She’s been thinking a lot about Mike lately. Sometimes, it’s almost like she can see him out of the corner of her eye.
She’s eating again, when the hunger overwhelms her desire to do nothing. She’s seeing a psychiatrist, mostly just to get her dad off her back about it. Dr Hill is in the area. All she does during their sessions is ask about Josh. All he does is make noises about patient confidentiality. She wonders if he’s screwed up as well behind his professional demeanour, if he’s wondering whether he could have saved them by talking Josh out of his plan.
And she thinks about Mike.
He’s the one who really haunts her. They all do, but Mike... he was with her right up to the end. He came up with the plan that saved her. That should have saved him as well, and Emily, and Ashley.
And she acted without thinking, and they all died.
Maybe part of it is that they never really spent time together outside that circle of friends. She’d always thought of him as just kind of a douche: an entertaining douche, but one she only really knew because he kept dating and ditching people she cared about. She saw a different side of him that night. She realised she’d known this... amazing person, all along. And then she killed him.
And, more and more often, she keeps thinking she can see him. She mistakes people for him in the street; she catches glimpses in empty rooms. She looks away whenever it happens. It’s too much; it’s too painful.
And then she steps out of the shower (she doesn’t take baths any more) and nearly walks straight into him.
“Mike!” She grabs a towel off the railing. “What the fuck—”
He puts his hands up, taking a step backward. “Hey, you suddenly show up naked, I don’t know where else I’m supposed to look.”
“I suddenly – you’re the one who just appeared here, you—”
She freezes, breathing hard. He’s dead. He’s dead. She identified his body.
She looks at the wall, so she doesn’t have to look into his eyes.
“You’re talking to me,” she says.
“Seemed rude not to.”
“I can hear your voice.” She shakes her head. “No. This can’t be real.”
“You don’t have to tell me that,” he says. “Sam, I’m really sorry.”
“Then go away. I can’t cope with this.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t save you.”
She looks at him then.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t save anyone,” he says, his voice breaking.
She can’t stand it. Hearing his voice, seeing him, here and breathing, when she knows he burned in that lodge.
She closes her eyes and blocks her ears and crouches on the bathroom floor. A hand touches her shoulder, tentatively; she swats it away.
She stays there until her father finds her and shakes her back to reality, pelting her with anxious questions, and Mike is gone.
“Can we talk? You, uh, you didn’t seem keen on talking before.”
“Leave me alone,” she hisses between her teeth. “You’re dead. You’re not real.”
“I could say the same to you,” Mike says. “The way I see it, though, imaginary Sam’s better than no Sam at all. And it looks like those are the options I got right now, so...” He shrugs.
Sam looks at him. Really looks at him, doesn’t just catch a glimpse and turn away. If she didn’t know better, she’d swear he was really in front of her.
He looks back, his expression hesitant and hopeful.
He vanishes not long after that; the visions just seem to start and end without warning. She’s still dwelling on what he said.
Is imaginary Mike better than the alternative? Her mental health has always been important to her. But she lost seven friends in one night, and three of them died because of her own stupid rash decision, so her mental health is probably a lost cause anyway.
He lets out a long breath.
“It’s really good to see you again,” he says. “I don’t know what’s happening, but... I’m just glad.”
She tries to smile. “Yeah. Yeah, I... I’ve missed you.”
She’s on the couch, her knees drawn up to her chest. Mike is sitting next to her.
He probably isn’t, she tries to remind herself. He probably isn’t real. But he seems so real, and she’d once have said wendigos didn’t exist, so is it really completely fucking impossible that a good thing might be real as well?
“No idea,” Mike says. “Not sure it’s a question I’ll need to answer, anyway. My trial’s coming up.”
Sam looks sharply at him. “Your trial?”
“You don’t see the cell?”
“We’re in my lounge.”
“Oh. Well, apparently it looks kind of suspicious when eight people go up to a lodge and only one survives the night.” He leans back against the cushions. She wonders what they’re sitting on for him, in his cell. “I’ll probably be going down for a while.”
He shrugs. “It’s not the worst thing that’s happened to me.”
“Did you tell them to check the sanatorium? There might still be some of those things in captivity there.” It’s how she got the charges against her dropped. Officially, they found ‘strong evidence’ that an ‘unknown adult male’ had committed a series of horrible murders, blown up the lodge and then somehow decapitated himself. Unofficially, she’s pretty sure they just didn’t want to have to recalibrate the legal system to take ‘monsters are real’ into account.
“Yeah, well.” He looks away from her. “There’s still Emily.”
“Don’t think I could convince them a wendigo used that gun,” Mike says. “Not sure if I want to.”
Sam presses her hands to her mouth. “You shot Emily?”
She remembers learning the bite was harmless, the relief of it, the horror at the thought of what could have happened to Emily if Mike had pulled the trigger. But she hadn’t believed he would really do it. She hadn’t thought he was capable of that.
“I shouldn’t have done it. I was so – I mean, she’d have been a wendigo, but at least someone would have fucking been alive. I just – I just wanted to protect the rest of you.” He shakes his head and laughs bitterly. “Look how that turned out.”
She’d have been a wendigo.
Nobody told him? He doesn’t know?
Mike is shifting in his seat. “You, uh. You seemed pretty shocked just now. Did that... did it not happen for you?”
Sam shakes her head, a little reluctantly. She’s not sure where this conversation is going to lead. Probably nowhere good.
“You’re saying I didn’t shoot her?” Mike asks. The words sound like they’re kind of catching in his throat on the way out. “So... did she not get bit? Was I already dead by then?” He pauses. “Was Ashley dead?”
“No,” Sam says. “No, uh, she’d been bitten. And you pointed the gun at her. You just... didn’t fire. Said you couldn’t go through with it.”
“Shit,” Mike whispers. “I so nearly... I nearly didn’t do it. I didn’t think I was gonna do it.” A pause. “So is that what happened to everyone else for you? Emily turned?”
There’s something pleading in his voice. Tell me I didn’t screw up. Tell me I made the right decision.
“Oh, God,” Mike says.
“I knew it. I knew it. I knew it the second I pulled that fucking trigger.” She can see him shaking; she can hear it in his voice. “It was too late.”
He ends up breaking down, just slumps sideways onto her lap and cries for most of the night. She rests her hand on his back and closes her eyes.
Mike shrugs awkwardly, looking caught-out. “Wasn’t sure you’d want to talk to me. You know, with me... not being your Mike and all.”
“You know. The one you knew.”
“My Mike isn’t here,” Sam says. It hurts to say it, and she’s angry with him for bringing up the topic. Can’t he just let her believe that he survived alongside her, that she didn’t let him die in that lodge, just for a moment? “You are.”
“He should’ve lived instead,” Mike mutters. “Your Mike wasn’t a fucking idiot. Your Mike didn’t kill Emily for no fucking reason.”
“And she still died,” Sam says. “She’d only have lived a couple of hours longer, and they weren’t good hours. I killed her. I was the idiot.”
Mike stares at her.
“The lodge,” Sam says. “The gas explosion. Did that happen for you?”
Mike nods wordlessly.
“I set it off too early.” She has to look away from him as she says it. “I went for the light switch and – you and Emily and Ashley were all still inside, and I blew the place up. You burned to death. I wasn’t thinking. I burned you to death, I burned you all to death.”
Silence slams into them. Sam’s breathing is too quick and too sharp and she can’t seem to steady it.
“You stopped the wendigos,” Mike says.
“I killed the wendigos. Their spirits are just going to possess someone else. I was so stupid. The whole point was to get us out of there, and – and nobody got out alive.”
“You’re not nobody,” Mike says, quietly.
There’s a long, long pause.
“I forgive you, you know,” Mike says. “For what happened to me. You did what you had to do.”
Her throat tightens. “You can’t forgive me. You just said you’re not him.”
“I’m close enough to know he’d want to forgive you.”
It... it helps. It doesn’t take away the guilt; it doesn’t undo her mistake. But it helps, a little.
She wishes she could tell him that Emily would have wanted to forgive him, but she’s never been a good liar.
“I’m a good conversationalist,” she says.
He’s lying on the floor at the foot of her chair, holding her hand loosely. He touches her often, like he’s trying to reassure himself that she’s there, and it always feels so real. More real than this world she’s living in, where all her friends are dead and gone.
“More of us?”
“Like a Jess who was the only one who made it out. Or an Emily.”
Is Mike real? She doesn’t even know any more. If he is, it might not be impossible.
“Maybe there’s a world where we all made it out,” Sam says. “Maybe there’s a world where we never went to the lodge at all.”
His fingers tighten on hers. “Maybe.” A pause. “They won’t need us, though.”
He wants to... rebuild their group across however many universes, each of them a tattered, lone survivor?
Well, it’s a project. She has been told it’s good to have a project at times like this.