My Own Desert Places, Pt. 32 (GPT-3 fueled short)

As our taxi passes in front of the airport, heading home, I keep looking at the narrow vegetable gardens that compose most of the field between Irún and Hondarribia. Tiny greenhouses built with plastic tarps, homemade A-frame trellises on which nothing has grown, rectangular and empty patches of khaki dirt except for scattered tufts of weeds. I spot a couple of old men, one of them who has bared his tanned torso, bending over to tend to their tiny farming estates. A couple of minutes later we reach Hondarribia itself, with its mostly white, two to three story houses, but our driver exits a roundabout into a road that follows the outskirts. We leave behind apartment buildings surrounded by dwarf walls and hedges, so peaceful and close to parks and playgrounds that any young couple should want to move there. The taxi drives in front of a pelota court, located inside a bland building that would otherwise contain offices. The streets are quiet and empty save for a couple of elderly women sitting on a bench in the shade, reading magazines. They look like they’re waiting for something to happen. A roundabout later I see the coffee shop where I had sat down to write my memoir peacefully, only for Kateryna’s brothers to harass me and Oleksiy in particular to strike me twice in the guts. Alazne and I wouldn’t have gotten tangled in a trip to Asturias if I hadn’t wanted to flee from Asier’s responsibilities.
This city should already feel familiar. I’m quite sure it did before our trip, and yet it now looks small and out of place. To the few people walking along the sidewalks at this hour, when most are eating their meals at home, I want to ask them whether they know what’s out there in the wide world. Take a train or a bus in any direction, except in one that will end up with the vehicle plummeting into the water, and whole new worlds open up. One is forced to reframe his thoughts, to ponder one’s troubles even if that person had grown used to his way of life. But I knew all this, didn’t I? I spent my first years as a ghost travelling throughout Europe. Very few memories remain of those days during which I tried to add some color to the faded, odorless, tasteless afterlife. I suppose that in the end similarly threadbare memories will remain of my time with my girlfriend in Asturias: just some images here and there, or if I’m lucky, sequences of a few seconds. Maybe none of the contents of my conversations with Alazne will survive beyond how they made me feel. If we lost the pictures that my girlfriend took, we would forget most of the details as if we hadn’t been there.
The countryside on the left of our taxi resembles the wide open spaces between cities, with no hint that if one looked to the right he’d face a row of apartment buildings. At the end of this street that our car is climbing up we’ll get to see our house again.
“Where exactly do you want me to leave you both?” our driver asks. “Around here there’s only a graveyard.”
“We get that all the time. You guys need to update your maps!” I say amiably, relieved that I get to return home. “Just keep going. Past an ivy-covered wall there’s a gate that leads into our community.”
The driver frowns as if he believes I’m pulling his leg, but when he finds the gate, he veers to the right onto the asphalt that paves most of the ground except for our backyards. He looks around confused, as if he had visited the graveyard recently and he shouldn’t have found these rows of two-story houses here.
“Just stop the car,” I say. “We’ll walk the rest of the way.”
After I pay the guy, Alazne and I drag our luggage towards the second column of houses while the driver pulls around. Once the house in front of ours stops blocking the view, I realize that I had been holding my breath. I guess I had expected our house to have gone up in flames, or to have blown up to the extent that only charred rubble remained. But our house looks as undamaged and luxurious as it used to, with its tawny bricks and the ornate cast iron balustrade that surrounds the huge balcony on the second floor. We are home, and we can rest.
“It feels so odd to be back, doesn’t it?” Alazne asks.
“Well, I did fear that I wouldn’t be able to tolerate the bus ride a second time.”
Alazne laughs.
“But you did, with only some weird complaints. I’m proud of you.”
I pull out my keychain and I was reaching towards the lock when I hear it turning from inside. The door opens decisively to reveal an empty, darkened hall. I get goosebumps, but then I chuckle and step onto the hardwood. As I leave my suitcase next to the console table, I grin at the invisible presence.
“Thank you for the warm welcome, Kateryna.”
“I have missed you,” Alazne says, then closes the front door. “I think you would have enjoyed Asturias.”
“If only because some parts of it looked like Soviet Russia.”
“Hey, what parts of Asturias reminded you of Soviet Russia?” Alazne asks, amused, as she takes off her cardigan.
“Those that seemed like the outskirts of some medium-sized factory town. It was like travelling back in time to the Cold War.”
Alazne rubs my shoulder.
“They made me feel safer somehow. Maybe because they gave me the impression that some people were working hard to keep things going.” As she shuffles by, she lets out a long sigh. “I need to take off these boots. My poor feet…”
The living room call bell rings twice. Alazne stops and turns towards it. Kateryna had rung the bell impatiently, so we hurry up to the ouija board. The planchette was already twitching when I get to see it from up close.
PLEASE DONT EVER LEAVE FOR SO LONG AGAIN, the planchette spells out.
“We’ll try not to, I promise,” I say with a lump in my throat. “All along I had thought you would have tolerated, or even welcomed, some quiet days…”
“You’re not alone anymore. We’ll be here for you, Kateryna.”
“W-what do you mean full of ghosts?” Alazne asks, worried. “Did you see lots of ghosts surrounding our home?”
NO I DIDNT SEE ANY BUT I MEANT IN GENERAL. The planchette hesitates for a few seconds. I DONT LIKE BEING ALONE.
I shake my head.
“The whole world is a ghost town. We thought we saw some people in Asturias, but they all turned out to be ghosts.”
“Well, I guess they might as well we dead to us, all of them…” Alazne says sadly. “It’s not as if we are likely to see them ever again.”
I coordinate my stiffened arms to take off my jacket. I don’t want to get on another bus for months. When I fold the jacket over a chair, I look down at the board to let Kateryna know that I’m about to address her, although our ghost roommate is standing in front of it.
“I had thought of buying an answering machine so whenever I want I can call home and share my thoughts with you. Maybe they can be programmed so they replay the message a few times, in case you have wandered to another room, or even the second floor.”
“You’ll have to remind me to change the tapes for you, just so you know. Unless modern answering machines don’t come with tapes… The times have changed a lot.”
“Don’t worry, Kat,” Alazne says while smiling warmly. “Now that we are here we’ll return to spending hours together, the three of us.”
Before I know it, Alazne stands on her tiptoes, crosses her arms behind my neck and kisses me on the lips. We embrace and I hold her tightly, losing myself in the warmth of her lips. I would have gladly carried her like a princess to our bedroom, but she pulls away from me.
“My love,” Alazne says, “I will grab my notebook and a jar of water and I’ll spend some time writing my impressions on the balcony of the second floor. I’ll be there if you need me.”
I SHALL BE THERE WITH YOU IN SPIRIT, the planchette spells out.
As Alazne strolls down the hallway towards the bedroom, where she left her notebook, I can’t help but feel that I need to improve Kat’s mood. I’ll spend some time with my suicide sister.
“Let’s go to the kitchen, Kat. I’ll tell you all about Asturias, their gigantic armadillos, iron trees, fish-men, black metal, futuristic spas, highwayman taxi drivers, nightmarish factories, rotting old bastards, sooty kings and flame-throwing smokestacks.”

Alazne walks out of our bedroom into the hallway, and when she realizes I’m standing close by, she grabs the fabric of her hoodie with both hands.
“These are some of the sportiest clothes I have,” she says apologetically.
Alazne is wearing her beloved grey hoodie that features the azure blue, white and grey Wings of Freedom logo, along with cloud grey sweatpants, and she has tied up her light brown hair in a loose ponytail that leaves two locks framing her face. The coffee she drank has barely worked yet, as her eyes remain sleepy.
“You look cute,” I reply. “I have missed you wearing some of your old clothes. But more importantly, they will do just fine for this morning’s purposes.”
“I wouldn’t call my clothes sporty, though, because I wore them mainly to feel more comfortable at home during the chilly days. You are the one who is used to working out, and your tracksuit suits you.”
I cup her angelic face with my hands and smile warmly as I look down at her hazel eyes.
“We’ll turn those clothes into proper sporty ones, and you for that matter. You need to keep healthy.”
She blushes, but wouldn’t avert her gaze at this point.
“Alright, but I doubt I will be able to run for more than five minutes.”
“We aren’t running, though. Let’s go to the backyard.”
We exit through the living room into the backward, and Alazne spots the bikes that I had left leaning against the fence. The one I bought for her is a cross hybrid, or at least that’s how the guy at the store called it, because I hadn’t ridden a bike in more than twenty years nor would I have cared then about the terminology. The bike is black except for bands of bumblebee yellow in the saddle, the handlebars, the top tube and the forks that hold the wheels in place.
I gesture towards her bike.
“Pretty badass for what it is, right?”
Alazne narrows her shoulders as if she wants to look smaller, and her gaze sweeps the grass.
“Yeah, they look cool, but… Asier, I-I don’t know how to ride a bike. I have never even touched one yet.”
I raise her chin with my hand and lean in to kiss her lips. I let my mouth linger for a couple of seconds. When I straighten my back and open my eyes, Alazne is looking up at me tenderly.
“I suspected that was the case. That’s great, sweetie, because I’ll get to teach you! And you’ll get to reward me for it, let’s say with some activities that involve you not wearing your sporty clothes anymore.”
I hand Alazne her bike, and she holds it in front of herself as if it were a giant sea shell. She doesn’t seem convinced that she’ll be able to learn.
“As if we wouldn’t do that anyway. So this is what those two giant boxes contained. I knew you intended to surprise me with something, given how shady you were being with them, but I never thought they would be bikes…”
“Well, at first I was surprised that I hadn’t found one in this house. I guess the previous me before the accident wasn’t fond of aerobic exercises. But my main purpose is for the both of us to go on some lovely rides together.”
Alazne’s face brightens, and she grins. The morning sun is lightening half of her facial features, making some of her beautiful freckles disappear. If I allowed myself to be fully motivated by causing as many of those grateful smiles as possible, which I do want, I would dilapidate my fortune in a year.
“I think you will have a hard time teaching me how to ride this thing…” Alazne says as she probes the handlebars. “And where can we do it without us bothering anybody?”
“Why, we only have to walk up our street to stroll through a picturesque, albeit narrow, concrete path that cuts through the countryside, passing in front of farms and grazing fields and whatever shady stuff those isolated people do. I’m sure some of those stretches of path will be deserted enough, because I gather that you will be embarrassed about your biking abilities.”
“Sure, about my lack of them. But h-how narrow is that path? What if I fall?”
“I’m sure some bushes or plants can catch you.”
Alazne frowns, but as if she were about to pout.
“That can get serious! Some of the bushes around these parts can cover you in scratches. And with my luck I might fall on some nettles.”
“If I get to lick the irritation away, I hope you strip naked and disappear into a bed of nettles.”
She chuckles and pushes my arm.
“I was about to say that no licking today, but I’d be shooting myself in the foot. Let’s go, then. The sooner I learn how to ride this thing the less embarrassed I’ll be.”
I grab my bike’s handlebars and begin rolling it into the living room, so we can exit the house through the front door, but behind me Alazne complains. She staring puzzled at her bike.
“What? It doesn’t move. Aren’t the wheels supposed to keep turning even though I’m not pedalling?”
“You are squeezing the brake. Just hold the grip.”
She blushes.
“Oh, got it. I’m such an idiot…”
“It’s alright. Now you know.”
We push the bikes forward and leave our house through the front door. I end up holding her bike upright as she locks the door. Then we carry on until we leave our gated community.
“What a beautiful morning,” I say as I take a deep breath of fresh air.
“A bit chillier than one would expect with a clear sky, but I guess it’s good enough for biking…”
We walk a bit further ahead until the full view of the countryside opens up beyond a barbed wire fence.
“Look at those hills, the healthy trees, the random sheep, and the conspicuous lack of factories,” I say merrily. “We are so lucky.”
“Yes, it is beautiful, Asier.”
“I guess when you stop considering the myriad of things that makes the world horrible, it is quite pleasant.”
We push our bikes on the side of the path, in case some farmer’s car drives down and we end up having to move aside anyway. We pass by a gated farming estate with fruit trees in bloom. A house we come across is so close to the path and so unguarded that we could just walk straight into their yard. Some of the sheds are rusted, and I wonder when they were built. As we climb up the path, it now borders flimsy barriers that should prevent the cows and sheep from escaping. One of the cows, mostly white with black spots, looks up at us while it ruminates grass and swats flies with its tail. The animal gives off a pungent smell of dung.
“She looks so innocent,” Alazne says. “Cows always make me sad, for some reason.”
“Maybe because the person who owns them might end up butchering them?”
“I guess so. Do you think the people who live in these rural places are happy, Asier? I mean, they have a kind of freedom that most of the people will never experience. They can just open their front door and go wherever they wish. No cars, no trains, no trams, no buses, no police. They can walk for long stretches without seeing another soul. They’re not crowded on top of each other like most of humanity.”
“They’re not free, though. If they have cows and sheep, then they have to tend to them every day of their lives. Maybe some don’t own their property, the government does. They’re not paid much for their milk and meat. Their children might end up working on the farm as soon as they’re able.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Alazne says.
“But I’m painting their life much harsher than I should. I’d rather slip and fall in cow shit and get headbutted in the nuts by a ram than work at an office five or six days a week. Those are the people you should pity.”
“Yeah, I can’t say I want to remember my days at the office…”
The path becomes steeper until it reaches a plateau covered in a threadbare sheet of shadow, thanks to some big oaks that have grown next to the path. I stop.
“This looks perfect. No nettles around either, just ferns.”
“A-alright. What do I do then?”
“First, straddle the bike. That should be easy for you, as you’ve become a pro at straddling.”
“Shut up,” she says, but does what I say.
I chuckle.
“Those things to the side of your bike are called pedals.”
“I know what they are called,” she says, embarrassed.
“Hey, I don’t like assuming things.” I stroke my chin for a moment as I look to the side. “We better start with you getting comfortable with the brakes. Just push the bike forward slowly with your legs as you keep straddling it, and squeeze each break lever to get a feeling for how hard you should squeeze them according to how much slower you want to go.”
“Got it.”
Alazne totters forward while her ponytail sways and amorphous spots of light slide down her back. That ass of hers looks so cute in those sweatpants. I’m glad that we stopped at the top of this hill; any steeper and she might have fallen off.
She comes to a stop as she leans into the brakes, both feet spread wide.
I push my bike up to her.
“You good?”
Alazne smiles at me and nods as she stretches her fingers, her palms resting on the handlebars.
“Alright, now comes the hard part. Lift one of the pedals with your foot until reaches the apex of the circle it makes, and then push it forward slightly. The idea is that when you are ready you will push that pedal down fully as you put the other foot on the opposite pedal, because the rotation of the wheels will keep the bike upright for a couple of seconds, which will give you the opportunity to start pedalling normally.”
She teeters as she balances all her weight in her right leg to lift the left pedal. However, after she pushes it forward slightly, she raises her face towards me.
“But how will the rotation of the wheels alone keep the bike upright?” she asks as she furrows her eyebrows.
“Magic, probably. Who the fuck knows. Maybe nobody. But the fact is that the faster you pedal the steadier your bike becomes. You don’t have to pedal that fast for most rides, though.”
She nods and frowns, then she bites her lower lip. She balances herself on both feet evenly as she grabs both handle bars. She bends her left knee, but for a couple of seconds her left foot doesn’t know where the pedal is.
“Now for the last, most vital piece of advice,” I say. “The moment you push down that pedal, the bike is going to thrust in the direction the front wheel is oriented at, so before you push down you have to turn the wheel with the handlebars in the opposite direction. In this case, to the right.”
“That makes sense. I would have never thought about that.”
Alazne turns the handlebars to the right, then pushes down the left pedal with her foot. Her face becomes a mix of fear and exhilaration. The chain rubs against the cogs as if it were an oversized, metallic zipper. However, Alazne’s determination only lasts a couple of seconds until she loses control of the front wheel in a panic, which begins to turn to the left. I drop my bike and hurry up so I can catch my girl, but I don’t reach her in time and she falls face up onto some ferns.
I stand over Alazne, blocking the patches of light that had been brightening her body. She looks disappointed, and she’s breathing through her mouth.
“You look so cute lying on the ferns and the grass like that,” I say. “Can I take a photo?”
Alazne shrugs.
“Sure, why not.”
I take out my phone. I move around my girlfriend to find the best angle of the sunlight filtering through the gaps of tree branches as it falls on her face and upper body. I snap a few shots and then show them to her.
“Just like a forest angel,” I say.
“I think those are called dryads,” she sighs. “Anyway, I fucked up the bike riding.”
“But you didn’t get hurt. I’m impressed that you were able to turn the handlebars and fall like that. It was like you were doing parkour or something.”
Alazne props herself up to her elbows.
“I think I’ll get the hang of it, though. Let me try again.”
I grab her hands to help her stand up. As she turns around to lift her bike, I pat her ass to brush the dirt off, and also because I wanted to touch her butt.
Alazne chuckles.
“Now you are just feeling me up.”
“Just a bit. Let’s start over.”
I stand further back as my girlfriend balances her weight in her right leg again to lift the opposite pedal. She bends her neck to the side for a moment as if to crack it, and then takes a deep breath.
“Alright, here we go,” Alazne says.
She leans her upper body forward and pushes the pedal down. Less than as second later she steers the bike to align both wheels. She snaps her head back as if surprised, but then she pushes the other pedal down, which allows her to keep pedalling.
“I did it!”
I roll my bike quickly, because there’s a bend on the path up ahead that would make Alazne disappear past a mound.
“Yes, but stop for now, turn the bike around and do it again in the opposite direction. You need to get comfortable with it.”
I stand on the grass to the side of the path. I lean the kickstand of my bike with my foot so I don’t need to keep holding it. I watch Alazne ride past me. She’s balancing while turning the pedals without much issue. She looks over her shoulder towards me and waves.
“Hey, look at this! I’m actually doing it!”
“You are, but don’t take your hand off the handlebar!”
She breaks to a stop and then swivels the bike around awkwardly, wobbling, so she can ride in my direction. She then bites her lower lip, lifts the left pedal and pushes it down almost in the same movement. She steers the bike to approach me while patches of light slide up her body. Alazne grins, which brightens her angelic face.
“This is so cool. I know how to ride a bike!”
A warmth fills up my chest.
“Yes, you do.”

We return home around midday, still riding our bikes. We veer into our gated community, then turn until we reach the front of our house. We get off. Sweat shimmers on Alazne’s face as she takes out her key.
“I’ll open the door. And I’ll need to take a shower. I haven’t sweated this much outside of a bedroom in many years. My legs are burning.”
“A good burn, though.”
Alazne opens the door and rolls her bike into the hall. I’m picturing Alazne naked in the shower when something vibrates in the pocket of my tracksuit, then plays the short melody indicating that I have received a message. As I struggle with the narrow pocket to pull my phone out, it vibrates and plays the same sound twice. I open the messaging app. All three messages are from Oleksiy.
My whole body tenses up and freezes. My vision goes blurry. For a moment I can’t even breathe.
The first two messages only contain a photo each. The first thumbnail shows a hand holding an A4 page that features printed text, but only shows the upper half of the page. The second image shows the lower half. The third message is just words, and it says ‘read it and call me’.
My breathing becomes labored. I touch the thumbnail of the upper half of the page, then turn the phone around for landscape mode so I can read the text better. Even before I read the first words I know that it’s Kateryna’s suicide note.
I can’t take it anymore. I’m sick of putting faith in people only for them to turn out to be shit. One after another, all pieces of shit. You said you would make me happy? How can a human being say those words when they know that they have done nothing but ruin other people’s lives? Even when those two exes of yours confronted you, I defended you. Although I understood you had been a cheating piece of shit towards them, I told those women, and myself, that you had left it in the past, that you were someone new. That’s what you kept repeating to me, after all. I have always been too eager to trust people and see the best in others, that’s why I didn’t realize what you were doing. Even when someone slaps me, I prefer to put the other cheek, maybe because deep down I know it must be my fault. Those times when you left for hours only to return and go straight into the shower without touching me, I didn’t think anything of it. You should know that I have so little support, because I don’t have friends anymore nor can I return to my family, that even if you cheated in my face I would have preferred to stay. Even if you tore my heart out by fucking other women, I would have remained by your side.
My hands are trembling. My heart hurts for how much Kateryna must have suffered during her last days, and my frayed nerves tell me that the Zaretsky brothers will want to beat me to a pulp. I keep reading, ready to touch the second thumbnail when the text reaches the end of the first photo.
But what goes through the mind of someone not born in hell when he knows that he’s fucking everything that moves and still offers to marry the girlfriend he’s lying to? Not just that, but puts a baby in her. What was growing inside me wasn’t a clump of cells, you son of a bitch, but our daughter. In my mind I still called her Bohdana even though you insisted she should have a Basque name. You came into my womb without giving any thought that it could make me pregnant, as if you couldn’t care about the consequences. Although you had been becoming shittier and shittier, for all those weeks I was sure that I would end up giving birth to our baby. I was sure even the day you finally broke me down, as you had been doing bit by bit, saying that it was too soon to become a family, that we would try again in the future, that fetuses aren’t alive at that point and that I wouldn’t be murdering her. After I killed Bohdana and I lied in bed for days as I cried and cried, you couldn’t have cared less. You got what you wanted, which was to never become that attached to me or anyone. You sell lies so naïve women will open their legs for you, and then you throw them away. What I would have never expected from any person is what you have done to me now. I’m glad that I’m not the kind of human being who would have imagined it. I still see you there, standing near my bed in the dark, not caring a bit that I’m weeping, and telling me that I have become too annoying and whiny, that you have been dating other people, and that I should leave the ring and get the fuck out of your house before the end of the day. Where would I go? I have nothing anymore. I don’t want to keep struggling. I feel it, my heart is broken. From now on I would have to carry this pain and this regret for as long as I lived. I am through being kind, I need to feed this rage you have infected me with. I want to take every beautiful girl you flirt with and lock them in a dungeon. I want to cut your throat and feel you choke as I watch the life fade out of you. So before I become a monster like you, certain as I have never been, I’ve made my decision. By tonight you will find me still here, lying in your bathtub. I hope there is a hell and in the end I find you there.
Oleksiy won’t be content with giving me the beating of a lifetime. He must want to torture me to death. I would too. But I’m not crying out of fear, but because I can’t comprehend that someone would hurt my sweet friend like that. Her unborn daughter upon dying floated on to the beyond, blissfully unaware of how close she had been to being born in this horrible world. But the regret for aborting her daughter has chained Kateryna to the afterlife, and because she cannot get pregnant anymore, Kat is fucked. She better sit tight and get used to the dark.
Kateryna’s brothers already know that I have read their messages. The messaging app sent them the notifications. Either I call him now or I call him hours or days from now, but I better do so immediately as he demanded. And not only I have to fear them both, but also the police. I can’t imagine the law getting ahold of Kat’s suicide note and not wanting to throw me into a jail cell.
The phone is already connecting to Oleksiy’s number before I have thought of what to say. And what would have Asier been able to say? I would be cheering for him to get fucked.
Oleksiy is on the other line, but I just hear him breathing, as well as the hum of an engine.
“Oleksiy,” I begin, “I’m sure we can–“
“Don’t fucking speak, you fucking bitch,” he interrupts with a growl. “Now that you have returned from your trip, we can get justice for Kateryna. I want you to know that it’s coming.”
“Oleksiy, there’s no need for violence. Asier’s dead. He can’t be brought back, so it’s pointless.”
“I don’t care that you lost your memories. You did it. You have a debt to pay.”
“I just want your forgiveness and a friendship between the two of us.”
He’s quiet for a moment, then he lets out a creepy laugh.
“I don’t think so, monkey. Look up and wave.”
A brick red car is entering the community through the gate. Its bulky, the armored version of a regular car. The bumpers, the wheels and the lower half of the doors are splashed with dirt, as if the owner had driven over muddy puddles and hadn’t bothered to clean the damage. As the car turns towards me and slows down, I notice the Toyota logo, and even though the windshield shadows the two people sitting in the front seats, I make out their blond hair.
“What’s wrong?” Alazne asks from the hall.
She’s approaching me cautiously. Her light brown hair is falling loosely around her shoulders. She slides her gaze down from my eyes.
“Why were you crying…? And who is that guy who looks like Reiner Braun?”
I turn my head sharply towards the Toyota 4Runner. Oleksiy and Hadeon have already exited their car and are marching side by side towards my house. Hadeon is wearing the same crimson hoodie with the prominent image of an anime girl, as well as some black drawstring trousers, while Oleksiy is wearing a worn, short-sleeved shirt, pine green and slightly dirtied with white paint, along with coffee-colored cargo pants. Neither of the brothers have shaved for a week. Hadeon is looking towards the neighboring houses as if he fears getting spotted, while Oleksiy is scowling unblinkingly at me with his pale blue eyes, while with his right hand he’s holding upright a baseball bat against the side of his body, as if hiding it.
I speak to Alazne with a guttural voice.
“Don’t get out.”

My Own Desert Places, Pt. 31 (GPT-3 fueled short)

That night, Alazne and I dined at a restaurant located in our hotel. Its dining room reminded me of lounge bars featured in Hollywood movies from the forties, but if they had been jazzed up with vibrant colors. The marble flooring reflected the shadows of the tables and chairs, and shined under the scarlet, polyhedric lamps. Both the pillars and the velvet curtains were apple red, and all the internal walls were covered in a mosaic of mirrors that reflected each other. My girlfriend and I filled our stomachs with ham croquettes, seafood chowder and lamb chops with honey sauce, and we topped it off with rice pudding sprinkled with burnt sugar and cinnamon.
When we walked up to our room we knew that despite how exhausted we were, we couldn’t go to sleep on a full stomach, so we leaned our backs against the headboard and we watched YouTube videos on Alazne’s tablet while we held hands. Near midnight, our caresses turned into making out, and then undressing ourselves to taste each other’s skin. We made love as if sleepwalking. Only our moans rose above the electric humming that leaked through the walls.
As if my conscious mind has suddenly switched on, I find myself retracting my tongue in a second long break from lapping up Alazne’s swollen, lubricated labia. My girlfriend’s hamstrings are resting on my trapezius muscles, the fingers of my hands are interlaced with hers. I absorb the view: the enlarged, throbbing clitoris peeking out from the hood, the shiny, punch pink labia minora spread as if welcoming a deep kiss, a catenary of gooey pussy juice linking my mouth to her vagina. As I lean in to polish her pulsating clit with my wet tongue, I realize that I have never felt as comfortable in my new role as a man than now, when I direct my girlfriend’s pleasure with the tip of my tongue while a pool of my creamy cum slides slowly down her perineum.

On the next morning we took advantage of the breakfast buffet again and then abused the services of the same taxi company so they would drive us around. This time, though, we could have bothered to walk, as we only wanted to leave the housing development with a hundred identical houses, and then go past an isolated and quiet working-class neighborhood made out of peanut-colored apartment buildings. The taxi left us at a train station, barely a raised platform. We took the C3 line to Oviedo, a journey that would take around an hour.
I had already braved through what I intended to face in Asturias. I had wanted to discover if I was resilient enough as a human being to return home after I abandoned the consequences of my choices for twenty years. Now I can’t tell if I’m relieved of just numb. But I want to take advantage of the rest of our time here to enjoy the sights with the love of my life.
Alazne and I sit shoulder to shoulder on the train. I look around the plasticky interior and at the commuters bathed in fluorescent light. Most seem tired or fed up as if they are heading to work. A few of them are staring down at e-book readers. A couple of young guys are listening to music through their earphones and they have it way too loud, leaking the drum beats.
“So what are we seeing first?” Alazne asks while she plays lazily with my hand. “The cathedral?”
“Yeah, it’s close enough to the train station that we can walk there. I’m sure I came a few times to see it with my parents, I guess when I was so young that they thought they had to bring me to a bunch of fancy places.”
Beyond the tranquil, verdant hills of the countryside and the passing clumps of pillowy clouds, some stretches of the journey are dominated by imposing industrial complexes. Dozens of meters long chutes, overlapping pipes, begrimed silos, metallic towers that remind me of guard posts from a post-apocalyptic movie, and smokestacks that exhale grey plumes. Only near the end of our ride the train passes in front of sleepy towns that likely house people who work in Oviedo.
Once we reach the capital of the province, Alazne and I look out of the windows at the bustling streets with plenty of cars and pedestrians that hurry up to their destinations, and that likely would have teleported if they could. Many of the buildings are far larger than any we have been accustomed to on this trip, except for our hotel, and have been designed carefully. The train slows down as it approaches the main station. I’m impressed by the sight. The equivalent of the first two floors of a building are emptied out and lack walls, and many pillars are supporting a horizontal building, like the box that a television would come in, upon which is stacked, at least from our perspective, a tall, blocky building that seems to contain offices. Whenever I stop to think about the intricate stuff that people have managed to build, I’m mesmerized, and yet it all feels so fragile, as if it would only take a huge disaster for the tenous links between all the steps that go from wanting to construct a building to placing the last brick to be severed, and the survivors would be left wandering around increasingly ruined monuments of a technological era that they cannot reproduce nor comprehend.
When we finally exit the train and its station, we head towards the cathedral following the route we looked up last night. I force myself to ignore the constant feeling of déjà vu, and I focus on the feeling of Alazne’s warm hand on mine, and on checking out the storefronts. My girlfriend looks at the surrounding apartment buildings, even at some of the passersby, as if she can’t quite believe they exist.
“This is one long street, one of the main ones, I suppose,” I say. “I like the style of these houses, and how they differ in color. The similarly fancy residential buildings in Donostia look far more sober.”
“It’s all so strange, isn’t it?” Alazne says dreamily.
“It’s familiar, but strange,” I say. “It gives me déjà vus, so I’m sure I’ve been here before.”
“All these people, we likely won’t see them again for the rest of the day. They had never existed for us before we came to Oviedo, and once we return home they’ll be gone forever. Still, these lives must exist by themselves. I don’t know how this world can bear so many stories. It’s… suffocating.”
Alazne holds my hand even tighter. Her big, hazel eyes widen, staring at the world around her. Her cheeks are flush, and her light brown hair falls in gentle waves.
“There are definitely too many human beings on this planet,” I say. “We should have never grown beyond let’s say five hundred million people. I don’t know how you can take a look at the world we have created and not realize that it will end in a bloodbath. But politicians love their pyramid schemes that demand more and more babies to be born.”
Alazne looks down at the pavement, then closes her eyes tightly for a moment.
“I didn’t know you felt that way as well. It doesn’t seem to bother the vast majority of people. I hope that I won’t end up giving birth to another monster.”
“Oh, it will be a monster for sure. But it will be ours, which is the whole point.”
“I guess that when you cross two monsters together, you can’t expect anything different.”
“Well, we will do better than our parents, won’t we?”
“We sure will,” she says with a sad smile. “I just hope that he or she manages to remain happy enough.”
Even though we need to walk in a straight line for now, we have to navigate through crowds. A few groups have stopped to talk in the middle of the sidewalk, which isn’t that wide, forcing others to walk around them. Some restaurants and coffee shops have placed tables outside, leaving a narrow passage between the seated customers and the front of those buildings.
“You know, I have been wondering if I was being selfish,” Alazne says hesitantly, “and maybe cruel. I think clinical depression has a strong genetic component, right?”
“I suppose so,” I reply, having wondered the same thing myself.
“Should anyone risk having children with a tendency to depression, or I guess even worse genetic conditions?”
“Well, the main point of having babies is to perpetuate one’s existence. But they can be a source of joy and fulfillment. Are you regretting our decision?”
She looks troubled, and I’m guessing that the presence of so many strangers is worsening her anxiety.
“No, it just will be harder than I thought.”
“I recall you saying that holding our baby in your dream felt right, what you should do. So I believe that if we don’t start a family, you will regret it. If we do have children, there is a risk that they will suffer from the same conditions we struggle with. But we should do a better job than our parents to help them through their troubles.”
Alazne sighs, but she keeps smiling softly.
“I guess I’m just afraid of the future. Afraid of our little spawns growing up and one day confronting us and demanding to know who the hell did we believe ourselves to be to burden them with such pains. What would we say then?”
I pull her closer so I can put my arm around her waist.
“I’m pretty sure that won’t happen. And if it does, well, we’ll deal with it then. But I don’t think you should worry excessively about the future, either. What matters is now, and that we love each other. Maybe it’s irresponsible of me, but I can barely care about anything else.”
Alazne leans against my side, and I feel her warmth.
“We are all monsters, aren’t we,” Alazne says as if she had been considering it for a while.
“Sure. Everybody will die some day, and we all know it.”
Shortly after we reach the vast square that on the opposite side ends at a famous cathedral. Ancient people somehow organized themselves to construct it during hundreds of years. We stop to gaze at it. An Asian, possibly Japanese, tourist is standing nearby shooting photos with his expensive camera. The cathedral’s color reminds me of peeled peanuts. Its porticos seem to have been built for giants, and apart from the intricate spire, a wall over the main doors displays a huge rosette. I can’t say that I have ever cared about the beliefs of people associated with such buildings, but they are awe-inspiring, and certainly better than most modern architecture, which seems to be modelled after construction sheds.
“Let’s get closer,” I say. “The whole cathedral grounds are supposed to be interesting.”
“Sure, but I want to take pictures too,” Alazne says. “Stand over there.”
She takes out her phone, and she starts lining things up in order to take a photo so my hopefully presentable self will fill most of the left half of the picture. I keep smiling as her phone plays a digital sound. She looks down at the screen.
“That’s good. You know, we have to take plenty of pictures and print some of them at a store. You only framed that one picture of me you took back during our first date in the amusement park.”
“One of my most priced possessions.”
Walking across the vast square, which is mostly empty due to its size, makes me feel as if we are exposing ourselves to sniper fire. On one side of the square there is a sloped sidewalk occupied with the outside tables of a series of restaurants, where I guess we’ll eat today. On the left side of the cathedral, we pass through the gate of a fenced garden with four small trees pruned to conical shapes. Except for the fence that separates the garden from the square, the rest of it is delimited by walls in which they built alcoves that feature statues of long dead people. The full-bodied representations seem vaguely Roman to me, although those crowns the people depicted sport belong to the Middle Ages. Those probable kings are holding swords or pointing at indeterminate places or staring into the distance. Alazne takes some photos of them, and we move on towards the back of the garden, where parts of the wall jut out forming pedestals that hold, out of any person’s reach, the busts of bearded men wearing crowns. Three of the busts are partially blackened with soot as if some fire broke out but nobody cleaned the damage.
Alazne takes more photos.
“Who are these people supposed to be?”
“Kings, I guess.”
“They don’t look very regal to me. Some of them are looking in very strange directions.”
“I guess they were just people before they became kings. And then one day they became ghosts too.”
Alazne rubs her chin.
“They stopped being kings once they died.”
“I think they would disagree with you on that.”
I keep staring up at the busts. I have no idea why, but those coin gray depiction look more real than the vast majority of the people we’ve come across. These kings died long before I was even a gleam in my rotting old man’s eye. Were their struggles worth it? I imagine they had families, people who loved them, people who hated them, and now virtually the entirety of mankind has forgotten their names. Maybe some of their ghosts still roam around to ponder similar questions.
I myself was a ghost for twenty years, and although in comparison I have barely spent any time enjoying my new life, the processes and burdens that my living body subjects me to are starting to make my time as a ghost feel like a distant nightmare. The chemical reactions in my brain keep pushing me subtly in this or that direction, towards eating, pissing, shitting, fucking or sleeping. In between those needs, my body keeps alerting me of a myriad of minor annoyances and pains, from the sweat building up in my groin to the background ache of the bruises that Oleksiy bastard caused on my abdomen. All these sensations tie me to the here and now, but no matter how bad any particular day gets, I can always look forward to the respite of sleep. Still, it’s all so brittle, and our lives hold no intrinsic meaning beyond the lesson that we are here one moment and gone the next, with the only guarantee that until the instant our brain stops receiving oxygen we will need to struggle through thousands of problems and persistent pains. In less than a hundred years I, Asier, will be gone, and although thinking about it makes me want to cry, Alazne will be gone as well. It will only take time for the entire universe to vanish too.

During our last night in Asturias we dined at the same restaurant we had patronized, but instead of walking up to our rooms to digest the food in peace, we decide to leave the hotel and take a walk in the moonlight through the quiet housing development made out of identical homes. It has only gotten chillier in the last couple of days, so Alazne is wearing a pullover sweater.
The crickets keep chirping as my girlfriend and I, hand in hand, follow the sidewalk to wander around. The sound of our footsteps reverberates. Most of the houses remain dark, probably unoccupied, although in the few houses where light leaks through the windows, at the most I hear the murmur of conversations, likely from movies. The streetlights are properly spaced, and insects are flying around their glass-covered lamps, but the area seems so deserted that the little oases of light they spill onto the sidewalk make me feel safer.
“It would be nice to live in a place like this, wouldn’t it?” I ask.
“Yes. Too bad we had to come so far to get here.”
I have grown anxious enough anticipating the eight hours long trip that awaits us tomorrow.
“Don’t remind me of that, though.”
Alazne chuckles.
“I love our actual home, Asier. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
“Yeah… Me neither.”
A tiny drop of water, probably from the humidity that has settled in, falls on my left arm. I look up and see a cloud drifting in front of the moon, turning the area around us into a dark gray void.
“It might start raining soon.”
However, no second drop falls on me. After we turn a corner we spot a couple in their forties, along with two young kids, who are taking things out of their car. I suppose the house in front, which has the gate open, belongs to them, or maybe to some other family members. The scent of food wafts from the windows of that house, and now that I’m paying attention I hear an animated conversation muffled by the walls. As we pass the family by, they nod towards us and smile amiably.
We realize that if we follow this side street to the end we’ll reach a shoddy wooden fence that offers a view. This housing development was built on top of a hill, and on edge there’s a steep slope downwards which gives us a panorama of seemingly the entirety of Avilés. The lights of the apartment buildings down there, many of them identical ten-story tall monsters, give off a glow which is almost blinding when contrasted by the darkness that surrounds us. To the right of the panorama there is a line of even taller smokestacks, and to my temporary confusion two of them aren’t spewing smoke right now, but shooting flames. What a weird world.
“It’s gorgeous,” says Alazne with a tired but grateful voice. “I mean, there isn’t much to this city, but it’s still humbling.”
I don’t know how to answer beyond agreeing, so I remain silent. However, I didn’t feel that Alazne expected a response. I listen to the sound of the breeze for a few seconds, then my girlfriend puts her warm hand on mine. She’s looking up at me, displaying such a trusting affection that it tightens my throat.
“Thank you so much, Asier,” she says with a voice tinged with emotion. “Thank you for making today happen, as well as the days before. I wish that we could just stay here forever, watching the world.”
She turns her face towards the panorama, showing me her profile, and observes the view as if she wanted to burn it into her mind. Close to her temple, a lock of light brown hair is swaying slowly in the breeze.
“The world doesn’t care about either of us,” Alazne says in a low voice. “Nobody notices we are passing through here, or that we will be gone. None of the things built out there had us in mind, and there’s little we can do to affect this society in any way.”
I know why she’s saying this. I stay quiet, and wait for her to continue.
“When these days I look back and think about who I used to be, my ossified form which I believed would be the last, I remember those times I passed my head through the noose and tightened it around my throat. The deafening noise of blood surging in my ears, my face burning up. That person would have never believed that one day I would stand here. And even less with someone who managed to love me.”
I feel a dampness on my cheeks. I hug Alazne from the side, and cup the other side of her head to stroke her hair. She doesn’t turn.
“I wanted not only to die, Asier,” she whispers, “but to never have existed. To be erased from the minds of everyone… That not a single person in this indifferent world would have known that I ever was. Now I wish for you to always remember me, to know that I was here, and that we got to love each other.”
I close my eyes and press my lips against her forehead. I feel the warmth emanating from her body, I smell her scent that I recognize only as hers. She shivers against my skin while she cries silently. Neither of us speaks for a while.
Alazne puts her hand on my chest, and we pull away from the embrace. She wipes her eyes and sniffles.
“Let’s return here some years from now,” she says, “and experience how the world changes when we do.”

My Own Desert Places, Pt. 30 (GPT-3 fueled short)

Although I no longer wished to stay in Gijón, I had dragged my girlfriend into this trip, so we settled for checking out the tourist area that surrounds Poniente beach. We walked for a bit along the promenade while Alazne looked at the beach. The sky had become overcast, so the dozens of beachgoers remained dressed and just took walks or played around. If one has seen a beach, one has seen a thousand of them, although this one featured more washed-up detritus than I would have expected, as I don’t recall seeing much of it in Donostia’s beaches. Alazne also eyed meaningfully the blue banners that encouraged people to visit the nearby aquarium. My girl loves animals, so I know she would enjoy hitting every aquarium and zoo in every city we end up travelling to.
I was struggling to sustain a conversation with Alazne, even though she was trying kindly to bring up topics. Putting words together in my head and verbalizing them was sucking the energy out of me. I felt I would only endure around an hour more outside of the safe house that our hotel room represents. Still, we’d likely only return around nighttime. I wasn’t in the mood to see the sights, to eat good food, to talk. I wanted to go home. I wanted to return to Hondarribia, to the expensive house that I stole from a dead man when I took over his ruinous life, and to our bedroom, where I would curl up under the sheets and merge with the darkness.
It’s the proper time of the day to settle for a restaurant and pay strangers to prepare a meal for us. Past a series of long benches occupied to the last space with group of teens or old couples, we find a raised restaurant with outside seating, which offers a panorama of the numerous leafy trees that keep most of the square in shadows, as well as a view of the beach, from which come the cheerful voices of children.
Alazne and I sit under a patio umbrella. I don’t think I will be able to retain much food, so I order a hamburger with a side of fries. However, my girlfriend chooses a combo plate and a strawberry smoothie with yogurt. The restaurant is thankfully half empty, so they bring our food quicker than I expected. It only takes a bite of my juicy burger, and tasting the crispy bacon, for my shoulders to relax a bit. Even though my girlfriend will have to eat through a fried egg, fried potatoes and a steak, she steals some of my fries and tops them with dollops of sour cream. I don’t mind.
“It’s so delicious,” Alazne says as she munches on one of her own oily fried potatoes. “Eating solves most ills, doesn’t it?”
She takes a forkful of her egg. The yolk is still gooey, but not liquid enough to break and make the food gross.
“Serves as a distraction, at least,” I say with hoarsely. “Eating, fucking, sleeping. The three only pure joys for any living creature on this planet.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” Alazne says. She smiles with her mouth closed as she chews her food. “But I hope you feel better.”
I lift the bun of my hamburger and I realize that they haven’t poured any ketchup, so I open the packet and empty it onto the bacon and the cake of minced beef.
“I think I will be able to hold a conversation properly in a short while. I don’t want to keep worrying you.”
“I’m your girlfriend, it’s not a bother if you worry me. I’m glad that you talk to me.”
“You have been really accommodating and self-sacrificing today, Alazne. I truly appreciate it.”
Alazne eats another fry.
“You’re welcome,” she says in a mild tone. She looks towards the busy square, located maybe thirty meters away, as if she’s thinking. “Hey, was it a good idea for you to talk with Irene’s father?”
I sigh. My head hurts.
“I don’t know. Is it ever worth it to talk things out with people who think so differently from oneself? He would have never changed his mind, and neither would I. So what’s the use?” I take a sip of my water to wash the food down. “But it’s done. I doubt I’ll ever speak with that man again.”
Alazne lowers her head and sweeps the table with her gaze.
“You are so resentful and guilty because Irene killed herself, Asier,” she says in a low voice, as if fearing that it will upset me. “After so many years. Like a painful tumor that nobody can take out.”
“I wasn’t able to save her,” I reply in a cold tone. “If I had known you during your worst times but I hadn’t been able to date you and prevent you from killing yourself, it would have destroyed me inside as well.”
Alazne drops her fork noisily on her plate to cover her face, as if overwhelmed by a sudden pain. After a few seconds of breathing deeply, she lowers her hands to the table and speaks.
“I would have never expected to meet you, or anyone for that matter, let alone that they would be interested in spending any time with me. That’s part of what depression does, right? It hunts you down until it traps you against a corner, and then it murders you. I don’t dare assume how Irene must have felt during her final days, but she also bore the burden of only being able to love people of her own gender, which makes life far more difficult. Poor girl.”
I place my right hand on top of hers and squeeze it softly.
“She would have gotten along wonderfully with you, I’m sure,” I say, but I stop myself from talking further, because I feel that my voice is about to break.
Alazne chuckles sadly.
“I suspect she would have wanted to date me as well. Misery loves company and all that.”
I draw back my hand that was caressing hers, and I take a big bite of my hamburger to camouflage my sudden unease. I munch on the beef and the bacon slowly, and once I swallow the morsel, I dare to ask.
“You think that you would have been able to date Irene, despite…?”
Alazne sips her smoothie through the straw, then she licks her lips.
A warm sensation bursts in my chest. I clench my ass cheeks and sit up straight. My heart starts beating faster.
“H-how so?”
“Because I don’t have a problem with people loving anyone they want, as long as those people are of legal age and aren’t related to one another. It’s not really any of my concern who anyone is dating or having sex with, and why would it be? It’s a free world, and I don’t pretend to have some sort of moral high ground, because my entire life has been one mess after another.”
“That’s one thing, but I mean Irene dating you in particular. You aren’t attracted to women in the slightest, right? So would you have been able to get involved in a romantic relationship with her?”
Alazne puts her elbows on the table and rubs her hands while she looks down with an unfocused gaze.
“I don’t know, maybe. I mean, I think so. I’ve never been attracted to a woman before, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be. I have been so terminally lonely that even if the one person who wanted to love me was a woman, I think I would have opened up to it. But maybe this is all just talk, and the moment I found myself feeling her naked body against mine as she held me to make love, I might have felt such revulsion that I might have wanted to push her away.”
My throat had tightened and my hands tingled as my brain worked itself up into confessing my unforgivable deception, but I force myself to calm down. I have learned enough of human beings in my four decades of half-life.
“The problem is that the stories we tell ourselves are mostly fiction, aren’t they?” I say with a thin voice and a feeble smile. “We convince ourselves we like this or that, and sometimes we arrange our lives around those beliefs, even though our instincts don’t match those rationalizations. Some people spend their existences pursuing what they decided through rationalizations, but they need to fight their instincts every step of the way. To an extent, our modern civilization has become a tangled rationalization dedicated to burying and suffocating our instincts. Many groups of people and ideologies are invested in it. Getting people to reject what their hearts demand makes them malleable.”
Alazne brings to her mouth a forkful of egg while she frowns as if she’s having trouble holding on to the meaning of my words.
“What I mean to say is,” I insist, “you aren’t in a relationship with me because you decided that’s what you wanted. You’re in a relationship with me because your instincts pushed you into it. We both admitted it during our glorious first day together, right? For me it was love at first sight, as if I was meant to be with you, and I didn’t need to stop and ponder the pros and cons. In spite of whatever logic has convinced you that something is the right thing to do, the real you keeps screaming inside to get out.”
Alazne gulps down noisily more of her smoothie, which as it goes down leaves that stretch of the glass covered in foam.
“What you mean is that if Irene still lived, and was in her twenties, and had approached me because she found me attractive, I might have ended up in a bedroom alone with her, both naked, and she would have stared at me hungrily with that pretty face and the uniqueness in her eyes. And then different things could have happened. Maybe I would have found her love or at least desire for me so erotic that I would have welcomed a lesbian relationship with her. Or maybe I wouldn’t have been attracted to her, but I would have considered that any romantic relationship with a person who wanted me would have been better than rotting alone, so I would have gone along with it just to keep Irene around. Or I would have been so disgusted by the idea of a woman kissing me and fondling me and caressing my pussy that I would have excused myself and declared our date a horrible mistake.”
I nod, although I don’t feel relieved.
“That’s exactly what I meant, yes.”
Alazne wipes her fingers with a tissue.
“To be honest, even if I didn’t find Irene attractive, I would still have wanted to keep her around as long as she could hold me through the night.”
My heart hasn’t calmed down. I munch on some fries as I wonder whether I should be happy about that confession. I can’t think straight with my pulsating headache, and I don’t think Alazne has ever had to prove that supposition with another woman, so it might mean close to nothing.
“You know…” Alazne starts, but she looks down as if she can barely bring herself to say something. “At times I grew fond of the spiders that appeared suddenly on some corner of my ceilings. Because they chose to be there, and wanted to stick around. Human beings only hurt you, after all. That’s what I thought. At least mindless creatures won’t reject you if you let them be.”
I swallow the sour taste in my mouth.
“I wish I had been there the first moment you felt lonely, Alazne.”
She lifts her gaze to meet mine, and she smiles so amorously that it makes me shiver.
“These days I wouldn’t change a thing of what has happened to me, Asier, because I can sit here and eat this food and be with you.”
I nod, and as I fear getting overwhelmed, I bury my face in my hands and take a deep breath.
“I don’t want to cry today,” I manage to say. “It has already been too emotional for me.”
“You can cry. You’re allowed to do that.”
Once I dare to look at my beloved girlfriend again, she smiles briefly before she opens her mouth again.
“Do you know Daphne du Maurier?”
For a couple of seconds I only let out confused noises.
“I don’t know… Daphne du Maurier? I think she’s a writer, right?”
“Glad you know.” Alazne smiles. “She mainly wrote in the first half of the previous century, I think. Long dead, the poor lady. Anyway, she wrote one of my favorite books, ‘Rebecca’.”
I shake my head slowly as I frown, dazed.
“This is one sudden change of topic.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about it. It has been one of my favorite books since I read it years ago.”
“To be honest, I’m surprised you would know her books at all, given that she wasn’t Japanese nor a manga author.”
Alazne giggles briefly, and touches my hand.
“Hey, I am a woman of culture.”
“That’s what I mean.”
“I have been known to delve into exotic fiction as well. Anyway, have you read that book, ‘Rebecca’?”
“No. I haven’t even heard of it.”
Alazne nods slowly.
“It’s a love story. The main character is pursued romantically by a rich man who brings her to live in his mansion. As she struggles to fit in a role that she doesn’t feel prepared for, the ghost of another woman, the titular Rebecca, haunts every corner of that place, figuratively, as well as every nuance of the protagonist’s relationship with the man who chose to love her.”
I shift my weight in the chair, as I suddenly feel uncomfortable.
“It sounds a lot like ‘Jane Eyre’.”
“Yeah? I haven’t read that one…”
“Me neither.”
Alazne opens her mouth to question my words, but then chuckles.
“Alright, but do you get why I brought up Daphne du Maurier’s book?”
“Well, let me think… Because you were pursued by a rich man who brought you to live in his mansion, which also happens to be haunted, literally? I guess many people could have interpreted that relationship, just from your brief summary, as if the man was merely obsessed with the protagonist for whatever reason, and the relationship turned poisonous until eventually the main character realized that the guy didn’t really love her, but rather loved his own twisted reflection of himself that he saw in her?”
Alazne blinks a few times, and narrows her shoulders as if she fears shuddering.
“I suddenly regret bringing up that book. I don’t like that interpretation at all. But I mentioned ‘Rebecca’ because Irene pops up everywhere in my relationship with you, Asier. Maybe you were in love with her and never resolved that feeling because she was a lesbian, in addition to the lack of closure that her suicide caused.”
Talking more about myself in the third person implies making up more outrageous lies that will pile up the anxiety I have to deal with every day. I want to sigh deeply and shake my head, but Alazne has every right to wonder why this Irene person was so important to me. I shouldn’t have gotten so worked up when talking to my rotting old man.
“So, are you suggesting that before I met you I remained in love with a lesbian ghost?”
“I’m not sure if that’s what I mean… But I think you might have been mourning her for a long time, and only now are you realizing it in the process of recovering your memories, hence your surprise at your own behavior.”
I struggle to figure out how to retort to that. Alazne realize she has broken my mind for the moment, so she continues.
“Do you think Irene’s ghost is out there?”
I snap my head back, and the irony of it makes me chuckle bitterly. Yes, she’s around. Right in front of you, in fact. I fell in love with you, or maybe it started out merely as an obsession because I was hopelessly lonely and not even spiders would have paid attention to me. And because I knew you wouldn’t have loved me if I didn’t have facial hair nor muscles nor a cock nor could reliably pass for a father figure as your sexual needs required, I spat upon nature to raise myself from the dead. And now you are happy, so I did good, didn’t I? The hugest unforgivable deceptions in the world are justified if the target remains blissfully ignorant and satisfied.
“I’m sure Irene is still around, hopelessly wandering the wastelands of the afterlife, wishing she would find someone she could love and who would love her back. And I’m sure she will never move on to the beyond. She was too much of a greedy, rotten bitch.”
Alazne considers my words and my tone carefully as her expression turns melancholic.
“Is that how you see her? No, you truly loved her to some degree.”
I shove into my mouth what little remains of my burger, and take the opportunity to picture Irene like the people who had the misfortune of meeting me back then would have seen me. Even though in the theatre of my mind I’m holding a mirror in front of my mental image, I can no longer define Irene’s facial features, that supposed pretty face, nor the eyes that promised I wasn’t another interchangeable speck on the tumorous body of the mushrooming human race. Do I even know you anymore, Irene? For the twenty years I wore your body, I never understood you, and when your heart stopped and the electromagnetic tendrils of your consciousness grasped the fabric of reality, I no longer had any choice but to carry on as an echo of who you used to be. Still, I never learned to love you. Even if I had stepped back from that cliff’s edge and gotten to live eighty years more, I don’t think I would have ever contemplated you with affection.
I shake my head in an attempt to stop the landslip from burying me, but my mind is a desert of unending sand. I’m compelled to keep lying, and I’m compelled to tell the truth.
Alazne has jabbed the tines of her fork in the remaining quarter of her steak, and with her index finger she’s moving the fork around lazily.
“Asier, whenever I try to hold you in my mind, some pieces slip through my fingers. It doesn’t form a coherent whole. I love you more than I would have thought possible, but it still makes me… uneasy.”
A pang of pain shoots through me.
“I’m sorry,” I only manage to say.
I’m not the one dating Alazne. When she holds my gaze, she isn’t looking into my eyes. She pledged her eternal love to someone else, while I observed this dying world through a monitor set up in a dark, cramped, airless bunker. I’m surrounded by a man’s decomposing flesh and his crumbling bones. I want to claw at my face and rip a tear through which Alazne could peek at the person who had been hiding behind the rot.
“I didn’t love Irene, Alazne, I… hated her,” I say. “I remember her running around frantically from goal to goal. Any given day she wanted to repeat with one girl or missed another, but her solution was to ricochet to a third one. She never committed to anybody nor anything because she knew nothing would last. When a few of the people in her life wanted something deeper, she turned tail and fled. She feared she wasn’t enough, that she couldn’t live up to those people’s expectations, and above all she was terrified of anyone tying her down, chaining her to a time and place. As a result, wherever she went she left a trail of misery in her wake.”

After we finish our meals, none of the staff urge us to leave, so we lounge on the chairs for forty five minutes or so more. Once we descend the stairs to the promenade, Alazne intertwines her fingers with mine.
“My love, I know it has been a taxing day, but I’m sure I would regret having travelled this close to an aquarium and then leaving without exploring it. Could we…? I mean, if you want.”
I stop and turn to hug my girlfriend tightly. When she reacts, she lets out a noise of satisfaction and buries her face in my neck while she hugs me back.
“Of course, Alazne,” I say. “Aquariums are always fun.”
Inside a tank that a hidden fluorescent light bulb dyes green, some big-eyed, silvery, elongated fishes with glittering backs nibble the purplish flesh of a drowned corpse. In another tank, some white and pink fishes with elongated mouths poke the corpse’s eardrums through the ear canals, and they dig through the decomposing tissues of the body’s vagina and asshole. A few clownfishes slide through the corpse’s floating hair as if it were an anemone. A crab with bulging, bony articulations, its carapace covered in ossified pimples, cuts little pieces of the corpse’s belly with its pincers and brings the morsels to its mouth. An octopus latches on to the corpse’s rotting torso with its suckers, and then with its free arms the cephalopod probes the outline of the corpse’s muscles and bones. A carp swims through the disemboweled abdomen and upwards until it exits the corpse through a hole in its ribcage. A moray eel lunges against the corpse’s face, plunges its teeth into the greyed iris and then yanks the eyeball out. Dead-eyed sharks bite chunks out of the corpse, opening holes from which gush out clouds of coagulated blood. A school of piranhas cover the corpse and gnaw at every centimeter of purplish skin, and they only return to swimming listlessly when the unlinked bones sway outwards then land on the floor of the tank like sunken waste.

My Own Desert Places, Pt. 29 (GPT-3 fueled short)

Alazne and I fucked a few more times, as carelessly as only a couple in love can do when the one occupying the man’s body can freely fill the woman’s womb with his cum. After one of my orgasms, I went down on Alazne to tend to her clit. Given that I am a woman even though I’m wearing some dead bastard’s corpse, and that I was always attracted to women, I thought that licking my cum mixed with pussy juices would revolt me, but I didn’t have a problem with it beyond the taste. I suppose that I have gotten used to this man-body’s fluids, because I’m constantly tasting and sometimes drinking its saliva, and plenty of its mucus has gone down my throat. Still, I don’t understand why cum doesn’t taste better at this point of human evolution. Wouldn’t nature have made it so it would taste like syrup, so most women would be eager to gulp down plenty of cum every day? I’m frequently puzzled by how nature put this world together.
I guess Alazne and I felt like cleansing our sins, because at around seven in the afternoon we had the idea of walking down to the spa and figuring out what the hell that implies. I never visited a spa back when I inhabited my original female body, and as a ghost I couldn’t even feel the rain, so watching breathing people stewing in hot tubs would have only made me envious. To be fair even watching living people getting hurt also used to make me nervous. I yearned for the pain that would certify that I was alive. I suppose that’s why a couple of other ghosts whom I came to know and who could also possess people almost immediately jumped into self-harm, while the original soul of the person they had stolen control from kept licking the intruder all over for him or her to fuck off.
Turns out we were lucky, because the spa, built underground, closes at eight. We descend the stairs to the facilities while carrying my swim trunks and Alazne’s bikini, because apparently we can’t enjoy the hot tub naked. After we take showers in different changing rooms, we exit into a large pillared room bathed in yellow light and that contains two circular pools with a strange circuit built in them, that people are supposed to walk through while submerged. Some strategically installed faucets shoot streams into the water constantly, even though most of those streams aren’t hitting anybody. Kind of a waste of water. Whoever designed this spa also put lights underwater, which project hazy, widening beams of yellow lights. The din from so many streams of water becomes a soothing background noise.
Unfortunately we aren’t alone: two middle-aged couples are submerged up to their shoulders in bubbling water, hopefully because they are enjoying a hot tub session.
I lean in towards Alazne’s tasty ear, so I can whisper in.
“Too bad we aren’t alone. We should fuck in a hot tub some time.”
Alazne giggles.
“Oh, don’t start. I don’t want my nipples to stand out in my bikini. And how could you keep going? You should be dry by now! I can barely stand up.”
“I know, I know. Just wanted to get your mind off the cold you’re suffering from, now that you are semi naked but not in bed nor in the water.”
“Well, it’s working. Let’s go in.”
We stroll through the roomy area towards the emptiest corner of the pools. The light installed underwater shines a cloudy yellow under the rippling water as we sink into it. Alazne and I let out long sighs. The stream shooting from the faucet installed behind us massages our shoulders while some bubbly jets tickle our ass cheeks and genitals. I lean my back against the inner wall of the pool. I feel myself finally relaxing. I have emptied my balls to the extent that if I tried to cum again, my dick only would cough dust, and I might have impregnated my girlfriend, so my job is done. I can die in peace.
“My goodness!” Alazne says, delighted. “What a nice feeling.”
“Want me to massage your feet?” I offer.
She’s surprised, and then smiles at me gratefully.
“You don’t have to…”
“I want to.”
I scoot a bit further away from Alazne so she can turn and rest her calves on my thighs. I grab her dangling feet, which remain underwater, and rub them lovingly. She sighs in contentment.
“I don’t know where you learned to do this, but you are the best boyfriend ever.”
There’s no feeling like knowing that you have made your girl orgasm and possibly impregnated her like she yearned for, so for a few hours I will remain crowned as the queen of the universe.
“Thank you,” I say, kidding only a little. “I learned it watching YouTube videos, I think, and from many daydreams.”
Alazne doesn’t say anything. She continues staring at me with such love and trust that my blood gets warmer. A couple of locks of her beautiful hair are pasted to her temples. The pools are a perfect temperature, the underwater lighting isn’t blinding and creates a pleasurable ambiance, and my girlfriend’s feet are soft and smooth in my hands. I’m groggy and on the verge of sleep.
I feel someone’s eyes on me, and I realize that a middle-aged woman sitting inside the other pool is nudging her husband while gesturing with her head towards us. Then they talk to each other in a low voice. The man, who is almost entirely bald and has hirsute shoulders, shrugs and seemingly attempts to disuade his wife from getting a foot massage.
“I don’t think I will be able to do anything but sleep afterwards,” Alazne says with a dreamy languor. “Not even eat dinner.”
“Yeah, I’m not hungry. And this hotel offers a fancy breakfast buffet, so we can look forward to that.”
“I love you,” she says, and closes her eyes.
“I bet. I’ll intend to drag you to Gijón tomorrow morning, though.”
“Sure, let’s go to places and see new things… You lead the way…”
Shortly after, Alazne has had enough of my massage, or wants me to relax as well, so she lifts her holy calves from my thighs. However, I lean sideways against the cool tiled wall so I can put my arm around her shoulders. Her skin is warm and soft to the touch, and I let my fingertips linger.
I yawn to the point that my jaw cracks. I stretch my arms and legs, feeling all my muscles become loose and relaxed. I could fall asleep like this. I close my eyes.
“Wake me up before I end up in France,” I murmur.

I woke Alazne up at eight in the morning so we could enjoy the breakfast buffet without having to hurry up. Once we got dressed and walked down to the dining area, we waited in a queue while a stressed employee made sure none of us were random bums off the streets, and then directed us to our tables. Although the hotel had seemed quiet and almost deserted, except for a few clients I had seen in the lounge, now we are surrounded by around two dozen groups of people, from rich executive types to working-class families with bored children. Once Alazne and I are given a table, we serve ourselves a coffee, juice and some pastries. I don’t touch the lunch meats nor any other food out of the ordinary, mainly because I feel I would have trouble digesting it. I don’t have the intestines of a twenty years old woman anymore.
Alazne and I use the time to talk about mundane things, although she is excited for the rest of our trip.
“So what are we going to see in Gijón?” she asks.
I take a sip of my bitter coffee, as I hadn’t added milk to it, and I steel myself to open up about old memories, most of which I don’t want my girlfriend to know. I take a deep breath.
“We won’t go sightseeing straight off. As I told you, I wanted to come to Gijón partly because writing my memoir was bringing some images and information to the surface. I want to visit a street that is linked to my past.”
Alazne listens with the attention of a person that doesn’t want to miss anything important.
“Maybe you lived in that street long ago?”
I can’t hold her gaze any longer.
“I dont know… But it’s related to complicated feelings from around two decades ago.”
She takes my hand and caresses it with her thumb. She isn’t pressing me for answers. I have committed fully to her, after all. Our baby might already be growing inside of her. After a few seconds, I speak again.
“They aren’t pleasant feelings. So this could be difficult. Maybe bad memories will come up, and I fear turning into a sad sack for the next few days.”
Alazne smiles reassuringly.
“Asier, I’m not your girlfriend just for the laughs and the… wild sex. You can lay it all on me.”

I call for a taxi so some driver will waste some hours of his or her morning driving up to this nowhere place and then driving straight into Gijón. I’m sure it’s going to cost me a few days of any regular person’s salary, but who cares. As a rich person, I have every right to waste money.
This time we get an old guy who gives me the impression of being someone’s grandfather, and it doesn’t take him much to bring up that he has indeed three grandkids. Alazne is eager to hear about his experiences raising a family. However, I notice that our new driver misses the exit of the roundabout that we entered through when that fish-man drove us here in the first place, and this old guy ventures through a small road surrounded by working-class neighborhoods, under a cloudy sky no less. Is the man a brigand? I keep looking out of the windows nervously, anticipating an ambush.
“Is this some kidnapping situation?” I ask to our driver from the passenger’s seat.
“Oh, I know this area like the bread on my table. We just took a shortcut.”
The old guy gives me an innocent smile. He could be a good actor.
“Well, how is the road condition ahead?”
“It’s great, don’t worry!”
I look at Alazne through the rearview mirror, but she seems more concerned with not offending the driver than our own safety.
I notice that between houses with crumbling walls there’s a way higher than average amount of palm trees given the weather. The people around here must have delusions of grandeur.
“Hey, Alazne, doesn’t this area remind you of your old home?” I ask over my shoulder.
“… Yeah, it does, but more quaint. I don’t know how to feel about that.”
“Why, where did you live before, miss?” the chatty driver asks to my beloved girlfriend.
Alazne opens her mouth. Her pupils dart around as if searching for an answer, or an excuse not to answer the snooping fellow.
“She lived in hell,” I answer.
“Pretty much, yes,” Alazne agrees, then sighs.
The old man’s eyes grow wide as he realizes his mistake. Don’t try to open certain windows if you aren’t ready to face the view. This isn’t something that I can forgive, so I will have to end this man’s life. What kind of person would I be if I let him get away with his rudeness?
I take a deep breath and rub my eyes. No, I’m just anxious. I know I would regret not figuring out if my parents’ house is still there so many years later, now that I had the opportunity to come to Gijón. But at the same time I don’t want to. I wish that city had ceased to exist, that the US had dropped a thermonuclear bomb on it to cleanse the world from its depravity.
“Anyway, my name is Luis,” the old driver says.
Nobody asked you, I think.
Once the taxi leaves behind the shoddy outskirts of wherever we were, the landscape turns mostly flat except for box-like industrial buildings, tall smokestacks and assorted dumps. Some of the cancerous plumes of grey smoke seem to be spewed from the ground, as if from a geothermal vent. The traffic grows heavy with trucks, and the few signs of life on the sides of the road are rural restaurants to feed truckers and possibly prostitutes. The corrugated walls of some of the factory-like complexes are rusted and caked in thick grime as if a titan had pissed all over them, if titans had genitals. I recognize a huge orange crane as one I had complained about to my fish-man friend when he drove in the opposite direction through the highway.
“What is this route?” I ask to the driver. “Are you trying to scare us off from your province?”
“No, it’s the fastest route to get to Gijón that doesn’t go through the highway,” he explains. “I thought you guys were tourists… You don’t get many views on those roads.”
“You should have made sure first that you had sights worth seeing. Look at that, the huge industrial complex over there with multiple active chimneys. It looks like the headquarters of some villain.”
“I think it’s a lumber mill,” the old man corrects me, stumped.
“You are a lumber mill.”
The driver squints as he smiles, which I suppose was intended as an apology.
“I’ve been doing this job for so long that I can’t put myself in your shoes anymore, I guess.”
“It gives a bad first impression of this area, it’s what I’m saying,” I grumble.
“Yeah, well… it’s not the best side of Gijón, but you should see the other sides.”
“We will, if we survive this ride.”
As if the landscape was hearing us, the last artificial clouds pouring from industrial complexes hang in the air behind us as the taxi continues through a verdant countryside.
“This is more like it,” I say, pleased. “We don’t have those scrawny trees at home. How do they stand upright without cracking and collapsing, when the trunks are so thin?”
“I don’t know, sir, I’m not in charge of nature.”
The view does eventually degrade into isolated restaurants, dilapidated huts and a few houses with large yards. We also pass in front of healthy cornfields, with all the cornstalks carefully arranged in rows and columns.
“You guys raise your own food and everything,” I say. “It’s beautiful.”
The old man seems hesitant to even answer me, or maybe he’s upset at the poor state of the area.
“Well, we do try to survive in this world.”
“It’s good to survive. Having to eat every day gets so annoying, though.”
I feel like I’m having an old-age moment and will soon start yelling at young people to get off my lawn. Not only I’m wearing a nearly forty years old corpse, but mentally I’m even a bit older considering when the disaster of my consciousness switched on. I guess I’m overdue for a middle age crisis.
For the next few minutes the taxi either goes through a narrow road bounded by monstrous vegetation that has absorbed tons of rainwater, or we pass by the entrance of some named industrial complex. No way this is the right route to reach Gijón. Our driver must be senile. There’s a bleak glow in his eyes, as if he’s given up on life.
The dreary stretch eventually opens up into the countryside. We find ourselves surrounded by grazing fields and farmhouses. In the distant horizon, though, two isolated and striped smokestacks tower over the rustic surroundings as if they were prehistoric monoliths. I’m biting my tongue to avoid complaining again, only because I’m beginning to consider that I would irritate my beloved, but a road sign announces that we are approaching Gijón, so the driver must have been sane after all.
As the taxi climbs up the road, I get to gawk at a bundle of pipes, one of them thicker than a sequoia’s trunk, laid over a hill as if it was the modern, more toxic version of the ancient aqueducts, but Romans also poisoned themselves through their lead pipes, so I guess we haven’t learned anything in thousands of years. The taxi continues along the elevated highway, and a panorama opens in which, past more factories and colossal, robot-like electric poles, the horizon is now made out of residential buildings.
“You seem to be driving us to Gijón after all,” I say to the driver. “I apologize. I don’t place much faith in human beings anymore.”
“Yeah, we’re nearly there. I’m taking the long way to avoid the traffic jam.”
There was no traffic jam when we last used the highway. He must have taken the long way to charge us more. I have bigger things to worry about, though, like the headache that keeps worsening the closer I get to the city. Now that I’m not despairing due to the impossibly long bus ride that brought us to Asturias from our home province, my brain keeps firing off alarms. I have looked at this tawdry row of one-story workshops that proudly display their companies’ names with lazy logos, I recognize this exact stretch of road, I recall seeing the graffitied underside of that bridge. But Asier has never been here, only my original brain experienced these images. I doubt human brains are made so someone else’s ghost can take them over, and it feels as if my current brain is beginning to question who is commanding it.

By the time the taxi is traversing an area of grey workshops, all of them with inclined roofs and corrugated walls, my skin feels clammy, and and I feel like any sudden movement is going to trigger nasty nausea. I lower my gaze to the dashboard. As the outside world passes in a blur out of the corners of my eyes, I end up in a staring contest with a toy adhered to the dashboard: a bobbing cow with a golden bell and whose alarmed eyes seem to ask me ‘why the fuck are you looking at me?’. I want to close my eyes until we reach Schulz Avenue, but after how much I had been babbling during the ride, both the old driver and my girlfriend must be wondering what’s wrong with me.
A freight train zooms by in a rhythmic clickety-clack. A minute later the soundscape that surrounds us turns into constant traffic, conversations coming from the sidewalks, and the loud music of some generous assholes who want to share their musical tastes from their cars. I briefly glance towards the passenger window and I see a row of working-class apartment towers, as well as two lines of thick palm trees. I don’t know what’s with this area and palm trees, we are not in the tropics. But exposing my brain to more familiar sights only sends a shiver down my spine. I feel as if I’m venturing willingly into a nightmare. I lower my gaze again.
Shortly after, the driver speaks up.
“Alright, we are almost there.”
I get busy getting my wallet out and browsing through the cards it contains, while the taxi passes in between two buildings constructed with copper red bricks and that have the first-floor windows protected with burglar bars. I have walked through these sidewalks more times than I can count. When I went out with my girlfriends, when I wanted to drink coffee at some coffee shop, when I had to buy groceries. I truly lived twenty years ago. I threw myself off a cliff and broke my spine. I want to vomit.
The taxi turns a corner. One of my classmates lived in that apartment building, but there didn’t use to be an office next to its front door. I bought lunch meats at that butcher shop. I got my hair cut a few times in that tiny hair salon, although I stopped going because the hairstylist asked too many questions. I want to get out of this car and breathe fresh air.
I feel how the driver turns his head to stare at me.
“I’ll park next to the Compostela plaza. Is that fine?”
As I was about to answer, I feel a sudden surge of nausea that forces me to swallow, just in case I end up throwing up all over the dashboard.
“Yeah, that sounds good,” I say with a grating voice.
“You have gotten carsick, haven’t you,” the old man asks, worried.
“We’ll get out in a minute, thankfully,” Alazne says from the back.
I can tell from her voice that she has been concerned about me for a good while. Our driver finally parks next to a stall that sells lottery tickets. Once I get out of the passenger’s seat and stand up, I take a deep breath of air, although it smells too much like car fumes to call it fresh. My girlfriend stands in the sidewalk while I go through the process of paying with my credit card. The old man wishes for me to recover quickly, and then he thankfully leaves.
Alazne hugs me from the side and rests her head on the side of mine.
“My love, you remember this area, don’t you? I could tell that it was bringing up bad memories.”
On the opposite side of the street there’s a church lodged between old apartment buildings with covered balconies. My father forced me to attend catechism classes there.
Alazne hugs my left arm.
“Where now?” she asks sweetly.
“This was a terrible idea. We shouldn’t have come here.”
She reaches with one hand to turn my face towards her. I would have expected my girlfriend to be embarrassed of me, but in her hazel eyes there’s only concern and empathy.
“No, we are doing this. No regrets, remember? You are strong.”
I am strong, because Alazne needs me to be. I have no choice. I swallow, then point in the direction of my parents’ house.
“That way.”
We walk through a sidewalk so narrow, made worse by the trees planted close to the middle of the pavement, that if the pedestrian in front of us walks too slowly, we’d have to step onto the asphalt and hurry up to pass them by. We wait for a traffic light to turn green, and once we cross this sidewalk we will only need to leave behind around seven narrow apartment buildings until we reach the two-story tall building where I used to live. As we start walking again, Alazne must sense how my dizziness increases, because she holds on tighter to my arm as if to lend me her strength.
I finally reach my former home, and I stop next to the facade. The wall is made of shiny slabs of some mineral with a surface that looks like black and grey noise. I don’t recall if it used to be so graffitied. The building next door is still condemned. I always wondered if bums lived there. I dare to look up towards the second story of my former home, but I can’t see any detail from this sidewalk, and the box windows jutting out from the wall are blocking most of the view.
“This is it, right?” Alazne says as she looks at the for sale sign in the only storefront of the building, which has a window busted.
“Yeah, this is definitely the house from my memories,” I say with a thin voice.
“Did you live here?”
“I’m not sure if it was me or someone else that I cared about. Let’s… cross the street to get a good look from the opposite sidewalk.”
“Are you going to be alright?”
“We’ll see.”
We cross the street, and Alazne holds my hand as we look at the building for two minutes in silence. The window blinds are most of the way down, and the same old, yellowed curtains block the view of the inside. Two of the windows are slightly open to let the air in. You couldn’t pull back the curtain, because people walking along the opposite sidewalk could see into your room. It felt so cramped and stuffy. A working-class apartment that the inhabitants were damned to live in because they couldn’t have found anything better, and that was constantly exposed to the din of traffic and of random people talking loudly or even shouting in the small square across the street.
Some interaction between my memories back when I lived as Irene and my current brain is short circuiting it, as if it can’t figure out if I’m supposed to know these views from some movie, from my dreams, or because I’m losing my grip on reality. Back when I died, in my first day as a ghost I had the right idea when I chose to leave this city forever.
As I rub my temple, I turn around towards the square mainly so I can stop facing my hold home. The large planter that separates the sidewalk from the square’s pavement should have grown grass and plants, but it mainly contains mucky dirt, moss and cigarette butts. Then I lift my gaze up towards the benches maybe twenty meters away from me, and my blood runs cold. That seated old man who has rested his hands on his thighs and who is looking down a the pavement. That’s not him, is it? He doesn’t seem to be staring at anything. It’s as if his eyes aren’t working anymore and he’s picturing instead something that isn’t here.
I swallow. My girlfriend has asked me something, but I haven’t processed it. I walk further into the square and a bit to the side, to get a better angle of the man. What remains of his hair is white, with a few greys at the temples. The top of his head is bald, but the hair on the sides, which he should have cut at least a month ago, has raised with the breeze, making him look like a bum. He’s wearing a worn sweater with a checkered shirt underneath, along with high-waisted trousers. All his clothes are worn, as if he were the type that wouldn’t buy a replacement unless his clothes sported holes he could drive a thumb through.
He’s rotting. His face is wrinkled, droopy and bloodless, as well as mottled with dark spots. The back of his hands show similar spots, but that skin is veiny as if a couple of worms had gotten stuck underneath. Is that man even alive anymore? No, he hasn’t been for a long time. The ghost escaped from the frame ages ago, but the brain has kept puppeteering the flesh and blood robot out of rote memory. The ground soaked up the fluids leaking from his body, and the worms and insects made a feast of what was left inside.
“My love, your hand is trembling,” Alazne says in a low voice as I feel her looking up at me. “That man is someone you used to know, right…?”
“He’s just some sad old ruin,” I mutter.
Would you be happy now, old bastard? I’m not the Irene who cut herself off, as if out of spite, from passing the genes that you and my traitor of a mother forced upon me. I’ve become big and tough. A proper man. I have already filled my girlfriend’s womb with my manly cum, and even if that doesn’t impregnate her, we will keep trying over and over. One day I will hold in my arms a defenseless baby, a creature whose well-being will always make me worry, and to whom I will always feel like apologizing for damning him or her to struggle in this world. And that baby won’t contain any single one of your genes.
“Asier, you are shaking…” Alazne says.
The old man looks up and notices me staring. He doesn’t move his body below his neck a single centimeter, as if he had become paralyzed and some random passerby merely plopped down his body onto that bench. He squints and blinks so his decaying eyes clear the vision of whoever has realized he still exists.
I get a strong feeling, one I haven’t experienced before: after today, I will never see this human being again.
My legs feel rigid as if turned into concrete, but I force them to turn towards the sidewalk so I can walk out of this avenue and call a taxi that will drive us far away from here.
“Let’s go, Alazne,” I mutter.
My girlfriend doesn’t budge, and she tugs on my hand.
“You can’t just leave after you know he’s someone from your past,” Alazne says decisively. “Talk to him, figure out what relation he had to you.”
I feel a heavy ball of lead sinking in my gut. I can tell that if I choose to insist and walk away now, it will create a problem in our relationship. She wants me to recover from my supposed memory loss and the damage it has done to my psyche. I can’t refuse.
“Oh no,” I mutter, but I start walking towards him.
My chest tightens as the anxiety grows inside my ribcage. The old man’s eyes are now watching me as we approach him. He coughs heavily. A phlegm rattles in his windpipe before he spits it on the ground. I wince, then wonder if this bastard recognizes me. But then again I’m a man, and Irene is dead.
Alazne holds her hands in front of her waist and lowers her head slightly towards this rotting creature.
“Hello, sir. Sorry to bother you, but my husband here knows you from somewhere. We aren’t sure what relation you two had, though…”
He looks at me, then turns his eyes back to Alazne. He opens his mouth and exhales an odor of rotten dentures. My stomach turns at the stench of decayed gums and oral cancer. I expect that any minute now foul-smelling black blood will pour from the decomposing orifice.
“Do I know you?”
His voice is wheezy yet loud. I wonder if he’s still smoking heavily.
“No, not me, sir,” Alazne says. “I’m Alazne. We are from Hondarribia, in Gipuzkoa. But my husband had a relationship with Gijón many years ago, around twenty years, and he is quite sure he used to know you.”
The old man squints as he examines my face. I try not to breathe.
“Never seen you before,” he concludes.
“Yeah, you have,” I say, and my words taste bitter as I push them out. “You just forgot me.”
He frowns slightly as if offended.
“I haven’t forgotten anyone, boy. I remember all of them. I haven’t gone soft in the head yet. So I can say with certitude that I’ve never seen your mug before.”
I don’t say anything, and Alazne and I make eye contact briefly. I want to walk away, but I want to hurt him. I grit my teeth and narrow my eyes at the man.
“I used to know her. You know who. Twenty years ago.”
The man snorts, and a line of dark green snot, like a thin worm, leaks slowly from his left nostril and onto his upper lip. He pulls out a tissue and blows his nose in it.
“Most of the people from twenty years ago are gone,” he says wearily.
“So you forgot her, then.”
“Didn’t I just tell you…?”
“Say her name,” I dare him.
The man raises his upper lip as if he’s bitten into a lemon.
“You mention a woman from twenty years ago…? You don’t mean…”
“Your daughter.”
The old man’s facial muscles spasm. He opens his mouth to speak, but only a throaty sound comes out.
“What was your daughter’s name?” Alazne asks softly, although she looks concerned.
His mouth hesitates as if he hasn’t allowed himself to verbalize it in many years.
“Irene… That was her name, my daughter’s.”
Alazne snaps her head back, shocked. She then stares at me as if she’s experiencing an epiphany. Whatever is going through her pretty brain can’t be the realization that I’m Irene, but she gets the sense that I had a more complicated relationship than expected with this long dead gal who drowned herself. I never actually intended to drown myself, though. I wanted the far quicker death of spilling my brains when my head hit those jagged rocks.
“Yeah, I used to know Irene,” I say. “Had a close relationship with her, you could say that I got to know her quite well.”
He takes out his wallet. I don’t think about what he’s doing until I realize he’s pulling out a photograph. He attempts to show it to me, but I look away. I tense up from head to toe. The old man realizes that staring into those long dead eyes would be too hard for me, and he hands it to Alazne instead. I rub my eyes.
“Irene…” Alazne says sadly, I suppose while she studies the photo.
“Yeah,” the old man says, “that’s her.”
“She was pretty,” Alazne adds. “And there’s a uniqueness to her eyes.”
“Pretty like her mother, and even wilder than the other one. Irene could rarely sit still, you could never get her to do anything she didn’t want, and she went on about the craziest things. Most of the time we didn’t know what she was talking about. I suppose there was… something wrong with her…”
I look down at the old man again. A soft smile lingers on his lips, as if getting to talk about Irene, despite the pain, was better than wasting another empty day. He looks up at the sky and blows his nose. He then holds my gaze in a congenial manner, even though I must look pissed.
“So you knew our Irene, so many years ago,” the old man says. “Were you sweet on her?”
“You know that wouldn’t have changed anything.”
The arc of his bushy eyebrows tenses up and deepens his wrinkles. He knows I know, but he would never want to bring it up.
“I suppose not. But I’m asking you anyway.”
“I was fond enough of her, I guess. I didn’t consider the stuff she said as crazy. She simply had her own interests. Nothing wrong with that.”
He looks away and rubs his chin.
“Irene always seemed so sure of herself, and so bold, but she must have been… unhappy.”
I want to grab him by the throat and yell in his face.
“Did they find her body?” I ask harshly.
His eyes widen and he looks hurt.
“You really want to talk about that? What’s the use? Yes, they did. It took a week and a half until she washed up on a shore.”
He sucks in air, and his skin around his eyes starts to turn red. He’s silent for a moment.
“I went to identify her,” the old man says as if forcing the words out. “I can see her… I wish that hadn’t been the last time I got to see her face.”
A tear rolls down his cheek, and he hastily wipes it away with the back of his hand. Neither Alazne nor me say anything for a few seconds, so the old man speaks again.
“Even though it would be a different girl, I had always hoped that she would live a long and happy life.”
“I-I can’t imagine how horrible that must be, to endure something like that happening to your daughter,” Alazne says, sounding as if she might cry as well.
“Thank you. It still doesn’t feel real. You know, I look at the time and think that Irene is going to return home from work. It feels that if I hold my breath, I will hear her putting the key in the lock.”
I’m gritting my teeth. My spine is trembling.
“Why would she have killed herself, old man?” I ask him somberly.
He forces himself to hold my gaze, even though tears might overflow from his lower eyelids at any moment.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
“But you have a guess.”
“I think… she must have been very unhappy.”
“Why would a young woman like that, with her entire life in front of her, become so unhappy?” I ask him defiantly.
“I wish I knew. The world is a dark place.” He sighs and holds his head low for a moment. “We buried her at the graveyard next to her grandmother. Words cannot describe how heartbroken her step-mother was, God rest her soul. I’ll never forget that day, as long as I live.”
“You know. You wanted her to be normal.”
He narrows his eyes at me, then takes a deep breath.
“You are trying to blame me for her choice. Every father would want his daughter to be normal.”
“Normal,” I spit out the word in disgust. “You are insane.”
“How am I insane?”
“You have brainwashed yourself to rationalize your daughter’s death,” I tell him, barely able to contain my fury. “You claim that she killed herself because she was unhappy. But the real reason she killed herself is that you made her feel like a freak.”
The old man’s lower lip trembles.
“I made her feel like a freak? She was not normal, anyone close would have been able to tell you that. You should know, if you cared for her as much as you think. She was… always pursuing girls. She even brought them home, when she knew that it was hard for us. Irene didn’t care about anything, nor anyone else’s feelings.”
“What, was it so horrible to picture a pretty girl making out with another one, or licking the other girl’s clit? Or did it bother you that much because Irene was your daughter?”
He scrunches his face. His hands are shaking.
“You know what was down that path? Exactly where she ended up. She turned so unhappy that she believed that the world didn’t have a place for her. If she had considered that one day she might start a family, have kids… She would still be around.”
“You fucking sociopath. She only wished to be allowed to be herself. Instead you constantly pushed her to become someone else, and not because she wasn’t normal, but because she embarrassed you. You didn’t want people you knew to think that your daughter was defective. Irene only mattered for you as long as she matched who you intended her to be, someone who one day would give you grandkids. Is that not the case, you rotten old shit?”
His wrinkled face turns paler.
“I can tell you two don’t have a child yet. So you have no clue, not a single one. Your job is to make them presentable to the world so they can survive by themselves. But she… was too much. I failed her. I blame myself every day.”
“Miserable, self-pitying shell. Your job as a parent is to love them for who they are, not who you want them to be. It’s your fucking job to pick them up when they fall and take away their fears. But most of all it’s your fucking job to accept them.”
His eyes turn red and crinkled at the edges.
“I dealt with Irene how I knew I had to,” he protests frailly.
“And now you are left alone with your pain. Was it worth it?”
The old man lowers his head. A warm hand grabs my trembling fist carefully, and I turn my head to find myself looking at my beloved girlfriend’s disquiet. I have done little else than disturb her, make her worry for me. I let my arms hang limply by my side. I’m about to propose that we leave, but the old man speaks.
“If you cared so much for Irene, what did you do to prevent her from jumping off a cliff?”
The question catches me off guard. The old man continues.
“I gave her everything I could, because I loved her. But I didn’t know how to make her happy. What did you do?”
“I tried to help her forget the pain,” I say.
“Did it work?”
He knows the answer, so I just keep facing his resentment.
“I’m not your punching bag,” the old man says. “In the end, Irene chose to die. She could have chosen to quit her job, to study something else, to seek some hobby. If she asked me to see a therapist, I would have sent her. She could have fallen in love, with another woman if she couldn’t help it. But she chose to jump off a cliff. What I’m saying is that she didn’t want a way out of her sadness. And if she didn’t want to get better, any help anyone provided was wasted.”
I feel numb. What’s the point? Why did I feel the need to come here? Nothing is ever solved, no amount of shouting and blaming ever changed anything. This old man isn’t my father anymore. One day he’ll become a ghost and maybe he’ll hang around for a while or he’ll dissolve into nothing.
In the end, the old man breaks the silence.
“Just go.”
I nod and take Alazne by the hand.

My Own Desert Places, Pt. 28 (GPT-3 fueled short)

Although the eight hours long journey nearly killed me, Alazne insisted that we should eat a proper meal instead of heading directly to our spa hotel. Initially I was worried that admitting to Alazne that our spa isn’t located in Gijón, but in the somewhat nearby Avilés, the same distance away from Gijón as Donostia is from Irún, would have soured my girlfriend’s mood, but now I wonder whether I’ll be able to tolerate that taxi ride without bursting into tears. Before I know it, Alazne takes me by the arm and drags me into the closest restaurant, located across the street from the cement monster of the bus station. Once we get inside and leave our luggage aside so it won’t block the exit, my ears ring from the babel of the many people who had the same idea as Alazne. Most of the spaces between the dining tables are occupied by suitcases and backpacks. However, the aroma of the combo plates will end up making me drool as if I was inching my face closer to my girlfriend’s pussy. The bartender points to a small unoccupied table, and we hurry to claim it for ourselves.
While we wait for our own combo plates, a waitress, who is in her late fifties and has the attitude that we are guests in her house, brings us a jar of water and two glasses. I gulp an entire glass of water, and I feel the liquid course through my esophagus and fill my stomach with cold. I want to swallow the glass whole, even though it might shatter and pierce my internal organs.
“This is the best water I have ever tasted,” I tell to the waitress. “May you enjoy a long life.”
“Oh my,” she says, somewhat bewildered by my efforts to flatter her, but then she grins. “What a long ride it must have been!”
“We came from another dimension, and we may never be able to stand the journey back.”
She laughs.
“You look like a pair of lovebirds. Are you on your honeymoon?”
“Every day is part of our honeymoon,” Alazne says. “And we’re celebrating.”
The waitress gives us a knowing smile. I’m surprised that she’s so welcoming of same-sex couples, then I remember that my girlfriend doesn’t know that I’m a woman inside of this man-corpse. I hang my head low. I have to tell her everything, and then she’ll break up with me.
The waitress leaves to attend another table. I can barely hear the voices around me anymore, while my vision risks getting blurred by tears. Alazne rests her arm on the back of my chair and gives me a concerned look.
“My love, are you okay?”
My willpower reserves have been in a dire situation for quite some time now, and any showing of affection from my girlfriend may end up breaking down the dam.
“I’m just tired, Alazne. Tired of wearing this mask.” I stare at my masculine face in the mirror behind the bar. “Tired of hiding from you.”
Alazne rubs my back.
“The food is going to taste real good, I bet,” she says in an understanding tone.
“You will taste much better than any food.”
Alazne laughs.
“Yeah, I have waited a lot as well. We will digest the food on our way to the spa, and then we’ll have a room all for ourselves. If some pervert has installed cameras there, we will give them what they wanted.”
I kiss the top of her head, and then I sigh. I need to get ahold of myself. I feel like at any moment I might rip apart the skin and flesh of my face with my nails and declare to Alazne that she has been a lesbian all along, she just didn’t know it. But I’m terrified by the prospect of losing my safe mode as a man.
Our combo plates finally arrive. A fried egg, fried potatoes, two breaded fillets, a serving of red peppers. I can almost taste the oil already. We pick up our cutlery and dig in. It’s delicious, even better than I could have expected in my dreams. And the food will also give me enough energy to drag my decaying frame to the spa hotel. I take a deep breath and exhale the thought of having to find our way there.
More patrons, plenty of them carrying luggage, keep entering the restaurant and realizing that all the tables are taken. I feel sorry for them; first they risk their lives traversing the spaces between the cities, and now they can’t even be fed. Alazne and I will likely have to stand up as soon as we finish our meals.
“This is so good, isn’t it?” my girl says while the morsel of egg she’s lifting to her holy mouth drips yolk. “The way I make it at home will never taste as good. And not because of the salt.”
“It’s so strange that we can travel hundreds of kilometers from where we live and the people of that new world know how to fry an egg.”
“I know, right? Well, the Romans managed to propagate their culture as far away as the British Isles. Even after Christianity hijacked the Roman Empire and then they let in the barbarians who ended up sacking Rome, some isolated people in the British Isles that still considered themselves Romans built their villas in the characteristic style.”
“So,” I say in between bites, “the only thing the British managed to keep from the Romans was the language. English is a bastardized version of Latin.”
“Well, there was some Viking influence too.”
I eat a whole slice of pepper.
“None of that matters anyway, because the Roman Empire never existed. It was fabricated to make modern people believe that our civilization hasn’t always been this shitty.”

Once we finish or meal, it’s time to leave. We drop our cutlery into the plates and stand up, ready to leave the restaurant and brave the indifferent outdoors.
“Let’s go then, stupid world,” I say as I shoulder my backpack.
We drag our suitcases along. Once outside, I pull out my phone and I’m about to call the local taxi company, a number I had looked up before we embarked in this doomed journey, when I realize that there’s a taxi parked on the opposite side of the street. The driver is reading a newspaper. I point at it for Alazne, and we cross the road.
“Now comes the bad news, my gorgeous queen,” I say. “Turns out that the spa hotel isn’t located in Gijón, but in Avilés, a somewhat nearby city. So it’ll take us around twenty five minutes to get there.”
“That isn’t bad at all. I’m actually pretty excited to see Avilés. It seems very… quaint.”
The driver has already noticed us approaching his domain, and has closed the newspaper.
I speak over my shoulder.
“You have no clue how Avilés is like, right?”
Alazne chuckles.
“Not a single one.”

The outskirts of Gijón, at least in the route that our driver has taken, are a disturbing panorama of obscenely tall smokestacks expelling grey plumes. Some of the silos, or I assume they are because I can only make out their cylindrical shape and their lack of windows and stories, are taller than residential buildings. In between more electric poles than usual, some elevated gas pipes connect with an enormous industrial complex.
“What do you think about this ravaging of nature that your compatriots are engaged in?” I ask to our taxi driver, sitting next to me.
The guy might be in his late thirties. His hair is already half grey, and has thinned awkwardly over his forehead. His eyes are dark and alert. He seems eager to smile cordially, likely used to dealing with all kinds of random people. Also, he hasn’t shaved in at least a couple of weeks.
The driver doesn’t understand me at first, but when Alazne translates what I said, he smiles.
“It’s the same in all places where industry thrives,” he says in a heavy Asturian accent. “We are just very good at it.”
I can’t help myself and chuckle with a sinister undertone.
“I’m sure that’s true. One day people will drink foul-tasting, soot-colored water, and before you know it your daughters will be born with horns.”
The man chuckles. His eyes now remind me of those of a shark, expressionless and indifferent. Maybe the people around these parts have sex with fishes regularly.
“Oh, I suggest you to avoid drinking the tap water anyway!” the driver says.
I shudder.
“I’m sure the damage is already ongoing. Thank you for the advice, fish-man.”
The driver turns on the radio, maybe to listen to some radio host, or maybe so I will be disuaded from speaking to him further. The music that comes out is some sort of heavy metal song, all angry yelling and wild guitar playing. I thought the driver was about to change the dial, but he’s nodding along to the growling.
“What the hell is this?” I ask.
“It’s… Asturian black metal,” he answers in a tone which mixed embarrassment and pride.
“I see that you people have retained your feral roots. It’s heart-warming.”
He laughs, seemingly forgetting that I am a vile monster deserving only of his contempt.

The taxi is about to pass under an ancient bridge covered in ivy. They have fenced its floor, maybe because stupid people ended up falling. I’m about to wonder whether the Romans were responsible, but the driver opens his Asturian mouth.
“So, where do you guys come from?”
Alazne is quick to reply.
“We’re from–“
I interrupt her by answering in English.
The driver narrows his fish eyes at me.
“My husband is feeling silly,” Alazne says, seated on the back. “We are from Hondarribia, right next to France.”
“Ah, your Spanish is excellent,” the driver says, amused.
I suppose it’s refreshing to have someone with genuine courtesy and poise for a change.
“How do you like our province so far?” the driver asks, but only looks through the rearview mirror at my girlfriend.
I answer him honestly.
“It’s been a nightmare of endless highways delimited by such wild vegetation that one isn’t even allowed the insufficient distraction of enjoying the view.”
The driver laughs.
“Sir, if you want to enjoy the view, you gotta get off the highway, take some minor roads. These ones were built for the sake of speed, they don’t care if you enjoy the view or not.”
“It doesn’t help that whenever a view opens up, the sky includes huge artificial clouds tethered to smokestacks, and I have to wonder if I’m going to develop cancer in the few days we’ll spend here.”
“Maybe you should have stayed in England,” the driver says with a smile.
“You may as well tell me to get the fuck out of your country. But no, your homeland is lovely, even though I have no doubt that the Apocalypse will start here. I’ll have to get used to this dread. You guys sure enjoy your industry, though, just look over there. What are those huge orange cranes? Why don’t you just leave things in peace?”
“I’m sure you guys have used plenty of the items that these factories produce. They need to get made somewhere.”
I roll another lie to the tip of my tongue.
“I’m from a place called… Leiza, in England. Lush, rolling green hills and fields of flowers. In the perfect days everything was pink and yellow. That’s how I imagine your landscape should be.”
“Yeah, well, we work with what we have. If we didn’t build factories and dig up the earth’s resources, then there wouldn’t be food to feed the millions who live around, or the cars they drive to explore our nation’s beauty.”
“You have a point. But I’m not going to like it.”

We pass by a commercial center called parqueAstur, written with the first letter uncapitalized and the second word joined to the first. They just have to make everything annoying. Anyway, some big letters and billboards are announcing Brico Depot, McDonalds, Carrefour. I notice the large and white box-like building of a Decathlon. I recognize this place from having seen it in pictures as I was planning the trip. I don’t think I ever came here with my parents during my original life.
The driver enters a roundabout and then exits it through a rural road that will wind up until it reaches our spa hotel. These are the fancy outskirts of Avilés: isolated parks, expensive-looking restaurants, houses with yards. Alazne keeps looking out of the window, enjoying the serene view.
After the taxi climbs up through a long road with nothing but grass fields on each side, we suddenly enter into a housing development made out of vaguely Victorian homes, all seemingly identical. They are surrounded by fences and hedges, so only ghosts will be able to snoop into the activities performed in the yards. I guess that whenever someone gets rich enough in Avilés, they escape to these parts so they can finally stop surrounding themselves with their fellow human beings.
The driver had turned off his radio, thankfully, and I try to listen whether any voice escapes from the houses, but they remain quiet. There are like a hundred of them, and most look unoccupied. Maybe I should sell Asier’s house in Hondarribia and move out here. I’m sure Oleksiy wouldn’t find out. I don’t know how we’d bring Kateryna with us, though.
The taxi turns a corner, and a few seconds later we get a full view of the spa hotel. Alazne says ‘wow’, and I’m impressed as well, because this place looks more imposing in person. It’s a mainly steel grey building bent forwards in the middle. I don’t know anything about architecture, but I can tell someone spent more money than I will ever see in designing and constructing this hotel so it would look like some futuristic academy in a sci-fi movie.
The taxi drives us to the entrance of the hotel, passing by a still fountain. We get out of the car and I have to shield my eyes as the sunlight reflects on the fountain’s surface.
Once the driver opens the trunk of the taxi, Alazne insists on pulling out our luggage while I handle rewarding the man for his hard work. I use Asier’s credit card, as I’m running the most successful identity theft and credit card fraud scheme in history.
Once his POS terminal charges my card, I take it out and put it back into my wallet gracefully.
“Well, thank you for the effort I just rewarded with money,” I tell the driver.
“Thank you for the entertaining ride.” He leans subtly towards me as if to speak confidentially. A hint of sympathy glistens in his shark eyes. “You look like you need a break, dude.”
I look over my shoulder. Alazne is standing next to the two suitcases, and when our gazes meet, she smiles widely. I smile back, then turn to my new friend that I will never see again.
“Oh, you have no clue. I’m not even a man.”
The driver’s eyes widen; he likely would have never predicted hearing that answer. Then he bursts into laughter. He crouches to get into the driver’s seat.
“Alright, just have a good stay at the hotel.”

Alazne gawks up at a flax-colored chandelier that hangs from the few stories tall ceiling. It looks like the toy Slinky if it got narrower in the process of falling. While my girlfriend remains spellbound by this expensive place I’ve dragged her to, I’ll deal with the suited man behind the reception’s desk. I ring the call bell, even though the guy is already there. He looks like he’s in his mid twenties. I miss some of our conversation because I wonder how a young guy ends up working here when he doesn’t look like a model.
Shortly after, the elevator leaves us at our floor. Alazne and I sigh in relief, then drag our luggage towards our room. It has taken ages to reach our destination and we almost died along the way, but this is it: we’ll own a new room for a few days, and the only other person who knows we are here is dead.
Once I insert the key card into its slot, which allows us to turn on the lights and other electric devices, Alazne closes the door behind us. The immaculate bed has a black headboard and bedspread, as well as black pillows. Near a corner there is an armchair that wouldn’t feel out of place in any grandparents’ house, and it’s facing the bed, as if some of the patrons enjoy sitting and watching while others do the real work.
As I pass by the bed to check out the view, I hear Alazne collapsing onto the mattress.
“I’m never leaving this bed,” she declares.
“Sounds like a plan to me.”
I pull the curtain aside. I find myself overlooking a golf course so large that on that mostly empty space they could have fit nearly a hundred more of those fancy houses with yards. The conscientiously cut grass changes coloration along with the waves in the ground, from a pickle green to a lime green. Apart from some amorphous sand traps, they even created an artificial lake near the center of the field. The only players whose details I can make out from this window are three middle aged men that are gathered near a flag pole. I have never understood golf, but I guess that when people become rich they need extravagant hobbies to distract them from knowing that no matter how much money they accumulate in the bank, they will still die.
When I turn around, Alazne is standing up from the bed.
“I’m ashamed for breaking my promise so quick,” she says as she smiles, “but I need a shower. And I mean a shower in which my main purpose will be to clean my body thoroughly, not orgasm under the warm water. So I will take a shower alone. But when I get out you are going in, my love. I will wait for you in bed.”
“That sounds like the best news I’ve heard all day.”
As my girlfriend walks towards the bathroom, she shoots me a hungry look over her shoulder that wakes up my dick. Alazne closes the bathroom door, then I hear running water from the sink faucet.
I wish I was merely horny, but I can’t shake the dread that has been haunting me since Kateryna revealed that her laptop contained her suicide note. I take a deep breath, and then walk around the room while examining each object made available to us as paying customers. I open the cabinet under the television, which I doubt we will ever switch on, and I find the minibar as well as a safe. On a small coffee table they left open a book that suggests tourist destinations in Asturias. I end up pulling out my cell phone, glancing at the screen to make sure that I haven’t received any calls, and then I leave it on the cabinet. As I look up, I find myself staring at my reflection in the glass of a framed painting. I have, or Asier has, the eyes of a hurt man. The pain is carved onto my forehead, in a unsightly scar that everybody sees.
I cannot go through with this. I’m not strong enough.
I slump on the armchair. I hear Alazne humming in the shower, along with the sounds of water splashing. I space out, and the next thing I know is that I’m staring at my cell phone, which is resting on top of the cabinet. It’s a possessed doll that will move at any point. Oleksiy and Hadeon must have read their sister’s suicide note. Believing otherwise is wishful thinking. Why haven’t they called me already, then?
Would they go to the police with the note? As far as the police knew, Asier was a bereaved fiancé who lost a woman who must have had some screw loose. Although Kateryna couldn’t have been more cryptic about what exactly she wrote on that damned suicide note, I have no doubt that she blamed Asier for her death. Wouldn’t the police want to arrest me if they read the contents of that note? And what would I do, explain that I’m a long dead ghost wearing Asier’s body? Maybe the doctor’s note about my supposed memory loss would help my case, but who knows. I don’t fear going to prison because I am terrified of finding out how a prisoner endures his day to day in this part of the world; I suspect I would hang myself, wiggle out of the body in my ghost form, and maybe figure out if I can possess other fresh corpses. But what would happen to Alazne? I would subject her to a grief that might consume her.
Alazne comes out of the bathroom. She’s naked, and the sight of her pale body, those pink nipples, the pubes and her slit, makes my heart beat louder. She’s drying with a towel her light brown hair, now darkened as many wet locks cling to each other.
I manage to smile properly. I don’t want to worry her nor ruin the mood. I get up from the armchair, I approach my beloved girlfriend and I place my hands at the sides of her waist. Her skin is smooth, warm and still moist. She smells like liquid soap and shampoo. I bend over and I kiss the side of her neck. In a few seconds she grabs my chin with her right hand and pulls my face close to hers so our mouths can meet. I feel her heart beating through the soft skin of her lower lip. As soon as I taste her hot saliva and her tongue slides along mine, I no longer care about anything but making love to the woman with whom I want to spend the rest of my existence.
When I look down at her hard, round nipples, I open my mouth like a hungry baby, but I don’t get to taste them yet. Alazne cups my head with both hands and looks straight into my eyes. Her eyeballs are glistening, and she’s smiling lovingly.
“Clean that bear body of yours, my love,” she whispers. “I will lie on my back and anticipate how you are going to hold me in your arms while you fill me.”
I suspect that if I remain in this room a few seconds longer I will devour Alazne as if I hadn’t heard her, so I turn around and I start unbuttoning my shirt. Once I get in the bathroom I realize that Alazne has brushed her teeth with one of the new toothbrushes they left for us, so I imitate her. Shortly after I’m scouring my skin with a sponge that came in a package. I pay extra attention to my genitals, to make sure that no sweat nor musky residues remain from the nightmarish journey. All along I keep imagining myself sucking on Alazne’s nipples or tonguing her throbbing clit, so I’m as hard as can be.
I dry my skin and hair until I’m sure I won’t drip any water, and I return naked to the room. Alazne is lying on her back, her shoulders propped up with two black pillows, and she has folded her legs and spread her knees apart to grant her a better access to her clit, which she’s caressing slowly. The inner lips are slightly swollen and have turned a darker shade of pink. A few drops of transparent liquid glisten at the top of her inner folds. Alazne lifts her dreamy gaze as she bites her lower lip, and then she looks down at my erect cock.
“You look so big and manly, all naked and hard just for me,” she says in a low, alluring voice. “Come on. Come closer.”
I walk up to the side of the bed as I caress the length of my cock.
“Yeah, Alazne, I’m a big, tough guy, now with extra swollen muscles, just for you. So you can feel yourself powerless and captive as I plunge this thick cock into your holy pussy.”
As I inch closer into climbing on the bed, Alazne reaches towards me with her left hand, while with her right she keeps rubbing her clit in circular motion. She licks her lower lips. Her nostrils are dilating. Her hazel eyes are shining with eagerness and lust.
“It’s been a long ride,” she says hoarsely, “and I need to feel you.”
I swallow some excess saliva, then get on the bed. My knees sink in the matress as I position myself so Alazne can rest her heels on my lower back. Her pussy, already drenched, is emanating its enticing smell which makes me want to forget about any foreplay, but I have dreamed about the next time I would get to taste those hard nipples, so I lean in towards her right breast. Alazne cups it and squeezes it slightly, granting me easier access to that round nub.
“I wish they were full of milk so you could drink it all,” she says.
“Soon they will be full of milk and I will want you to share it with me too.”
Alazne’s eyebrows tremble as if some sudden sensation had spread through her body.
“Yeah? Do you want my breasts to grow and for my nipples to protrude more?”
I breathe on her nipple as my free hand slides down from her thigh, working my way towards her ass cheek, which I grab tightly.
“I want what you want, Alazne. You have already made it clear.”
She chews on her lower lip as she looks down at me expectantly.
“Please, I need to feel your mouth,” she whispers.
My lips meet her nipple as my tongue begins to trace its shape. I suck gently on it. My whole mouth fills with her taste as I flick my tongue against the nipple. I sense her other breast becoming heavy from neglect, so I move my free hand from her ass to fondle her left breast. The flesh spills out of my hand as I mold it, and Alazne’s back arches.
“More, please,” she begs.
Alazne has closed her eyes and is breathing heavily. I suddenly feel her grasping my hard cock, which is hovering above her pubes. It sends a shiver through my spine. She slides her hand along the length of the shaft, firmly enough to keep me hard but not intending to make me come.
In between licks and sucks I pant for breath.
“My love, whenever you want you can just fill me with your cum,” Alazne whispers pleadingly. “I can’t wait to feel that warmth inside me.”
I slowly remove my head from her delicious breast. Alazne brings me up to her mouth and gives me a long, slow kiss, pushing her tongue into my mouth. Her saliva tastes like mint toothpaste, along with her personal, creamy taste.
I look her in the eyes from so close that the tip of my nose touches her cheek.
“Do you want me to impregnate you so we can become a family and be together forever?”
Her mouth opens wide in delight, as she realizes that I’m eager to give it to her. She nods.
“I want it so bad,” she murmurs. “I want to grow round with our baby and for you to take care of me, and one day hold our baby and be a loving family until we die.”
“I’m not just saying,” I whisper hungrily. “I will fill you with my cock right now and I will shoot my cum deep inside you.”
Alazne closes her eyes again and moans. She lowers my dick towards her pussy as she writhes in ecstasy. I feel my glans sliding along her lubricated labia. I enter. Her warmth surrounds my cock, hugging it. I lower my body so I can hold on to the underside of her shoulders, and Alazne crosses both her arms and her legs around my torso, like a monkey clinging to her mother, to pull me in deeper. I plant wet kisses on her neck as Alazne lets out whimpers of pleasure. I keep pulling out until only my glans remains inside of her, and then I thrust back in, all in one go. She follows my rhythm to buck her hips against mine.
“Harder,” she whispers. “I love you so much.”
“I want to take care of you and make you happy for as long as I exist,” I say, breathless.
“Yes, let’s grow old together and die together.”
“I will give you everything you ever wanted.”
I don’t fuck her harder. I want to savor every thrust, feel every little muscle inside her as it expands and contracts around me. I want to look at the love of my life in the eyes as I come in her womb. I free my right hand from under her shoulder and turn her face so I can lick the drool trickling from her mouth.
“Look at me,” I ask her.
She complies. I observe every detail in her hazel irises. An emerald star around her dilated pupils, like a little sun. It’s ringed by a lemon-colored halo mottled with black specks, and that blends with a fern green as it moves away from the pupil. And then I feel the rising sensation in my cock. It’s coming, there’s no stopping it. With every thrust of my hips, every little push with my thighs to force that little bit more of movement from my legs, I feel my orgasm creeping up on me.
“I need your cum,” Alazne moans.
“I’m giving it to you.”
She plunges her tongue into my mouth as the first warm jet of semen squirts out of my cock, bathing her insides. With every spasm, every muscle twitching in ecstasy, I feel at home. Although I feel I’m about to pass out, I keep thrusting, squeezing out every drop of semen so it can merge with her insides.
My body is about to collapse on her, but Alazne manages to roll me to the side so I rest my weight on the mattress. She has barely loosened our embrace, she’s caressing the back of my legs with her heels as she keeps kissing me and running her fingers through my hair. In between little moans of pleasure she calls Asier’s name. I want to speak, but I can’t find the breath.
“Thank you,” she whispers as if about to break into tears. “It doesn’t matter who you used to be, you are someone new, and we belong to each other.”
I close my eyes as our tongues probe each other and our saliva mingles. I’m submerged in warm water equalized in temperature with my body, as I slowly sink to the dark bottom. The liquid is filling my lungs. When I exhale I feel it getting pushed out through my trachea. I want to curl up and sleep until the end of time.

My Own Desert Places, Pt. 27 (GPT-3 fueled short)

Our taxi leaves us at the entrance of the parking lot from which our bus to Gijón will depart. As if waking up earlier than six in the morning wasn’t enough, when I exit our vehicle I have to open an umbrella, because the rain is beating down. Both the cold and the darkness overwhelm me, and something primal demands I hurry back home to curl up under the sheets and a quilt, next to my beloved girlfriend. The few people walking around, either crossing the road that leads to the entrance of the train station, or marching along the sidewalk, are dragging suitcases, and look as if they couldn’t wait to reach whatever destination they signed up for.
I give Alazne my umbrella and open our second one, because I have to pull out both our suitcases, as well as a backpack, from the taxi’s trunk. Once the suitcases stand on the asphalt, I pay the tired-looking driver. Alazne and I trudge towards the depths of the large parking lot, each of us dragging a suitcase. Ever since she woke up this morning, my girlfriend has been yawning every couple of minutes, and her eyes are unfocused as if she were sleepwalking. I hope that she manages to sleep in the bus, or else she might fail to recover her lost sleep for our entire trip.
I have already spotted our bus parked deeper into the mostly deserted parking lot, but I keep looking down to avoid submerging my shoes in the large puddles. The reflections of the few lights that are illuminating the way at this hour, under a clouded sky, keep darting around like frantic insects on the surface of the water.
“The bus is already there, sweetie,” I say to Alazne, who can’t even hold on to my arm because I need to drag my suitcase while I hold the umbrella. “You’ll get to sleep in a few minutes.”
“It’s so dark…” she complains wearily.
Beyond dark, it feels inhospitable. As if during these hours of the night, particularly under the rain, the universe communicated to us clearly the message that human beings keep drowning with their artificial lights in lamps and screens: that we came to exist due to an unlikely succession of events, and that it will only take one or two other major events for us to disappear as if we had never crawled out of the primordial muck. It’s not resentment nor hate for how much we have fucked up, just mindless indifference.
Cold drops of water on my face wake me up from the trance I was falling into. The driver is standing next to the closed door of the bus while smoking a cigarette. Only three other groups of tired people have gathered for this trip, one of them a family with two young kids. The luggage compartment is already open on the side of the bus, and Alazne and I place our suitcases carefully. I keep shouldering my backpack, as it contains our electronic devices, two water bottles, bags of chips and similar crap. It would have been hard to remember the suitcases given that I only found out yesterday that Asier had stored two, but fortunately they came with a tag in which I wrote our names.
As I step back from the luggage compartment, I take a good look at the bus. It seems tough, almost armored, but I guess these kinds need to be. The seats should allow the travellers to sleep comfortably enough for hours. And the bus also comes with a bathroom.
A couple of minutes later all of us travellers show the printed tickets to the driver, then board the bus. As soon as Alazne and I get on the vehicle, the guy, who looks fed up, flicks his cigarette into a puddle. Once I finally get to sit on my designated aisle seat, and Alazne sighs deeply to my left, her sleepy face reflected on the mirror-like surface of the window, I relax. We’ll distance ourselves from Hondarribia for a few days, which means that those Ukrainian brothers won’t be able to bother me, and in addition I’ll get to return to Gijón, which I haven’t seen for around twenty years.
The driver is driving out of Irún when Alazne wipes the sleep from her eyes and pulls out her tablet from the backpack, as well as the expensive earphones I bought for her.
“I know that a beautiful part of any trip is watching new landscapes passing you by behind the window,” she says. “Those moments work with any soundtrack. But I can hardly believe how exhausted I am. I’m sorry if you end up having to wake me up when we reach Gijón.”
“No, it’s fine. I’ll only wake you up if it’s necessary.”
Alazne puts the earphones in her ears and scrolls through the songs while she frowns, as if picking the right soundtrack for her dreams was crucial. Once she’s content with her choices, she leans back to rest her pretty head. She closes her eyes. A few minutes later her shoulders relax, and she breathes deeply through her mouth.
Bored and unwillingly to fall asleep until I can’t help it, in case I would need to wake up Alazne for whatever reason, I look out of the window at what I can see of the hilly, often tree-covered landscape between Irún and Donostia, which is the next major stop, while the hard rain keeps pelting the glass. I feel vulnerable, as if I need to be careful during these following days or else I won’t know how to return to my life. And any trip reminds me of those I took as a ghost, often on a whim: I approached a group of travellers about to board some bus, I snooped to figure out where it was heading, and I got on. I discovered so many new places, but unless I was feeling particularly lonely, I used to wish I could roam around alone, never coming across other ghosts who might waylay me.
The painkiller has dulled the soreness in my abdomen, and the bruises didn’t seem to have worsened, so I probably won’t die from having been punched in the guts. It would have been embarrassing. And it would have ruined Alazne’s life.
Nobody is talking. Above the bus’ engine I barely hear the muffled dialogue of a movie that one of the other travellers is following through her headphones. I pull out my own earphones and put them on. I play the first song that feels right for my current situation and mood: Modest Mouse’s ‘Edit the Sad Parts’.

We reach Donostia sooner than I would have expected. The hard rain obscures the streetlights, and streets that I have traversed hand in hand with Alazne now feel foreign. I’m not in control of anything, but that’s fine. I just have to press on, unwavering.
Alazne’s head had slid towards the window, and now partially rests on the cold glass. The rain hits the other side as if trying to get her attention. I reach with my left hand to hold my index finger in front of her slightly open mouth. Her breath warms my skin. I lower that hand and place it carefully on Alazne’s right one.

A wall of tall trees with dense treetops blocks the view on the left of the highway, and on the right, beyond a line of scrawny trees, I see hills coated with pine-colored plant life as if it were mould. In the far distance I can make out the faintest traces of a tall mountain blending with the darkness and the clouds. Not a building in sight, nor electric poles. I would have thought that all spaces would be occupied at this point of everything.

A road sign mentions that we are passing by Zarautz. To the right of the highway tower clusters of seven to eight stories tall buildings that remind me of termite nests. The rain is easing off. I spot plenty of traffic on the nearby, smaller roads, as well as people walking on the sidewalks. Although the sky is covered in clouds, the morning is becoming brighter.
Alazne’s face is pale, but her cheeks are now a healthy shade of pink. I realize she was looking at me. She smiles. She squeezes my hand that was holding hers, then she shifts her weight in her seat. I open my mouth to say something, but Alazne closes her eyes to rest again.

The sun has risen and peeks from between the clouds. The bus is venturing deeper into the province, and the highway stretches between tall walls of rough rock. Some unknown group of people must have opened this path through a mountain, many years ago. From time to time I see sheep grazing in the green, steep slopes. The forests are dense, and in the narrow spaces between the trunks there are only shadows. I recall distant memories of me sleeping in the woods, sometimes under a storm, during my first years as a ghost, until doing random stuff like that lost all its appeal.

Someone taps my thigh. I must have fallen asleep. As I blink and look to my left, I realize that Alazne is trying to pass between me and the seat in front. The sun is shining through the windows, which makes me squint.
“I need to pee,” she says.
“Ah, sure…” I say through my dry mouth. “Where are we, though?”
“I don’t know, I just woke up.”
I turn my legs to one side so Alazne can squeeze her lovely body between my knees and the back of the seat in front of me. I stare at her ass as she walks down the aisle towards the bathroom. Once she enters it and closes the door, I try to figure out where on earth I have woken up. The bus just passed through a toll booth, and on the left of the highway I see a succession of industrial buildings with corrugated roofs. Also a few silvery, shining silos. Beyond that strip of civilization, the mountains look huge and close, and so devoid of details that they are almost reduced to silhouettes.
I open the backpack and pull out a bag of chips. I’m tempted to grab my phone and find out if I’ve gotten any calls. The world felt safer twenty years ago, when way fewer people carried phones. I want to be left alone.
I’m groggy until we reach Bilbao, because instead of being surrounded by wilderness, the bus passes by apartment buildings that are so close that I can make out piles of boxes and toys and random crap stored in closed balconies. Whoever is in charge of building shit in this world has understood that this stretch of the highway is on the doorstep of civilization, because they installed noise barriers which would have looked decent enough if they hadn’t been graffittied to hell. Some of the apartment buildings, big and bulky, look so worn and dirtied by decades of water that it worsens my mood. I imagine that the people living in there aren’t happy.
The bus goes through a covered, futuristic tunnel and it exits into a fancier part of the city. We pass in front of the main office of the EITB television channel, with a curved facade made of glass and that reflects the clouds. A few skyscrapers, probably filled with offices, rise over smaller buildings.
Our bus stops at a hub where around seven other buses have parked. Long lines of commuters wait to board theirs. I can hear people talking animatedly outside, so I raise the volume of my music. Although I close my eyes and hope for the bus to get moving again, such a racket comes over the music that I think that some people must be fighting either right next to the bus or inside. I take off my earbuds. A bunch of rowdy teens, or at least they look that scrawny and immature, are shouting about last night’s escapades. They must have boarded the bus to return home. They talk with the disgusting cadence that those kinds of young people have, as if they are drugged and proud of it, and they use the same tired words that some garbage people must be repeating in television.
“What an annoyance…” Alazne says to my left. She squints as if those bastards woke her up.
“Yeah, beyond obnoxious. I wish I could knock them out one by one, street fighter style.”
Alazne smirks and pats me on the chest with the back of her holy hand.
“They wouldn’t stand a chance against you.”
“Oh, I wish that were the case about every nasty person in this world.”
The speakers make a loud hissing sound as they announce the next stop for one of the buses. I jam the earbuds back into my ears and turn the volume up, but it doesn’t block out the screeches of those feral teens.
I hate young people. I hate them because they feel like bulldozing everything that came before them, because they believe they’ll be the ones to turn things around, and because they think they will never die.

The bus is climbing up a road that offers a panoramic view of the Cantabrian sea. Maybe even a hint of the Atlantic ocean in the horizon, but I have no clue where the sea stops and the ocean begins, nor who decided that. I could swear that I haven’t seen before a few of the trees that adorn the nearby hills: their treetops are narrow, made out of clusters of branches and leaves. A bit jungly. Up a head, a few kilometers below our position in the highway, a small city hugs the coast, and from here it barely looks like a white spill.

The style and distribution of the houses in the nearby towns and cities has changed. It’s been a while since we’ve come across any road sign in Basque. We have travelled enough that the weather has changed completely: the few clouds are wispy, and the sun is warming my face.
Alazne is reading some book in her digital reader. We haven’t spoken in around half an hour. My shoulders feel tense from having been stuck in this vehicle, and I guess also from the anxiety I’ve been tolerating recently. Now that I allow myself to pay attention to my body’s troubles, I can tell that my leg muscles are tired of keeping the same posture for so long.
“What are you reading?” I ask Alazne.
“Oh, it’s called ‘The Old Man and the Sea’,” she says, briefly peering up at me before returning to her reader. “It’s really boring, to be honest… My teacher recommended it.”
“One of Hajime Isayama’s earlier works, I believe.”
She offers me a playful smile.
“How did you know it was written by Isayama?”
“Just a wild guess. So are you hoping to broaden your tastes?”
“I’m trying. I don’t think I’m going to get much enjoyment out of this. It’s just a story about an old man and a fish. Not a single titan involved.”
I stare out at the passing hills and fields, basking in the sunlight.
“It’s good to try. You never know what you are going to enjoy. But if something doesn’t feel right for you, just chuck it out the window.”
Alazne looks down at her lap, suddenly somber.
“To be honest, when the teacher and other classmates praise some of the excerpts chosen as good writing or good stories, I feel as if they are joking. Most of them don’t do anything for me. Which means that if I write stuff I do enjoy, those same people will consider it shit.”
“If you write what you want to read, then people who enjoy similar works will enjoy yours. I will like it for sure, and so will others. You just have to find those people.”
“But isn’t that preaching to the choir?”
“Don’t people like the same stuff they have always liked? How many people change their tastes? I don’t think human beings are so malleable, and the worst thing you can do is fake what you like or dislike.”
Alazne smiles with newfound confidence.
“Well, I’m glad to hear you say that.”
She strokes my hand, and I return my gaze to the rolling countryside. A serene silence hangs in the bus; those teens fucked off to their respective houses what feels like long ago. For now I don’t want to drown this silence with a soundtrack.

Alazne pats me on the shoulder. Although I hadn’t closed my eyes entirely, I was dozing off.
“Hey, some signs said that this is the Cabárceno natural park,” my girlfriend says merrily. “I thought it was farther away.”
I look out of the window, but the first things I notice are more of those tall reeds with an eggshell-colored feather on top. They stand near the shoulder of the road as if they were spectating a race. I examine the nearby fields, but I only make out the roofs of some buildings as well as isolated trees. Shortly after, a mound blocks our view entirely.
Alazne sits back.
“I guess most of the action happens further in…” she says, disappointed.
“We’ll come some day, don’t worry.”
My girl keeps looking out of the window.
“You think they have bears?”
“You already have one at home, though. I wish they had dinosaurs.”
She laughs and puts her hand on mine, the one resting on my lap. Then she takes it and intertwines our fingers.
“Keep dreaming, and one day they will,” Alazne says. “I’d rather prefer they revived the megafauna of the Ice Age, though.”
“Like mammoths and shit?”
“And gigantic armadillos, birds the size of wyrms, horse-like creatures much bigger than elephants, and the huge ground sloths, which were like bears, but if bears were sloths.”
I let out a chuckle.
“Fuck, you’d have a bunch of overgrazing beasts dying because modern humans wouldn’t know how to take care of them. I’d like to have a gigantic armadillo for a pet as much as the next person, but I’d say let them sleep forever. They are the lucky ones.”
“No, you don’t believe that,” she says as she squeezes my hand a bit. “Reviving extinct creatures would be nice after all the killing we’ve been doing for thousands of years.”
“Sweetie, I just wanted to chuckle some more at the thought of herds of mammooths bunching up and trampling each other to death. I’m not the right person to judge this subject.”

We are passing by Torrelavega. Some seriously rusted silos, old factories and shiny refineries that are fabricating their own clouds. I’m finishing my ham sandwich. Fuck, this is a long journey.

The bus goes through long stretches of highway in which some tall trees, some of them standing on top of rusted-looking outcrops, block the view. Alazne was resting her head on my shoulder when she suddenly places her right hand on my left thigh and strokes it. My heart skips a beat, and I instinctively cover her hand with my left one.
I look down at her hazel eyes, and she holds my gaze meaningfully. I recognize that smile: she’d prefer we were naked under our sheets, a few minutes away from me closing my lips around her clit, or her closing her lips around my cock, or me pushing my cock into her smooth insides. My crotch tingles.
“I want it too,” I whisper close to her nose. “It’s too bad that people don’t take kindly to being offered such a spectacle in public, at least from strangers.”
Alazne bites her lower lip as she looks down towards the growing bulge in my pants. She contributes to its development by extending a finger and poking my shaft gently. I shiver, and start breathing deeper. I won’t be able to fuck my girlfriend at least until we reach the spa hotel, so this is torture.
I lift my hand from hers and stroke her opposite cheek.
“You keep playing,” I whisper ardently, “and when we get to our room I will tear your clothes off.”
Her hazel eyes glint mischievously.
“Whatever you say, daddy.”
No hint of hesitation nor embarrassment. My mouth gets dry. I will end up fucking her right here, even if they’d kick us out. I take a deep breath. No, I need to lock my feral urges in the oubliette of my mind for a few hours more. I take Alazne’s hand that was inching closer to stroking my dick through my pants, and I move it delicately so it rests on her own thigh.
“At least we can make out, right…?” Alazne asks me in a low voice.
“Yeah, of course,” I whisper back.
My girlfriend’s lips purse slightly and she raises her head until her lips touch my own. She snogs me gently and lovingly. I rest my hands on her shoulders and hold her close to me.
“You know,” she whispers against my mouth, “I find it fascinating how you can display so much affection in public.”
I chuckle dryly.

I can’t sleep. I have been listening to Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ from the beginning, an album that I discovered during my last years of my first life. I have leaned back against the headrest. Although Alazne is sleeping deeply next to me, knocked out as if drugged, my body insists on remaining vigilant. Maybe I fear what will happen if there’s an emergency and my girlfriend is forced to react first. Maybe I don’t deserve to sleep properly, because I’m a deceiving sack of shit who lies to the love of her life. Maybe nobody who has been hunted down by a couple of thugs can sleep well afterwards, hopefully just for a few weeks.
The highway is skirting the coast. An old church sticks out between two trees, and as the bus continues, I get to look down towards one of those semi-deserted towns built maybe in the 1800s, the buildings constructed without following a street plan, every house two stories tall or smaller. Someone came to this area a long time ago and founded a town, and then he died but others kept living in the same community. One day nobody will. The bus passes under a bridge and then I don’t see the town anymore.

Only slivers of the peaks show up from between the solid-looking clouds that roll in slow motion down the slopes of a wall of mountains, which extends from the left of my view to the right. Near the tops of some hills, the mantle of vegetation has ripped to show the mottled rock beneath.

Where am I? Still in a bus. I wipe the drool that had trickled down to my chin. Alazne is snoring softly on my left. I’ll have to take a shit soon. I hope I haven’t farted in my sleep, because I can’t trust this disgusting man-body.
I look out of the window towards a deserted beach delimited on the farther side by a hill that slopes down gently. The clouds are milk-colored, the lines of the waves are drawn with a white crayon.

I keep fiddling with my cell phone. Oleksiy hasn’t called yet, so maybe they haven’t found Kateryna’s suicide note. Maybe they aren’t looking. They’ll format that computer and I’ll never see those two goons again. Why didn’t I format that fucking laptop the moment I found it? Because there was an account made for Kateryna, that maybe she herself had created, and I didn’t want to delete anything that she affected while she still lived. We abandoned our ghost alone in our home.
I look down from the raised highway towards a few white or coffee-colored horses that are walking around on top of a hill. Why am I crying?
Alazne is still sleeping. I hope she’s having nice dreams.

The bus passes by a large rest stop where a queue of cars are waiting for gas, and a dozen trucks are parked. Maybe their owners are sleeping inside. Alazne keeps pressing my hand closest to her as if following the contours of my bones.
“Tell me something, Asier,” Alazne says to me, who isn’t Asier. “Who is this man that you once were?”
“What do you mean?”
“The man who was tied to Gijón and who hurt some woman so much that now her brothers insist on harassing you.”
I take my time to answer. The trees pass by in a blur.
“Nobody important.”
“But I love you, so you aren’t unimportant, Asier.”
“I’m not Asier,” I mutter. “I don’t know him.”
Alazne’s drowsy eyes study my facial features as if to figure out where my current gloom comes from.
“Was the man before the car accident worthy of love?” she asks me.
“I’m sure he wasn’t. I wish I had nothing to do with him. I wish I was someone else, that I occupied some other body, with which I could love you better.”
Alazne strokes my face and kisses me. Her lips are sweet.
“You love me just the way you are. You don’t need to be someone else. You’re perfect for me,” she says, her eyes shining with sincerity.
I keep staring at her while my eyes burn and my heart hurts. Alazne reaches with her hand and she wipes a tear from the side of my mouth.
“If you knew who I am under this skin I’m wearing,” I say softly, trying to prevent my voice from breaking, “you wouldn’t want to have anything to do with me.”
Alazne shakes her head slowly.
“That’s not true,” she replies. “I love you, whatever your name is.”
My throats hurts, and I sniff to prevent some mucus from running down my nose.
“I don’t know exactly what you mean,” Alazne insists softly, “but you are a terrible liar. If you believe that you are wearing a mask, I’m seeing through it. I might not know exactly what that mask is made out of, but I hope that the person hiding behind it spends with me the rest of his life.”
I don’t know what to say in response. I wish I was the person she sees, but I’m not even sure who that is.
“You better kiss me now, idiot,” she says while smiling, “and pass me a bag of chips.”

Those feather reeds are everywhere, whole clusters of them that sprouted from skirts made of grass. They don’t match the rest of the greenery. Why the hell are they there?
White buildings are strewn around the slopes of nearby hills. Why haven’t we reached Gijón already? How much longer can any ride take? How does a bus contain this much gasoline? I want to stand up and walk around. I want to take a shower, I want to sleep, I want to disappear from this world. I didn’t choose to be able to think these thoughts. I don’t know why I am here. I don’t know why anyone is here.

Alazne lets out a noise of surprised delight, then pats me on the thigh. She’s pointing at a blue sign that reads ‘Gijón’.
“We are close enough, then!” she says. “You know, I love the idea of travelling, but these rides are mortifying.”
“Let’s just get there,” I grumble. “I want to take a shower.”
Alazne laughs.
“You are sulking even more than me, my love.”
“I’m not sulking,” I grunt. “I don’t sulk.”
The bus enters a tunnel. The road bends along the dark, narrow burrow only illuminated by yellow artificial lights installed on the sides of the ceiling.
“Hold my hand,” Alazne says, amused. “I’m scared of the dark.”
I grab her hand and I kiss her knuckles.
“You are not.”
“Fine, I’m not scared of the dark, but it’s easier to take if you have someone holding your hand.”
I caress her palm with my thumb.
“I used to be scared of ghosts,” Alazne says as she looks out of the window, even though we can only see the cement-like wall of the tunnel. “Now I’m sorry for them. I wish I could help them more.”
“You’d be helping yourself in advance, I guess. You’ll be a ghost some day.”
My heart gets squeezed. I feel like a kid who just put two and two together and understood that one day his parents would be gone.
The bus exits the tunnel into the daylight, but we are passing through a mountainous area, and there’s another tunnel just up ahead.
“Maybe we are the lucky generation and they’ll discover a cure for telomere shortening,” Alazne says.
“Yeah, maybe.” I swallow, and shift my weight in the seat. The nerves in my legs send electric twinges. “I certainly don’t want you to die.”
“Do you think the first humans on earth knew they would die?” Alazne asks me. “Did it feel surreal to them?”
“I don’t know what a caveman felt.”
“I imagine it felt the same as this. Uncertainty, fear, sadness. Perhaps they had more presence of mind and could understand their mortality better than we can, but beyond that I believe our emotions are universal.”
“I don’t think we understand anything beyond the shows and the commercials and all the babbling.”
The next tunnel looms, dark and wide.
“Oh, I don’t think some people are that blind, deaf and dumb,” Alazne says.
“We’re just characters in a story the universe is telling itself.”
The tunnel swallows us. The lights in front are soon the only thing visible, other than the vague silhouettes of the other passengers.
“How so?” Alazne asks. “I think we move the plot along with our actions.”
“I’m not even real,” I answer in a thin voice. “You wrote me as I am for your writing class, because your teacher asked you to.”
The tunnel begins to spit us out into the daylight again.

Corrugated noise barriers on which locks of ivy have grown. The traffic is getting denser. The highway must have been built real high, because to our right opens a wide view of a valley surrounded by mountains and that contains a few towns. The distinct farming plots and grazing fields look like different districts.

The sun rays are getting stronger. As they warm my face they feel more real than they ever have, as if each ray has an independent and precise heat signature. Each hair on my arms and legs feels like an individual organism, sensing and reacting to the outside stimuli. I’m so fucking sick of this ride that I want to scream. Billboards of all shapes stand out from behind a mass of unkempt vegetation. Leroy Merlin. Alonauto. Caja Rural. Some Asturian beer. None of those companies even exist, this is a deception to give the impression that this reality is solid instead of some dream our brains put together. The world has never looked so depraved, so rotten. And it’s all my fault.

“My love, we are exiting the highway,” my holy Alazne says.
The bus is turning to venture through a narrower road. The horizon is no longer composed of mountains and hills, but instead it’s a collage of buildings, the disgusting refuse of civilization.
“I need someone to shoot me in the head,” I grumble.
“Look, palm trees, in that roundabout! Dwarf palm trees. And those houses over there look beautiful, don’t they?”
“I can’t believe I’ve wasted eight hours of my life. Look at me, I’m a fucking wreck.”
Alazne strokes my hair.
“You just need to stretch your legs and eat something. The worst is over now.”
That can’t be right. The world will remain terrible forever. But the bus is now driving through some legitimate streets, like streets in a city. A couple of people are riding their bikes on a bike lane. It’s adjoined to a large park with freshly cut grass. Some kids are swinging on a swing set or sliding down a slide. All so pleasant and idyllic, almost obscene. My stomach gurgles.
“Not far now,” Alazne says.
The sky is a mix of clouds that threaten rain and blue patches that welcome the sun. The bus stops at a red light. All these people around us, the inhabitants of this city, have no clue of the horrors that await them once they stray from the confines of their human communities.
“So many people I had never seen, just pleasantly enjoying their drinks at some outside tables,” Alazne says dreamily as she stares out of the windows.
“Yeah, it’s amazing what wonders exist out there,” I mumble with a raspy voice.
“Look, little neighborhood shops. They sell furniture, books, groceries… You can cut your hair there.”
I rub my cheeks. They must be covered in days of stubble. I look hideous. My unkempt hair must be a wild mess. It hasn’t been combed nor brushed for as long as I can remember.
“Doesn’t everything just look perfect?” Alazne says as she gapes at the line of trees that separates the lanes. “Look at the way those tall trees cover our entire lane in shadows!”
“I will unleash Armageddon upon humanity,” I say as I hunch over.
“Aww, you are really adorable when you’re exhausted.”
“Adorable? I’m a sitting abomination against nature.”
“Have some self-esteem. And look, we are almost there.”
I ball my hands into fists.
“Why haven’t we stopped already? We have already reached the city! How is this possible?”
“I’m sure the bus station is close,” Alazne says while she observes the buildings that pass by.
“We will never leave this bus. We should have never gotten on it.”
Alazne laughs at my pain.
“Stop being so dramatic. We are all going to be fine.”
The bus turns a corner, and I discover that along the endless new street someone had planted trees made of iron, which are bent in a forty five degree angle towards the traffic. As we pass in front of one of them I realize that they have installed electric lights on the underside. Is this someone’s idea of a streetlight? I have seen this place before, haven’t I? Surely in my nightmares. The outside world and the nightmare realm are fusing at last.
Alazne leans towards me and rubs my shoulder. She lowers her voice.
“My love, you look pale as can be. You are getting sick, aren’t you?”
“I’m not. I’m finally gazing upon the naked horrors of this world.”
She gives me a kiss on the cheek.
“You say the sweetest things.”
“How can so many people exist? Look around. How can the universe process so many entities without overflowing its integers?”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“They are all monsters. I am a monster. Look at me. I’m hideous. A hideous monster is reading the thoughts in your mind.”
A few of the passengers occupying some of the seats ahead of us start maneuvering to get up from their chairs. One of them points at a building that has appeared in the view. It’s by far the shoddiest building I have ever seen, a rundown monster of cement. Some big, rusted letters installed in its facade read ‘ALSA ESTACION’. The ‘O’ doesn’t even have an accent mark. But I can see that this must be it, because some other buses have parked at narrow stops. Our driver, who deserves a medal for having commanded this journey without killing himself, starts veering into one of the empty stops.
Alazne’s eyes have widened, maybe from excitement. She gets up from her seat, then she reaches over to grab our backpack.
“Finally here. I need some fresh air!”
I rest my forearms on the seat in front of me.
“I need to vomit.”

My Own Desert Places, Pt. 26 (GPT-3 fueled shorts)

After two strikes into my abdomen, walking my way back home, just those three streets I had to traverse, involved manipulating carefully this borrowed flesh and bone robot of mine, or else the pangs of pain gushing from my bruised guts would shoot through my whole body. Although this time I don’t feel about to shit myself, I suspect that Oleksiy has fucked me up even worse by causing some internal bleeding.
I finally reach our peaceful, quiet gated community next to the local graveyard, and when I close my home’s door behind me, I feel relieved not only for having survived another day of venturing through the broken outside world, but also for knowing that Oleksiy has already confronted me. I had kept in the back of my mind his threat of harassing me again, that first time when he stopped traffic with his 4×4 in order to annoy me. But he has already said his piece, and punched me twice, and left with Kateryna’s laptop, so that’s done. Another shitty chapter of life left behind.
Now I’m thirsty. As I stagger towards the kitchen I cross a cold spot, and my skin feels as if I had walked through cobwebs instead. I open my mouth to apologize to Kateryna, but I cough first.
“S-sorry, Kat. Didn’t mean to walk through you.”
In the kitchen, I pour myself a full glass of grape juice, then sit at the free-standing counter to drink in peace. I’m getting a bit woozy, but the cold, sweet juice lifts my spirits.
The call bell rings, even though I’m sitting close to the ouija board. The planchette spells out DID YOU REALLY DROWN YOURSELF IRENE.
I sigh.
“Yes, yes I did.”
I drink some more juice. I need its innocent, positive taste when my intestines keep screaming at me for my mistakes and terrible decisions.
“Yeah, we both took the cowardly way out because life hurt too much,” I mutter, “and we propagated our pain to the people who cared about us.”
The planchette rotates slightly. It slides towards the left side of the ouija board for a few centimeters, only to stop, hesitate, and head to the opposite side.
THEY HURT US TOO DIDNT THEY, the planchette spells out.
“They did. Kateryna, whenever either Alazne or I brought up your death before, you always answered with the cryptic ‘killed’. Now it’s suicide?”
I finish the juice. The kitchen is too quiet, and my pain is pulsating. It feels wrong, as if I suffered more damage than two strikes at full force to my belly. I hope that motherfucker didn’t rupture my intestines, because the idea of shit sliding between my internal organs is too nasty.
I had forgotten that I was talking with Kateryna, and it disturbs me to notice out of the corner of my eye that the planchette is moving.
“Everything feels fucking complicated some days. But how so, in this particular case?”
I hunch over the counter and rub my eyes. I don’t want to think about my first life, back in my original female body. I don’t want to recreate the memories of me standing at the edge of that cliff and for a moment knowing that I had to correct the mistake of having existed. I get up wearily from my chair and I take a deep breath.
“Kat, I’ll need to talk with you later, but first I should evacuate my bowels.”
The planchette is quick to spell out IRENE YOU DONT LOOK RIGHT ARE YOU OKAY.
“Yeah, yeah,” I mutter.
I shuffle towards the bathroom, then I approach the toilet. I pull down my pants and underwear, sit on the toilet seat and I power through the churning pain to push out a long, semi-lumpy turd, which plops loudly in the water. After I finish shitting, my heart flutters. My ears begin to ring, my vision becomes wobbly. I fall off the toilet seat and I’m too slow to move my hands, so the cold, ceramic floor hits my chest. I lie still as the ringing in my ears fades away. I can’t tell if I feel so bad just because of the punches or also because of the primal fear of having struggled through a confrontation with those two goons. I want to live a quiet, peaceful life free of Ukrainian rapists.
A bubble of cold air enters through the closed bathroom door. First I get annoyed, because I think that Kateryna wanted to entertain herself by watching me shit, but I suppose that me falling to the ground made enough noise. I hoist myself up, then sit down again to wipe my ass. I guess that Kat is paying attention as I spit on the toilet paper to remove the residues better. When I finish, I stand up and I place my hands on the edge of the sink. I try to steady my breathing.
“I would repeat that I’m okay, Kat, but I’m actually not. I can tell you that much.”
I unbutton my shirt, take it off and then raise my undershirt to examine my wounds in the mirror. The punches left two misshapen bruises near the side of my abdomen, with the color of overripe raspberries. I had expected them to look way worse, that Oleksiy had stamped the shape of his fist on my skin, but these bruises don’t give a hint of what caused them. The worst area is a finger-shaped patch of skin so purple as if blood has concentrated right under the surface. I dare to touch it. It’s tender, and I can tell that this is the wound that causes me the most pain when I move or stand a certain way. Is it serious? I’m not a doctor.
The three toothbrushes in the cup shuffle as if someone is trying to shove her hand in there. Alazne’s toothbrush takes flight and maneuvers in the air to orient itself towards my bruises, as if pointing at them.
I sigh.
“Yeah, Kateryna. A guy punched me real hard there. It wasn’t random either. Let’s go to the kitchen so we can talk about it.”
I exit the bathroom while I hold a palm over my bruises as if I was trying to prevent getting disemboweled. It must be some instinctive drive to signal that I’m hurt, and it feels pathetic, so I take my hand off. Aren’t hard strikes into the abdomen one of those things for which people go to the hospital? Alazne will leave her class in a short while… I guess I’ll have to power through the pain, and only resort to medical help when it’s clearly too late.
Once in the kitchen, I pour myself another glass of grape juice. If only everything was as pleasant and tasty as grape juice, the world would be a glorious place. I sit at the free-standing counter and take a deep breath.
Kateryna’s cold spot floats on my right, in front of the ouija board, and her closeness raises the hairs on my arms. I would have thought that my body would have gotten used to my roommate’s presence already, but it keeps raising alarms. Must be programmed in.
The planchette spells out WHO WOULD HAVE PUNCHED YOU MY BABY.
“First of all, I want to clarify something: did you swallow an irresponsible amount of pills and lay down in the bathtub to die?”
The planchette leaps, but as soon as it lands it glides to spell out DID I TELL YOU I DONT REMEMBER.
“No, you just repeated ‘killed’ over and over whenever I pried into the uncomfortable matter of how you escaped the plane of the living.”
The spot where I touched that bruise keeps burning. Maybe I should find out how many painkillers I have left from the time my ribs hurt.
“Listen, Kat… The person who assaulted me is some Eastern European, football-loving thug called Oleksiy. Does that say something to you?”
OH NO THATS MY BROTHER, the planchette spells out frantically.
“Yeah, I figured as much. No, actually I didn’t figure it out at all. My mind must have thought that linking every random blond, Eastern European guy to you would be inappropriate. The world isn’t supposed to be that small. But I guess that you guys did move from Ukraine to live in this area, and you died in this city, and those brothers of you wanted revenge, so those facts did raise the odds that any blond, Eastern European people I came across might have been related to you. I was too busy caring about the rest of my life. In any case, I met both your brother Oleksiy and your scrawnier, more eager to cry brother Hadeon. Cool name, Hadeon, by the way. It’s like something from some fantasy novel. Hadeon the Destroyer.”
“Why? Because you died and I’m wearing Asier’s corpse and Asier led you to kill yourself,” I say angrily. “And he truly did, didn’t he? It’s all the fault of that cheating cocksucker. I’m sure you were so happy being alive and enjoying this luxury, only for that decaying cunt to pull the rug out from under you by cheating with whoever opened her legs for him.”
“They intended to hurt me, or make me confess that I killed you, or who the fuck knows. Who would cheat on you? You were the hottest woman in this rotting world. Who has you as his fiancée and then discards you for some inferior creature? Is this current brain of mine damaged from birth?”
I sigh, then sip some more grape juice. My heart is beating hard, and I want to ruin something.
“Well, thank you. Anyway, what does it make you feel that your two remaining siblings are so distraught over your suicide that they have been marauding around Hondarribia looking to fuck Asier’s shit up, meaning me these days?”
That throws a wrench into my mental machinery, making me question whether I had followed her planchette-typing properly. But what else could she have said? I have only known Kateryna to be caring and understanding, except for that first time she flung random crap at me with her mad poltergeist skills.
“Why wouldn’t you care, Kateryna? Oleksiy and Hadeon are your brothers and they are truly grieving because you have disappeared from this world, or so they think. They didn’t believe me when I said that you remained as a ghost.”
“How can you say that about your own brothers? This callousness is unlike you, Kat.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, confused. “What’s going on with your brothers then? I thought that knowing that they grieve for your suicide would have given you some perspective on your actions.”
In moments like this it annoys me that I can only follow Kateryna’s surprisingly quick ouija typing, which is stripped of emotion as if I were talking to a computer.
“They’re grieving over your death! They would obviously rather have you alive. The fact that they don’t is a loss for them. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? I mean, I know you’d rather be alive than dead. I would too.”
“Why would you want that?”
WELL FOR REASONS. The planchette returns slower than usual to the center, and then it slides to add HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE.
I pull out my phone, a move that causes an electric pang of pain to course through my intestines, after I had managed to push those constant alerts into the back of my mind.
“Agh… If you are asking seriously, my beloved girlfriend, who is also your beloved friend, is leaving her writing class in about twenty minutes. I’ll have to call her then, because we were supposed to meet in the street. I’ll tell Alazne to head straight home, I guess. I have no clue if I’ll confess the mess about your brothers.”
I slide my hand along my face.
“Please, talk to me about those two goons first.”
“Ah, one of those possessive older brothers whose first priority is protecting your dignity, huh? I only know that from movies and such. I’m an only child.”
“Yeah, I understand how that would be a major issue.”
“I wouldn’t like to be told shit like that. It’s like, leave me the fuck alone, you know?”
“He was right about that, though. Many women would want it too.”
I gasp.
“That fucking demon! Damaging your face is like defacing a wonder of the world!”
My fists tremble against the surface of the counter. Who would look at Kateryna’s perfect visage, with those big, slightly slanted emerald eyes and those full lips, the picture of perfection, and think ‘oh yeah, I’m going to slap me some of that’. Oleksiy is a terrorist!
“That’s true, though, the part about you being beautiful,” I say, pained. “There’s not a single day that I don’t mourn your passing.”
OLEKSIY IS AVENGING HIS SISTER BUT NOT ME YOU KNOW. The planchette hesitates, as if Kateryna doesn’t know how to word something. Then it glides around to spell out HE NEVER LET ME BE MYSELF.
I run my fingers through my hair. The physical pain is preventing me from focusing on this conversation properly. During my second confrontation with Kat’s brothers, I had taken Oleksiy for a hothead, a bit simple-minded, but ultimately an honorable man who wanted justice for his sister’s death. But it looks like the guy is a tyrant who intended to hoard Kateryna’s beauty for himself.
“Alright, that’s enough about your big brother, I think… And what about that Hadeon dude? A bit twitchy and quick to cry, sure, but he truly cares for you.”
Kateryna’s planchette spins rapidly at my last statement. Is she simply twirling it absentmindedly? It slows down after a few moments, then spells out I DONT WANT TO TALK ABOUT HIM.
“After how much you opened up about Oleksiy, I’m surprised… But alright, that’s your prerogative. If you ever want to speak up about anything, you know I’m here for you.”
“… Yeah?”
“I’m, ah… Okay…”
“And this is when you lived with your parents, right…?”
“Well, I admit I’m having a hard time sympathizing with him.”
“That’s… That’s pretty grim, Kateryna. Why didn’t you or your parents do something about it? Or you simply never told them?”
“Your mother, right? What a bitch. I know that’s a hard thing to face, but it’s not like most people would make it up!”
My poor Kateryna. I want to give her a hug, stroke her beautiful sunflower-colored hair and tell her that everything is going to be alright, but I can’t do it because she’s a ghost.
My eyes twitch.
“I hope the bastard caught genital warts.”
“I don’t mean from you, just in general, like from a whore or something…” I rub my eyes. “You know, I try to put myself in other people’s shoes. As I told you I was an only child, but I think that if I had been your sister, I would have done worse things that diddling myself while sniffing your pussy smell from your panties.”
The planchette remains still as if judging me. I swallow, and I’m about to apologize when the small board moves again to spell out REALLY SWEET THANKS WHY DONT WE GET NAKED RIGHT NOW.
“… I’m so sorry, Kateryna. I was probably joking. I wish you had grown up in a normal family, although I literally don’t know anyone in this new life who had a normal family.”
“So she did know what was going on, that whore. You can’t trust anyone in this world. I’m beginning to understand why you killed yourself, Kat.”
I feel a bit sick, as well as overwhelmed, and I don’t know what else to say. I gulp down the rest of my grape juice, and in a few seconds I end up burying my face on my forearms, crossed on the counter. However, the call bell rings. I lift my face enough so I can witness the planchette spelling out words.
“You may have jumped into that too quick, I think.”
Her words squeeze my heart. I blink a few times to disuade the tears from forming.
“And you had the terrible luck of allowing yourself to be seduced by a monstrous serial cheater,” I say in a low, regretful voice. “I can’t imagine what you feel when you look at this stolen body of mine.”
“Ah, so me possessing what remains of his cowardly self is like spitting in his face daily.”
The planchette takes its time to move. Then it spells out SOMETIMES I THINK ITS NOT FAIR HOW LIFE TURNED OUT BUT I HAVE TWO BEAUTIFUL FRIENDS.
I was feeling vulnerable because I had been assaulted and I have to endure the pain in my guts, but after Kateryna’s loving sentiment, I let myself cry. I sniffle for a bit as my shoulders tremble.
“Thank you, Kateryna. I love you too.”
I stand up and blow my nose into a paper napkin. I address the planchette as I wipe my eyes.
“To be honest, Kateryna, I had thought of assuaging your brothers’ grief by introducing them to your ghostly self, but I think they can fuck right off now.”
I chuckle and dab the last of my tears.
“Thankfully that won’t happen. I showed them the doctor’s note that mentions clearly that I am not lying about having lost most of my memories, even though I am lying, so they realized they won’t get any answers from me about why you killed yourself. They also wanted your laptop, because Asier hadn’t returned it to them after you died. It seems that your panty-sniffing younger brother bought it for you, maybe as an apology for wanting to come inside you.”
The planchette slides around nervously, and at times I am not sure which of two letters Kateryna intended to spell, but I believe she meant YOU DIDNT GIVE THEM THE LAPTOP DID YOU.
My facial muscles go slack while a sickly cold spreads from my stomach. I approach the ouija board.
“Yes, I gave it to them, Kateryna. It seemed that Hadeon wasn’t lying about having bought it for you, and that was a quick way to get them to leave me the fuck alone. Why… is that a problem?”
“I guess it wasn’t… anything good,” I say with a thin voice.
“You still cared for him after he ruined your life through cheating, huh? I guess it can be hard to let go.”
I feel dizzy, and I can’t tell if my cold sweat is due to the possible internal bleeding, or that I imagine those shady brothers finding Kateryna’s text and getting their confirmation that Asier wasn’t innocent in their beloved sister’s suicide. Before my legs get wobbly, I sit down on a stool next to the ouija board.
“Why… would you write it? Just for Asier, so you could get some revenge after you died?”
“Alright, I don’t–“
So it’s her suicide note. If Oleksiy and Hadeon scour through Kateryna’s laptop even just out of curiosity, I’m sure they’ll come across that one document. I don’t doubt that Kateryna would have named it ‘suicide note’ or ‘fuck you Asier’ or some other conspicuous title.
I wipe my forehead with part of the tissue that I hadn’t moistened with mucus.
“When… When would Asier have been able to get rid of your printed suicide note? Your brothers told me that the police were the ones that found your corpse.”
I bury my face in my hands, and then close my eyes tight as I massage the sides of my head. I want to sleep for ten hours. Kateryna gives me a short break, but then she dings the bell to attract my attention.
“I’m guessing that the police took its time reaching our gated community,” I say with a raspy voice, “maybe because they thought there is only a graveyard here, like everyone else has said. Asier must have had a strong enough alibi. And the neighbors don’t pay attention to anything in this place.”
“As worried as I am now, I would have loved to see that. Just to be there as you flung picture frames, statuettes, and possibly knives at this stupid body.”
“Yeah, I couldn’t do that at all back then… But what now, Kateryna? Your brothers are going to go nuts, aren’t they? What the fuck do we do?”
Kateryna takes her time to move the planchette.
I throw my hands up in the air.
“I don’t know! Do they?”
It’s getting harder to breathe. As I tap nervously on the floor with my foot, I keep pushing buttons on the screen of my phone almost aimlessly, except when I return to the list of contacts. I’ll have to calm myself down enough to call Alazne in a few minutes. If I hadn’t given away Kat’s laptop, I could have called the brothers over. Kateryna would have had to struggle through the humiliation of not only talking to those bastards, but also pretending that Asier didn’t harm her and that she just killed herself out of general sadness, or anything that would absolve my current self of any wrongdoing. But Oleksiy and Hadeon might have read the suicide note already, so at any point that big bastard is going to call my phone and threaten me. Two guys like those… They might genuinely want to cut my head off.

When I hear the key entering the front door’s lock, I hurry like a cat to the hall. As soon as Alazne notices me she beams as if merely seeing me made her happy. In the middle of the pain in my guts, and my anxiety for what might be cooking somewhere in this city, I get a warm reminder of what matters. I hug Alazne tightly as I kiss her, and she lets her arms hang to the side, one holding the keys and the other the laptop bag, as our tongues caress each other. When we pull away, Alazne’s eyes are glistening.
“It’s so wonderful to return home and be in your arms,” she says softly.
I rub her shoulder over her cardigan. I hope my smile is steady enough.
“Do you want to drink something? I was hanging out in the kitchen, talking with Kateryna.”
“Yeah, I’ll be with you in a second. Let me leave the laptop bag in the living room, then take a pee.”
Alazne gives me a quick peck on the lips, then heads towards the living room. I walk to the kitchen, which is down the hallway, while my bruises complain about me having dared to squeeze my body against my girlfriend’s. As soon as Alazne is out of view, the worries that have been torturing me for the last thirty to forty minutes return. I hadn’t been ruminating about how to explain our problem to Alazne, but about how to deceive her about it. I’ll need to remain constantly on guard to patch any holes in my lies that she might see through. I feel stretched, as if I was being tortured on a rack. Five minutes ago, while I myself peed, I stood in front of the mirror and practiced again how the facial muscles in this stolen face look when I tell lies, in case they sound as ridiculous and cruel, when aimed at the love of my life, as they constantly feel to me. Just making Alazne believe that Irene was someone I knew from twenty years ago, an old acquaintance whose suicide I regretted, already kept me on edge, and now two violent bastards know my phone number and want revenge for someone whom Asier might have pushed into killing herself. I’m sinking deeper into the tar pit, and I’m close to drowning.
In the kitchen, I take a clean glass and pour some grape juice in it. It’s good that Alazne enjoys it almost as much as me, which justified buying enough that I won’t miss it. Next to the ouija board I left the printouts of the bus tickets for our incoming trip.
While I stand and worry, my mind in a fog, waiting for Alazne to come, I notice the planchette moving. It spells out DONT BE SO NERVOUS THATS YOUR GIRLFRIEND.
I speak close to the cold spot that indicates where Kateryna is standing, so there’s little chance that Alazne will hear me from the bathroom.
“Believe me, Kat, if you were in my position, knowing that the love of your life wouldn’t want to be with you if she truly knew you, you would go grey from stress. Fortunately this body’s hair was already greying, which camouflages my despair.”
The planchette slides off the ouija board and then towards my hand, which I had placed on the counter. The small wooden board touches my skin. It feels cool, although it’s likely because Kateryna’s ghostly hand must be brushing mine. Then the planchette returns to the board to spell out IT WILL END IN TEARS.
“You ended in tears, and so did I. So does everything, as long as you see it coming.”
I was staring at the planchette while Kateryna spelled out something I could barely retain, when I realize that Alazne’s footsteps are approaching us. I gesture towards our ghost roommate to stop. My girlfriend comes in, she sighs out of relief at the glass of juice and then downs a quarter of the liquid in one gulp.
I feel my heart beating as if it were some small animal huddled against my ribcage.
“So, how did the writing class go…?”
“Pretty good.” She says, then it merely takes her a look to spark her curiosity. “Why are you so nervous?”
“That obvious, huh? Yeah, I have never been good at this. Would you tell me in detail about your class first…?”
Alazne frowns, worried. She approaches me slowly and then puts her hands on my chest. When she looks up at me with those big, hazel eyes, which seem to have been born to look sad, I want to confess even if it would ruin everything.
I lift my shirt to show her the bruises on my abdomen.
“What the…?! Who did this to you, my love?”
Alazne reaches with one hand to touch the worst area of the bruises, in which the skin is so purple that I have wondered how the hell will it regain its original color. However, she stops herself before her fingertips make contact, likely because she knows it would hurt me.
I speak as calmly as I can. The situation is troublesome enough.
“Remember when you sent me that sexy pic of your bare midriff and I couldn’t answer quick enough because some random guy was accosting me? Well, he returned with his brother, and they weren’t harassing me randomly. Turns out Asier– I mean, the version of me before the accident knew them.”
“Are you alright? Is it bad enough that you need to go to an emergency room?”
Alazne’s expression evidences that any threat to my being is a threat upon her entire existence, and as I know, she can’t handle the notion that I might one day disappear to leave her alone in this world.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be fine.” I say dismissively, even though my voice is beginning to tremble. “Anyway, the brothers confronted me, and it ended… Well, you see the results.”
“But why would… What kind of relationship did they have with you before the accident? I know that you don’t remember them, but did they explain it at least?”
I let go of the shirt, so the fabric conceals the bruises again. I only chose to admit to Alazne that I had gotten punched because either today or in the following days she will see my naked torso.
“It seems I dated their sister and it ended badly. She was hurt, and they haven’t forgiven me for it. Those two morons were venting. I mean, if they were trying to hurt me seriously they would have done way worse than this.”
Alazne rubs her forehead while looking down towards my bruises as if she could still see them.
“Maybe. Maybe not. Should… We should go to the police, right?”
I keep my voice relaxed and calm.
“And tell them what? That some guy punched me in the abdomen two times, but I don’t know their names and I don’t know exactly why because I lost my memories? I doubt they’ll do anything. I mean, people commit far worse crimes and they are walking down the street later in the same day.”
Alazne looks up at me with fear in her eyes.
“What should we do?”
I give her a confident look, then gesture towards the printouts.
“This is sudden, but I don’t feel too safe in this city at the moment, so I have bought bus tickets and made reservations at a spa hotel. I don’t think those two idiots know where I live… Still, I think I need to relax.”
Alazne is bewildered. She shakes her head slightly, and looks around as if trying to find the words.
“Y-you have already paid for everything…?”
“I’m sorry, Alazne. Obviously I hope you come with me, but I feel horrible about doing it without asking you first.”
She has lowered her head, and her eyes are unfocused as if she’s looking far into the distance, several kilometers underground. I want to keep apologizing. Alazne was pushing herself slowly to figure out how to manage her anxiety, and she had only started walking through the city alone. Now not only she needs to worry about dangerous people hurting the one living person she cares about, but I also try to drag her into a sudden trip. She must be so dazed that I have no clue how she’s going to react.
“O-okay, but go where?”
“To Gijón, and likely Oviedo as well. They are four hundred kilometers away, but a bus takes us straight to Gijón.”
Alazne blinks a few times.
“Why those cities in particular?”
I hold her shoulders gently. Her bone structure feels so fragile. I realize that I was holding my breath, fearing that my beloved girlfriend would have stepped back. I can’t describe the warmth that floods me when I get to look at that pale skin and her smattering of freckles on the bridge of her nose, her upper cheeks and around her eyebrows. I want to kiss every one of them. I need to protect this precious woman, keep her safe. I possessed a dead man’s corpse so I could prevent Alazne from hanging herself with that sheet-noose of hers, but I couldn’t even predict that Kateryna’s brothers would be searching for me to ruin my life. What mess have I gotten her into?
“As you know, I’m trying to write down my experiences, although today I was interrupted by those two shitheads… And I realized that some of my earlier memories are tied to that area, particularly Gijón. I already knew that I would have wanted to go in the near future to figure out if they awaken more memories, but I figure that I might as well do it now.”
Alazne smiles softly, and despite this trouble I have laid on her she seems pleased, as she always does when I open up about my shattered past. Which doesn’t belong to Asier, but to me.
“That’s good, then. We won’t just be hiding for a while. It will help your recovery. Alright, but when are we leaving?”
I want to scratch the back of my head, and also apologize again.
“Tomorrow at 6:45. The bus will depart from the train station’s grounds in Irún, but I’ll call a taxi that will drive us there. I have already checked that they work that soon. It means we’ll have to wake up that much sooner.”
Alazne takes a deep breath and slides her hands over her hair, which she tied in a ponytail when she went to pee.
“Yeah, I know…” I lower my voice, contrite. “It fucking sucks to wake up that soon, let alone for a plan you had no clue about merely a few minutes ago. I can only apologize for how sudden this is. However, you will be able to sleep the entire way there if you want.”
“H-how long will the ride take?”
I don’t want to say it, because it feels as if I’m digging a hole straight down as I’m standing at the bottom of it.
“Eight hours.”
“Wow, that’s… It sucks, for sure. Well, I guess I’ll put on my earphones and listen to music. Also sleep. I hope there is a bathroom in the bus…”
A rush of tenderness overwhelms me. I embrace Alazne, and she takes a deep breath and rests her face on my chest. I don’t care that hugging her worsens the pain radiating from my bruises.
“I love you so much, Alazne. I hate that whatever kind of life this body led before I started living again has ended up splashing you. I only want to make you happy.”
“I know. I am happy just being with you. Also, I have never been in a spa.”
Alazne kisses my chest over my heart. When she pulls away from our embrace, as soon as she turns towards the ouija board she looks shocked as if she had forgotten something important.
“Ah, Kateryna! What are we going to do with you during our trip?”
Alazne and I laugh. My spirits rise. I feel elated because my beloved’s smile has returned.
“It’s only a few days,” I say. “I can leave a playlist of albums in a loop playing in the living room.”
I worry, though. Kateryna is terrified of leaving the house because any bored ghost might decide to bother her, maybe even follow her. But at the same time I was glad that Kat stopped trying to take walks through the neighboring graveyard, because one never knows if any of the penitent ghosts might develop a crush on Kateryna’s voluptuous shadow. In that case, Alazne and I might end up living with two roommates or more.
Alazne puts her hand on the counter next to the ouija board, and she looks at it with a friendly smile, even though my girlfriend understands that Kateryna is standing next to her. Our ghost isn’t looking at the world through the board.
“I know, Kateryna. Why don’t you just come with us? You can get in taxis and buses, right? We’ll carry a couple of ouija boards, so we will be able to talk to you as long as we are alone.”
I can’t agree with my Alazne here. Any small distraction would end up with Kateryna getting lost in the middle of potentially nowhere. Not to mention that Alazne and I, being alive, would be traversing the streets along with other breathing, decaying bodies, but who knows what crazy bastards Kateryna might come across in that same spot of the afterlife? Alazne is asking our resident ghost to expose herself to hundreds of other shadows, which for her is like telling someone with arachnophobia to spend the whole day in a room full of spiders, or in Australia.
“I mean it, Kat,” Alazne insists. “Just stick close to us, hold my hand, to make sure that our vehicles don’t leave without you. We can have a good time.”
I sigh.
“Yeah, she’s not going to do it. I’m not sure if I told you, Alazne, but Kateryna is terrified of ghosts.”
“I-is that so?”
“Yes, I haven’t known many ghosts who are scared of other ghosts, but… But then again Kateryna is the only ghost I’ve ever interacted with, of course! Anyway, she’s too scared to walk around in public.”
The planchette interrupts us to spell out PATHETIC I KNOW.
“For most intents and purposes, she hasn’t left the house in years,” I add, suddenly feeling sad. “I’m sure she would love to go with us, if it was possible.”
Alazne shakes her head while she stares at Kateryna’s bubble of cold air with pity.
“But that’s horrible,” Alazne says with a thin voice. “So you’ll never leave the house? Will you always be stuck here?”
“We love you too, Kateryna,” I tell her, “but you know that our bodies won’t last long in the grand scheme of things. Unless you get over the fear of your kind, you’ll spend a lonely eternity. And that’s if you are lucky and no other ghost claims this house.”
I don’t want to worry her more, particularly when we are about to abandon her for a few days.
“It’s somewhat unlikely, I suppose… But even if you can ride out the loneliness for two hundred, three hundred years, eventually they’ll bulldoze this house to build, I don’t know, a nuclear waste facility. Because you know that human civilization won’t last much longer. We’ll never get through the Great Filter. So your plan needs revising.”
“That’s pretty pessimistic,” Alazne says. “What you need, Kat, is hope.”
I look at Alazne in case she’s become a victim of the body snatchers. During her last depression she gave up on life again and she only left the bedroom because I took her by the hand.
YES I THINK I WILL GET OVER IT EVENTUALLY, the planchette spells out.
Alazne gulps down the rest of her grape juice, which she seemed to have forgotten about. She sighs and looks towards the fridge.
“We’ll need to prepare a light dinner, then pack our luggage. And I’m sure that by the time we get to Gijón we’ll realize we have forgotten something important…”
As Alazne opens the fridge, which bathes her in its white light, and she leans into it, I rub my hands and start pondering how to reach a city around four hundred kilometers away without dying along the way.
“Alright, I’ll prepare some sandwiches for the road. Thankfully Asier– I had a couple of suitcases hidden away. And please, Alazne, tell me later how your writing class went.”

My Own Desert Places, Pt. 25 (GPT-3 fueled short)

To attend her writing class, Alazne had decided to walk up to the library in old town alone, as part of her intention to feel more resilient and confident and not burden me with all her troubles. I’m mostly proud of my girl, but on the other hand I don’t like one bit that for her growing up means spending less time with me. She agreed, though, that we could meet in the street after her class ended. However, this time I wouldn’t wait at a nearby coffee shop in old town, nor even in the commercial area of the city. I’m three streets away from our gated community in the outskirts of Hondarribia. I had walked around for a while to locate some bar or coffee shop where I could sit outside, to then torture myself by writing down my experiences as a woman who died twenty years ago and who later on stole a guy’s body to date the woman of her dreams.
This whole area of Hondarribia is composed of quiet, modern-looking residential buildings for young couples who intend to reproduce. I suppose that it’s the right area for Alazne and I to live in. I found a colonnade under a pristine white, three-story residential building, where an almost deserted coffee shop had set up tables outside. A breath of fresh air. I hurried up to sit near the balustrade, facing a view of the hilly countryside as well as, farther in the distance, the biggest mountain in that direction. I still don’t know its name, nor care. A few cars are driving around a roundabout decorated with a grove of skinny trees, but otherwise there’s barely anyone walking around. The sun is shining brightly, and the leaves of nearby trees remain still.
I pull out my laptop, which belongs to Kateryna because the one I bought I gave to my girlfriend, and set it up on the table. As Windows loads, I look over my shoulder to see if any of the employees of the coffee shop have noticed me, but behind the tinted windows I only spot a young woman in her twenties who is mopping the bar. I sigh, then walk inside to order a coffee with milk. She tells me that she’ll bring it over to my table.
Once I’m sitting back at my chosen chair, I insert the pen drive where I pasted lots of albums, and I open the Word document that holds my confessions. I feel myself relaxing. I might end up delving into harrowing memories, but at least I’ll get to listen to my favorite songs and write at my leisure. Life has been treating me so well, it’s hard to believe that this new existence of mine started with a cheating bastard steering his Škoda into oncoming traffic.
After I shove the earbuds into my ear canals, thinking about my twenty years as a ghost has made me melancholic enough, so I play Laura Marling’s ‘Always This Way’. That lady’s voice often sounds as if she’s about to break into tears.
The cursor is blinking under a paragraph where I explained how I killed myself and then abandoned my hometown. I don’t want to reread that, maybe ever. And now how can I explain twenty years of delirious experiences as a ghost? Alazne already knows that I travelled around for quite a bit during the first few years. Trying to remember all the ghosts I got to meet, a miserable shadow comes to mind. I smile to myself, then get to work.
I probably shouldn’t jump straight into talking about the last person stuck in the afterlife that mattered to me, when I have written barely anything about my many years as a ghost, but I will write what comes to mind, and therefore was important enough to remember. I can always restructure the text later if necessary. Although if you are reading this explanation, I must have considered that moving stuff around in my memoir was too much of a hassle.
Yeah, that’s a whole lot of words and I still haven’t mentioned my friend.
His name was Iñaki. He must have died far earlier than I did. I wouldn’t be surprised if he existed for more than a hundred years. He was haunting, or I guess merely living at, a half-ruined farmhouse in the hilly outskirts of Irún, in an area that even most of the residents don’t know. How did I meet this guy, you might be thinking? Ghosts get bored, and one of the main sources of joy, or I guess Kateryna would call them distractions, is snooping into things that don’t concern them: the busy, frantic lives of breathing people, or random buildings that those ghosts haven’t explored yet. Wouldn’t you want to do that as a living person, just wander into crazy places to figure out what’s there? As a ghost you can do that without repercussions, other than cranky shadows yelling at you. I have seen so many people fucking. They get so creative with how they use their holes. I also learned that farting is a worldwide pastime that nobody is proud of, and that even in the afterlife, in which all smells are muted, some people’s guts are seriously rotten. Anyway, Iñaki. This guy was as miserable as they come. He usually did little else than read the same pages of the books that happened to be lying open. He could perform some interesting feats as a ghost, like project his voice clearly into recording devices, or even force the living to hear his footsteps. Not that he went around freaking out people: he remained at his ruined former home as if he was guarding the place, and I guess he was. Guilt chained him to that ruin.
I have already listened a few times to Laura Marling regretting someone’s death. I put on her best album, as far as I’m concerned, ‘I Speak Because I Can’, starting from ‘Rambling Man’, of which I’m particularly fond because it’s one of Alazne’s favorites.
As I was preparing my fingers to type again, a coffee cup lands softly next to my hand. Oh yeah, I had ordered some coffee, hadn’t I? What the hell was this waitress doing? Whatever. I barely nod towards her as she walks back into the shop. At least she’s not like that blonde waitress with the bubbly ass and who wanted me to read Camus. That French philosopher was murdered by the KGB. He won’t have to push a rock uphill anymore, unless his ghost is still wandering around and was granted poltergeist powers.
But why on earth would I have befriended that Iñaki guy? Because I was lonely. You see, ghosts are the fucking worst. They know they don’t have a future, they know they won’t be able to reproduce, and that unless they figure out how to move on to the beyond to discover what awaits us there, if anything, they will be damned to drift for eternity. The lucky ones go insane to an extent that it renders their regrets void, so they dissolve into nothing. I used to hate the wailers, those pathetic ghosts who just roam around in a daze while yelling without a care in the world. People can hear you, assholes! Sometimes they came up to me just to certify that someone could still see them. I could both see them and hear them, and so what? We were still stuck in a nightmare that we couldn’t even see nor hear nor taste nor smell properly. Congratulations. Now fuck off and leave me alone. But I admit that sometimes I got so lonely that I simply needed some other ghost to listen to me. During those periods I would have given anything for some shadow to talk to me, to confide in me, to make me believe they could become my friends. I remember degrading myself, grovelling in such ways that I don’t know how I retain any self-esteem. But Iñaki was different. He preferred to be alone, but he welcomed me hanging out with him. He was a big old tsundere about it, I suppose, because he pretended I bothered him, but whenever I visited him again I could tell he had missed me.
I sniffle, and quickly wipe my eyes with my sleeves, as if I fear embarrassing myself. Do you see, Iñaki, you rotten idiot? I still remember you.
I had already come across you, Alazne, and I had fallen in love with you, when I witnessed the fated last day of Iñaki in the afterlife, or maybe anywhere. A group of ghost hunting idiots broke into the place and strutted around while kicking Iñaki’s books and setting up their arcane equipment to intrude upon our ghostly lives. You know those types, they don’t respect anything. Well, we ended up giving those motherfuckers quite the show. I possessed one of them, a dude in his early twenties called Jokin, and destroyed his knuckles against a wall. I’m quite sure they recorded most of it, so I’m surprised it didn’t become national news. I haven’t even come across the footage on YouTube! Maybe they were so stupid that they lost the recordings, or couldn’t figure out how to upload it. Or maybe they were so traumatized by the experience that they offed themselves. No, I’m sure the footage is out there in some corner of YouTube, but I guess these days anything can be faked, so people just shrug and whatever through everything. Those supposedly true filmings of UFOs released by the US navy or whoever don’t look that impressive to me. And in the end it’s not as if the average taxpayer is going to find out what the fuck truly goes on in this world. Hey, or maybe those ghost hunters got sent to some mental institution. There are still mental institutions around, right? I like that. They were the investigators in some Lovecraft story, and Iñaki and I were the Great Old Ones that those fuckers were so incredibly unlucky to gaze upon. It did make me feel powerful at the time, and you need such ego trips to counter how impotent one feels as a ghost in the afterlife.
I was taking a sip of my mostly bitter and too artificial tasting coffee when I realize that someone is standing on my right. He has placed a hand on the back of the empty chair, and it lingers there as if the guy has asked something. What a bother. In the middle of Marling’s ‘Darkness Descends’ as well. I gesture towards the chair.
“Sure, buddy, grab it. I’m not using it.”
Instead off fucking off, whoever that guy is pulls the chair out and sits down. Annoyed at this person’s gall, I lift my gaze towards him as I frown. He’s a guy in maybe his mid twenties. He’s crossing his arms in a defensive posture, and he’s tapping on the ground nervously with one foot. His hair is light blonde, combed over his forehead in a way that reminds me of Roman portraits. His eyes are emerald-colored, pretty for someone who in a second gave me the impression of being skittish. He has a scar with the shape of a slim crescent moon under his right eye, as if someone socked him a good one years ago. His skin looks tight over his blocky skull. If I had to hang labels on him, I’d say he’s a nerd who didn’t grow up right.
This guy is gawking at me as if he wants to glare but he doesn’t dare. I take off my earbuds. As I open my mouth, I’m interrupted by the sound of someone pulling out the empty chair on my left, and I recognize the guy who plumps down heavily on the chair. It’s Oleksiy, the Eastern European prick who punched me in the guts.
“Hey, you again!” I say, irritated. “The guy who says ‘fucking’ all the time and who gave me diarrhea.”
“Diarrhea?” He frowns with disdain, and looks towards the waitress behind the tinted windows. “I guess I hit you hard, huh?”
The last time, Oleksiy was wearing a cheap T-shirt and pants stained with paint, I suppose because he works in construction or something related to buildings. Now he’s wearing a pine green jacket over a white T-shirt that shows that he either works out or he uses his muscles a lot in his job. For pants he’s wearing black denims. This bastard’s eyes are pale blue, but I notice a resemblance with the new Eastern European guy sitting on my right.
I gesture towards his companion.
“Who’s this?”
“Someone else who wanted to speak with you. Hadeon is the name.”
I turn to this supposed Hadeon. His irises are trembling. He’s either naturally anxious or I frighten him somehow.
“Is that true?” I ask the guy. “You are called Hadeon?”
“Yes.” His voice is as tremulous as the rest of him.
I return my gaze to Oleksiy, the clear leader of this pair of clowns.
“Alright, it’s been a while, Oleksiy. I remember your name and everything, but then again not many people have flattened my intestines. Let me recall, because it’s been a while… You knew Asier– I mean, me, and you were angry at me for something.”
“Yes. I would do it just because you are an asshole, for starters.”
I frown. I don’t like to be sworn at, not more than the average person anyway.
“Did it bother you that much that you caught me fondling myself in public? I mean, we have a penis because touching it grants us a break from this nightmarish world.”
Oleksiy smirks for a moment, but then shakes his head as if he doesn’t want to deal with me.
“Ah, true. Fondling yourself in public. You are a right bastard, my friend.”
This guy won’t get rid of his accent even if he spends the rest of his life here. I also don’t like one bit that his jaw looks like it could take a pro’s uppercut. I want to be the only woman around commanding a man’s corpse that happened to have grown a chiseled jaw.
“I didn’t know you were there,” I say, then sigh. “Anyway, what was your gripe with me again?”
Oleksiy takes a deep breath and narrows his eyes at me as if scrutizing my expression.
“Still the fucking memory man, huh?”
I point at the ugly disfigurement near my hairline.
“As in I have close to no memory of my previous life before the accident that gave me this scar.”
Oleksiy was about to talk when Hadeon interrupts him with a much softer voice.
“It doesn’t seem like he’s acting. He didn’t recognize me at all.”
I turn my head towards him, even though I feel I shouldn’t lose sight of the far more dangerous Oleksiy. Hadeon’s eyebrows are thin and slightly arched, and his mouth is fuller and softer-looking than I would have expected on a man. I hadn’t paid attention to his clothes, but he’s sporting a crimson red hoodie with a big drawing of an anime girl. I think it’s some psycho from ‘My Hero Academia’.
“I did tell your pal Oleksiy that I suffered a car accident,” I say, “although I’m not sure if I added that it was bad enough that I actually died for a few seconds. So when I tell you fellas that I have no fucking clue who you are, I’m not joking in the slightest. Well, I now know who Oleksiy is, because he harassed and assaulted me, which didn’t leave me with a good impression of him.”
“You are a strange man,” Oleksiy says with a hint of bitterness. “I don’t know how you do shit.”
“I’m not entirely sure what you meant with that last sentence. But I recall that you intended for me to get on your 4×4 so you could drive me somewhere. Assuming that rape wasn’t in your mind, what did you want to explain to my amnesic self?”
He exhales noisily through his nostrils.
“The four of us went to a few matches to see the Real Sociedad. That doesn’t ring any bells?”
“Asier– I was into football? Let’s forget for a moment that we are three people and you mentioned four, I haven’t felt any urge to waste my time watching some overpaid pricks pursuing each other as they kick a ball. I bet even ghosts wouldn’t bother, and they tend to be bored out of their minds. If this body did accompany you gentlemen to witness football matches before I suffered my horrifying accident, I guess my brain is now doing its job of protecting me from those awful experiences.”
“You weren’t such a smart ass before the accident, for sure,” Hadeon says. “But you were a big fan of football. I don’t like it either. You got into uninteresting arguments with Oleksiy about players’ performances and how the teams performed in the rankings. Oleksiy mostly obliged you, because he’s all about the Real Madrid.”
Oleksiy smacks his lips across the table at Hadeon.
“Now I’m not sure who either of you are anymore. I thought you wanted the Real Madrid to win, Hadeon.”
“I do. Because otherwise you get angry.”
“You know what? Just forget it,” Oleksiy says, then turns his head towards me. “So you don’t care about what you used to care the most about. It’s like we are talking to a whole different person here.”
“Pretty much,” I say.
“Yeah, I’d say the new you is better,” Hadeon says, but then he looks down guiltily, as if he regrets his own words.
“Hadeon is my little brother,” Oleksiy says while staring at me as if his words should wipe the soot that blocks out my memories.
“Alright, I see the resemblance. I suppose that one of your parents had emerald eyes and the other pale blue.”
I opened my mouth to wonder out loud whether their mother had an affair and cucked their father, but I doubt it would contribute to keeping them calm.
To my confusion, Hadeon’s face turns beet red as he keeps looking down, I don’t know if it’s because of anger or embarrassment. Maybe he doesn’t like that Oleksiy brought up their familial tie.
“Last name’s Zaretsky,” Oleksiy adds, his voice getting raspy. “Does that say anything to you?”
“It’s a cool last name, but only tells me that you guys aren’t originally from here. Which I already knew due to your accents and your generally slavic look.”
“You’re an idiot if that’s the only thing you could say,” Hadeon says.
I’m surprised that this Hadeon guy had it in him. He seems scrawny under his hoodie. He must be used to Oleksiy protecting him, and probably punching in the gut the people who have a problem with some of Hadeon’s comments. He might be trying to look tough, although he’s also fidgeting with the slightly raised metallic edge of the table.
“Yeah, I know I’m an idiot,” I say as I let my gaze linger on the nerd before I turn to Oleksiy again. “So where are you guys from, originally? Or are you the types that get mad when people can tell you weren’t born in the country?”
Oleksiy smirks and shifts his weight in the mostly uncomfortable coffee shop chair as if he were some oligarch sinking in his leather armchair.
“Wouldn’t bother me to talk about my home country. I always want to. Mighty Ukraine, that’s where we are from.”
I raise my eyebrows.
“That’s funny, I know someone from Ukraine. You guys have the most gorgeous women in the world! I don’t know fuck else about your country, but the women, top-notch.”
Hadeon’s emerald gaze intensifies as he gives me a look like I’m talking nonsense and I should shut up. I don’t know what’s up with him.
“Is that so?” Oleksiy says, lowering his voice. “I am proud about that, sure, but I can’t say I want someone like you bringing it up.”
I scratch the bridge of my nose as I try to connect snome other facts swimming around in my brain to the notion that a country named Ukraine exists.
“Ah, you guys also had that nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl. World Guiness Records stuff. Nearly killed the whole continent.”
Hadeon shoots me a fearsome glare that I wouldn’t have expected in a smaller guy who wears anime merchandise.
“Fuck you. We had nothing to do with that.”
“Are you sure?” I ask him.
“Jesus,” he says, throwing his hands up at me. “Why are you such a dick?”
“Hadeon.” Oleksiy sighs. “Your language.”
“Guess I’m just a dick by nature,” I answer. “Or only since the car crash. But I’m sure that if something bad happened in your country even a thousand years ago, or your countrymen were responsible, the people who are born there must lower their heads and keep apologizing for it for eternity.”
Oleksiy’s top lip trembles. It seems that the whole Chernobyl fiasco really bothers him, or maybe just being accused of it.
“It’s that how it works, huh…?”
“Those are the rules,” I say calmly.
“Quit talking nonsense,” Oleksiy says loud enough as if to force me to focus my attention on him. “I don’t give a shit about radiation, it’s got nothing to do with me.”
“It’s got everything to do with you, it’s caused by the weak nuclear force.”
“What? Whatever. Point is that I’m Oleksiy Zaretsky, that one there is Hadeon Zaretsky, but there was… a third sibling.”
Hadeon groans, and then he scratches the floor with the legs of his chair as if he intended to spring to his feet, but only shifted his weight violently.
“Don’t tell me you forgot her, asshole! Nobody would forget her in a million years!”
Oleksiy is frowning, but he gestures with his hand for his brother to lower his voice.
“Calm down.”
“Everyone will forget everyone else eventually,” I say. “And each of us will one day be thought of for the last time. Isn’t that a horrifying notion? It really puts in perspective the absurdity of being alive, I think. But who is this missing Zaretsky sister of yours?”
“Say her name!” Hadeon shouts at me with a teary voice.
I briefly look over my shoulder as if I wanted to spare myself some second-hand embarrasment, but the rest of the tables are empty. Inside the coffee shop I can only make out a blur of the waitress as she holds open a door, that maybe leads into the kitchen. I’m sure she has noticed that these two guys are bothering me and being loud, but she won’t get involved. They are the kind that invite random people to get on their 4x4s to rape them, after all.
“Hade,” Oleksiy says, “stop it.”
“No! Kateryna! You don’t forget Kateryna!”
I gasp as I snap my head back.
“Of course! You guys are Kateryna’s brothers! There must not be that many blond-haired Ukrainian guys around, I guess.”
Oleksiy shakes his head at me, and I feel as if this is one of those moments in which I could either make a new friend or alienate someone important to me. These Zaretskys seem the type to hold grudges.
“Well, how are you guys doing?” I ask cordially. “Is life treating you well?”
Hadeon seems confused, but then he slumps down in his chair and turns his head away from me. His eyes are getting watery.
“Life’s a bitch.”
“Hade…” his brother says.
“It is! She’s a bitch, because she took Kat away!”
These poor bastards. The torture that exists in the wake of losing a loved one is a pain for which nobody can prepare you. I’m sure that our beloved Kat had thought that she had scored a stable life with a handsome enough rich guy. I bet she started out cheerful and caring, just a joy to be around, only for Asier to run over her life by cheating on her obscenely hot and naïve self. He must have broken Kateryna’s ability to trust in humanity, to the extent that she decided to exit this nightmare through the emergency door. My dear friend… I know damn well that it could only take a second of truly wanting to die for her to pull the trigger, or kick the stool from under her, or take a step into the void. So these two motherfuckers approached me because Asier was the last person who dealt with their lost sister. They keep fighting for someone who is already dead.
“I’m so sorry, my friends,” I say, and I can’t prevent my voice from trembling. “I can’t imagine what you two are going through.”
Hadeon lets out a muffled sob, which makes Oleksiy uncomfortable. He touches the table near my laptop as if to attract my attention.
“So you remember Kateryna, even though you forgot us. What do you remember of her?”
“Quite frankly, I only started getting to know her when I had to pretend… I mean, ever since the accident. I don’t hold any memories from before. But I know she’s lovely, a beautiful woman and a caring friend.”
Oleksiy frowns and shakes his head slightly, as if he’s unsure if he has the right information but at the same time he’s getting tired of this.
“What would you learn after the accident? By then, Kat was already…”
Oh yeah, I only know her ghost self. Although in my mind I have managed to manifest a mental image of Kat’s voluptuous, living self on top of her bubble of cold air, I technically never met her when she still commanded a flesh and bone robot.
“Fortunately I can tell you guys that Kateryna is doing great!” I smile at the brothers. “Sure, being stuck on that dreary plane has dispirited her from time to time, but she’s a tough girl. We also keep her entertained with our antics, as well as playing music and movies. So overall I’d say she’s been in a good mood recently.”
Hadeon has become paralyzed, and is staring at me with a grimace of shock. Then from my left I hear Oleksiy exhaling like a bull. He has opened his eyes enough that the white over his irises is showing, and he has raised one side of his mouth as if smelling rotten meat.
“What in the fuck are you talking about?! Kateryna is dead!”
“Oh, that’s right…” I nod while stroking my chin. “I mean, apart from that.”
“You’re telling us you’ve been interacting with Kat’s ghost, and that you’ve been keeping her… amused?” Hadeon mutters with a hollow voice.
Oleksiy has turned white and is looking straight through me with those pale blue eyes. He seems ready to break something.
“That’s one way of putting it, but also the correct one,” I say cautiously. “I’m sorry if it’s a bit strange to hear…”
“Strange?! It’s fucking unbelievable,” Hadeon says. “Asier, I don’t give a shit if you’re mentally unstable. I want to know what happened with Kateryna. What did you do to her? Did you kill her?”
I open my mouth and I’m about to fumble some words when Oleksiy stands up from his chair enough to grip my shoulder closest to him with his left hand, then with his right one he strikes my abdomen with all his might. A star of pain explodes in my guts.
“You… fucking bastard,” he hisses through gritted teeth as his eyes twitch. His face has turned red. “You don’t fucking joke around with our Kat. If you hadn’t met her, she would still be alive.”
Oleksiy bashes me again in the guts, and I fall off backwards along with the chair. While my conscious mind tries to float over the sudden burst of pain in the lower half of my torso, I see upside down that the young waitress is turning away from this pitiful scene, and loses herself in whatever room exists behind the bar. She doesn’t want any part of this. I don’t blame her. I doubt she will call the police either.
Before I can react, Oleksiy grabs my wrists at the same time that he lowers his foot against one of the front legs of the chair, and I end up sitting straight as if nothing had happened, except for the burning pain in my intestines. A surge of nausea shoots up from my stomach, but I gulp it down.
“If you don’t talk and tell us the truth, I’m going to break both of your fucking arms and cut off your ears,” Hadeon threatens like a bomb about to drop. His eyebrows are furrowed, his eyes fixed on mine, his nostrils flared. “What did you do to her?!”
“Shut it, Hade,” Oleksiy says firmly.
I cough.
“You really have something against people’s intestines, Oleksiy,” I struggle to say through my dry mouth.
He merely glares at me with naked disdain as his pupils dilate. My abdomen burns like there’s a white-hot poker inside. I don’t feel like I need to shit myself this time, maybe because of the angle from which the punches came, but I feel my skin getting clammy.
“Ah, people keep uncomfortable truths to themselves because someone might cause them physical pain otherwise,” I add. “No wonder this world is fucked.”
Oleksiy doesn’t reply and instead backs away from me a little. The scrawny sibling looks down at the floor, then back at me. A tear has left a trail as it ran down his cheek, but now he’s mainly angry.
“You’re going to have to tell us. You know the rules of this world.”
It fucking hurts. But even in the middle of this pain that is sending alarms throughout my body, and that may have caused internal bleeding, I get to remember that if I was still a ghost I wouldn’t experience this. My insides hurt because I’m alive.
“Tell you pricks fucking what?” I ask, annoyed. “I have only known Kat ever since the accident. I have no clue why she died. I’m sure that Asier was a bastard to her, but I wasn’t responsible for it!”
Oleksiy leans forward and stabs me in the chest with his finger. My heart is pounding as he puts pressure on my sternum.
“Is this what the amnesia bullshit intended to cover? So you can fucking say that you weren’t responsible for ending our Kat’s life?”
Hadeon sobs, and then pounds on the table with his fist, spilling some of my coffee, while tears jump from his eyes.
“Kat was the light of everyone’s life! She would never kill herself! And if she did swallow all those pills willingly, it’s because you made her do it! It must have been your fault!”
Oleksiy stops pressuring my chest and instead turns to address Hadeon.
“We’ll get through this together, brother. We always have, we always will. You know that you shouldn’t cry in public.”
I cough in my hand. Cold sweat is running down my neck. I open my hand expecting to see blood, but there’s none. I doubt it confirms that I haven’t suffered serious damage, because the pain suggests it. I shift my torso on the chair to the position that diminishes the pulsating pangs that are running inside my belly.
“Didn’t you guys go to the police already?” I ask with a thin voice. “I mean, someone of authority must have looked into Kat’s death.”
Oleksiy shakes his head as he avoids looking at me.
“The police? What the fuck will those people do? They find a woman dead in a bathtub because she swallowed a load of pills, they find out that you weren’t in the house at the time, so it’s suicide. That’s what they concluded.”
“We don’t trust the cops,” Hadeon says as he wipes his eyes with his sleeves. “Not when it comes to this.”
I look from Hadeon to Oleksiy and back to Hadeon. I blink to disuade a bead of sweat from irritating my eyeball.
“So what do you want me to do exactly? I truly don’t remember anything of this body’s relationship with Kateryna before the accident. You know more about how she died than I do!”
Oleksiy snorts. He has lowered his head, and as the color returns to his face, he looks like he regrets his outburst. Not that it will take away how much my guts hurt.
“The point is that you must have led Kateryna to suicide,” he says quietly, as if trying to calm himself. “Either by something you told her, something you did to her, or a combination of both. That makes sense to you for sure.”
I rub my eyes as I control my breathing. Asier’s relentless cheating had fucked with Ainhoa’s mind, making her doubt herself, her body, her place in life… But she’s tough and dignified. Even though I didn’t know Kateryna before I stole Asier’s body, she’s carefree and a bit naïve. She might not have believed that there could be any monster out there that if she truly loved the guy and was fair to him, the guy would in exchange cheat on her with multiple women. Also, Ainhoa said that Asier acted with them like a bastard afterwards. And now I’m wearing that shithead’s body… Maybe I should start flagellating myself.
I pull out my wallet and extract the folded note that the doctor printed. I hand it to Oleksiy.
“Read that, please. Written by a doctor while they were treating me due to the car accident in which I died for a few seconds.”
Oleksiy reads the note. He frowns.
“Memory loss caused either by head trauma or not enough oxygen getting to the brain when the patient’s heart stopped for too long.”
He looks at me, then hands the note to Hadeon. He reads it, and reads it again. He lowers it slowly until it rests on the table. I grab it and slip it back into my wallet.
“It does look legitimate,” Hadeon concedes.
“Listen, guys…” I wiggle my ass until it doesn’t feel as if I have a burning, solid object lodged above my genitals. “I don’t remember anything about my experience of dating Kateryna. That’s even more tragic still, because the Asier who witnessed her final days, and who understood Kat’s reasons, is gone forever. I haven’t recovered any of the memories. So we will never know…” I shake my head, then lift my gaze to Oleksiy, who seems conflicted. “Wait a second, did Kateryna leave a suicide note?”
Oleksiy shuffles his feet.
“No, according to you.”
“And the police didn’t find any either? They were the first on the scene?”
“They were,” Hadeon says, his voice trembling. “Or so they believed.”
I rub my chin. I can’t imagine any version of Kateryna not leaving a suicide note. She’s always eager to open up and chat with others. Did Asier cheating on her supermodel self destroy her to the extent that when she found out, she just filled her stomach with random pills and then lay down in the bathtub? That was the bathtub where I ate out Alazne and she jerked me off. I hope Kateryna didn’t consider it an insult.
“It’s not just that we can’t imagine our beautiful Kateryna killing herself for any reason,” Hadeon goes on somberly, “it’s that after her death you acted real shady. It seemed as if your grief was fake. You could just be a bastard, for sure, but we know one thing: you didn’t return all of her stuff.”
“Really? What stuff was I withholding?” I ask with curiosity.
Hadeon lowers his head and rubs his eyes as if he’s about to start sobbing again. Oleksiy has been eyeing me differently since he read that doctor’s note. It’s like he understands now that he’s dealing with a different person than the one they were harassing.
“A laptop.” He sighs. “One that Hadeon bought for Kateryna shortly before you started dating her.”
Hadeon’s shoulders are shaking, and I can see below his hands, with which he’s covering the upper half of his face, that he’s clenching his teeth.
“Kateryna… She was the sweetest, most beautiful girl in the world. Why did you have to die? You can’t be dead.”
I swallow. This guy isn’t faking his grief, and I realize that he must have been thinking of little else since their sister died. What a fucking nightmare.
A cold shiver runs through me. Oh fuck. Kateryna’s laptop is open right between her brothers.
“What excuse did Asier– I give to keep her laptop?”
Hadeon removes his hands from his face. His eyes are red and puffy, and snot is running down his nose.
“You said that you didn’t have it… That she must have left it somewhere.”
I don’t like this one bit. Why would Asier have lied to these guys about Kateryna’s laptop? It seems that he didn’t withhold any other item of hers. And he had hidden it in the attic, behind piles of boxes.
“When… When I got back from the hospital, I found this laptop at home. Is this the one you bought for her?” I ask Hadeon as I turn the laptop slightly towards him.
Hadeon gasps and nearly jumps out of his chair.
“Oh shit, it is!”
He grabs the opposite sides of the screen, then he touches its frame and the keyboard as if the laptop were a precious memento. He starts crying again, his face twisting in grief.
I look away from him. My gut is already killing me, and I don’t want my heart to start hurting too. Apart from that, I will be able to talk to Kateryna about this regrettable incident the moment I get home.
“W-why did you h-hide it…?” Hadeon manages to ask.
“Hade… He doesn’t know,” Oleksiy says softly.
The older brother looks beaten, sick of everything. For a few seconds I only hear the sound of cars driving around the roundabout, birds chirping, and Hadeon’s muffled sobs.
“I’m sorry about everything,” I say seriously. “I’m sorry that Kateryna died, but I’m even more sorry for the two of you, because Kat… Wherever Kateryna is, I don’t imagine that she’s feeling as terrible as you guys have since she’s been gone. I don’t know the kind of person I was before I lost most of my memories, but if I could go back in time as the person I am now, Kateryna would be here with us.”
Oleksiy lifts his weary gaze to mine.
“We are leaving with the laptop.”
“Sure, it belonged to Kateryna. But let me please copy in the pen drive the Word file I was working on. Just that.”
“Yeah…” Hadeon says.
He wipes his tears with his sleeve as I orient the laptop’s monitor towards me. I save the file, close it, cut and paste it into the pen drive, and take the device out.
“Alright, that’s all. Ah, and grab its bag as well. It has the charger and everything.”
Oleksiy holds the bag open as Hadeon, still gritting his teeth out of grief, places the laptop inside. After the big brother closes the bag, he stands up, slings it around his shoulder and looks at me with a sense of finality. Hadeon stands up slowly as well. He must not have a tissue, because he’s drenching his sleeves.
“You are going to call the police, I guess.”
I wave a hand to dismiss the notion.
“As much as my intestines hurt, I understand your predicament. I also feel terrible about what you guys have gone through. I’d rather just leave it be on my part.”
Oleksiy sighs without hiding his relief.
“Something must have happened to you and Kateryna that she ended up killing herself. I can’t forgive you for whatever it is, even if she just felt bad because of some argument. But I guess this is all. Kateryna is dead and we’ll have to live with that.”
Hadeon sniffles and puts on his hood to hide his face. The brothers turn and start walking away.
This isn’t right, is it? Kateryna isn’t gone. Can I allow her brothers to believe that she’s fully dead, when her ghost remains? I truly don’t want to see these guys ever again, but I fear that I will feel responsible for their unending pain.
I stand up and call out to Oleksiy. He turns with a confused expression.
“Listen, we are tied to this thing, you guys and I,” I say. “I think that at least we should exchange phone numbers. You never know.”
Oleksiy shrugs. Hadeon keeps showing me his back, but I don’t blame him. The big brother pulls out his phone, and we even do that ritual of calling each other’s number to make sure that we weren’t deceiving the other. Then we say our goodbyes and they go.
The pain in my belly is seething, but I can finally relax my shoulders. I wipe the sweat from my forehead. I stand there to make sure that those two get in their brick red Toyota 4Runner 4×4 car, which they had parked close by, and drive away.

My Own Desert Places, Pt. 24 (GPT-3 fueled short)

At around two in the afternoon, Alazne and I arrive at the La Perla restaurant, located right next to the popular La Concha beach in Donostia. I had wanted a reservation not only to enjoy eating at a fancy restaurant, but also to keep flaunting to my girlfriend how much money I stole, although as far as Alazne knows, my riches are mainly inherited. It’s too bad that we ended up with an overcast day with clouds that are turning greyer, because otherwise we would have gotten a view of dozens of beachgoers lounging on the sand or taking a bath in the Cantabrian sea. Not that I wanted to ogle at half-naked bodies while I’m eating next to my girlfriend.
As we wait in the entrance for some waiter to lead us to our table, I take a good look at my beloved Alazne again. After I had informed her that we were going to eat at a fancy restaurant in the capital of our province, she wanted me to buy her a dress to match. First she bought a couple of tear-shaped aquamarine earrings, which look lovely in her pretty ears. Shen then chose a type of garb apparently called a skater dress, with a high, defined waist and a flared skirt that almost reaches her knees. Although the base of the dress is white, it’s so filled with floral designs, all of them roses, that it looks from punch pink to crepe pink, with a smattering of green. It reminds me of the kind of elegant dresses that Asier’s ex-fiancée Ainhoa wears, and I wonder if my girlfriend was inspired by how confident Ainhoa looked. Unfortunately, due to how this day risks ending in rain, Alazne wears a denim jacket over the expensive dress.
This morning I got to see for the first time how Alazne shaved her legs. I prefer her untamed look, but it seems that my girlfriend took this outing as a challenge. However, the enthusiasm she had gone to bed with yesterday had been replaced with a worrying lethargy as soon as she woke up today. It felt as if she was forcing herself to go through the motions, because otherwise she would have spent the day holed up at our house. During our train ride to Donostia, Alazne kept shifting her weight in the seat as if constantly uncomfortable. She had trouble holding my gaze, and the corners of her mouth kept falling.
A waiter finally checks our reservation and walks us to a table at the back of the restaurant, in front of a curved wall with a panoramic view of the beach and the nearby islands, as well as a beach-themed ornamental display that looks like an imitation of a Japanese sand garden. The tablecloth is snow white and the cloth napkins are neatly folded.
We look the expensive menu over. I point out several appetizing choices, but I can tell that Alazne is barely paying attention. Maybe because the bags under her eyes are more prominent today, her hazel eyes seem sunken. She was nervously tucking a lock of light brown hair behind her ear when I place my hand on her free one, which startles her. I caress her skin with my thumb.
“You aren’t fine today, are you,” I say softly.
Alazne lifts her gaze shyly towards my eyes. She looks as if she were the thief instead of me. I regret having dragged her out for a tiring outing today, even though she knew it was coming and she went along willingly.
“I-I am so, so sorry, Asier,” she says with a weak, pitiful voice. “I felt it coming yesterday. It’s… I’m going through another cycle.” Alazne palms her face with her free hand and exhales slowly before continuing. “I’m sorry. I really wanted our day to be perfect, but… I go and do this to you. It’s not fair.”
I look around in case any of the other clients of the restaurant, which is crowded, or the waiters are paying attention to us. I lower my voice.
“You mean you are depressed, right?”
“Yes. And it’s my fault. It’s my fault for making you feel weak and powerless because you couldn’t do anything to help me. It’s my fault that–“
I lift Alazne’s chin up with my index finger to look into her eyes.
“First of all, my love, I’m guessing you feel guilty and worthless and all that nasty shit of which depression tries to convince you. It’s a demon dragging you to a lonely death. Alazne, I am well aware that you suffer from depression, and I love you. I intend to be with you forever. You will go through great times and also some depressive times as well, and that’s alright. Those feelings will pass.”
Alazne looks down with a frown.
“But, Asier, I feel like whenever I’m depressed and I’m sick, I’m a burden to you. I don’t want to hold you back from being the person you are meant to be. I’m sure there is someone out there more dedicated than I am.”
I can almost see a tiny black gremlin perched on her brain and scratching her grey matter.
“You are not a burden, and I don’t want anyone else. You know that your depression is tainting your emotions right now. Just take deep breaths and tell yourself that in a few days you’ll get better.”
Alazne breathes in and out.
“But what if I don’t?” she asks with a quavering in her voice. “What if this is how it’s going to be? You’re still young, you can find someone who isn’t going to make you miserable.”
“Sweetie, I want to grab you by the shoulders and shake you a bit. Please look over the menu. Anything that strikes your fancy, I will bankroll. Your boyfriend is rich. Fill your belly with expensive food.”
Alazne sniffs, but reads the menu.
“T-the fish soup sounds good. Hake in green sauce… And some french fries.”
I smile at her, and stroke her hand.
“Alright, you ordered. I have decided as well, so I’ll flag down a waiter.”
As I was turning, Alazne interrupts me.
“I-I doubt I will be able to taste much of the food, because… I can barely tell apart smells, and everything looks greyer somehow, as if the colors were faded. Ah, I feel as I am wading through mud just by being awake.”
I shiver, then cough in my hand to disguise it. My poor girl is a living ghost. Maybe just a few days out of the month, or in the worst cases most of the days out of any given week. Back when I was roaming the afterlife, I envied every single living person, because they didn’t need to experience what true meaninglessness and hopelessness feel like, but getting a taste of those while you still breathe… If someone had designed this universe, I would punch him in the face.
“Alazne, I’ll tell you something similar to what I said back when we went to the amusement park: just relax and enjoy yourself to whatever extent you are able to. You don’t have to justify yourself to anybody. When we get home, you can go to sleep if you want, extra warm if you need it, and tomorrow you’ll wake up without an alarm.”
Alazne smiles crookedly, and nods.
“I-I love you so much, Asier. I feel that you understand me…”
I realize that our waiter is approaching us. I’m quick to reply to my girlfriend that I love her as well, and as Alazne lowers her head to dissuade the guy from addressing her, I order our food. As usual, I avoid even thinking about the price. I haven’t been following the movements in my bank account, which actually belongs to Asier, for a while. No money was getting in, and I never had spent money as quickly as I have since I possessed that cheating bastard’s body. I was beginning to feel reckless, which threatened to cause me vertigo about a possible future in which I wouldn’t be able to pay for anything, so instead of figuring out a solution, I simply stopped looking up how much money remained in the account. I’m good at ignoring important stuff.
Alazne only talks, with a weak voice, because she wants to order wine. Once the waiter leaves, I keep caressing my girl’s hand with my thumb. Beyond the window, the waves of the nervous sea keep crashing into the darkened sand and splashing foam. A couple of people are walking their dogs, their small figures so close to the lower frame of the window that I can’t see under their knees.
Alazne smiles softly at me, and then she hides her mouth in her palm to stifle a yawn. I can only imagine how hard she’s fighting to avoid ruining our day. She must be feeling cranky and restless, and the tiny demon that possessed her must be trying to convince her that nothing matters, but she still manages to smile.
“Asier… Back when we started dating, what future did you see for us?” she asks suddenly.
“Even though I suspect that your darkened mood is trying to tangle me into something troublesome, I’ll answer as honestly as I can. I wanted for us to live together before this body turned forty. I wanted you in my house, I wanted to hold you as I slept, and see your beautiful freckles from up close every morning, as soon as I woke up.”
“Y-you wanted that so soon, huh…?”
“Why, what kind of future did you see for us?”
She lowers her gaze to the fork with which she’s fidgeting.
“I wanted… to stay with you…”
“I thought I could make you happier. And although you must feel like shit right now, you were feeling great just a couple of days ago. You will return to normal in a short while, maybe a few days.”
I raise her hand and kiss it, then caress the side of her face. Her aquamarine earrings keep glinting.
Alazne sighs.
“You’re right. I know you’re right.”
A long yawn interrupts her. She opened her mouth to continue speaking, but the waiter comes with our bottle of wine. Alazne’s expression emits guilt as if she was planning to rob the place. She only relaxes slightly when the guy leaves.
I fill half of Alazne’s glass with wine. I don’t know shit about this beverage except that it usually tastes good, and most things taste amazing for me now that I’m not technically a ghost anymore. The wine will also lessen Alazne’s anxiety once she gets tipsy.
Alazne downs the whole glass in three gulps. I stare at her as I sip from my glass. It’s dry and slightly bitter, with a strong aftertaste, but pleasant.
“I’m drinking too much, I know,” Alazne says. “But I’m tired.”
If anything, getting drunk will end up with her sleeping the entire ride home. Fortunately for her she will be able to rest her head against mine and pass out.
“Why did you bring up our future as a couple, Alazne? In case you had any particular reason.”
She shrugs.
“I don’t know… It’s hard to put it into words. I never saw a future, in general. Not for me at least, you know? So I never prepared for the future. In that sense I’m almost like a teenager, an eternal one… Because it didn’t feel like a future was going to come for me. Sure, I’d need to pay the rent and the utilities, but I did it because I… To go along with the flow. When I thought about where I would be in five, ten, twenty years… Only blackness. But now you and I could last for the rest of our lives, right?”
I pour some more wine in her glass. This time she only takes a sip.
“Yeah, I can understand not having a plan for the future,” I say. “I don’t retain any memory of ever having chosen to become someone’s fiancé. This Asier… that I used to be surely intended to spend a lot of money in a fancy wedding with that Ainhoa person, and then live his life with her or whatever it is that married people do. It’s hard for me to grasp at the moment.”
The waiter comes with Alazne’s fish soup and my clam rice. Despite our troubling conversation and Alazne’s despondency, I could eat a horse, so I dig into my plate, which is a little hill, smaller than I would have preferred, certainly for how expensive it must be, of rice covered with a sauce that smells like garlic and pepper. The clams are stuck as if they were riding a wave only to end up crashing into the rice hill. It tastes real good, although I doubt you’d want to kiss someone who just ate this.
“In this new life of mine I have to deal with being present in the world,” Alazne says softly, “present to other people, managing my ties to others, and also planning for what’s to come. I’m so new at this, it’s what I mean.”
“Yeah, I understand,” I say while the taste of the rice mixed with clam sauce fills my mouth. “But we are in the same boat, aren’t we? I have to deal with my memory loss, so whatever plans for the future I made these last close to forty years didn’t amount to anything. Well, I guess I got my house along the way. Is your fish soup any good?”
She nods as she swirls the spoon in the soup absentmindedly.
“It’s good.”
We don’t speak for a while. The muffled squawks of the seagulls reach us through the windows as they fly in circles over the pigeon blue waters. The clouds are puffing up and turning greyer as they glide swiftly southwards. I should have brought an umbrella.
Alazne hasn’t raised her head in a couple of minutes. She’s three quarters of the way done with her soup. I get that she doesn’t want to talk, but I don’t want her to feel as if I’d rather not deal with her. If it were for me, and if I thought she wouldn’t blame herself for it, I would take her home and hold her under the sheets until she fell asleep. And being at home naked always feels better than anything we do out, so why even leave the house?
“I’ll be a bit more serious than usual,” I say. “Planning for the future reeks of responsibility, which I have never been fond of. I hated it, actually. Our relationship for me is like a sacred bond, closer to the feral, lifelong relationship of two monogamous animals who come out of their mother’s nether regions with most of their choices in life written in their genes. They will find a mate and live with that other creature for the rest of their lives even if they won’t ever be able to argue why.”
Alazne smiles at me, although her eyes are sleepy. I can tell she appreciates that I carry the conversation.
“I think I understand what you mean, but I’d prefer to believe that there are also rational reasons for which we are together…”
“Well, to put it in a different way, it’s like the relationship between a rider and her horse. You can be separated by hundreds of miles, but you will still feel a special connection which is greater than any man-made construct. And when you return to your horse’s side, it’s as if no time had passed: you mount it so naturally that no words need to leave your mouth.”
My girlfriend chuckles. I’m glad I got to cause it. She cleans some eye discharge with her index finger.
“The analogies are getting better and better. That’s more of a symbol of a master-slave relationship. Is that what I am to you, your little slave…?”
The waiter appeared out of nowhere carrying Alazne’s hake in green sauce and her french fries, along with my grilled sirloin steak, which looks thick and juicy. Alazne tells the guy that he can take her unfinished soup. He nods, and in a few seconds he’s gone.
As I cut my steak, I turn my head towards Alazne.
“You are my little queen. And you will remain little, as you’ll always be significantly smaller than this big body of mine, unless you start wearing ridiculously tall heels.”
She shakes her head slowly, but she’s entertained. She downs more wine. Her eyes are getting drowsier and her neck is wobbly, but I can tell that she’s caring less and less about her surroundings as well as her pains, which diminishes her anxiety.
“You are incorrigible, my love, but I love you anyway,” Alazne says.
“Let me tell you too that I know damn well how fragile life is, and also what awaits us on the other side. Well… The second-hand account that Kateryna has given us. Both of those points emphasize that all the races that most people around us are so focused on winning are ridiculous, pathological manifestations of their fear of death. Every effort to justify their existence, to build a legacy whether through children or some material work that they believe is going to survive the inevitable collapse of our civilization.”
“We call it the ‘pseudosocial order’ at the office,” Alazne answers as she chews on a mouthful of hake.
I have no idea what she’s talking about, but I think I’m getting tipsy too. Whatever. I drink more wine.
“I don’t believe in the future is what I mean, Alazne,” I say almost slurring, “only in being here with my lovely girlfriend whom I love more than life itself. The only future I care about is a succession of presents with you. Even if there are no other people, no acquaintances nor friends… Except ghosts, who know what’s up. Us three amigas eking out some dignified life while lost in a jungle overpopulated with irrational, homicidal monkeys.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Alazne says.
“I think we need to take it easy with the wine,” I say, caring very little.
My girlfriend drinks half of the glass she had almost filled to the brim. I need to remain sober. We might end up falling asleep on the train and then wake up in France.
Alazne wipes the wine from her lips with the back of her hand.
“You know how lucky you have been, Asier? You can hold those opinions because you didn’t have to work from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon or even later.”
“What, you mad, bro?”
“No, I’m just saying…”
“I know that people pretend that being a slave to the system is more dignified than escaping it, but that’s them being pussies. I don’t see how working for others makes you any more alive that not working at all.”
Alazne refrains from dirtying the back of her hand any further. She takes her napkin and dabs the corners of her mouth.
“I didn’t suggest that it was better to waste your time working. I just said you are lucky because you haven’t had to.”
I remain silent for a few seconds as I cut a piece of my steak.
“When I was younger… Well, I have retained some memories, after the accident and all that, of working in an office for a while when I was either twenty or twenty one. And it was shit. Humiliating, soul-killing garbage. You know how terrible it is to sit in an office while stewing in your anger because you want to murder your bosses but you can’t because the system would send you to jail?”
Alazne hiccups.
“How do you know that you would go to jail and not just get fired?”
“The system, man. The fucking criminal justice system will punish you if you try to kill your boss. I’m telling you, the world is a bad place.”
“You’re right,” Alazne says.
“These days you need the salaries of two fucking people to afford paying the rent and the utilities, and most of the remaining money you spend it on shoving food into your damn mouths. People return from work annoyed and weary. Do you think that’s conducive to a sustaining a stable relationship with your significant other? And where are the babies, the politicians ask. Swimming up your assholes!”
“If that were true, then there would be no relationships at all,” Alazne says.
Damn, she’s making a good enough point. I thought she was tipsier than me.
“You know what? You’re right,” I say. “I’m just scared of getting my hopes up again and being disappointed.”
“You will never have a worry-free life. I know I won’t.”
I try to talk before I have finished passing a bolus of steak through my esophagus, and I end up coughing a few times.
“What I mean is that after work I could only vegetate and rest enough so I would be mentally present when the next workday started. You know what I mean? And how many people do meaningful work? It’s invoices, auditing systems, snorting coke in the bathroom. Fucking Italians. None of that matters in the grand scheme of things. Ah, but every four years vote for this or that party of self-absorbed liars, who work for foreigners anyway. Are any of those parties defending the stuff that matters? Then the results come and people say, oh well, we’ll get to vote again in four years. How do you know that the elections are legitimate? Who is controlling those computers? It’s almost as if this modern world was built so most people would remain as poor and as burned out as possible. If they remained awake, they’d be out there loading their rifles.”
“If you go on like this, you’re going to make me depressed,” Alazne says, and then chuckles at her own joke.
I point at her with my fork, and part of the steak I had picked up falls back onto my plate.
“I feel lucky, yes, but that I can support you, and myself for that matter, without having to waste in some office the decades I have left to occupy this decaying body. We are both the lucky ones.”
She smiles, and we pick up our glasses to clink them together in a toast.

We leave the restaurant around four. As the time to get up and totter to the exit was approaching, I was surprised that the humidity hadn’t yet broken into rain. The breeze is uncomfortably cool, and imagine than much more for Alazne’s bare, shaven legs. I also need to make an effort to keep my back straight, because I have gotten pleasantly drunk. My Alazne holds on to my arm as if she fears getting lost.
“Alright, baby, let’s go home,” I say.
“No, I want to walk for a bit. That way.”
She’s pointing in the direction of Monte Igueldo. Our train station is in the opposite way.
“Are you sure, or is this your inebriation speaking? It might start raining any minute.”
“I want to walk with you. I missed you.”
She isn’t making much sense, but I love those big glazed eyes looking up at me, along with her drowsy smile. Ah, she’s so cute I just want to squeeze her in my arms until she pops.
I realize that in a corner of her mouth remains a crumb of the chocolate cake, sprinkled with chocolate chips, that we had for dessert. I lean down to snatch the crumb with the tip of my tongue, and after Alazne opens her wet mouth, I also shove my tongue in there for good measure. Her saliva tastes slightly like garlic and olive oil.
A man coughs behind us. I realize that we were blocking the exit as we made out without a care in the world. After we move to the side, a whole family of around eight people comes out. I wrap my arm around Alazne’s shoulders and we start walking towards Ondarreta beach.
“Well, I guess that if we get tired we can get on a bus.”
Alazne laughs through her nose. To my surprise she grabs my ass and squeezes it.
“And if it starts raining, you can always buy an umbrella with your millions of euros, mister.”
I laugh at her joke, and pull her closer to me. I wish she would keep squeezing my ass, to be honest.
A few people are strolling on the promenade along with us. On our right, beyond the slightly rusted balustrade, extends the La Concha beach. The wet sand looks like a wavy ring around the crashing waves, while on the dry sand remain the footsteps of beachgoers from previous days, as well as dogs. Some woman is throwing a broken branch so her canine slave can retrieve it for her, and not content with having received it back, she will keep throwing it over and over, confusing the inferior mind of the hapless dog. Some of the clouds are like big, cloudy breasts, and they look so low that it feels as if the whole sky is going to descend upon us slowly like some trap. I want to get squeezed into a paste by gargantuan breasts full of milk.
The flying seagulls are getting crazier as if announcing a disaster. The cars on the adjacent road keep zooming pass. Some vehicle’s speaker emits a ‘thumb thumb’, competing with the pounding of the waves.
I move Alazne’s hand away, but carefully.
“No, Alazne, that’s my dick,” I say.
“I know it is, silly. I want dick.”
“Not now, though. There are like joggers and shit passing by.”
“I don’t care…” she adds, but she doesn’t insist on fondling my genitals.
We have almost walked to the end of this beach. An inclined outcrop of bedrock has emerged out of the sand and looks like the soggy, fosilized pages of an ancient book. I smell the ocean whenever a wave crashes.
“Alazne, one of these days I want you to sit on the bed, then let me lean sideways on your lap so I can suck on your breasts. I want to suck on those round nipples of yours as if I were a baby. I want you to keep running your fingers through my hair and telling me that you care for me and love me so much.”
Alazne hugs me from the side, which makes me stagger. Her breasts are flattening against my ribcage. It doesn’t feel as if she’s wearing a bra.
“Alright, but only if you let me lie on your lap and suck on your dick as if it were a pacifier.”
“That sounds so good. So you want to be my little baby, huh?”
“Yes, of course,” she says drowsily.
“God, you are making me wet. I will end up licking you everywhere like a lollipop.”
“You’re so romantic…”
We reach the part of the promenade where the road enters a tunnel and where the pavement goes around an ivy-covered wall. We also end up walking through a tunnel with a roof that is painted as if some artist high on acid had tried to depict how the ocean would like if he were lying at the bottom. A black guy is sitting with his back against the wall of the tunnel to play the guitar, but nobody pays any attention. I hear him singing ‘imagine there’s no heaven…’ with a heavy Caribbean accent.
“There might be no heaven already,” I say to nobody as we exit the tunnel. “Maybe those people who move on dissolve into nothing. Phantom particles that return to the universe.”
“Who knows? I just hope there’s good music in the afterlife. Where to now?”
“What? You were the one who wanted to take a walk, sweetie.”
“So? You’re the one who’s been navigating.”
“You’re the one with the smartphone and the GPS app.”
“I will drive a truck straight into your guts and I will make a little home in there,” Alazne says.
“Yeah, I wish you could sleep inside me, so my organs could keep you warm.”
“If only you were a refrigerator…”
I point at the beach on our right.
“We are already at Ondarreta.”
“I am wherever I want to be.”
“I guess you wanted to be at Ondarreta, then.”
“How can you tell? Are we at the beach?”
“As you can see.”
“I thought we were already here. I don’t see any change.”
“Just look around. It’s a beach. You’re seeing the sea.”
“It’s just water,” Alazne says as she squints. “All I see is a whole lot of water. Is that all?”
“There’s also boats with masts like spiky dicks. They threw their anchors in the water to float in place and become traps for the monster pussies what would fall down from the sky.”
“Well, that’s original,” Alazne says.
“There is also a lot of sand.”
“Are there any monster pussies?”
“None that I can see,” I say, disappointed.
We are walking down a slope towards the main entrance of this beach. There’s a raised pool on the sand as if for small swimmers. Also an open shed that stores kayaks and around it some plastic garbage strewn about that look like toys.
Alazne points at an area of the sand a bit further ahead.
“Look, there’s a bunch of white and blue poles there.”
“Those are called flagpoles. You can attach a flag on them to claim land. There are also folded chairs paired with each of them.”
“We should found a new country,” Alazne says. “We could call it… the Nation of Alazne.”
“That’s a terrible name for a nation.”
“It’s a terrible name for a girl!” Alazne complains, and then sniffs.
“Well… It would be if you were a guy. And I’m glad you are not, I assure you.”
“You’re also not a guy, so how would you know?”
I shrug. I don’t think I ever was a guy. It’s not something I’m interested in.
“I just want to sit down and feel the sand under my feet and soles for a little while before I die.”
“What would I do without you?” Alazne asks me with a teary voice.
I put my arm around her shoulders as we continue walking, seemingly nowhere.
“You would found a country anyway,” I tell her.
“I would. A much better nation.”
“Of course, it would be the nation of us, and that’s the only one that matters. What would the national ethos be, though?”
“We would go for book publishing and trade, as well as exploration and mapping.”
“So it would be a nation that produces books about exploring and mapping the world?”
“Yes! We would be like… like Christopher Columbus, but less addicted to crack.”
“You should get that printed on a flag,” I tell her.
“What would be your job?”
“I don’t know. I’d be a ghost possessing every person about to die. I would guide them to the king of the afterlife, whom the newbie ghosts would duel against. If the newbie won, they would be able to dismantle the afterlife and set loose all the hopeless spirits back onto the plane of the living. It would be an Apocalypse.”
Alazne laughs and laughs and laughs. It’s nice, even if she sounds sick.
“That’s silly,” she says with a hoarse voice.
“It probably would’ve been a little too much for them to handle.”
There’s a small drop to the sand from the pavement, and we almost fall a couple of times. Thankfully we end up reaching the dwarf wall that delimits this side of Ondarreta beach. As we keep walking along it for no particular reason, I gasp, then point at a particular segment of the dwarf wall.
“We sat there after we escaped the Monte Igueldo amusement park, remember? We sat there and you cried and we made out and everything.”
“I’m a crybaby,” Alazne says while a tear jumps from her eye.
“You can cry all you want. I will drink your tears.”
I stop her for a moment and turn her towards me. I kiss her as the waves crash against the wall below.
“I’m sure you’ll outlive me,” I tell her.
“Nooo, don’t say that. How do you know?”
“You have too much ahead of you. You’re only just beginning to live, and I’m already ending.”
“I want to die when you die. We should both die at the same time.”
I don’t know what to say, but I nod. I keep hugging Alazne for a bit as she cries silently against my neck. She pulls away, wipes her tears and grabs my hand.
“Ah, you were guiding me to the Peine del Viento, right…?”
“I wasn’t guiding you anywhere.”
“We can go then.”
I shrug. I pull Alazne closer and put my arm around her waist. We pass in front of fenced tennis courts where villa-on-a-hill rich people hit each other’s balls. I don’t know where the hell I’m going, but I have Alazne so it doesn’t matter. The sun is setting and the first stars are already starting to twinkle in the sky. No, what am I saying, it’s like five in the afternoon.
We leave behind a building that looks like a sports center. This is the end of the road, and the Peine del Viento starts. Apart from a bunch of people drinking coffee at the outside tables of a bar right next to the entrance, nobody cares about this place. From here we can finally see the horrifying flatness of the horizon, where the grey clouds meet the pigeon blue waters as separated as if they were oil and water. Alazne trips on the first step into the plaza, art installation or whatever it is, and she falls on her knees. I help her up.
“My knees hurt,” she complains.
“I will rub them later.”
The sea is getting nastier, throwing waves against the only wall that separates us from its anger. I could swear it’s starting to drizzle as well. Alazne and I keep venturing further into the Peine. We go straight to look at the artsy holes in the floor. Whenever a big wave crashes against the rocks under the square, the pressure or whatever shoots up a stream of saltwater up those tubes, which sounds and looks like a whale’s water spout, although I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a whale. So if you were stupid enough to stand there looking down at the holes, the blast would penetrate through your nostrils and shatter your brain. I have no idea who thought it was a good idea to install this ghastly implement out here in the open, but I suppose it’s a testament to how little most people care about others.
Alazne stands unsteadily next to the dwarf wall and is staring at the sea while the waves keep pounding against the rocks. Someone, I guess some artist, inserted rusted iron beams into the most prominent rocks around, which remain out of reach, and bent the beams so they kind of look like they represent bulls, if you are drunk.
“Don’t stand so close to the edge, Alazne. Some wave might come and take you away.”
“I don’t give a shit about anything anymore.”
“You don’t speak for Alazne, demon! Come here, Alazne.”
My girlfriend walks away from the edge and stumbles towards me.
“I’m scared.”
I wrap my arms around her shoulders and embrace her.
“You have to be strong,” I tell her. “Let’s go sit down somewhere.”
We end up approaching the end of this place, and also of all things. Standing so close to the edge of the world, whenever a wave explodes against the wall, particles of its foam splash our faces. It’s also drizzling. The waters below are different layers of foam sliding over each other and exchanging bubbles. It looks like carbonated cum.
“I’m tired, Asier,” Alazne says in a high-pitched, weak voice. “Let’s sit.”
I sit on the cold, humid rock of a bench that looks more like an enormous step in a stair to nowhere. I pat my lap.
“Come here, sweetie. Straddle me, hug me tight.”
Alazne sits on my lap and wraps her arms around my neck. I hold her head against my chest and caress her hair. I smell the scent of her ear and feel its shape inside my palm. The cold breeze blows.
“Look at that seagull above us. It’s been circling us for a while now, as if looking for someone to shit on.”
“I don’t want to look at anything,” Alazne says, although sounding as if she’s too comfy to bother.
The waves keep going in and out. In and out. In and out.
“Asier, it’s raining,” Alazne says.
“Yeah. Whatever. Hey, do you remember how you felt when you woke up this morning, all depressed?”
“Do you still feel that way?”
“Well, do you want to go back home, or do you want to stay here with me?”
“I want to stay here with you forever,” she says.
“Then let’s do that. I’m not going anywhere, and neither are you.” I bury my face in her hair, which caresses my nose. “I feel so good with you, Alazne. So many happy moments you have given me.”
“You make me happy too.”
“These good moments can paint over the grey of dozens of years. You don’t understand it as well as I do. One day we will die and we won’t know real colors nor tastes nor smells anymore. We will only have the memories of the good times in the back of our minds. I will be able to stand there in the hopeless fade and say to myself that I was here with you and that I felt this way. Our little flame will keep us warm. Without each other we would drift forever, we would only open our mouths to scream at the dark.”
I close my eyes and hold her cheek against my face. I hear her breathing deeply. Rainwater is trickling down my neck.
“I had a dream that we were a family, Asier,” Alazne murmurs next to my ear. “I didn’t have to think about it, I saw myself holding our little baby girl.”
I keep quiet. My heart swells up and my throat feels parched.
“I know that can’t happen,” she says in a low voice, “and it’s fine. I’m not asking for anything from you, Asier. I’m just letting you know how I feel.”
I hold her tighter.
“A little baby us, huh?” I say softly.
“A short, chubby baby with the biggest hazel eyes in the world.”
“I used to feel that the world had nothing for me. It was a foreign beast that would walk by and one day die without me being able to do anything but watch. But now I’ve thought of where to be, and the things to see… I feel like I can live, and every little part of it you gave it to me.”
“I’m so glad to hear that, Alazne,” I say, then I wipe away a few tears.
A man and a woman walking their dog pass us by and give us a glance. The woman smiles at us. They leave.
“So I need you to put a baby inside me now,” Alazne says.
“I don’t want to be a virgin anymore.”
I feel myself sobering up quickly.
“Alazne, are you looking forward to having a baby because you want us to become a family, or because if we have a baby together we are that less likely to leave each other?”
She snuggles her face into my neck for a few seconds.
“B-both, maybe…”
“You want a gremlin growing inside you, turning you into a beast, and possibly ripping you apart as it enters this broken world?”
“It felt right to hold my baby.”
“They are a pain in the ass. They cry all day, they poop all over themselves, and they only stop when they’re hungry. You have to feed them every two hours. It’s basically like having a second job, but worse because you can’t even get drunk at the end of the day.”
“If you’re with me, I’ll manage. If I’m with you, you’ll manage.”
“A baby is not the means for something else. My parents had a baby because they were told to and because they couldn’t stand each other. They fucked everything up. They cursed me to exist.”
“I’m not your mom. I’ll always be here.”
I stare at her face in front of mine. There’s a whole person inside that robot made out of flesh and bone, and it’s looking back at me.
“Alright. Not today, though.”

My Own Desert Places, Pt. 23 (GPT-3 fueled short)

I powered through my dizziness as well as a churning in my gut to wait for Alazne’s writing class to end. I stand in front of the church as the heterogeneous group of wannabe writers exits the nearby library, and I spot Alazne nodding shily to a forty something years old woman before they part ways. As soon as Alazne locates me, she heads towards me with an enchanting smile. A wave of warmth washes out some of the sickly feeling I had been stuck with since I stopped writing my memoir for the day.
Alazne gives me a hug, but when she pulls away to kiss me on the lips, merely looking at my face from up close stops her. Her smile drops.
“My love, what’s wrong? You look as if you are about to vomit.”
I force my mouth to display the best reassuring smile my dizziness allows me.
“I got into it too much while writing down my memories. It’s alright, it’ll pass. I just wish we were home already, though…”
Alazne’s expression gets serious.
“Can you call a taxi? I don’t think it would be good for us to walk home now. I can tell you are putting on a tough front. Let’s sit somewhere…”
Alazne takes me by the arm and guides me to a dwarf wall next to the church, a wall that starts out at shin height but that some meters down the street raises to head height due to the slope of the street. We sit down. I take out the phone to call a taxi, but as I search the number, I want to dispel my girl’s worry.
“I’m just a bit dizzy, nothing to worry about. How did your first writing class go?”
Alazne rubs the back of my neck. It feels good, but as if she were my mother. This threatens to screw up the dynamic of our relationship. Very few women are interested in dating their own sons.
“I will tell you all about my first day in writing class, but only as soon as your face stops looking so pale. For now let’s make sure that a taxi will come get us.”
I get in contact with the taxi company, and the dispatcher assures me that one of their cars will arrive soon.
Alazne keeps caressing my neck and my shoulders under my shirt. It feels real good, but I don’t want her to look at me with that pity.
“Are you sure this isn’t related to your head wound?” she asks anxiously. “Your general practitioner is going to check you out in a few days, right?”
“Well, at least I hope she checks on me, yes. Sweetie, this has nothing to do with the car accident, I assure you. It’s just that recalling some events of my distant past really fucked me up. Some of those dark moments aren’t compatible with the peaceful life I intend to live in the present.”
Alazne seems unconvinced. During the ride back home, she keeps caressing the back of my neck and whispering in my ear that we’ll reach our home soon and that I’ll get better in no time. I’m sure that my sex appeal keeps lowering the more Alazne pampers me, but I can’t care much right now as I try to absorb all her soothingness.
Once I finally close our house’s front door behind me, I take a deep breath of relief. It’s as if we had docked our boat after spending hours seasick. We walk into the living room to leave our laptop bags on the dining table, and Alazne and I spot in front of one of the sofas that two candles are hovering while orbiting an invisible point.
“Ah, Kateryna,” I say. “Everything okay?”
The candles fall down slowly towards the coffee table, and they land upright. The planchette resting on the center of the nearby ouija board twitches, and then spells out HELLO BOTH. After a couple of seconds, the planchette adds TRAINING.
“It’s so good that you can keep yourself entertained, Kat,” I say.
HEY IM NOT A TODDLER, the planchette spells out.
“Oh, I know,” I reply, amused. “I was thinking that we could celebrate that Alazne joined the course. How about joining us later in this living room for some drinks, just you, me and Alazne?”
I DONT DRINK, the planchette spells out. BAD FOR THE LIVER.
Alazne approaches me and puts her hands on my chest. She looks up at me with her big, hazel eyes, full of trust.
“You are somewhat serious, right?” Alazne asks me coyly. “Tonight’s fresh start calls for some drinking?”
“It calls for some celebration, surely.”
Alazne stands on her tiptoes, closes her eyes and kisses me on the lips with such love that I want to carry her to bed like a princess. She narrows her eyes and raises one side of her mouth.
“You are looking much better, Asier. Let’s go take a shower.”
A ball of tingles bursts in my crotch. I contain a shiver. I have been waiting since I woke up this morning to hold Alazne in my arms as I fill her with this stolen cock of mine. It seems that an hour and a half of nausea was worth it.
“Yeah, let’s,” I agree with a hungry voice as if I were starving. I look over my shoulder towards the planchette. “Hey, Kat, how about I play some music for you while we keep busy?”
Alazne is prancing into the hallway with an uncharacteristic joy. Ah, this will turn out to be a beautiful day.
I pull my laptop out of its bag, then I switch it on so I can distract our resident ghost with some music, in case a conspicuous chill envelops us in the middle of fucking and my and Alazne’s arm hair raises.
“Joanna Newsom it is, then,” I say.
I’m already getting hard out of anticipation. As the generously long album ‘Have One on Me’, perfect for my current purposes, starts softly, I say goodbye to my dead friend and I almost run to the bathroom. Alazne is already standing inside, her bare feet sunken into the polyester rug. She’s only wearing her burgundy lace underwear, with an intrincate floral pattern. I can almost see her round nipples through the fabric. As Alazne admitted, although she didn’t need to, before we met each other she hadn’t been into buying sexy underwear, as she barely wanted to look at herself in the mirror, but now it gives her a rush to show her pale, freckled curves to someone who wants to devour her whole. She looks exquisite, and that shy, submissive glance of hers only makes me harder.
My heart feels like it’s going to explode. I don’t blink once as I undress myself down to my boxers. They couldn’t contain my erection, and it’s poking up at a forty-five five degree angle to my belly.
When Alazne takes my hand, her delicate fingers twitch. A blush is spreading across her cheeks.
“Come here,” she whispers.
We both take a small step forward. I grab her around her bare waist, and as Alazne stands on her tiptoes she wraps her arms around my shoulders so that our groins meet. She pushes them together, making sure that the shaft of my cock is pressing into the folds of her pussy through the fabric of her panties. Her eyes go white for a moment as she bites her lower lip. Then she kisses me with a hunger I’ll never get used to while gripping my hair with her fists.
I can barely contain myself. A moan rumbles in my throat, and my hands glide up from her soft ass cheeks to the waistline of her panties.
“Wait,” she whispers, gently pulling her face away from me. “Let’s get under a warm shower. But first, take off my underwear.”
Excitedly, I lower to my knee as I hook my fingers on her waistband. There’s a wet spot on her burgundy panties where the fabric covers her vulva. I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with her scent, before hooking my thumbs on both sides of the elastic and sliding them down her smooth thighs, over her knees, past her calves. Alazne kicks her panties off. I remain kneeling, intoxicated, my mouth salivating, as I stare at the soft, light brown pubes and her wet cleft. The lips are parted, and the hood of her clitoris is peeking out from between her swollen labia.
Before I know it I’m bringing my wet tongue closer to her little button, but Alazne’s legs tremble, and she places her palm on my forehead to stop me.
“No, not yet,” she says, breathing hard. “Take off my bra, and then let’s get into the shower.”
I rise to my feet as Alazne’s hands run over the muscles of my arms, shoulders, and chest, feeling the contours of my body through my skin as if she was blind. I unhook her bra and slide it off one of her arms, while with her other she fondles my cock through my boxers. I’m only containing myself because my girlfriend wants me to. Otherwise I would drag her to our bed and give it to her hard until she passed out. Having been blue-balled this morning really fucked with me, and now I have no idea if I will be able to last more than a couple of minutes.
After I take off my boxers, Alazne turns around and presents her ass to me, which is shaped like an upside-down heart, as she turns the shower on. She’s messing with the handle to set the right temperature for the water which is already splashing her hair. Before I know it I’m squeezing my cock against one of her ass cheeks as I, bent over, hug Alazne from behind and cup her breasts.
Alazne lets out a moan and backs her ass against my crotch for a moment, but as if she remembered that she was planning something else, she straightens her back and steps into the shower.
“Come, my love. It’s already warm.”
“So am I. Scorching, I’d say. I’ve been wanting to come inside you since I woke up this morning,” I manage to say with a beastly voice.
I get in the bathroom to stand behind my girlfriend’s back. My feet are submerged in water that is a few degrees hotter than I would have chosen, not that I care much about it now. Alazne’s shoulders slope down her back in a divine curve that blends with the globes of her ass. She takes a bottle of violet-scented liquid soap and pours a bit onto her hand, then she turns around and hands me the bottle. Alazne’s beautiful hazel eyes are glistening as warm water runs down her face.
“You clean me, I clean you. A fair trade, yes?” she says with a smile, then she licks some saliva that was about to trickle from the corner of her mouth. “Lather my skin up real good.”
I stare at her with lustful eyes as I rub the soapy foam on her belly, then move on to her tits, which I knead gently while her hard nipples bend against my palms. Then I go back down to her belly again, and dig into her belly button with my soapy finger as if it were my tongue.
“You have the sexiest body in the world, Alazne,” I say. “I want to devour it whole, not leave a single bone.”
I don’t wait for her to react, I just lean in and kiss her on the lips. She grants me access to her mouth and I penetrate it with my tongue while the shower water streams down around our joined lips. Slowly, she pushes me away with her slippery palms.
“You are breathing too hard, and I can tell that you are inhaling shower water. I wouldn’t want you to drown,” she says playfully, even though desire is twisting her mouth.
“That’s very considerate of you. Drowning is horrible. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
I hug her as I bend my legs slightly so she can rest her chin on my trapezius muscle, and I lather her ass cheeks with soap. She clenches them as soon as my hands get close to her asshole, as if fearing instinctively I might try to sneak a finger into it.
“What’s wrong?” I ask teasingly as I rub the foam off her ass. “Don’t want me to play with your virgin hole?”
She lets out a whimper of excitement.
“Never. I am a good girl with an intact ass.”
Oh no, that shiver tells me all I need to know. I shouldn’t have teased her about it. I we end up in bed after this, I wouldn’t be surprised if she lies face down and slides a couple of pillows under her belly.
I bend down lower to wash the back of her tighs and her calves. I straighten my back and turn her around. She’s breathing hard through her mouth, and her eyes are glazed as she follows my movements.
I want to clarify the whole asshole issue.
“Your pussy is already warm, wet and welcoming, Alazne. And self-lubricating.”
“Would stop talking dirty to me…?” she says in a sultry voice as she washes my neck and my chest, fondling them along the way.
“No way. Let go of the guilt that weighs you down and embrace the beast inside you. I am not talking dirty; I am staring deep into your soul and seeing you true nature.”
I pour more violet-scented soap on my hand and I draw spirals on her belly with the liquid, slowly moving them down to her bush. She spreads her legs and pushes herself backwards in such a way that for a moment I fear she will slip and fall. I reach with my free hand to hold the back of her waist.
“Yes, yes,” Alazne whispers excitedly. “Down there.”
The sudsy white foam is already in contact with her juices. Fuck it. I won’t hear any more excuses. I crouch down and I close my lips around her swollen clit.
“Ah, ah, ah! Fuck. Yes!” she screams as she grabs my ears.
I thrust my tongue inside her pussy with no preamble. Alazne tries to move away from me without much effort, but I hold her in place with both hands. I knead her trembling ass cheeks as I lick her clit in circles. She squeezes her thighs together trapping my jaw between them, then she cries out like an animal. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few seconds Kateryna’s characteristic chill gives me goosebumps as our little voyeur joins the fun.
Alazne hums in a low tone as I continue pleasuring her. Her groans become louder, and she’s so wet that despite all the water of the shower dripping from us, I can tell apart her distinct juices running down my chin. Her vagina pulsates against my tongue. I lather soap all over her thighs, her knees and calves as Alazne trembles in ecstasy.
Kateryna must have sneaked in, because I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, as well as someone staring intently from the middle of the bathroom at my efforts. Having our ghost roommate watching Alazne and I fuck only makes it more exciting.
“I’m going to come all over your face,” Alazne says in a hoarse voice as she trembles into an orgasm. “Y-you are going to love it…”
I dig my fingers in the soft flesh of her ass cheeks while I lick her throbbing clit frantically. With a high-pitched yelp, Alazne tightens her grip on my head as her legs shake as if she’s about to fall. I keep flitting my tongue around her button. Alazne finally slides her palms to my forehead, and pushes me away slightly. When I stand up, my girlfriend’s wet hair is dishevelled and she’s wheezing as if she might pass out. Her legs don’t stop trembling. I hug her mainly to hold her up, and I’m about to ask her if that was too much, but she takes my chest hair in her hands, leans forward and licks my lips with her hot tongue. She then takes mine into her mouth and sucks on it gently.
“I love you,” she mumbles with my tongue between her lips, her eyes shining.
This girl… I’ve fallen for her so damn hard that it hurts.
After a few seconds we stop making out.
“How do you like the taste of your own juices?” I ask her.
“I love it. I want more,” she says, her voice turning into a growl.
“Every time I eat you out from now own, I will hold a cup under your pussy so I can collect every ounce of your juices that I don’t get to drink. After you come, you will gulp it down.”
Alazne chuckles at what she knows to be a joke, or hopes that’s the case at least, but I see in her eyes a hint of something dark, feral. I want to bring it closer and closer to the surface over the passing days, months, years.
I hadn’t noticed that Alazne was pouring soap on her hand until she grabs my erect cock and starts lathering the length of it. My eyes close as a jolt of electricity runs through my spine. With how Alazne is working the underside of my glans, I might come in seconds. Her palms are soft as the finest silk as they glide up and down my sensitive skin. She’s pressing the tip of her tongue to her upper lip, concentrated as she is on jerking me off.
I cup her face with my hand intending to ask her to stop, because I suspect my knees are going to buckle and I will end up embarrassing myself, but Alazne keeps polishing my cock while staring defiantly into my eyes.
“Alazne,” I groan as I feel that familiar warmth spread through the lower half of my body.
My girl keeps stroking me even as I come. The first ropes of semen land on her abdomen, but one hits her cleavage. I moan as the last drops are squeezed out of my tip.
I must have lost consciousness for a moment, although some instinctive processes in my brain kept holding my body straight, because the next thing I experience is the sound of my girlfriend popping open a bottle of shampoo. She then pours some of the liquid on my hair.
“We need to keep that hair shiny and strong,” she says with a sleepy voice.
I’m out of it. I can’t tell the words coming out of my mouth as Alazne sensually rubs the shampoo onto my hair. It’s a good thing she is here to take care of me.

We stand in front of the mirror as I finish drying Alazne’s hair with a towel. I can’t tear my gaze away from her naked body in the reflection.
“You almost emptied that bottle of conditioner in my hair,” she says, but there’s a twinkle in her eye.
“I want to give you a little extra of everything. It feels good to pamper you.”
I address our ghost roommate, as her bubble of cold air maneuvered around us when we got out of the shower.
“I hope you enjoyed the show, Kateryna. That was the first time we made each other come while standing up in the shower. I’m not sure if my legs will take that often.”
Kat can’t answer, as we didn’t put a ouija board in the bathroom, but I feel her gaze sliding along the countour of my naked body. I guess she’s getting an eyeful of Alazne’s as well. I know damn well that as a ghost, even some of the otherwise ugly bodies can look like treasures just out of reach.
I’m bending over to grab my boxers, which I had thrown carelessly, but Alazne puts her palm under my lower jaw as if wanting me to straighten my back again. She’s staring at me with her eyes narrowed, almost drowsy, while she raises one side of her mouth in a smirk.
“Are you going to cover yourself? Weren’t you going to give your girl a treat, d-daddy…?”
Even though I came really hard, her lewdness makes me wake up again. I slide my hand from her shoulder to her waist, and I guide her, both naked, to the master bedroom. I can tell that Kateryna keeps staring at us from behind.
“I intended to give you a new treat after you were so brave this afternoon. Lie on the bed, face down.”
Kateryna’s presence continues to make me horny, as she’s always around when we have sex. I’m one lucky bitch.
Alazne presents her ass deliberately while she climbs onto the bed. Once half of her face rests on the matress, she closes her eyes and smiles softly.
“Do whatever you want with me,” she says.
The mound of her ass is tempting me to take control and fuck her from behind like an animal. I bet Alazne would go wild as well. But I had planned something more soothing after the anxiety she forced herself to tolerate since she decided to attend the writing course. I get on the bed and I straddle her lower back. Alazne shivers, then lets out a noise of anticipation.
“D-do you want to fuck me in the ass…?”
“No! I mean, not… today. I have been watching a certain kind of ASMR-like YouTube videos recently, and I wanted to test them on your nubile flesh.”
Alazne’s face lights up, and she smiles pleasantly as her body goes limp.
“Do your worst, daddy…”
I swallow. To begin with, I realize that I’m straddling her in the wrong place, so I scoot back on my knees until my still hard dick hangs close enough to Alazne’s asshole to make me look like an asshole. But as I put my weight on my knees, I place my palms on my girlfriend’s lower back and I slide them slowly up the slope to her shoulders, feeling the contour of her muscles and bones along the way. Alazne hums with satisfaction.
“It feels so good when you do that…” she admits.
I realize that from the living room, sounding like a half-imagined song from the fifties, comes Joanna Newsom’s voice as she sings a song I don’t recognize now. From time to time the Californian songwriter’s voice sounds like air getting squeezed out of a balloon, but that’s part of the charm, I suppose.
I take the opportunity to massage Alazne’s muscles with a light pressure, pressing on her trapezius and giving small circular motions around her scapula. Alazne sighs with pleasure, and I imagine I can see the stress slipping out of her body as she exhales. I kiss the back of her neck, then slowly continue caressing her bare skin with my warm hands. I keep repeating the swimming-like motions over her undeveloped muscles and the joints. It just happens that it also allows me to fondle her body at my leisure, which I always want to do with no particular excuse.
“T-there… Yes, keep doing it just there,” she says.
I comply, and following her comments I find out it helps if I gently scratch the skin with the edge of my nails in some parts. She loves the tingling sensations across her back, but nothing compares to when I start drawing small circles around her tense shoulder muscles. When I hit the bull’s eye and she lets out a long, quavering moan, an electric current runs down my spine. I’m suddenly aware that my cock has been steadily hardening.
Alazne turns around, even kneeing me in the thigh, to lie on her back and face me. Saliva is trickling across her cheek. My eyes move by themselves to ogle her hard, round nipples. It’s just too bad that I can’t ask her to let me suck on them for an hour. I want to be her baby.
“I want you inside me,” Alazne says, then lifts her legs up and spreads them apart enough so that the head of my penis hovers just over her pussy, which is already leaking onto the sheets.
“But I have barely started massaging you…” I say, unsure.
The corners of her mouth twitch upwards, and she makes a grab for my ass.
“Now massage my insides,” she says, slowly lowering me into herself.

I open the front door for the pizza delivery man, who turns out to be not a man and instead a small South American woman in her forties. She leans slightly to look into my living room, because Alazne is playing The Velvet Underground’s ‘I Found A Reason’ on the guitar as well as singing, caring so little that strangers might hear her as only someone who has orgasmed three times in the last hour could be. After the delivery woman hands me the warm box, I give her twenty euros and tell her to keep the change. My mouth is flooding with saliva even before I open the box and the steamy scent of a freshly baked bacon pizza hits me in the face with the strength of a heavyweight.
“Thank you for bringing us our food!” I say cheerfully to the delivery woman. “You have done a good deed today. Would you like some pizza?”
“I mean, I am hungry…”
“Dig in then.”
She nods eagerly and takes a slice from the box. As the random woman eats it contently, I do regret it for a moment, because more pizza for others is less pizza for me, but I can’t help but feel generous when life is treating me this well.
“I’ll leave you alone now,” the delivery woman says. “Thank you so much for the tip, sir!”
Oh yeah, I did allow her to keep the change too.
“You’re welcome. And good luck with everything,” I say as I close the door behind her.
I walk into the living room while I hold the steaming pizza. Alazne stops playing, a sure sign of how hungry she is. She leaves the guitar aside. Once I plop onto the sofa next to my beloved, she snatches a slice and holds it slightly over her holy mouth so the strands of melted cheese land on her tongue. I immediately start thinking about sex again. It’s nothing but sinful urges within me, either for Alazne’s body or for pizza.
We barely pay attention to how random objects, including a small clock, a pen, a packet of guitar strings and the TV remote, jump around as our ghost keeps throwing them in the air and catching them. She already was a master poltergeister when I met her, back when she nearly obliterated my testicles with a projectile, but now she’s improved. I feel sorry for the testicles of whoever she targets next. Given that Kateryna seems sadly unlikely to move on to the beyond, it’s only a matter of when: she will end up killing someone, for sure. It makes me proud, like a mother with a talented daughter, not to mention exceptionally hot.
“I’m so proud of you,” I say to Kateryna.
A clock that was falling in a parabolic arc stops in the air, then it descends quickly until it rests on the table. The planchette spells out AWW.
“You were very quiet right until now, my love. Is everything alright?” Alazne asks with a mouth full of food.
“I’m just sleepy, I guess. But you never got to tell how your first writing class went!”
“It went great. The teacher, a famous horror and science-fiction writer called Guillermo del Toro, thought my story was good.”
“Woah, you know Guillermo del Toro now! What a completely believable development!”
She giggles.
“You tell me first how writing your experiences went. I’m sure you wrote more than me!”
As it happens whenever my past ends up becoming part of a conversation with Alazne, I have to fight so it doesn’t ruin my mood. I’m happy as long as I don’t need to face that I am deceiving the love of my life into believing that I’m a man, instead of a woman who has been dead for twenty years. That’s the nature of the dangerous game I’m playing here. Fortunately I can keep munching pizza until I feel ready to answer.
“Well… I can tell you that it has turned into a confession.” What the hell am I saying?! I’m way too relaxed from fucking. “I mean, I tell everything I remember, and there’s some… sad stuff in there, I guess.”
“Sad stuff like what? Your relationships with ex-girlfriends?”
Now I must choose. I’ll confess if the probability of a happy ending is above twenty five percent.
“There’s some of that, yes. What I… remember from my days as a high school student, and my family…”
“Something about Irene as well?”
I’m startled. Alazne is well aware that the last time she brought up how it bothered her that I withheld information about this Irene person, I did open up about having lost most of my memories in that car accident, but I still failed to mention anything about Irene. She might have ended up feeling that me confessing my memory loss, which to be accurate is a deception, was a way to distract her from opening up about Irene. However, Alazne seems curious now, not concerned.
“Yeah, that Irene…” I start with difficulty. “Is someone from the past who I wish had never existed. It’s a whole bunch of bad memories and regrets and guilt I have to carry with me for as long as my consciousness lasts.”
Alazne leaves her half-eaten slice on the box, and cleans her fingers with her mouth. I guess she expects me to clarify the Irene enigma now.
“That’s… much more than you ever told me about this person. I know you aren’t cheating on me with her, but obviously I can hardly be more interested in someone that both you and Kateryna keep quiet about…”
I chuckle bitterly, then rest my forearms on my knees.
“It’s impossible to cheat with someone whose body has been rotting for around twenty years, unless I were a necrophiliac, and I’m not sure if they ever found her. Last I knew of her, the fishes were biting her drowned corpse.”
Alazne brings her hand to her mouth.
Something hits the floor loudly, startling us both. It’s Alazne’s glass of Coca-Cola. Given how a small clock rests face down where the glass used to be, Kateryna must have banged into it by mistake.
The planchette is quick to spell out OOPS.
I sigh.
“It’s alright, Kat.”
Alazne had drank most of her Coca-Cola, but a puddle of it remains on the hardwood floor. I was bending over to grab the glass when it lifts out of reach, and it lands carefully on the table. The planchette spells out SORRY SPILLS ARE BEYOND MY GHOSTLY POWERS.
“I doubt it will eat through the floor like some acid blood. I’ll wipe it up later.”
“Kateryna, did you know that Irene was dead?” Alazne asks directly.
Damn it, I shouldn’t have opened up about Irene in front of our ghost. I hold my breath, anxious about what Kateryna might answer.
Alazne scoots closer to me, then puts a hand on my shoulder. I turn my head to face her understanding expression, so full of love.
“I see… This is a matter of guilt, isn’t it? From very long ago,” she says quietly.
I can’t help but laugh. It’s a hollow laugh.
“You could say that. I…”
My throat closes. I rub my cheeks as I try to think what to say, or if I even want to talk about it.
“She killed herself, didn’t she,” Alazne says.
“Yeah. Yeah, she did,” I say more ruefully than I intended. “A girl who had never been in love, that nobody cared about, who couldn’t see a future in this world. She did it to herself.”
“W-were you her boyfriend?” Alazne asks, sounding as if she feels bad for asking.
“No, just someone who was always close to her and who would have preferred a better ending for her sad life.”
“I’m sorry.” After a few seconds of silence that I spend looking down at the spill of Coca-Cola, Alazne talks again. “I reminded you of Irene, didn’t I? Back when you met me.”
I’m startled. I straighten my back and I stare at Alazne dumbfounded. I want to deny it, but… what if Alazne’s lonely guitar playing did remind me of the one person I truly came to know and whom I wasn’t able to save?
“You hadn’t thought about it…” Alazne says while smiling softly.
“See, that’s something that maybe a therapist might be able to help with, not that I would bother. I don’t know if Irene’s death did influence me falling in love with you. The fact is that I love you, and that’s as much as I care about that.”
She puts her arm across my shoulders and leans in for a kiss. The moments our lips touch, I forget all about ghosts and suicide.
“But hell, Alazne,” I say, fake mad. “I opened up about Irene, but I only got to learn that your writing teacher is Guillermo del Toro.”
She giggles.
“There wasn’t much to my first class. I met a few new people, got to listen to their creative exercises, and I realized that I can survive in a room filled with strangers without collapsing on myself. I was super anxious, though.”
“I’m glad you went.”
Alazne grabs her half-eaten slice of pizza and takes a big bite. She hasn’t finished munching when she goes on about her experience.
“Yeah. I don’t know how I would have handled being alone with my thoughts for one more day. I got to learn that Guillermo del Toro is a very nice man who just wants to help us grow as writers, and he will give us all tips on making a story come alive through the reader’s mind. Now I can sleep peacefully, knowing I have a second chance at life.”
“So you can state wild lies with a deadpan expression. I’ll need to be careful, it seems.”
Alazne laughs through her nose.
“So…” I start. “Any male classmates about your age have asked for your hand in marriage already?”
“Nobody interacted with me that much, although they were glad to get a new classmate. Other people can get nervous as well, it’s not so easy to approach strangers. But no, I already have a prince of my own. Why, are you jealous? You were the one who taught me all about jealousy, after all.”
“Actually, yes.”
Alazne giggles. I can’t get enough of that sound. I insist about my wishes, though.
“I often wish for other men to disappear so there was no chance anyone else would try to get in your pants. But then again… I would need to get rid of many of the women as well.”
“I’m not sure if I should be flattered or scared.”
“Both,” I reply as I shrug. “Anyway… How’s the writing course going, damn it? Did you write something?”
“Yes,” she says, smiling. “I have several stories from different genres and styles. I’m going through them and polishing them up. Then, I will choose my favorite stories to turn them tinto full-length novels which I will then submit to a publisher.”
I chuckle, then drink some grape juice.
“Alright, can you tell me if your teacher asked you to write something in class? And, please, no wild lies.”
“Oh, that,” Alazne says. “Yes. It was… actually pretty stupid. The teacher said we could write whatever we wanted, so I wrote a story about a person who had a car accident, and it gave me some ideas for horror stories.”
“I wonder where you got that first concept from… Horror stories, huh? Like what?”
“Like, what if you were a kid hanging out with you two childhood friends inside a walled city and suddenly some huge monster peeked over the wall?”
“That does sound pretty good. They do say to write what you know, after all.”
Alazne snorts.
“Or what if you were forced to defend the city walls from an enemy onslaught and you had to use the severed heads of fallen soldiers as cannonballs?”
“Ew. I think you need to have a chat with Guillermo del Toro about these stories. Any other hits that your pretty brain came up with?”
“What if you were in the army and had to cross a bridge that would only support two people at a time, while the enemy was shooting arrows from the opposite bank of the river?”
“I see. Primarily horror, but with some action and drama. For some reason a military force is present in all three concepts. Anything else?”
“What if you were on a road trip with two friends and had to stop at a creepy hotel run by a blind lady, and while you’re eating dinner you realize that one of your friends is a ghost?”
I scratch the back of my head.
“Alright, a story about someone close to you being a ghost all along, that’s… that’s pretty good. Four out of four, Alazne. Can you hit me with a fifth concept?”
“What if you were on a road trip and had to spend a night in a motel, but the motel was run by ghosts and there was a ten minute time loop, so you had to find clues in order to escape?”
I raise my eyebrows and nod eagerly.
“I kind of love that one. A road trip and ghosts again, for some reason.”
“It’s the first thing that came to mind,” Alazne says bashfully.
I stand up wearily as I avoid stepping on the spill.
“I better clean this stuff before it eats through the hardwood floor. Hey, Kateryna, do you also have a pitch for a story, by any chance?”
The planchette spells out YEAH.
“Well?” I ask expectantly.
Kateryna moves a candle through the air so it lands on the back of the clock that was lying face down. The planchette then spells out WHAT IF A CANDLE WAS LIGHTED WHEN NOBODY WAS HOME AND THEN THE WHOLE PLACE BURNED DOWN.
I smile weakly.
“OK, um, I’ll remember that. And I’ll also sleep with one eye open.”
“Alright, I’m going to get the mop.”

Note from May of 2021:

I guess this was the ‘hanging out with Alazne and Kateryna’ episode.