The cold of October seeps through the fabric of my hoodie and penetrates the pores of my skin as the breeze blows my hair around my face. The smell of wet leaves and damp earth permeates the air, and a chilly darkness is settling over the city. I keep sniffling and fidgeting. I wish I could rock back and forth as if possessed, but I’m sitting on a hard bench between two women burdened with shopping bags, and I’m surrounded by a throng of people that wait to board the train to Irún. I feel like everyone is staring at me.
I never wanted to hear about Jacqueline’s sexual escapades. Didn’t I tell her as much, back when they dragged me to that packed restaurant for lunch? She only intended to hurt me, like everyone else does. That woman is a beautiful, ruthless predator without any qualms about devouring anyone around her to preserve and increase her power and status. She feasts upon their flesh and bones while slurping down their blood, then she pisses them out into empty wine bottles that she uses to decorate her apartment. If she ends up with nothing but dust and ashes, she’ll move back to France and start again.
How could I remain so naïve, when everything had conspired against me and everyone was trying to destroy me for reasons beyond comprehension, until they finally succeeded in poisoning my mind to make room for something new inside me, something foreign, malevolent, and hungry for human souls? Still, throughout the years I became obsessed with a few unlucky people, although I knew deep down that none of them suited me, or would want anything to do with a mentally unstable woman that constantly makes a fool of herself and has lost the ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
I hold my head in my hands and I keep my eyes closed until I hear the train’s clacking wheels as it pulls into our platform. I jump up. As soon as some passengers exit, I hurry inside and find an empty seat in a group of four. I press my thighs together to avoid any contact with the middle-aged guy sitting to my left, whose right knee is jiggling up and down as he stares at his phone screen in a trance. When the doors of the carriage swing shut, a wave of heat suffuses the air inside.
I focus on the passing scenery as I swat any thought of Jacqueline away from my mind, or of my future prospects as a burned-out programmer who is barely sane. I find myself overlooking the large sports center of Fanderia, with its two football fields and tennis courts. Thankfully nobody is playing tennis in this cold night; otherwise, I’d have to jump down there and wring their necks.
I shouldn’t give my brain the opportunity to lose itself in daydreams. From now on I’ll always bring my ebook reader along. I haven’t read a novel in years. I used to love reading when I was younger, but once I started working as a programmer, other people’s fantasies began feeling too far removed from the reality of computer bugs and deadlines. Perhaps focusing on the troubles of made-up people will help me overcome my despair, or at least alleviate some of my boredom.
I get off the train at the central station in Irún. I climb the stairs and emerge into the Colón promenade, that teems with pedestrians that hurry home after work, or return from shopping trips. I walk along the bridge and gaze down at the rail yard that continues into France among gravel and weeds. The gusts keep making my hood flap around. My fingers are stiffening, my nose running.
Once I cross the tiny San Miguel plaza and reach the nearby market, at the end of the street appears the shitty, working-class apartment building where I live. As I drag my feet towards it, I gaze at the available view of Mount Jaizkibel, arched like a horse’s back and featuring two stripes of deforested land that reach to the top, to prevent fires from spreading.
I walk up to my apartment and I hurry to unlock the door as if I was being followed. After I enter my cramped nest and I push the door closed with my back, I sigh as I stare at the eggnog yellow wall of the hallway. This place never felt like a home, but its walls shield me from the outside world, allowing my body to finally give up for the day. White noise is running through my legs as a drowsiness threatens to overwhelm me.
After I pee, I put on my flannel pajamas and a tracksuit jacket for the cold, then I shuffle to the living room, where I plop down on the sofa. My gaze falls upon the pile of board games that occupies the gap in the birch wood cabinet where the previous tenants, an elderly couple judging by the paintings they left behind, likely set up the television. Terraforming Mars, Renegade, Core Worlds, Fire in the Lake. Half of those boxes remain wrapped in plastic. Part of the joy of buying board games, and that sometimes I miss more than playing them, involved waiting for the delivery person to ring my doorbell. Unfortunately, some ended up calling me during the workday, because they didn’t bother to read the delivery instructions.
I wish I retained enough energy to lose myself in the mechanics of one of those games, but I would be evading my homework. I need to download a couple of books about Python’s updated features so I can cease looking up code snippets on Google for every function, to develop that nasty contract that my boss secured. Still, does anybody pay me for the extra research? I doubt I deserve to rest, but I need it desperately.
My back slides down the cushions until the armrest holds my head. I yawn loudly. A wave of exhaustion is engulfing my mind, threatening to pull me under its dark waters. Surely I can close my eyes for a moment. Once I open then again, I will make my bed, mop the floors, wash the pile of dirty dishes in the sink, clean the bathroom…
I open my eyes. Where am I? My saliva tastes foul, and stale drool has sticked to my chin. Slowly, I sit upright and reach for my phone, that I placed on the coffee table. It’s half past eight.
I wipe my mouth with a crumpled tissue. I’m dizzy and disoriented as if half of my brain remains asleep. I want to lie back down and sleep away my sorrows and worries, but I should fill my stomach with some food, if only because I won’t recover otherwise.
Once I stand up and I stagger around, I smell a hint of horse manure and old urine. The wind has picked up and is rattling the windows. I hold my breath to avoid inhaling any horse-related particles. My ears perk up. I’m getting used to this eerie sense that someone disgusting is staring at me out of nowhere.
“Is that you, Spike?” I ask in a raspy voice.
A noxious stench envelops me, like that of a corpse that’s been left to rot in a swamp for weeks.
“You were looking for me?” the horse asks.
I turn around and flinch, as I find myself looking up at the imposing frame of a towering horse standing on its hind legs. That pair of retracted, atrophied forelegs detracts from the terror of his appearance. Under the yellow light of the living room, Spike’s elongated head is a mass of scars, and his mane is matted with thick, oily clumps of hair that resemble a tangle of filthy pubic hairs. He’s already dripping drool from his muzzle onto the hardwood floor. His belly hangs between his legs like a pregnant woman’s.
I wish I owned a bathtub, so I could fill it with warm water and scrub myself clean of this horrid stench of rotten flesh.
“Spike, your body odor reminds me that one of these days I’ll have to take out the trash,” I say. “What do you want with me?”
When this fucker draws his lips back to speak, he shows me his sharp, jagged teeth, like filed piano keys that have been smeared with butter. His throat emits an awful noise that makes my skin crawl, as if his vocal cords were made of iron bars that scrape against each other.
“I keep telling you, Leire. I need you to listen to something important.”
I sigh. Spike’s long, grey tail lolls over his hooves like an empty fur coat or a hairy, hollow penis in place of the one that this horse monster lacks.
“Again with that nonsense? Well, that’s your problem. I’m going to prepare dinner.”
As I walk to the kitchen, a clack of hooves follows me. Flies are crawling over the dirty dishes and cups that have filled the sink, and a sour, pungent smell is coming out of the trash bin. My shoulders droop. The effort to clean the kitchen alone would drain me dry.
“Your apartment is a disaster zone,” Spike says in a low rumble.
His words sting. My hand was hovering over the handle of the fridge, but I stop to glare at him over my shoulder.
“If it bothers you that much, clean it yourself! And you are one to talk!”
“Ever heard of the broken windows theory?” Spike asks.
“I doubt it, but don’t worry. Although there must be plenty of viruses and bacteria floating in the air, most of them are small enough to be filtered by the particles in the atmosphere and dispersed into the wind before they can reach our lungs or bloodstreams.”
“Many must have landed on the rotting organic material, and they are multiplying rapidly now that they can feed on that stuff.”
What the hell is this horse talking about? Why is he always making up weird shit? I shake my head as I look at the mostly empty shelves of my fridge, where some moldy vegetables and yogurt lurk in their containers. I had intended to prepare some bacon and eggs, but I guess I ran out of eggs at some point, and the remaining bacon smells rancid and spoiled. I need to buy more food soon and get rid of all this junk in my cupboards and freezer, but merely envisioning the trip tires me. Oh well. Thankfully, the slices of serrano ham don’t stink.
As the ham sizzles in the pan, I feel Spike judging me with those bulging, black eyes, so I run water on my dirty dishes and I scrub them until they shine again. The flies buzz angrily around me.
“Is His Eminence happy now?” I ask mockingly as I turn around to face Spike. “Hey, don’t lean your haunches against my dining table! If I find a shit smear anywhere in my house, I’ll fucking bash you!”
Spike lifts his snout sharply, as if I caught him lost in thought.
A fly lands on my nose. I shudder, then I swat at it repeatedly.
“Stop apologizing over and over. It makes you look weak.”
I carry my plate with fried slices of ham, as well as a glass of milk, to the living room, and I settle down on the sofa. I poke into a slice with the fork, but as I lift it towards my mouth, I find myself staring at Spike, who observes me casually from a few feet away. I must have gotten used enough to his horrid horse stench for me to think about shoving food into my mouth.
“Do you have to stare at me like that while I’m eating, Spike?!” I snap at the horse monster, who is still drooling. “Check out all those board games sitting in piles of dust! They are aching for someone to set them up, which can take up to half an hour, or even more in the case of Anachrony!”
“I would enjoy playing board games with you, but I can’t hold the pieces,” he laments.
I frown at the horse monster as I chew the salty and fatty meat. He continues to gape at me with a creepy stare from that pair of dead fish eyes. His thick tongue flutters and flaps like a horse’s bridle strap while he drools onto the hardwood floor.
Spike is so creepy and repulsive that only a pervert could find his presence appealing or welcoming, and yet a perverse part of me would like to feel his tongue licking at my nipples and his teeth nibbling at my pussy lips. At this hour, Jacqueline must already be lying on her back while a cock with a glans shaped like a tennis ball penetrates her roughly. Those large breasts are bouncing and jiggling as she moans and begs. The tennis guy finishes by blowing his load all over my ham slices.
I should have imagined that one day I might become another victim of such depravity. I will never be able to escape this sickening world. I lower my tainted plate onto the coffee table, then I lean back until I rest on the cushions.
“What’s with the thousand-yard stare?” Spike asks.
My mouth hangs open for a few seconds, until a fly lands on my lower lip. It takes off before I can smack it away.
“Do you know about my secret fetish for older women?” I say in a faraway voice. “Particularly for big-breasted, seductive, French-speaking, childless, horny women. It’s only natural for me to want to fuck them, since they’re the kindest, most nurturing, sweet, loving, sensual, and caring people that exist on this planet, and they deserve to be fucked hard, over and over again, until they die from a massive orgasm.”
“I know all about your obsession with Jacqueline, yes,” Spike says. “You may be aiming a bit too high.”
I’m appalled, but I remember that a hallucination would naturally have access to my memories and thoughts.
“Well, can you blame me? She’s tall and shapely, has a lovely smile. When she walks, those large breasts bounce and sway in a very erotic manner. Even a horse should detect the aura of sexuality and charm that radiates from her body.”
“You fell for her because she held you in her arms like she would a child, though.”
I hunch over, digging into my knees with my elbows, and I claw at my face as I grit my teeth. I hear a fly’s wings beating furiously while it circles my head. I need my screams to echo throughout this cramped apartment. I can’t bear it anymore, this constant, relentless pressure to get everything done, to achieve something beyond what I am capable of, and to keep my job in order to survive. Tomorrow I’ll have to trudge my way up to my mortifying office and face Jacqueline’s piercing gaze. She stared at me as she revealed that she knew I want her to love me.
I’m a freak. It’s impossible for me to continue living this miserable existence when all I can think about is death and destruction. I keep complaining about Spike’s body odor, but it’s far better than the putrefying stench coming from inside my own head.
I take a deep breath, then I scoot closer to the edge of the sofa.
“Go ahead, Spike,” I say hoarsely. “You’ve been trying hard to get me to listen to some garbage. I’m all ears. Speak whatever words come to mind, and let’s see if they make any sense at all to me.”
Spike perks up. Even his pitch black eyes seem brighter now that he has a captive audience.
“Wonderful! Then listen, Leire. I used to work at the same… Wait, what are you doing?!”
The tines break through the skin of my neck as I push the fork further into my flesh. A cold shiver runs down my spine, but the endorphins flood my brain, making the intensifying pain more tolerable, if not pleasant. A warm trickle of blood oozes out and slides towards my collarbone.
Spike stumbles towards me. He must intend to unleash a torrent of insane horse thoughts into my mind, but I prevent it by shooting him a menacing glare.
“Stay the fuck away,” I whisper. “I’m killing a rotten bitch.”
Blood is pooling at the base of my throat while tears form in the corners of my eyes. I can’t believe how much relief comes with a simple act as committing suicide. All the bad things in life can be left behind forever. There will be no more nightmares and delusions and hallucinations and depression and anxiety and loneliness and the excruciating feeling of being trapped in the center of an infinite maze I can’t possibly escape and the fact that my only friend is an evil horse monster who wants to eat me alive.
My vision is getting blurry as I concentrate on the fork buried in my neck. My fingers feel numb with frostbite.
“I’d say this is a cry for help,” Spike says sternly. “You are in dire straits and reaching out for salvation, and maybe, just maybe, for love.”
My lips twitch. I taste the snot that runs down my nose.
“W-well, can you help me?!”
Spike’s atrophied forelegs flail around like a pair of broken twigs.
“Help you? I came to you because I needed your help!” he shouts, his voice cracking like an adolescent boy’s. “What do you want me to do?”
I groan as my nostrils flare. I pull out the fork and throw it at the floor. It leaves a splash of blood.
“Fucking useless. Not even a crippled horse cares. You are just like everyone else. They’re always looking for an excuse to discard me, but that’s even preferable to allowing them to get close, because those people are the most likely to betray and abuse me. This is why the best course of action is simply to cease existing altogether, let the rest of the universe continue in harmony instead of having its existence threatened by my presence.”
Spike crouches to bring his horrifying horse face closer to mine, although he seems about to topple over from his awkward posture. A few veins bulge on his forehead and neck as if they could burst and send a spray of hot liquid all over my body.
“You should have been destroyed millions of years ago by a nuclear warhead,” I mutter, “you fucking pervert.”
“Press that tissue against the holes in your neck, will you? They look like the bites from a couple of tiny vampires.”
I lean back against the cushions as I obey this equine stalker’s orders. The burning in my neck feels as if a bunch of bees had stung me. How pathetic am I that I tried to kill myself in such a lazy, inauthentic way? I thought I was better than this. Whatever. I’m too exhausted to move anymore.
Hot tears roll down my cheeks as if someone was pouring hot wax onto my face. I close my eyes, but I keep hearing Spike’s raspy breathing, and by this point his fetid stench has permeated my body. I want Jacqueline to love me, although she’s a woman who is only interested in men, although I thought I was only interested in men. I need someone to care for me and protect me from falling apart.
“I-I guess I’m glad that you want to keep me company, Spike,” I slur as my chest spasms. “I know you’ve got nothing going for yourself. You’re ugly and deformed and smell bad. But at least you’re not an asshole like all these other damn humans are. So thank you for wanting to stay with me. I should reward you with some sugar cubes.”
Spike looks so sad. Maybe he really does feel sorry for me.
“Why would I want sugar cubes of all things?”
“Spike, you stink of geriatric dementia. Maybe I’m offering you sugar cubes because you can’t eat anything else with those rotten teeth of yours. Although I can also tell that you are dying of thirst because of all the fluids that keep leaking from the hole where your horsecock used to be.” The pain in my neck is starting to subside, replaced by a dull headache that makes it hard for me to think straight. I take a deep breath through clenched jaws before I continue our conversation. “My brain has linked the notion of sugar cubes to the existence of horses. Who knows if that’s relevant. But have you forgotten again that you are a horse? To be fair, you are as withered and emaciated as a scarecrow, and you stink so bad that anyone would think you are a carcass rotting away in some ditch.”
Spike snorts loudly, then he shakes his head. I try to focus on his eyes as they stare into mine, but his gaze is lost in a distant place far beyond reality.
“We are both deformed horses. You are a female deformed horse and I am a male deformed horse. Our bodies are twisted and misshapen because our mothers ate strange things while pregnant with us. They didn’t care about their children, they didn’t want them. We are cursed to exist as broken creatures, doomed to suffer abuse and neglect from everyone who encounters us, including ourselves. But we can still dream of being normal and beautiful some day.”
I lie down sideways, facing the cushions, and I close my eyes tight. If only my heart could beat fast enough to keep the blood flowing in my veins, but alas, it’s a dead weight that drags me down to a place far below the surface of the earth, somewhere in the bowels of the planet where the magma burns and boils. If only I could give up on my mind completely, accept that the entire world is a nightmare, a horror movie that I’m forced to witness every single day. That’d be the only way I could survive this despair that’s consuming me like a cancerous tumor. I want to curl up into a ball and never move again.