Laura wore jeans shorts and a light green sleeveless shirt. She smiled while she climbed into the car. She gave me a kiss on the cheek when the engine started. I think that was the last kiss she ever gave me.
We had planned our trip for several weeks. The trip of all trips.
You won’t understand this if you’ve never been to a desert or a remote mountain. The sky, for most of us, is just a black or blue-ish carpet with a few white spots. But if you ever spend a night in the desert, away from all the “light smog” of the cities and cars and street lamps and even the petrol stations – then you know what the sky looks like: A beautiful pattern of white and yellow and even pink dots, uncountably many of them, spread in waves and patterns on an ocean of deep blue.
I screamed a “Yee-ha!” when we finally left the road. The landscape around us was already dry and beige, but there were still dots of green and the occasional red or yellow. The vehicle stumbled over heaps of hard and dry sand, further and further into the dead countryside; between carcasses of old cactuses and nothing but stones.
You have to be prepared. A lot of petrol. Food. Water. Blankets for the freezing nights and some sort of firewood, just so you don’t have to find it out there.
It was an area where the landscape gently sloped downwards. I stopped the car and Laura grinned at me. She ruffled her blond hair and a moment later she was out of the car, smiling at the nothing that we had come for.
We found plenty of stones to surround the fire; I think we even stacked too many of them. Dry wood in the center; small orange flames danced on top. Just then the sun colored the world orange, then red, then not at all anymore.
That sky; I will never forget it. There is no thing more beautiful than that sky sprinkled with millions of possibilities, millions of worlds far out there in the darkness and void of space.
My arm was around her and her back against my chest. I held a cup of tea and I think she had one too. I was sitting on a blanket and a second was wrapped around us; tightly tucked in at the corners. I felt her every breath.
“Beautiful,” she said.
Her elbow hit my side.
“Thank you,” she said.
“But the sky is nice too.”
She stretched her head back, looked in my eyes and smiled at me. I still wonder why I didn’t kiss her then. Those lips, slightly open; those green eyes, relaxed and focused just on me.
She stared at me for maybe a minute and I stared back. The sky seemed to reflect in her eyes.
There was a light wind and somewhere in the distance cicadas were singing their song. A faint scratching sound. I would have ignored it. Laura didn’t.
My eyes were back towards the sky.
“Look,” she said.
Her body stiffened in my arms.
“No. Holy fucking, look!”
The figure of a small man. He was standing about a hundred steps away from us, with his back turned towards us. We should have noticed him earlier. We must have stared at the sky for too long without attention to our surroundings.
“Who is that?” I asked.
“He looks creepy. Look at those arms.”
“They are really long.”
She nodded and her body shifted upwards. Against her defense I pulled her closer.
“How long was he there?” I asked.
“I just saw him now.”
I sat up straight to look around. I wanted to stand up but Laura’s body pressed on me.
When I looked back at him he had turned. His face to us. A thin, grim face with large sunglasses.
He stepped towards us. Fast.
We shuffled on our feet. Laura started running towards the car but I was frozen in place with my eyes just on him.
He was faster than his steps. He stepped forward but his body moved too fast for the distance that his small steps covered; as if his legs were on rolls.
“Come,” Laura screamed.
He was already in front of me, just ten steps away. He stopped.
His mouth was just a line; there were no visible lips. Just like there was no visible nose.
It took me another moment to understand that he didn’t wear shades. The eyes themselves were large and black.
Finally my body moved backwards; my feet slipping on the sand.
“Come quick!” screamed Laura.
“Who are you?” I whispered. “What do you want?”
He stood with his lipless mouth still pressed shut. His eyes unmoving. Short and thin legs but a thick upper body.
He raised his right hand. A far too long arm.
He took another step. I tumbled further back. He took another; was closer even. My feet struggled to keep on the ground. He took another step.
I turned to run.
Something pulled me down, onto the ground.
I heard Laura screaming; the car engine roared.
Something white quickly moved over me.
I woke up coughing. Pain in my ears. Something cold in my hand – my mobile phone. Fully charged. 12:33. 17th of May.
It should have been the 5th of May.
My vision quickly cleared but the world seemed to spin when I pushed back onto my feet. Barren, dry landscape. The sun high in the sky and burning into my eyes. A sudden memory.
No reply. Louder.
I turned frantically, looked in all directions.
Tent. Blankets. Cold fireplace.
The car was lower than it should have been, rolled against a big stone.
I shuffled towards the car with my heavy legs. Even from the distance the dark red seemed to boil.
My hand touched the car and I quickly pulled it back. Boiling indeed.
Flies buzzed out of the front window. A thick, choking smell.
The key was still in the ignition.
The flies were all coming from below the driver’s seat.
I pulled the door open.
Her legs. A clear, straight cut at the top. Without a doubt, her legs, but gray. The feet still in her shoes.
I wish I had relief or an explanation. The police, after I finally managed to push the legs to the passenger side and drove back towards the town until my phone got reception, suspected me.
They searched for the rest of her body but never found any of it. Just those two, dried legs. Dead for “at least ten days,” as the coroner said.
“I’ve never seen a cut that clean,” that’s one of the other things he said.
It was one of their expert witnesses. “He wouldn’t have survived out there,” that’s what the witness said about me. “Maybe one or two, but he cannot have been in the desert during those twelve days.”
I so much wish that I would have kissed her another time.
That’s, really, the last thing I remember of her – not the hugs, not the ride, just that peck on the cheek.
And then there’s that other thing; that thing where I’m not sure if it’s memory or just a nightmare. A nightmare that I have nearly every night.
A nightmare of my hands being bound to a cold metal.
A nightmare of Laura’s face right in front of me; her eyes wide open and lanced with zig-zag lines of red. Constant screams.
“Help me! Why don’t you help me?”
Some sort of robot arm was moving near her legs, but at the time I couldn’t see what it was doing. Now I’m convinced it was sewing her wounds.
But the worst part of that nightmare are not her screams. The machine moves further up her legs and her screams get louder.
The figure stands near her head.
“Hey,” I say.
“Hey,” I say again.
A moment later there is a click and the figure slowly pulls a lever that seems to slow movement down.
But the worst part of that nightmare are not her screams. My worst nightmare is the moment when Laura’s head falls sideways and her screams stop.
And the figure, in that moment, for the first time, with its eyes still on me, seems to smile.