The mountains, the sun, the heat. I am lost, wandering. Hot. That mountain again. Those men came from there. They have sticks and bats and fists. I don't see them. Too late. They hit. Hard, precise. My stomach, my face, my arms, my legs. I cover my head, close my eyes; maybe they will go away. A scream. Pain. Agony. No, they won't. They hit again. And again. And again and again and again. They won't stop. I want to die. Give up. Just stop. They reach my trousers. I want to die. I can't look. They touch me. Pain. Fear. I want to die. They rip it. I break. The pain, the shock, the blood. I scream. I see red, and then I see nothing.

I want to die.

'Bernard! Bernard! Please, wake up! It's just a dream!'

'Lou… Louise?'

I open and close my eyes again to be sure. I'm on my bed. I'm no longer in the mountains, no longer alone. Louise is by my side; she is grabbing my shoulders and looking pale and concerned.

'It's all right now. I'm here.'

'I know…'

She hugs me. My eyes sting, but I don't cry. I can't. I haven't been able to for two years now, since that day.

'Was it that nightmare again?'


My voice is weak. I don't want to talk. I'm not sure I can talk. It all comes back to me. Those memories. My body hurts; my scars burn. Louise tightens her embrace. I'm trembling. I want to cry, but I can't. She rocks me back and forth. Lovingly, comforting.

Please don't go away.

'I'm not going anywhere.'

I close my eyes, the pain slowly fades. It feels warmer now. Louise doesn't go away. She stays until my breathe evens and my body relaxes. This time I have no nightmares.

Too often I wake up with that dream that wasn't a dream. Because of it I lost two years of my life. Two years that are gone and I can't take back.

It was Louise who found me. She screamed and called for help, probably thinking I was dead. By the time she found me I had long passed out, defeated not only by the blood loss, but also by the worst kind of pain a human being could be subjected to.

Those men had it in their hands. They had been touching and squeezing, playing with it. And then they yanked it out like it was made of paper, with their bare hands. I was defeated by the pain, by the blood, and ultimately by the sight of my manhood hanging loosely in someone else's hand.

A year later all my other injuries had healed. They left ugly scars all over my body, reminding me of that summer afternoon in the mountains, of that pick-nick with my girlfriend, of my excited seventeen year-old self. And of the dozens of men with painted faces, their bats and sticks, and the strength hidden in their fists.

I wanted to die. Time and time again I told the nurses, the doctors, my parents and even Louise. I wanted to die. It was the first thing I said when I woke up. I wanted to die. There was nothing to live for. Things would never be the same. I begged for them to let me go.

But they didn't. They forced me to go on; forced me to endure the pain of mending half my bones, of facial reconstruction surgeries, of ever-recurring nightmares. A year went by. I could move, I could walk, I could use my hands again.

So I tried to strangle myself.

It was Louise who found me. She stopped my plans. There were tears in her eyes, she hugged me and didn't let go. She said she never would. She promised. She would stay by my side no matter what.

And so I survived another year in the hospital. Day after day, surgery after surgery. The doctors tried to reconstruct what was lost, give back what those men had taken away in a blink of an eye. Four, five, six procedures. Louise said it looked fine, but I was not brave enough to see by myself.

I left the hospital after two years. My motor coordination was fine, but I still had trouble speaking. I knew there was something hanging between my legs when I walked, but it felt the same as nothing. Whatever was there was just for decoration.

But Louise didn't mind. She stayed by my side and took on the task of teaching me how to live again, how to face life outside overly-sterilised rooms. She told me we had to make up for the last two years, and I complied. For the first time I felt I should comply.

I still can't look at my reflexion in the mirror and there are still words my scared lips can't shape. I still have nightmares. Yet, even if the men from the mountains haunt my dreams forever, I'm not facing them alone.

'Bernard? Are you sleeping?'


She hugs me. We are in my bed, side by side. She kisses my neck; a chill runs down my spine. I open my eyes, turn to face her. She is smiling. Brightly, assertively. She kisses my mouth, licks the scars in my lips. I tremble. She hugs me again. I feel things I thought I could not feel anymore. I hug her too. I kiss her too. Her hands are on my back, tracing my scars. They are burning with her touch, but there is no pain. I moan. It's been two years. She is on top of me. She kisses, kisses, kisses. Everywhere. She won't stop. I don't want it to stop. She kisses my torso, my neck, my ears. I can't take it anymore, but I don't want to stop. That feeling. Her lips. Her hands. It's been two years. Her face. Her smell. Another kiss. It's too much. I scream. She smiles.

'Thank you.'

'My pleasure.'

Louise hugs me again. A solitary tear makes its way down my face…