Once the lunch break ends and the three of us return to our small office, the deformed horse is sitting awkwardly on my seat. As he pants heavily, he’s trying to balance himself on his horse ass while the atrophied front legs dangle. The horse turns his bulky head to stare at me with his dark, empty eyes. My anxiety shoots up as I wonder whether Spike had snooped on my internet history, but I realize that even if he intended to spy on me, his hooves are unsuited to handling a computer mouse.
I ball my hands into fists as my teeth clench by themselves. I stride up to Spike’s side and I glare at his drooling horse face.
“Get out of here, you freak of nature!”
Spike tilts his head slightly as if confused by my words. This damn horse seems drugged half of the time. It’s not only physically repulsive, but mentally disturbed too. I grab the back of my chair and shake it violently, sending the horse toppling onto the floor. He lands hard, and he rocks his body around until he manages to get up slowly onto his two hind legs. He limps away as he shakes the dust off his mane. I might feel sorry for him if his stench wasn’t this unbearable. At least take a bath in a river once in a while!
“Who are you berating?” Jordi asks casually as he sits at his assigned workstation.
Shit, I had forgotten that I share this space with my coworkers. I shouldn’t have accompanied them to waste a significant part of my daily salary on a combo plate that my intestines will struggle to break down. I can only regain my energies when I’m alone, but I squeezed most of my reserves on arguing with Jacqueline. Now I’m wide open, I can’t properly regulate my unhinged nature. And that horse is still lingering in the corner of my vision.
After I sit down wearily, I expect our intern to be weirded out by my outburst, but his thin, freckled face looks curious. He’s staring at me strangely through the lenses of his glasses, like he’s peering into a crystal ball.
“I have been infected by an acute form of schizophrenia for almost two years now,” I say with a stupid smile. “My condition is incurable.”
“And yet you can focus on reality enough to keep a full-time job, huh? That’s commendable.”
I can’t help but chuckle nervously. My mouth is dry.
“I appreciate that, Jordi. Nobody had realized how much I struggle to seem like a normal person. I guess I was normal enough until a year ago, when my entire family died in a car accident. Since then I’ve become a recluse. I spend every day at home, and every night, and even when I sleep, I am being watched by a horse that wants to become my friend. It has a strong stench and it’s constantly following me, and it’s deformed and castrated, so I can only imagine that it must be a demon.”
“I don’t know any demons,” Spike says behind me.
Jordi narrows his eyes and looks to the side to give my deranged outburst some thought. What is this strange elation warming my chest? I feel proud that I have opened up about the fact that I’m sick and losing my mind? I’m so exhausted that I must have slipped into my self-destructive mode, and I will eagerly pursue any path that leads me closer to my inevitable doom.
As I was about to apologize, Jacqueline pats me on my right shoulder.
“Sweetie, we are the ones who should have gone easy on the wine, remember?”
The hint of concern in Jacqueline’s voice makes me avoid her gaze. Her motherly instincts have glimpsed through my nonsense and spotted the black, rotten core of despair lurking beneath it. I straighten my back as I hurry to compose myself. I don’t want Jacqueline to be disgusted with me, for her to understand that my mind has been irreparably shattered.
“Do you want me to solve a couple more of your tickets?” Jordi asks me.
I shake my head and my hands, then I roll my chair closer to the keyboard.
“No way! You already help me too much, and I have to get used to this new world order. You are the one getting exploited as an intern while Jacqueline and I earn real salaries, so no need to burden yourself further. That’ll only lead to resentment! No, I’m more than capable of taking care of all my problems.”
My coworkers’ stares burn my cheeks for a few seconds as I scroll up and down my code in the IDE window. Please, don’t you fucking look at me. Just leave me work in peace. I need to catch my breath and center my brain.
Fifteen minutes later I’m sweating. My belly is filled with an unpleasant warmth as it struggles to digest the fatty foods I shoved inside me. My heart pounds with anxiety. I want to go home, and cry along the way. I’m so lonely. Nobody understands what’s going on with me, including myself. Why do they think that it is okay for them to just keep their mouths shut and look away when I am suffering? The people that were supposed to love me never gave me anything but pain.
Jacqueline is one of those. She is probably the worst of them all, because she can see right through everything. She knows exactly how much of a monster she has created in me. She is evil incarnate. She is trying to destroy me from within, but she won’t succeed. Not while I still have my sanity intact.
Spike’s unbearable stench envelops me. It stinks as if he was rotting inside his skin.
“You are exhausted, Leire,” he whispers in my ear, which sends a shiver down my spine.
No shit I’m exhausted. I don’t need a horse to tell me that. I want to reply to my stalker, at least tell him to fuck off, but I don’t want to disturb my coworkers further.
“I can smell your desperation,” he continues, “your desire for death, but you are not ready yet. We must learn how to live, or else we will remain forever trapped between life and oblivion.”
Spike’s words are like a bucket of ice water dumped over my head. How could a person live on if her mind has been crushed by madness? Where does my mind go now? There’s nothing left on this side of life except a pile of rubble and a smoldering fire that refuses to die out.
This is why people are afraid of horses. They might try to kill you one day if they are hungry enough to devour you whole. And I can tell Spike is always hungry. He smells it on you like an aroma of roasted meat wafting through the air at a barbecue party.
I’m sure this horse will continue talking and I’ll just bite my tongue, unless I figure out a way to communicate with him that Jacqueline won’t notice. I open a Word document, then I point at the blank page so my stalker realizes my intentions. Spike’s drooling chin is hovering close to my right shoulder. His breath is heavy and smells like rancid butter mixed with moldy cheese and rotten eggs.
“Are you writing me something?” he asks.
You are not real, I type.
“Hey, don’t say that,” the deformed horse complains. “I am very much real.”
No, you are not.
Should I relent? Would replying to Spike only make him more disruptive, as if I were acknowledging the ghost haunting my house? Maybe it’s better to pretend that he doesn’t exist at all, and let my mind focus on other things, like my work. But what work can someone do when they have lost all hope and purpose in living anymore? We’re all dead anyway. The world we knew has disappeared without a trace, replaced with an endless, empty void. What kind of sense would it make to keep going when there’s no reason for us to do so? A horse should realize that. All that awaits a broken mind is a dark eternity of nothingness.
“I know that I am quite hideous,” Spike says, “but I am still alive and kicking.”
Back when I was a child, I went on a school trip of which I only remember the moment when I passed by some horses hitched to a post, and the teachers insisted that we should stay away from the beasts. They mentioned than on an earlier trip, a girl had approached one of the horses from behind to pet it, and the horse had kicked her in the head, caving her skull in, killing her instantly. Ever since, I knew that horses were evil creatures hungry for blood.
A black shape darts by at the edge of my vision. I only move my eyeballs to search for it, but there’s nothing in front of me apart from my computer monitor, a pillar that holds the roof, and further away, the door left ajar that leads into my slimy supervisor’s office. My body feels sticky with sweat, and I’m hearing the faint echoes of remote, unintelligible voices in my head.
“We have to talk about something important,” Spike says solemnly. “We made a mistake. Few people know it yet, but it might get out of hand. A lot of powerful people would murder to get their hands on the wound we opened. You need to help us, Leire, or everyone may die or become insane before our eyes.”
My mind is racing as fast as my heart. I’m finally going crazy. I’m a danger to myself and to society. What can I do? I have always been broken, so this descent was inevitable. What choice do I have but to let this madness take over my entire existence?
I hunch over as I type frantically.
Fuck off with your horse nonsense! I’m losing my fucking mind over here. Stop talking to me at work!
“This may be an inconvenient time,” Spike says. “I’ll try later, then.”
I grit my teeth. The air that I inhale through my flared nostrils smells like it’s burning.
Horse, you are a monster, a disgusting creature, I punch on the keyboard. Go away and stop bothering me. You are a disgrace to horses everywhere. Get out of my sight and never come back. Your stench is unbearable. Ever since you arrived, I can’t concentrate, and my mind keeps wandering to all sorts of perverted things.
“Your mind was already filled with sexual depravity,” the horse retorts.
A bead of sweat slides into my left eye, and that cornea burns as I blink madly. The heat is unbearable. Sweat drips down my forehead onto my hands.
GO AWAY, I type. FUCK OFF. GET OUT OF MY LIFE. LEAVE ME ALONE. FUCK YOU. JUST STFU. GO TO HELL. UGLY. FILTHY. DISGUSTING. DEFORMED. PSYCHOANARCHISTIC MONSTER. HORROR SHOW MESSENGER FROM THE GRAVESTONES OF INSANE PAST PRESIDENTS AND GENOCIDES THAT ARE BURIED UNDER THIS CITY’S SANDSTONE HOUSES. IGNORANT ASSHOLE. TAKE YOUR DIRTY HOLLOW COCK WITH YOU WHEN YOU EXIT THROUGH THE EMERGENCY DOOR INTO THE AFTERLIFE.
I am breathing heavily, trembling with rage as a wave of nausea hits me, accompanied with dizziness. This can’t continue any longer, or else it will devour everything around it and turn this office into an inferno of hellfire and brimstone, and maybe even destroy Donostia itself, and everybody who lives within its borders, and perhaps beyond its reach, and possibly this world and all of its inhabitants will cease to exist altogether, and this is why I am trying desperately to find a way to communicate to this equine abomination, this horrible, repulsive, and obnoxious monstrosity, this stinking stallion of unspeakable filth that has found its way into my life like some sort of foul demon.
I rest my elbows on the table and bury my face in my hands as I steady my breath. Has Jacqueline noticed how much I’m losing it? I need to be alone, I need to sink in the silent darkness by my lonesome self.
My computer plays the notification that I have received a new email. I freeze. Finding an unread email in my Outlook inbox is like someone calling me frantically because he’s killed someone and I need to hurry over there and help him dig a hole to bury the body before the police finds out about the crime. My adrenaline is pumping wildly, and my fingers are numb as they hover above the mouse.
The email is a Service Manager notification indicating that I’ve been assigned a new ticket. This one involves programming in Python and working on the client’s Django server, that is using GraphQL. I’ll need to automate SQL queries, fetch images, and develop a whole widget to upload images and to write associated comments. A new contract that my boss has secured.
I feel like I’m lying face down in mud while some jumps on my back. I don’t want this job. I want to go home. I want to curl up in bed. I want to sleep. I want to forget.
A couple of minutes have passed since I read the message, and I still haven’t moved. I’m staring blankly at the screen. My skin feels hot as if it were sunburned all over. When I finally lift my gaze off the monitor, it falls upon the half-open door to my supervisor’s office. Every time he seeks such contracts and he states the boss equivalent of ‘sure, my full-time programmer will develop this in no time’, he must be aware that he’s forcing a burning hot poker down my throat, and yet he continues doing so without remorse or guilt. Hell, he likely fantasizes with forcing something hot down my throat every day of his life.
I stand up slowly as I take a deep breath. My heart is beating so hard it’s painful. I’ll walk over there and make that fucker pay.