible? – I demanded. What did you do to me?
– I am inside your head – how could have I done anything to you?
– Just stop playing the games and tell me the truth! – I screamed at him, desperate for some answers. My head was spinning and my legs were shaky again, but I wanted answers and I was about to get them.
– The truth? If you could handle the truth, there would be no need for dreams and imaginary deserts and made-up pain. If you could handle the real world, there would be no need for this… escapism.
– Just tell me… please.
He sighed as if he was making the biggest decision of his life. He looked at me and he was a different man. Even the colour of his eyes changed. His gaze met mine and he nodded, slowly.
– Ok – he said finally – I will tell you the truth!
Continued on Part II