The Perpetual Wanderer

21 Nov

It was an era of hordes of itinerants out on the roads between cities, towns, and hamlets on the continental plain, and one of them was an ex-painter named Hak Tnoth. This young man of unusual height had grown ever thinner since escaping onto the roads of the economically depressed countryside. He had passed through scores of village communities in the course of his continuous travels, never remaining longer than several weeks at any particular geographic location. Farmers had hired him by the day and he had worked as a temporary hand for some individual, predetermined purpose on each of the farms where he was employed. At most, he would find shelter in a smelly barn, among the field horses stabled there. Hak had a clear, definite idea when he would have to leave the job on any farm where he happened to be hired.

He acquired no strong friendships, only temporary acquaintances he was never to see again. For him, it was a life of ever-renewed anonymity.

Hak was growing tired as he proceeded along a dirt road in a treeless region, so he took a few minutes to rest on a large boulder on the side of a field of clover. Taking off his back-sack that held his possessions, he closed his eyes and rested in the quiet of late afternoon. An unexpected voice startled him.

Opening his eyes, Hak saw that someone who had a familiar look to him stood on the edge of the road. It was a stranger of his own height and body build. In fact, the figure appeared as if he were a copy of himself.

The man had on clothing that approximated his own. He said not a word, and neither did Hak. The two stared at each other in wonder and amazement.

How is this going to end? Hak asked himself. Why is this character so silent? Is he waiting for me to start to say something?

All at once, the duplicate image turned about and began to move away with unusual speed. No longer were the eyes of this stranger visible to Hak.

I had better not remain in this weird location, decided the resting itinerant.

Hak descended off the boulder and resumed his journey without a definite, specific destination.

A cataclysmic rain began that continued unbroken from early morning on.

There must be some shelter I can hide under somewhere, speculated the troubled wanderer. His water-filled eyes caught sight of a small barn and he headed for it at an athletic run. At last, a dry place where I can conceal myself, Hak said to himself with relief.

As the light disappeared from the dark clouds still pouring rain out of the sky, the totally drenched wanderer lay down in a pile of hay, his body still shivering from all the torrents of water that had fallen on him for many hours while on the back road he was following.

I think that I can sleep soundly in just a little while, he told himself after closing his eyes.

But then he heard something that sounded like a muffled voice, and that compelled him to open his eyes again in order to find out whether he had somehow been discovered by anyone.

And, indeed, there happened to be a long, narrow shape standing in the opened doorway of the little barn. It did not move in any direction at all.

Hak took less than a second to identify what the form was. He made out his own body silhouette and his reflected face. Everything was the same as in the earlier incident that had horrified him so greatly. He looked with dread and incomprehension at a duplicate of himself, even to the same dusty, dirty clothing soaked with the day’s unending rain.

The duplicate of himself did not step any closer or turn away or retreat in any way. It just stood there as if made of inert substance.

What am I to do now? What at all is possible for me in this situation? Am I in danger for my life? Who can save me?

Hak fell into a sudden swoon without knowing it. His deepest unconscious somehow succeeded in rescuing the exhausted trekker from the vision he had just experienced.

The sleeper awoke to a sunny morning with a blue, cloudless sky. His old clothes had dried out and now were as if somehow starched and stiff.

Hak realized that he was suffering a problem, and he was uncertain how to define it. Was this a mental or visual disorder afflicting him? Had his imagination broken out beyond the boundaries of reason into a wild forest of madness? Was he straying into a state of craziness?

Hak took his knapsack and opened it to take a roll or snack for breakfast. The storm had ruined all of the food that he carried, so that he would have to locate some village with a store that sold food. He hurried out of the barn with haste, hungry and eager to get away from a spot where he had experienced a ghost or an hallucination of some sort.

He came to a crossroads hamlet that contained a single general store with a sign that indicated that it sold prepared foods from big-city industrial plants, factory food as it was called by road people.

Sensing the advent of strong hunger pain and an immediate need for some sustenance, Hak rushed into the place. On all sides rose tall stacks of shelves with cans and boxes of what he wanted. Up ahead was a long, empty counter with a cash register at one end of it. A tall figure with a straw hat on its head stood there, glaring directly at the new customer who had just walked in. The face was a mirror image of that of Hak Tnoth. His identical double spoke to him in a voice that was an echo of his own.

“Can I be of help to you, sir? Is there anything that you wish to purchase? We stock a wide inventory of goods and items. You would be greatly surprised if I were to list for you all the merchandise that this store offers those who come into it.”

A broad, warm smile glowed on the face of the one that Hak knew and recognized instantly as his very own.

“Just some graham crackers and sliced baloney, sir,” the stunned customer was able to mumble. He knew that he had to act as normally as he could, giving the other person no sign of his own internal confusion and turmoil.

The double turned around and disappeared to fetch the desired items for the disheveled stranger who was obviously a road inhabitant.

Hak felt in his pants pocket for his money purse and took it out, so that when the merchant returned with his meat and crackers he was ready to get out enough coins to pay for the food that he was buying for himself.

Hak placed on the counter the amount mentioned by the grocer, hastily grabbed the items that had been put into a small paper bag, and nearly ran out of the building.

“Your change, sir. You forgot to pick it up,” called out the perplexed figure behind the counter.

Hak failed to hear these words as he sped out of the front door of the small hamlet store.

Where was there some oasis of safety where the monstrous reflection of himself could not reach? His life had become merely passage from place to place over the roads of the plain. It was now an immediate necessity to hunt for an unknown point of refuge from the visions of the person who looked exactly like him.

Hak grew afraid to meet or confront anyone who might have his own face or torso. Constant movement on his two legs was the only action that held any kind of hope for him. Hak no longer stopped anywhere to ask for work or for help. Human encounters seemed to hold fatal danger for his future. Each day witnessed longer distances passed. But his sense of desperation and futility rose ever higher.

Late one afternoon, Hak traversed a small community full of bright flowers growing in front of, behind, and alongside all the freshly painted white houses and cottages. This must be a model village of some sort, he said to himself. Everything appears to be well tended and cared for. Neatness and cleanliness are plainly on display here. The citizens must be highly conscientious and proud people to have made everything so orderly and beautiful. This must truly be a good place in which to live.

Hak saw no one out on the main road. The farmers must be out tending their fields and flocks. The women have their housework to do, and all the children are still in school busy learning.

All of a sudden, imagining what a good and comfortable life could be enjoyed here, Hak came to an abrupt stop. His eyes fell on a metal sign on the grass plot in front of a tall, white house.

The words engraved there caught hold of the walker’s entire mind and thought. “Dr. Jon Conn, M.D.” It had to be both the office and the home of the local physician, probably the only one practicing in the village.

A flood of feeling seized hold of the burdened wanderer. If this was a perfect community, then this could be one of the main creators of its health and harmony.

I have to see the healer named Dr. Conn and tell him my story. He can surely explain the cause of my obsession with a double who has my face and my body. There has to be some remedy for me. He is the one who can treat or prescribe. Perhaps he has some pill with the one medicine that can rid me of this uncanny nightmare I am experiencing while awake.

The walker hurried along the stone walkway that led up to the large open porch. He climbed up the steps and rushed up to the front door. It was impossible to see through the lace curtain over the glass window that the door contained. Should I knock?

Hak noticed a button to the side. Should I ring that front door bell? he wondered for a second. No, it was too important to wait here, he decided.

His two hands reached for the brass door knob and he twisted it. As the door started to open, he pushed it with his whole body, barreling into the shadowy hallway.

Where in the interior was the physician most likely to be at this hour?

The front room that he looked into first was a spacious parlor with a huge black satin sofa and antique maple wood chairs scattered about. There were potted rubber plants along the sides of the elegant room.

I have to look deeper in the house for the doctor. He must be here somewhere.

Taking steps further along the hallway, the wanderer came to a second door and threw it open.

This had to be the office, because a big man in a formal black suit was siting at an old-fashioned roll-top desk.

This has to be Dr. Conn, concluded Hak at once. I have found the person who can rid me of my ghostly double.

But then the man sitting at the desk turned his head so that his face became visible in a complete sense.

The moment he recognized himself, the thought structure of Hak crumbled, disintegrating into irremediable chaos and disorder.

Dr. Conn rose at once and moved forward to examine the young man lying on the floor at the entrance to his private office.

What a strange happening, he realized immediately, to find an ugly young road hobo in his house. What a hideously scarred face this dead individual possessed. The physician had never before seen such a deformed, disordered visage on anyone.

A road wanderer with a monster’s face, dead before he could tell anything to me.

What might he wanted to say to me? wondered Dr. Conn.

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