About twenty minutes before the workday ends, my boss appears at the doorway of his office like a particularly nauseating bear emerging from winter slumber. He’s wearing his burgundy suit, and the tie he chose looks like a piece of raw meat hanging off his neck. His suit barely disguises the paunch, let alone the bulge in his pants. The fabric must have become as stained and smelly as he is.
Ramsés stares straight at me. I have no choice but to hold his gaze, although it sends a jolt down my spine and makes my muscles tense up.
“Leire, let’s have a moment,” he says with his big head and thick arms.
I freak out internally. He’s setting up an emergency meeting because I haven’t done enough work today. I consider answering, “What if I can’t, sir? What if I’m having a mental breakdown?” but he wouldn’t give a shit.
Ramsés turns around and disappears into his lair, leaving the door open for me to follow him. I stand up. As I was about to shuffle to my boss’ office, Jacqueline grabs my hand and smiles up at me.
“Don’t worry, sweetie,” she whispers.
I can’t help but worry anyway, but as I walk past her, I’m touched by Jacqueline’s attention and care. My heart has swollen, and I’ve gotten a bit dizzy. I want to taste the salt on her skin and the sweat between her breasts, but instead I’m heading into my boss’ office like a scared mouse.
Ramsés was standing next to his mahogany desk for me to enter his arena. When I step in, he sits down with an air of superiority on his throne of rape. His face is paler and drier than usual as if he had slept poorly for a couple of days, and he’s sporting conspicuous dark circles under his eyes. I haven’t gotten close enough to smell his breath, but it must stink like a factory. I’m sure there are worms living inside those chapped cheeks; the only thing he’s missing are flies buzzing all over his face.
The light streaming through the windows is already dimming, and solely the hum of my boss’ computer, that likely needs a cleanup, breaks the silence. Ramsés gestures for me to sit down on the guest chair across from his desk. However, today I refuse to bear the way he would look down at me if I sat there; I’m sure he bought the guest chair shorter so the sinking feeling would remind his workers of who’s boss.
I walk up to the back of the guest chair and I place my hands on the backrest.
“Please sit down, Leire,” Ramsés insists as if he was dealing with a recalcitrant child.
I try to hold my head high, but my heart is pounding.
“I won’t. I’ve already been sitting for decades. I figure it’s about time I stand for a while.”
My boss stares at me through narrowed eyelids. It takes a couple of seconds for my resolve to shake like the blubber in Ramsés’ buttocks. I can already smell cigarette smoke emanating from his body, mixed with sweat and dried pre-cum.
As Ramsés leans back in his chair, his gaze slides down to my cleavage and lingers there for a moment before it returns to my face. For someone used to hiding her femininity with hoodies and sweaters, wearing this stupid dress I might as well be naked. The rapist in charge of this hellish company likely believes that I’m yelling silently for him to bend me over his desk and stuff me with his porcine cock. I am not going to give up without a fight. I must under no circumstances allow this bastard to touch me, but he’s already fondling me with his invisible tentacles of lust.
Even after I shift my weight nervously and narrow my shoulders, this prick keeps staring at me with the unsettling fascination of a big cat about to pounce on its prey. I force myself to keep my hands in plain sight so I won’t have to worry about my fingers sliding up the inside of my thighs or into my panties.
Ramsés picks up a coffee mug sitting next to his keyboard. He raises it to his lips, takes a sip, then places it back where it was. When he lifts his gaze back to mine, there’s a cold glint in his eyes that makes me feel like I’m being toyed with by some sadistic beast.
“Alright then,” he says quietly. “You’ve got a lot of nerve today. Let’s discuss your two most pressing tickets, which are now being held together by duct tape. You’ve only made a couple of commits to the repository, and the attached messages were even more bizarre than usual. So what’s going on?”
I cringe. I hadn’t considered that my boss would spy on my progress that closely, but he must have been keeping count and perusing my commits for a long time, maybe ever since he enslaved me. I’ve written such deranged nonsense in the messages. Why haven’t I been fired or even crucified already?
“It seems to me that you’ve found more important things to do than your job,” Ramsés says bitterly as if his life had turned into a living hell because of my incompetence.
Did I imagine that knowing look? Did Ramsés realize that I had slept pressed against Jacqueline’s twin miracles? And who would blame me, if they understood how much it would hurt to be deprived of the softness of those breasts at night, or of the gentle caresses Jacqueline’s supple hands provided on my body while we were sleeping together like two spoons? The idea of spending a single second apart from Jacqueline makes me want to cry; it’s too horrible for words. Even as I write with nail polish nasty curses upon my boss on the walls of my mind, I still can’t forget the woman who has become my world and the centerpiece of all my fantasies, and whose scent lingers on my skin and fills my psyche with sweet visions. The truth is that yesterday was the best day of my entire existence, but there are secrets one can’t share with anyone, especially with the evil maniac that owns your soul. I shan’t reveal my incestuous relationship to this cretin.
The pressure in my head is growing. Why would I give in even an inch? In merely twenty minutes I would have escaped from this building along with my beloved, but now I’m trapped inside a monster’s lair, waiting for death by torture.
“What would you like me to tell you, boss?”
“Are you having particular troubles with any aspect of those tickets?” Ramsés asks as he fidgets with his tie and collar.
“With one of them, for sure.”
My boss raises his eyebrows expectantly, but I keep silent. When no further explanation is forthcoming, Ramsés insists, “Well then, why don’t you go ahead?”
I groan. One of the worst parts of being controlled by a psychopath is the uncertainty whether or not he’ll listen to what I say.
“That goddamn snake language,” I spit through my teeth.
“You mean Python? You are stalling on that contract because of your pet peeves with the language?” my boss asks incredulously.
My face flushes red, my heart rate increases. I clench my fists, and I can barely keep my eyelids from twitching as rage rises up inside me like an erupting volcano.
“They aren’t personal annoyances! Python rests on top of its Global Interpreter Lock, planned back when most processors had a single core. It’s meant to make the interpreter thread-safe, but it only allows a single thread of the operating system at a time to execute Python bytecode! So if you need to write a complex application, you won’t be able to take advantage of multiple cores efficiently by distributing the work over them. Forget time-sensitive simulations such as games!” My voice is rising, and so are my blood pressure levels. “As if that wasn’t enough, if you go the route of multithreading instead, you have to profile that section of the code carefully, because the overhead of setting up the parallelism, copying the data in memory, usually makes multithreading slower than if you ran the program in the main thread! I’m not the only one that’s frustrated by it: the community has been buzzing for years about the fact that Python is fundamentally flawed. I swear, this fucking abomination is holding back the entire industry! Why can’t people admit it?! It’s a dead language with no future! It’s obsolete! We need new languages that took concurrency into consideration from the beginning! At least Java added lambdas and streams, but Python remains popular because data scientists and other laypersons who jerk off to numbers want to cobble together some scripts quickly without caring enough about their architecture or how they’ll perform. Those bastards should be garbage collected and incinerated! Snake programmers only think about finding the easiest way to do something, while making everyone else suffer!”
My lungs burn; I’m short-winded. The office has grown hotter, and sweat drips down my forehead and neck. This was my chance to vent for real, not just in emails or in moments of weakness during masturbation.
Ramsés wipes his own sweat from his brow. I have a clear view of his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down under his skin-tight shirt, and the urge to rip out that disgusting little organ with my claws is overwhelming. After Ramsés takes a deep breath, he folds his hands on the table and fixes his gaze on my furious eyes.
“That’s an interesting opinion you’ve formed,” my boss says as his nostrils flare. “But Python has a very rich ecosystem, with many libraries that help developers get around these problems. For instance, there are several packages that add parallelism to Python programs by using the multiprocessing module. Isn’t that right? Is it so hard to believe that people find value in the language despite its flaws?”
My face twists into a snarl.
“Oh, you didn’t mention the multiprocessing module. It’s too slow! What would happen if some nitwit decided to write such code in production? It would be a disaster!”
Ramsés sighs and puts his palms flat on the desk.
“Please stop shouting and swearing. I can’t deny that you are quite passionate about this issue, but you need to get your head around Python. You’re not an independent contractor, you’re an employee. Besides, do you even need to make the program multithreaded for what the client demands?”
I bite back a reply as the blood rushes to my face again. My boss is another snake, a serpent of evilness that lurks under my bed every night waiting for me to fall asleep and dream about him fucking me from behind while I’m tied up, like a sacrifice in some profane temple. I want to calmly walk over to my boss and rip off every thinning strand of hair upon his scalp, then shove his head into a bucket of bleach and set it on fire. I’d witness the pain in Ramsés’ eyes as the skin on his face sloughed off, his blood flowed out of the gaps, his eyes burst out of their sockets and his skull collapsed inwards until his brain spilled out onto the carpet. Then I’d abandon his body so the rats in the walls could start feasting on it. After all, he deserves no mercy or pity; not only does he treat the rest of us as nothing more than disposable objects, but he also tries to steal our souls when we least expect it. However, satisfying such urges would only serve to deepen my problems, so instead I try to calm down.
“You don’t understand. You handle the clients and secure contracts, I’m in charge of writing the software. I don’t intend to belittle your work, sir, because I would rather make a swan dive into a wood chipper than deal with clients. But these pricks in particular demanded that the program should be developed in Python because they consider it fancy. What do they fucking care, after all? You should have laughed in their faces, then berated them for their terrible taste in programming languages. Finally, you should have ordered them to kneel at your feet and plead for us to develop the program in Rust instead!”
Ramsés hangs his head low. I can almost see the frustration oozing from his greasy skull. A long moment later, he lets out a pained groan.
“Leire, what can I do with you?”
Snakes like him utter such questions when trying to convince others that their intentions are noble, despite their actions being monstrous. My heart thuds painfully, my throat is full of bile, and I want to vomit up my rage and misery into Ramsés’ face. Instead, I let loose some words.
“Well, I’ve been on a self-destructive spiral for a while, so I can’t say I give a fuck. Fire me if you want. I’ll throw myself off a bridge and that will be that.”
“Don’t joke around with such matters.”
“I could use the rest.”
Ramsés leans back and rubs his chin.
“Leire, I don’t want to prescind of your services. You are the right kind of programmer for this company.”
“There’s no way I’m the right kind of person anywhere!”
“In any case, I presume that you’ll fix this by working overtime. You’ve always handled your tasks more diligently when the entire building is empty.”
A drop of sweat trickles down my back. I knew this was coming. That first time, a couple of months after I signed my rights away to serve this prick, I decided to stick around after the workday ended, so the vivid daydreams of burying my face between Jacqueline’s tits wouldn’t rescue me from programming. I repeated it a few times. When Ramsés secured a contract that would require me to work more hours, I told him that I didn’t mind working overtime as long as he paid me. After all, neither spouse nor pet awaited me at home. I conditioned my boss to expect the unreasonable out of me.
I take a deep breath, then I speak carefully.
“I become a maniac when I’m free. However, I won’t stick around today. I doubt I’ll do it often in the near future either.”
Ramsés turns red. His eyes are dark pools of suffering.
“You’re being… uncooperative, Leire.”
There’s something wrong with how this fiend looks at me. His desires are twisted. Instead of swatting away the flies that buzz all over his head, he intends to poke holes in my skull so the flies can squirm inside and start breeding little bastards.
“What can I say?” I mutter hoarsely. “I’m just trying to protect my sanity.”
My boss remains silent, so I continue.
“I can’t entirely blame you for expecting me so casually to work overtime, given that I had been doing it regularly of my own volition. I’m more relaxed and sharper alone, I liked the deserted vibe of this place in the late afternoons, and I dreaded to return to my shitty apartment where I’d either fall asleep the moment I sat down or else I would only dwell on how miserable I am. I’m sure that if it depended on you, we’d all work until midnight seven days a week, and we wouldn’t get paid either. Things didn’t improve when I started receiving the visits of a sentient horse named Spike who lives inside my skull and communicates through telepathy. But I’ve had enough. I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest that I deserve more free time for myself, but eventually I got sick of the cold sweat that overtook me whenever I imagined myself steering my car into an oncoming truck. I’ve wished to die so many times that I couldn’t tell you during which periods of my life I haven’t yearned for the sweet release of oblivion.”
My vision blurs. Oh no, I’m going to tear up in front of this demon! I blink a few times as naturally as possible, but the tears insist on welling in my eyes, so I lower my head and shut my eyelids tightly. The world goes black.
Mere hours ago I considered leaving the office, going home, taking a hot shower, then sending messages to my coworkers and my boss to inform them that I quit. The content of the messages would consist solely of the words ‘I love Rust’ followed by two exclamation points. Rust was the last name of my beloved dead wife. Rust is the name I gave to a small horse. Rust is an eerie, deformed and naked horse covered by hair of a disconcerting shade of green. Anyway, what happened to that bold self that my rotting brain managed to conjure up?
“If I didn’t have to come to the office five days a week,” I say in a shaky voice, “I’d saunter around an open field where a rainbow flowed over grass so fresh and green that its smell would burn in my lungs. The soil would take the blood from my body, and they would mix together into the most succulent of fruits. A lake would spread before me. I would take a step toward the water to hear its song with all the delight of someone who had been deprived of music for years. My mouth would drop open like the petals of a red-furred flower, and I would run my tongue all over the liquid until my heart exploded from the force of its own happiness. Do you understand? Holding down a job is the only obstacle between an unending torture and eternal bliss.”
Tears seep through my eyelids and soak my face. Ramsés has grown pale and looks as though he’s about to cry too, but that isn’t sympathy on his face: it’s sheer disgust. His eyes are two wells filled with worms desperate to gnaw their way out, gouging deep grooves and devouring everything inside them along the way.
“Shut it. I would throw my body over that horse. I’d hold the poor thing and kiss it all over its head, from its wobbly nose to its rough mane. I’d listen to the gentle noise of its heart, the way it purred with delight as I petted it. I’d fall asleep with my arms around it, and wake up the same way. I’d make love with it. I’d live out a beautiful life, the two of us, in peace and happiness. I’d take the horse for a walk through a field of wildflowers, or we’d have picnics on a lake dotted with lily pads. The only thing that could kill me would be that horse’s death. I’ve already lived out the horse’s life and it has died. It would die again and again and again and I’d keep reliving that moment, the death of my sweet friend, my little brother. And that would be the end of this world.”
I feel like an idiot. I’m going to die soon, but not by suicide; now I think I’ll just bleed to death internally. That’s how you go when your body has become a vessel filled to the brim with despair.
Ramsés’ face has lost its expression of self-importance, and looks like a piece of meat being cooked in the sun. He keeps trying to say something, but nothing comes out except for a sound resembling ‘Eeeee’ while he grimaces in pain. I expect dark blood to trickle down his nose at any moment.
Then my boss’ eyes pop open as wide as they can get, and his black irises begin spinning around in circles. His tongue stretches from between his lips, elongates until it resembles a snake’s, and licks across the dirty carpet. Ramsés is convulsing uncontrollably. Foam bubbles up in his mouth. He opens his throat and spews out gallons of bile that spills onto my dress and gets in my mouth. It smells rotten, which isn’t surprising since it tastes even worse. As I tear my hair out, I let out a gargling screech solely composed of the word ‘Rust’. The last thing I see before everything goes dark is the ghostly face of a horse that never was.
I feel lightheaded, and it takes me blinking a few times to recover my vision. Luckily I was holding on to the guest chair’s backrest, because otherwise I would have collapsed. I can’t tell if my boss has noticed; Ramsés is rubbing his temples as he stares through his desk. His skin seems thin and translucent, and it ripples where veins are visible under the surface, while his head resembles a pumpkin, with long yellowish hairs hanging off its top like grassy strands.
“Leire, you are making me very nervous,” my boss says unpleasantly, a bored master addressing a dog that just shat on his shoe. “So this is like… a mental breakdown? A psychotic episode, maybe?”
“Who knows,” I grumble, “or cares.”
My subconscious was trying to communicate something to me, and I can’t afford to ignore any warnings coming from my mind’s eye.
Ramsés straightens his back, then he dares to hold my gaze.
“You’ve always been weird, but recently it’s like you’ve gone to another dimension. I would expect such arguments out of a child, at least a particularly… creative one. You know you have to work to live, right? People get used to it.”
I should tear apart his desk with a chainsaw. Why isn’t this entire building in flames already? I swallow hard as I try to recover enough energy to reply.
“I am a child. I need breast milk to survive. Besides, people shouldn’t get used to slavery, that’s ludicrous. And you? You are not a sentient horse. I have no idea how you managed to take on the guise of a human being, and I’m not particularly interested in learning about your species, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m the one that has noticed the utter absurdity of your existence. I can only assume that you are the victim of some strange spell, some bizarre enchantment that has made you into this abomination. It is a crime against nature to subject people to such inhumane treatments.”
I’ve said the worst of things without batting an eye because I don’t care anymore what happens to me. I’m a broken puppet. My brain is splintering into tiny pieces.
Ramsés leans forward on his elbows in an attempt to intimidate me more effectively.
“I have a low tolerance for these kinds of statements,” he says slowly, “and you are making very little sense.”
I sigh, but I continue to stare at the human-shaped demon, trying not to let my gaze wander downwards toward his grotesque and swollen crotch. If only he had been born a horse instead of a human being, maybe none of this would have happened.
“There is an ancient evil hiding in the dark places of the world, a perversion that can’t be named. I can feel its breath, its hunger. It lives inside of you, in your home, at the office, in your bed. It is an unheard voice that whispers into the night, a wraith that keeps you from seeing the sunrise. As I seem to be the only one who witnesses it, for everyone’s safety I should probably be committed to a mental institution, but they shut those down, so I’m doing my best here, trapped in a building full of monsters.”
Ramsés tenses his jaw. Fifteen minutes ago he must have thought he would have a simple conversation with a person in his office, but I’ve told him that he’s an abomination of nature. My boss clears his throat with a dry click that reminds me of a snapping bone, then he attempts to sound sympathetic.
“I assume you have tried therapy.”
Instead of feeling comforted by his gesture, all I can think about are his fat, greasy fingers wrapping themselves around my neck and squeezing.
“Let’s not go there. I don’t have the kind of mental problems that can be solved by some narcissistic cunt pretending to care about my words long enough to steal my money. But I admit it, I feel like there’s something wrong with my brain. Sometimes it’s like some ghostly entity has hijacked it. I suspect it has to do with programming in Python, or maybe it was caused by excessive masturbation. But whatever the cause, I can’t take it for much longer.”
Ramsés shakes his head slowly.
“What do you even want out of life, Leire? I can’t even imagine.”
“I do not want to be stuck in a planet with a bunch of brainwashed cretins. Other than that, I want to have the kind of life that is the opposite of the one I’m having now.”
Ramsés laughs dryly, but he doesn’t seem amused by any of this.
“And that life would be…?”
“I told you. An endless summer without winter or rain or the shadow of death. A pure life of joy.”
Ramsés narrows his eyes.
“How do you propose to achieve that?”
“I am an emissary of the gods.”
Somehow that shut my boss up. I take the opportunity to steer the conversation towards our common matter of interest.
“Anyway, I did suggest that you should hire a new programmer, even to work part time. You would do a good deed for society by paying a person for their labor. Or just grab fewer contracts.”
My boss looks around his office as if he needed to search for something before continuing the discussion. Then he smacks his lips and shakes his head.
“Both are out of the question. We are barely getting by, and I’m running a tight ship here. Introducing new people to our peculiar circumstances would be too troublesome. I already struck gold with you three.”
I swallow hard, then turn back to stare at Ramsés’ crotch. I’d like to bite him there, just because I can’t find a better way of expressing my disgust.
“Peculiar circumstances?” I say, barely able to contain an incredulous chuckle. “That’s some delusion of grandeur, don’t you think? Aren’t there like a hundred companies that develop websites in a thirty kilometer radius?”
Ramsés massages his mustache, that looks like it’s glued to his skin, as he nails my eyeballs with a strange look that makes my skin crawl. I was about to tremble and possibly complain, but the demon tears his gaze away towards the window, maybe peering for an answer between the myriad of ancient ghosts that are likely riding the October wind.
I should put my foot down. This wild beast intends to prevent me from leaving the building with Jacqueline, jumping in her Audi and getting to her apartment, where all my worries will fade away to be replaced by the slimy and sticky joys of an eager slut. I straighten my back and steel my voice.
“Sir, if you consider that you should fire me because I won’t work overtime, that’s your business. But you’d have to find someone else that would be willing to put up with as much nonsense as I have, and although I’m not a crackerjack programmer, that new hire would need to be as good as me. Not to mention that he or she would need to be trained on how we do stuff around here, and I wouldn’t deal with that shit.”
Ramsés sighs deeply.
“Alright, Leire. But you need to focus on your tasks, starting from tomorrow. Your behavior today was indescribable. Make progress before this gets out of hand.”
I want to rip a piece of his mustache and shove it up his ass. What a piece of shit that enjoys his life and leaves me here in the muck.
“That’s reasonable,” I say quietly, trying to restrain myself. “After all, you are paying me for my time and effort. I’m returning to my post, then.”
I had turned around and taken a step towards safety, but Ramsés speaks to my back.
“I’ve yet to make my proposal. I’ll approach you when you are feeling better.”
I stop. Although I consider answering, I end up having to contain a shudder, so I just nod. I feel like I took a bite out of an apple only to come across half a worm. I know it, I will never be free of Ramsés and his dark ways, unless he gets bored or dies. I am trapped inside of this job.
When I lift my gaze, I find out that Jacqueline had wheeled her chair past her workstation to welcome me back. Her cobalt blues light up, and as an instinctive response, my mouth curls up in a smile. I want to prance my way to her side, and then into her arms.
My beloved always seemed unbothered by Ramsés’ presence, as if she were a superheroine dealing with some neighborhood thug. And she would look delicious wearing one of those skin-tight swimsuits that pass for superhero uniforms. If only I was born with Jacqueline’s strength of will, and with her voluptuous body, and with her selfless love, and if only she was my mother and I was her child.
Author’s note: somehow this chapter ended up being the longest of all in this novel, by a wide margin. I wrote the first half of it this morning while chilling to Japanese shoegaze (I recall this song and this other song). I wrote the second half in the afternoon, during what I can only describe as a descent into insanity. But the whole piece ended up becoming one of my favorites.
My truthful disdain for Python comes from a few years ago, when I programmed a pathfinding algorithm in 3D, and I found out that it was basically impossible to parallelize efficiently due to the Python GIL built as a fundamental pillar of the language. Merely having ten agents on screen was making the thing stutter. This is the last video I posted of that personal project of mine.