7. I left my heart to roast in the desert

The desert always looked tempting.

In the middle of the day, when the sun was at its peak, you could taste the heat. With every breath, every step forward, every heartbeat, you were on fire from the feet up. The hot air scorched your throat and all around was the sickening scent of burning. Burning corpses, burning rock, burning rubber. The desert was the embodiment of hostility and hatred, to its very core. The hostility had seeped into all its inhabitants, creatures, humans, even plants. Every living thing was out to kill you, more for the thrill of the kill than in order to survive. Throats were ripped open in broad daylight, people were shot from behind and left to rot on the side of the road. Nothing was hidden.

The temperature barely cooled off during the nights. Sometimes there was a breeze, which made it somewhat more bearable. The darkness brought comfort from the scorching heat, but the air was clammy and sultry. It brought out a different type of hunter: the stalking kind, the kind that wanted their kills to be slow and perverted, the kind that liked to watch. The ones who were so depraved they would find their way into any kind of housing, just to get to their prey, knowing their prey never slept without a gun under the pillow and one eye open.

Once, it had been different. There was no way it was ever going to turn back, though.

Still, it suited him, the hot sandy temptress that lay bare before him now, glowing golden in the sunlight, literally on fire. The rock he was sitting on was burning through his combat trousers, sweat was slowly running down his temples. A cactus brought a elongated shadow that at least protected his back from the sun. Even sitting here for twenty minutes was enough to make him feel like he was boiling alive.

He had been here for a while now. He had lived on this planet for a few months, and he had stopped missing “home”. He lived his life here like what was expected of him: live and let die, quite literally. Who paid the most got the job done, and he had earned himself another cartridge of ammo, another bite to eat and another ale to drink, maybe some company. Another day to cross off. He regretted nothing.

Still, it would be easy to get up, right now, and start walking. The horizon seemed far enough away, like a black line dividing the gold and the blue, slightly blurry in the heat. What would he find if he just kept walking, other than a throat ripped open or a bullet in the head? How long would it take to run into an oasis, the ones with the wells and the palm trees and the soda machines that he heard in other people’s tales? Or maybe there was another world at the end of the desert, one that was not made out of hatred and homicidal tendencies?

He wiped his forehead, checked the magazine of his gun just to be sure, and slowly slid off the rock. The sand crunched under his boots, his feet were already on fire. The horizon was waiting. He smiled, more to himself than anything else, and turned around. Back to the small village, the messy slums and concrete apartments, where the people lived that had welcomed him in. He had found a safe zone there, and in return he helped to protect them. He could do this for a little while longer, before he would find out what the temptress had to offer.

6. Silence

Sometimes there’s nothing left to say, I think when I look at his face. He stares into the distance, the blue eyes cold, as ice, as usual. His jaws are tensed, the cheekbones protruding, he is gritting his teeth like he always does. Lost in thoughts. Angry thoughts, violent thoughts. Thoughts of getting out of here alive. His skin is pale, but not paler than it normally is, even though his cheeks are showing this angry red glow they get when he is either excited or aggravated. A thin layer of sweat covers his face, and his dark, short hair is slightly damp as well. It’s hot here, there’s no ventilation, just four walls, a ceiling and a floor.

He sits, and pulls his knees up, wraps his arms around them. He isn’t comfortable in his clothes, the uniform is heavy and restrictive, and very hot. He moves slowly, hesitantly. I’m scared he is going to cry, but he doesn’t. He still stares at the wall, but for a second I saw something that reminded me of something else in his eyes. He blinks it away though, quickly before it escapes. Men don’t cry. He firmly believes that. I think it’s bullshit. I want to tell him that it’s bullshit, but I don’t want to talk. Don’t want to hear my own voice, echoing between these concrete walls.

He fiddles, aimlessly. His hands are a mess. Bruised, knuckles scraped. It hadn’t been easy, capturing him. He never goes down without a fight. Not in a verbal argument, not in a physical race for his life. He’s silent, but stubborn. I admire it as much as it annoys me. Brooding, cocky, and relentless. Mysterious, arrogant, and so very strong. Underestimated. But not this time.

There’s a red smear on the collar of his uniform. I only notice it now, when I look closer. I wonder if it’s his blood or someone else’s, but again, I don’t say anything. I just watch. Watch him. Watch over him. I wonder if he even knows I’m still here.

5. Now or never or not.

He looked down at the street far below. The cars looked like ants from here, and he could only tell the people by their colourful umbrellas. It reminded him of old-fashioned computer games, but much further away. He didn’t even feel the rain anymore. It had already soaked through his clothes on his way from the door to the edge of the roof. It had been cold at first, but now it didn’t bother him anymore.

He shuffled closer. His toes were now past the edge of the concrete edge of the roof. It looked almost cool, if he only focused on the tips of his dress shoes, contrasting against the moving pin pricks down below. He wondered if there was someone he knew down there. Probably not. He didn’t even know anyone in this building anyway.

He turned around, so he was no longer looking down at the street, but facing the length of the roof, and in the distance the other forty-story-or-higher buildings here in the centre of town. It was reassuring, it made him feel lonelier, and it gave him the strength to do what he was planning to do.

He hadn’t heard from her for a few days now. She had ignored his calls, e-mails and other messages, refused to open the door if he went to her house, and today he had even received the automated message that her number was no longer in use. No matter how often he had told her he was sorry, she hadn’t even wanted to listen. He couldn’t really blame her, to be honest. He had ruined everything, and everything was pointless now. He had nothing left.

He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. It was now or never.

It felt weird when he fell. There was an immediate sense of panic, a kneejerk reaction to keep his balance, but then he was free. Cold air soared all around him, wind jerked at his clothes. He closed his eyes, because he didn’t know if he was crying or if it was just the wind or the rain making his face wet.

In a split second, a familiar sound caught his attention. He instinctively opened his eyes, saw his curtains in a flash. He had just passed his own apartment on the twenty-eight floor. He had left his window open, for some reason, and the curtains were billowing out. The sound he heard was his phone ringing. His mobile phone that he had left inside, on the window sill. It had to be his, nobody else still used that Nokia ringtone.

His heart started racing, and suddenly he felt hot. This suddenly seemed like a bad dream, or a dark comedy. He wanted to wake up, or turn off the TV.

In another reflex, he looked down at the street. A small, red car was parked in front of the entrance. Even from the rapidly shrinking distance, he could tell that it was a Mini Cooper. It was hers.

4. The pink room

It’s all a bit pink in here. From the looks of it, you’d think a teenage girl lives here, or even younger. The walls on one side are covered with black and white striped wallpaper, the door is pink. Kind of reminds me of Alice in Wonderland to be honest. The rug on the floor is also pink, of course.

There’s a single bed covered with a, you guessed it, pink duvet covers and pillows; if she knew she had a “guest”, I would have been a bit annoyed that she hadn’t thought to change that into something more ‘adult’. There are even stuffed animals on the bed – two fraggle dolls, a rather large bunny dressed in a New York outfit (so cheesy it must be bought there) and something like a bipolar bear (it smiles on one side and cries on the other).

I’m actually surprised there is no unicorn somewhere.

Wait, after looking in one of the cupboards I take that back – there are a couple of My Little Ponies on one of the shelves. I’m surprised there is room for something else than clothes though, because she really has a lot. And I mean, a lot. Shoes as well. Shoes are everywhere. I think she only wears the same pair though, because they all look so new.

The wardrobe is filled with dresses. I’m already familiar with that. There must be about a hundred of them, neatly hanging on clothes hangers. There’s hardly room for anymore hangers. In the back are a few dress jackets she never wears- they’re getting all dusty. She never really looks that far to the back, but that’s a good thing for me. I never have to worry about being discovered. I’m tempted to try on some of the dresses, but I’m not sure I’d look that good in them. Too boney.

There are a couple of bookshelves, filled with books ranging from manga to books about sociolinguistics, books in Swedish, Dutch and English. There is lots of horror, which I like. Some shelves are reserved for photographs, DVD’s and Xbox games. The Xbox and the TV are conveniently placed at the foot end of the bed, so I’m going to enjoy that while covered by those girly pink bedsheets. There’s also a CD cabinet against one of the walls, but no CD player. There is a music player though, to plug in your MP3 player or laptop. That comes in handy.

There’s a desk, too. With a chair with lots of cat hairs on it. I guess the cat enjoys watching cat videos on Youtube just as much as I do.

The window looks out over nothing. The fire escape, to be exact. Not very entertaining. And strangely, the curtains are blue.  Doesn’t match with the rest of the room, also, they appear to be close to falling down.

Hm, I think I hear footsteps. Better get back to the wardrobe. Maybe I will try on one of those dresses after all, before I move again when I’m done here.

3. Semper fi.

That was the time he stopped believing that any promise he had made actually mattered.

With nothing but his backpack, filled with guns and grenades, and her wedding ring he sat in the back of the train. He stared out the window, watching the snowy scenery fly by so fast that it was merely a blur, and he recalled the events that brought him here, but his mind didn’t want to know. There was a faint echo of her voice, but his mind refused to make sense of the words, even though he still knew exactly what they were. In just a few sentences, a few seconds in which she had made up her mind, his whole life had fallen apart.

He had always been a military man, like his father and his grandfather. They all fought in the army on Hieronymous, and he was only 16 when he joined as well. He was proud to pledge his life to the army. Semper fi. Forever. Fastforward ten years, and he made it to sergeant. And not just by looks. He made sure he got every skill possible, every achievement, every challenge. In the mean time, he married his commanding officer. He pledged her his life too.

At first, it was great. Lots of shooting, lots of responsibility, and lots of praise because he was really good at what he did. He had some skills nobody else possessed; give him some explosions and watch the blood-splattered fireworks. And he had his Sabre Turret, the automated gun with built in friend-or-foe system. The love of his life, as he jokingly called her. Of course, being married to his officer helped too, because he got the best assignments. At least at first.

Resting his head against the window, he closed his eyes tightly for a moment. It wasn’t enough, of course. All the glory was great when he was a teenager, but after that, it became part of the routine. Engaging in heavy fire one his own against twenty bad guys wasn’t such a thrill anymore, neither was blowing up the council building with the council still inside, and after that, blowing someone’s intestines out up close lost its charm too. And there was only so much you could do with a turret gun after you had maxed out all her upgrades, as fun as it was to throw her into the unsuspecting faces of whoever was trying to kill him this time.

He wondered if he should have seen it coming, somehow. Between all the killing and the murder and the violence, she might have dropped some hints. Maybe when she decided that maybe she didn’t want to have children after all. Or when she started making snide comments about his turret gun. Or when she thought it was a good idea that they each have their own bed room. Or when she was never home anymore when he was. When was the last time they even talked at all? Except their last conversation, anyway.

So maybe in hindsight, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that he was now on Pandora, on a train, alone with his guns and his military training. In a way it was a miracle that he was there at all, because he had only barely escaped the firing squad. It was thanks to her though, despite of everything she had given him the chance to run. Off planet, and even here they were hunting him for war crimes, but it was better than being shot in front of everyone who once respected him. Or was it?

He slowly reached up to touch the ring that was hanging from the dog tag chain around his neck. Fingered the hard metal, the sharp edges of the stone set into it. The small plates engraved with his name and rank. The Dahl logo. Semper fi. Forever. Forever got cut short. He closed his eyes tightly, tugged on the chain. And she hated diamonds. But he must have done something right, somewhere along the line, if she saved his life.

The train slowed down and he focused on the scenery again. The cold blue of the sky reminded him of her eyes. The first time he’d seen her. The moment he knew that she was going to be the next chapter in his life, a new adventure, new excitement. He had never had a girlfriend before, he didn’t have the time, or he just couldn’t be bothered when he had explosives and a mounted gun.

He had heard that Pandora was a violent, cruel place, full of creatures that wanted to kill you. He couldn’t wait to meet them. He felt some familiar kind of excitement mixed with his sadness. It was a hint, but it was something. Maybe he could do this.

The train stopped. In the middle of mountains and valleys of blinding white snow was a tiny station, just a small platform of wilted wood. In the distance he saw some movement, but it was too far away to make out what it was exactly, just that it wasn’t human, and it was big. A girl with striped tights was waiting on the platform.  When she got on the train he noticed she had a shotgun strapped to her back. She couldn’t be older than eighteen, but she was alone and she was alive. He had heard that Pandora was a violent, cruel place, and that everything and everyone was hungry for blood. He felt some familiar kind of excitement mixed with his sadness. It was a hint, but it was something. Maybe he could do this.

2. Are you afraid of the dark? The answer is yes.

So, I’m afraid of the dark. Yeah, there it is. I remember when I was a little kid I hid behind one of my stuffed animals so I couldn’t see it when the monsters came into my room, and it was considered cute. It was okay, because I was four years old and little kids are supposed to be afraid, right?

But it never passed. When I was a little older, about ten years old, my parents let me watch the Thriller video. I didn’t sleep for three nights after that. I kept the light on my bedside table on and put a sock over it so it wouldn’t shine too brightly and my parents didn’t notice. Of course they did notice, if anything by the increased amount of socks with burn marks on them.  It started to become a little less cute by then.

At thirteen, I had my first boyfriend, and us and a group of friends had made a habit out of watching movies together after school. One of the movies was Nightmare on Elm Street. Previously horror movies had a surprisingly mild effect on me, I watched Pet Sematary without any nightmares, but Freddy Krueger sent me to another sleepless week and from that, I have never fully recovered. It’s definitely no longer cute.

Around the age of sixteen, I tried to desensitise myself by watching as many horror movies as I could. I stayed up until 4 am sometimes just to watch the Saturday night scare that the BBC used to show. It helped a great deal, even though I spent most of my teenage years being terrified of zombies until the great zombie hype desensitised me too. Now I avoid zombie movies because I find them boring.

Even though I don’t spend many nights lying awake because I’m scared of things that go bump in the dark anymore (it’s mostly the “real” stuff that keeps me up now), I still never step into a room without turning on the lights first. I get that it’s kind of weird to see me standing in front of the threshold, my hand reaching through the gap in the door frantically patting the wall looking for the light switch, but trust me, in those moments my heart is racing. I also never pass open doors after dark, because there is something that scares me to death about staring into that black void. And mirrors, especially late at night when I am brushing my teeth, I avoid standing right in front of one. Another silly thing is 3 am. I either want to sleep before or well after three am because trying to fall asleep at 3.05 – yeah, not gonna happen.

I know, it sounds ridiculous, I’m a grown woman, and I don’t even really know what I’m afraid of. I suppose it’s the “unknown”, things that people say that aren’t real and yet others say that it is real, such as ghosts, demons, poltergeists, the things that supposedly happen despite all the evidence being dismissed as fake.

I have accepted this by now. I happily read all the creepypasta I can find, I engross myself playing horror games, and I’m a big fan of Stephen King and horror books in general. Hell, I’ve even written one myself. Whenever I have the smart idea of watching a horror movie at night and subsequently I spend the night covered under my duvet, staring wide-eyed into my room to see if something is moving, and running to the bathroom and back as fast as I can while looking down at the floor, I know the next morning I can just roll my eyes at myself.

You’re free to do that too, roll your eyes and tease me, make fun of me, laugh at me. You can even tell me I’m being ridiculous, that I need to grow up and behave like an adult. It’s all okay, because I know, and that’s exactly what I tell myself when I am once again panicking for not finding the light switch quickly enough and expect something will grab my hand any second now.

Just don’t make me look into a mirror at 3 am to prove there’s nothing there.

1. Priorities

I know I’ve never been good at keeping plants – it’s too hot in the living room and too cold in my bedroom, and I give too much water or too little – so I vowed never to get a houseplant anymore. They were just a hassle, and I ended up with too many empty pots. Until you came along. I don’t have any knowledge of your species, but you just looked so pretty and green, with those cute little flowers, and I just couldn’t resist. I brought you home and immediately you made the room look brighter, bigger, and happier. You changed the way I look at houseplants forever. I tried my best to take care of you, put you in a place where you had some sun and some shades, feed and water you like your label said, and yes, I even made myself look foolish by telling you good morning and good night every day. And we were doing well – or so I thought.

Yesterday I noticed one of your leafs isn’t the same shade of green anymore. It’s turning brown, and when I touch it, it feels like it could break. You really have me worried here, little houseplant. I’ll never dare to keep another plant, and the pot will be empty forever, taking space in my cupboard with all the others, taking space where something useful could be instead. Like a fondue set, or a power drill, or a box with love letters from an ex. So you see, I need that space.

Even though one of your leafs is dying, I can still see your cute little flowers, you’re still hanging on there, and I need you to fight. Because if you die, like all the other plants before you, I will have one more empty pot.

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