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And he asked her: “Will you stay with me until the end of time? Will you stay with me until the day I die?” He tried to look into her eyes, but she was a blurry image, a mirage of a broken mind suffering through another heatwave. He mouthed the words over and over again, until they didn’t make any sense anymore. He sat on his bed, feeling every drop of sweat running down his overheated body. He dreamt himself into songs and movies and memories and places from the past. Anywhere but there. His phone vibrated next to him. “Hi, just checking in and saying hello,” the text read. He looked at the picture of the girl. She knew the good, the bad, and the ugly. Maybe this was meant to be after all. He ignored the text, grabbed his guitar that lay sleeping next to him on the bed, and drifted off to a creative headspace where the world faded, and nothing existed anymore.

(10 minutes, 166 words)

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I am lying in my bed, looking at the ceiling. Shadows are dancing, encouraged by the wind that is picking up outside. The heat is almost unbearable, even at midnight. The breeze that finds its way inside my bedroom caresses my naked skin. I can’t even fathom the thought of wearing any clothes right now. A nervous kind of energy keeps me awake. My mind is tired, and my body too, but my heart races, and my thoughts keep straying back to you. I miss you; that much is true. After a couple of very intimate and intense weeks, the unlabeled thing we have seems to cool off. And I don’t like that feeling. It’s an old feeling, of course. And it is probably all in my head. As I grow older, attachment issues become real and realer. The fear of rejection or abandonment is almost crippling. Almost. You know, for a moment, I was very sure of you and your love for me. We were together every waking minute that wasn’t spent with work for either of us. We got to know each other; you got to know me. I allowed myself to be just me. Maybe that adds to my insecurities.

Oh, the heat. The heat is a challenge tonight. Time is ticking away, but I still miss you. The distance between us, is it growing because we are comfortable with each other and the space the other takes up in our life, or is it growing because the closeness between us is becoming too much? I am overthinking. I wish I weren’t. I wish I could just grab my phone and send a text. But I can’t, or I won’t, out of fear of becoming someone suffocating. I start counting. It always grounds me in moments like this. Almost like a meditation. It helps my mind to become blank.

The mattress dips under a stranger’s weight, and I am startled. My heart almost jumps out of my chest, and I feel adrenaline flood my body. My breath comes in ragged pants. I must have dozed off or zoned out. I did not notice the door being opened. I am glad I gave you a set of keys. And I am glad you used them to let yourself in.

It is well past midnight now. I smell the soothing scent that is coming off your body. And I can feel your heat. You are naked too. It’s too hot to wear clothes, I think again. You seem to agree with that. You put your head on my chest. I feel the rough stubble of your growing beard on my sensitive skin. It does something to me. I kiss your hair and comb it with my fingers. You moan lazily. I try to remember my earlier thoughts and emotions, but they are old and unimportant right now. It was something about distance and growing apart. Silly me. I must stop these self-sabotaging thoughts from overtaking my sanity.

You put your hand on my hip, and it feels right. Your heat and mine mingling, turning into something unique. Something that only we can create. It’s a fascinating thought that every movement we share and every breath and every word and every touch, every smell and every laugh, and every tear, and simply everything we share is unique. We can repeat words and recreate reasons to cry or to laugh, or to fight, but it will never be the same as the original instance.

Your arm grows heavy on my stomach, pinning me into this position. You are about to fall asleep, and I noticed we did not really talk. You came home into my arms, and you feel safe enough to let go and drop your guard. We discussed this before, the magic of feeling safe and protected with each other, the magic of easing the nervousness and unrest we both feel all too often. I smile and try to take a deep breath. Your head on my chest is heavy. And I can feel the sweat turning into something sticky between us. I never liked that with another man in my life, and I hated it when someone breathed on me, but with you, it doesn’t bother me. I love everything about you. My mind wanders again, and I start counting again. I need to sleep soon. I kiss your hair again, careful not to disrupt this peaceful moment. I love you so much; it is almost scary.

I scold myself and tell myself that this is not the moment for negative thoughts. One…two…three…four…five…six… The shadows are still dancing on the ceiling. A serene moment. I breathe in again. You, your scent fills me, and I smile. My hand keeps caressing your back lazily. Seven…eight…nine…ten… I slip away.

(23minutes, 802 words)

Goodbye dear Stranger

I loved you with all my heart, but now I am beginning to let you go. I have to. You need to be rid of me to become the man I can see in you. I was protecting you, admiring you. I got you. I understood and encouraged you.
But now I have to go.
This, the distance that is growing between us with every breath we cannot share; it is killing us.
Slowly. Tormenting.
Until we are ashes and dust.
Lost in the dark.
Unimportant remains of a better time.
You will not find another me. I don’t exist twice. Maybe that is just as good. For you. And for me.
I would have given you everything. But you were too afraid to let it happen. Too hurt by the past to allow me to love you with all my heart.


	

Promise me – dear Stranger

Dear Stranger

Promise me to not fall in love with me. And if you do, don’t love me too much. I will be the end of you and it is not fair. No, it is not fair at all.

You see, I am kind and charming. I am understanding and funny. And I help out as much as I can – in every area of your life. I have my naughty sides and my domesticated moments. I am intelligent and caring. I am a good listener who also gives sound advice. But I can also disagree. I don’t fight, I don’t nag. I don’t claim your responsibilities. After all, you are a grown man and lived your own life before I became a part of me.

But

I also have trust issues and can’t deal with certain situations well. I am eccentric in all the right and wrong ways and even though I say that I love you, I am not sure I know how that feels and if I do.

We have our recurring patterns, it could be part of my ADHD or a sign of autism. (ADHD and autism often go hand in hand… I have never been officially tested for the latter, but the signs are there…) Okay, patterns. If it feels like people need me, I stay with them, even if I am uncomfortable.

You said that you don’t know me and I replied “then ask questions or listen when I want to speak” but as usual you blew it off. You are not interested and yet, you are. You are a bundle of mixed emotions and confusion.

When I was 14, I had a “boyfriend” who was 27. He begged me to be his girlfriend and when I said I needed time to think about it, he called one night and threatened to kill himself. I calmed him down and told him that I loved him and that I wanted to hold him the next day. And indeed, the next day when I saw him, I hugged and kissed him very tightly. And I felt him calm down. He’s also the man who found my first erogenous Zone, but nothing ever really happened between us – just kissing. I enjoyed his attention. He sent me letters doused in perfume and he introduced me to many of his friends. But a month later we called it quits citing our difference in age as the main reason. In the evening he got into an awful fight, ending in hospital with a couple of teeth missing and some minor hematomas and abrasions. But because of that violent outburst, I became very scared of him. He was huge and athletic. And I was tiny. For years when I saw him, I ducked away or hid or turned the other way shaking with fear. Not nice at all. The feeling went away with my next boyfriend almost two years later. One day we were walking down the street when the ex cycled behind us and made remarks about my ass. My new boyfriend laughed and turned to introduce us; they knew each other well. The ex had not recognised me from behind and he was stunned to see me. He tried to win me back… But a lot had happened to and with me during these years. I was not a kid anymore.

Anyway… All this to say, he scared me and instead of standing up for myself, I took care of him and his needs, and that’s a pattern. Not a healthy one but yeah…

Also, I need to be loved, to feel loved. But I cannot stand to be suffocated. Just don’t text me for a day, will you? I will die of longing and worry, but it would be good. I don’t understand your need of texting constantly, mornings and evenings and all the time in between if you don’t love me. I think it is not my love for you that is scaring you. I think it is your love for me that scares you shitless. You mentioned that everyone you loved turned on you. Maybe be less of an entitled asshole and people would stay with you. Or maybe not. Don’t change. Just get healthy and stop fighting with the people who love you.

Again

I love you

You wanted me to say it and I did. You pushed me, cornered me until I said it. Because you want this to be true. But the truth is:

I love you

But I am not in love with you.

Don’t put me on a pedestal, I don’t deserve it. Don’t love me too much. I can’t handle it.

Love me, but not too much. Be attentive. Get to know me and you will realise: I am not special, I never was. I am just me. The same person I was seven years ago – well, a bit older and wiser but more or less the same anyway.

Be careful. Don’t let me break your, heart and soul

Love always,

and anytime

Sweetie

####

As every dear Stranger letter ever written, this is fiction but laced with a little bit about me this time. The boyfriend’s name was Fredy and he was built like a brick wall. I read his old letters today, the still smell of him. 25 years later… It inspired me. I wonder where he is right now and if he ever had his teeth fixed. Happy first of May….

How can I love again? (367 words, fiction)

Out of all the girls he had ever had a crush on, she was the most intriguing one. She loved him, that much was clear; but she also challenged him. She showed him how to love and trust again after the betrayal he had suffered at the hands of the last woman he had loved openly and freely. She was reliable and had lots of integrity. She always meant what she said, and he had never once caught her in a lie. Oh, she had an eccentric mind and she was weird in all the right places, but she knew how to handle him and he knew how to handle her too. She had a unique sense of humour; a bit like his, and a lot of general knowledge, she was intelligent and kind. Whenever he needed something, she was there to provide. Advice, money, a shoulder to cry on; she was always there. 
Once, he had felt that she was becoming too close and in a weak attempt to push her away, he had tried getting to know another girl, but the new girl had quickly become a bore and she had not understood him in the least. And he needed to be understood without needing to spell everything out. And so he went back to his honey babe luv. They fought that night because she was jealous and didn't want to admit it. But he knew her better than that, and in the end, he had made sure that she felt loved by him. They made up and became even stronger than they had been before. Their bond, their connection was special. Unique.
He scratched his chin and looked at the selfie she had sent in response of his own. He smiled fondly and wished for her to be there. He decided to call her. He loved her. He wanted to care for her and to protect her. He wanted to share every little thing with her. "Mmh ja allo?" was her typical way of answering the phone. He chuckled. She was saving him a little more with every moment they spent in each other's company. And he began to tell her about his day.

A little bit of hope (753 words/14 minutes)

And while he was sitting on his bed letting his fingers feel the strings of his guitar, his thoughts wandered back to her. It irked him that she kept insisting that she was not in love with him. It had been ages since he had allowed a woman to get this close to him and he started to question his feelings for her now too. Was he falling in love? He couldn’t possibly allow that, could he? She was a friend, a confidant. She easily lent a nonjudgmental ear and whenever he hinted at his financial issues, she gave him money. That way, he had paid for many therapy sessions, for meds, and also for some cannabis, without ever asking for an explanation or anything. She complimented his art and encouraged him when he needed it; when he doubted his abilities or his sanity, but at the same time, she never nagged or demanded anything from him; apart from being there. And he had no qualms promising that he would be there; always. Because that was what he intended to do. He wanted to keep her in his life. She was the best that had happened to him in ages. And yet. He was confused and unsure. Somehow he needed her presence to have a good day. Without her, something was missing; someone was missing. He had tried to take a step back, but it was so hard. It agitated him, made him nervous to push her away; to think that he had to exist without her.

What if he lost her while protecting himself? What if she was just like his ex and couldn’t handle his rejection? What if? No. No, she was different. She had integrity. Everything she said proved to be trustworthy. She never said or promised things she couldn’t keep. And her intelligence was a turn on too. She was sexy and beautiful and in recent times, she was the only woman with the ability to get him aroused or turned on. There was no one else. When he woke up at night from a bad dream, she was there. When he couldn’t sleep, she was there. When he craved ice cream but couldn’t afford it, she was there. She was always there for him. Keeping her promise. It scared him. He let her get too close. He couldn’t handle it. Maybe if he pushed her away and maybe if he was not there for her – breaking his own promise; maybe then she would break and show her true face. Perhaps she would show that she was just like all the others, ready to hurt him as soon as he dropped them? But, no. He couldn’t imagine it from her. They had so much chemistry together; something all too real. He was afraid to be a failure or a disappointment in her eyes. He was afraid that she could leave his life. And he was not ready for that.

His fingers kept fiddling the strings of his guitar while he lay on his back in his bed. When had she become the last thought at night and the first thought in the morning? When had she become his every thought during the day? The realisation hit him hard, he could keep pretending that he was not the guy to see a relationship with her in the future, he could keep insisting that he did not daydream of breaking out of his life to leave and start anew with her; but it was all a lie. He wanted her. He needed her. But she had made it clear that she did not want him. She hadn’t said anything, but he was pretty sure it was because he had let down his guards. He had told her everything – almost everything about himself. He had made room in his heart for her. He was needy around her. He was honest and genuine and raw and emotional around her. He hated it, but she made him a better man. The next song he played was for her. She would never know, but it still appeased his mind.

Next to him, his phone lit up. “where are you? The day has been all wrong without you.”

It was her… Yes, the day had felt wrong and incomplete. He grinned, maybe she was pretending too. Maybe there was a chance for them in the future. There was a little bit of hope. It was all he needed for now. Just that little bit of hope.

The taker of the last breath (922 words)

She runs through the night, heavy footsteps are following her. Eating up the space between her and her predator. Her lungs are burning and her legs are slowing down; her muscles are tired and shaking from the unusual exertion. Her breath puffs out between her lips in visible clouds. Panic is all she can feel. And cold.  It is an icy cold, fueled by the terror that spreads inside her bones and infests her entire body. The footsteps behind her come closer. She keeps running. At least she tries to keep running. Panting. Gasping. Fighting for air. She is trying to fill her lungs with oxygen, but she doesn’t succeed. Her breathing is too shallow. Her heart races too fast. It is quiet in the dark. Lonely in this winter’s night. She can only hear his steps. Her own steps. The blood in her ears. Please, please. Please!  she whispers into the gloaming nothingness. She sends silent prayers to every divinity she remembers, asking that someone will stop the demon behind her. But the cold in her heart lets her know that she will not be saved. Her soul is lost. Rotting. Decaying. Turning to dust. She will be forgotten. Erased from this earth. And no one will know that she ever existed. She never left a notable trace. The woman rounds a corner, losing foot on the slippery pavement. She struggles to get her feet under her body again, partly because her limbs are exhausted,  partly because in her haste, she stepped on her scarf that came loose. She turns around, feeling the wet pavement underneath her palms. She tries to crawl away from the creature that has been following her, looking at him. Eyes wide, she finally sees him up close as he takes long strides in her direction. He isn’t running anymore. Like the predator he is, he comes closer. And closer. She makes one last attempt to get up and run away, but her body doesn’t belong to her anymore. It doesn’t follow her orders, and when he kneels in front of her, with his long cold fingers enclosing her throat she looks in his dark eyes for the first and last time. Black like obsidian. A dark abyss. Beautiful. Beguiling. Pleading? As if they were asking for forgiveness and permission, all at the same moment. But then he blinks and the gentleness she thinks she has seen is gone. It made room for something cruel and soulless. The hand around her throat closes and her breathing air becomes less. And less. She tries to gulp in some oxygen, but the hand on her throat prevents it from reaching its destination. Her body spasms. Her hands touch his wrist and her legs are flailing, trying to find enough grip to push away from her murderer.  “Please, don’t let me die like this” are her final thoughts before she feels a strange and uninvited sense of lust. Her eyes keep staring at him but her soul is on its way out of her body. The horror and confusion she felt will be forever painted on her face. In rivulets, blood runs down her throat from where his sharp claws held on to her. The demon lets go of her empty vessel, and pushes angry tears off his face with the back of his blood-stained hand.
I have to do it. I will die if I don’t. He bares his fangs and with gusto, he buries them where his claws left a bloody wound on the woman’s throat.
The heat leaves her body as one last breath, one last puff of air is pushed past her lips. He stills his hunger. His thirst. His need. Until he feels the energy of his young victim setting in his veins. He sighs satisfied, but he wants more. He needs more. He can never get enough. It is the nature of things. He lets go of the limp, pale body and gets up. He looks at her. Grief is painted all over his face. He is desperate for a companion, a mate. But who could ever love what he is? Who he is? She was his first for this night. A good start. Invigorating. Growling, he pulls his fangs in. A tortured sigh escapes his lips as he turns to leave. One last look at his prey and the peaceful way she looks. All dead people have this look. At least the ones who died because of him. If he could only feel some serenity. Not much, just a glimmer of it. If his tormented soul could only find peace. He is not asking for eternal bliss, just a moment of calmness in his mind. His hands turn to fists in his pockets as he pushes the string of weak and romantic thoughts aside. This is his life. There is no choice. No other option. His hunt continues. It has to. It will never stop. Because if it does, he will cease to exist. And with him, the tiny fragments of the souls of the people he has had the privilege to empty of their blood would be gone too. He can’t let that happen. They all are part of him now. Memories of them are in his bloodstream and nurturing his body. Squaring his shoulders, he walks into the dark moonless night. He was always a man of honour and principles. At least he has been before he turned into this… A demon… A walking nightmare… The taker of the last breath.

(Originally written in August 2017, edited today.)

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Wasn’t she the perfect woman? She knew how to cook and clean, to iron and keep a house tidy. She knew a lot about proper and sane food, was great with finances, and never messed up the washing. The fridge was always filled, as were the closets. The bathrooms were clean, the kitchen too. She knew how to fuck – giving and taking, without too many limits. She knew how to drive a car, was good with kids, was intelligent enough to hold conversations about politics, religions, spirituality, but also about music and movies and books. She liked quiet nights in, but also going out and socializing. She was financially independent because she had a job that paid the bills, knew how to schedule and organise her days that everyone but her was cared for. She had a unique sense of humour but could not tell any jokes. She was clumsy sometimes but hated to give up control. At the same time, she was wishing for someone to take care of her, calm her down, and tell her what to do. She was not the most beautiful woman, and her mind often played tricks on her, but she was passionate and supportive, and loyal. Her hair was untamable, but she laughed it off. She was not the nagging kind but needed lots of time for herself. She was not jealous – or didn’t show it. She sang all the time and her journal was a trusted companion anywhere she went. She was enough of a mystery that she did not share her inner turmoil with her partner. But she had no secrets either. While kneading dough, she thought about all this and it led to another thought: if all this was true; why was she lonely and alone? Wasn’t she marriage material? And why was she getting a divorce? She sighed, pushed every thought aside, and began pushing olives into the focaccia dough, all the while singing along to U2’s with or without you.

the rocking chair

He sat naked in a rocking chair in an almost dark room. The door was closed. Three windows were open. The wind blew crisp air into the room and made the thin white curtains flow into the empty space. Outside, the moon played hide and seek with the clouds in the sky. Their play made shadows dance on the bare walls.

The chair creaked on the hardwood floors with every forward motion. Some panels were loose from years of use. It was as if they had a memory of every footstep that had ever touched them. The man kept moving. The same movements, over and over again. The repetition was somewhat meditative. Soothing. And he needed that for himself. Calmness. Stillness. He wanted to close his eyes and escape the earth and all its noise for a while, but he couldn’t. He was scared. Scared that the demons lurking in the shadows were finally there to steal his soul. No, sleep or rest of any kind was not an option. No matter how tired he was or how much his eyes hurt from squinting in the dark, he needed to keep them open and stay alert. Awake. Everwake.

The man’s mind was at once empty and overflowing. His body was in flames from the heat surrounding his heart one moment, and it was freezing cold the next from the gushes of air, raising goosebumps on his exposed skin. Everything was the opposite of how it was supposed to be. But he kept rocking back and forth on his wooden rocking chair.

In the dark, the red cushions weren’t visible. But he knew that they were there, supporting his weight. There was a tear on the back and a couple of stains under his bottom; he knew every blemish by heart. Like the scars or tattoos on his skin, every stain and every tear, every hole had a story. And he remembered them all. Memories. Remembering meant either torment or bliss. Tonight every flash of the past equalled agony.

The moon kept travelling across the sky, closely followed by a thin layer of clouds. An owl was awake in the tree under his window; it called for someone in the dark night.

He needed a drink, and he craved a cigarette, but he couldn’t leave his chair. He was trapped in his own darkness, not only the darkness of the room but the darkness of his mind too.

The partying shadows on the walls and on the ceiling kept mocking him and his life in captivity. If he were strong enough, he would have tried to fight every single demon. But he was weak and afraid of the dark. He was lonely. Alone.

Another flash of the past made him remember the woman he had loved. He had only loved once. Genuine and honest and raw. He had been able to feel love, to give, and to receive it too. Those times were long gone. There was nothing loveable about him anymore, and if someone tried to be affectionate toward him, he had the unique gift to ruin it every time. No one was allowed to see past the image he had decided to show of himself. No one was allowed to see his vulnerabilities and his weaknesses. No, showing those only ever resulted in pain.

As the middle-aged man kept rocking back and forth on his chair, the voices in his head grew louder and more insistent with each creak of the wooden frame. From soothing to aggravating in a matter of moments. He hit the side of his head with his flat hand. Left hand. Left temple. “Stupid,” he muttered. The ghosts had not left, but no one answered him. Behind him, the curtains made a swishing sound. He stopped moving. He was convinced they were here to take him away, to make him vanish into thin air. He held his breath. He reasoned that maybe they couldn’t see him if he stayed still.

The owl was calling him from the shelter of her tree. And from the walls, shadows tried to catch him. He was paralysed with fear. There was no escape. The sheer terror of all his sins was staring into his pale red-rimmed eyes and tried to pull him under. If he had been able to do it, he would have closed his eyes. But he couldn’t. His body did not belong to him anymore; it did not obey his silent pleading orders anymore. The man tried to scream for help, for someone to save him and wake him up from this nightmare, but no sound got out of his mouth. There was no sound but the wind and the owl. The man was lost in this weird dream, knowing full well that he was not asleep. He was trapped in a cage of fear.

He gasped. For a moment, everything became clear. For a moment, he understood that it was all in his head and that his mind was playing tricks on him. Nothing was real.

His face turned into a painful grimace, and then he chuckled. His shoulders moved along with the sound. And he started laughing until he was scratching at the door of insanity. He was rocking in his chair again. Back and forth. Over and over again.

The moon was slowly fading, making room for the sun. The shadows on the walls began to become invisible, and the owl stopped calling for her lover. The wind had let up, too, leaving the curtains to rest after an eventful night.

He tried to exhale deeply, but because he was still laughing, he only made a wheezing sound. The ghost of the night was still lingering in the sweat covering his naked body. The man was drenched in fear. But he kept moving. Back and forth. Back and forth. In his mind, a film was replaying the worst moments of his life. He was convinced that he deserved the punishment the darkness brought upon him every night anew. There was nothing left fighting for. No redemption in sight.

The man finally closed his eyes. A grin was spread on his face. Maybe the next time, he would start to fight the madness residing in his head. Yes. Next time. Or maybe… not.

(1048 words, written during the early hours of August 25th 2021)