I step closer to Spike, although he stinks like shit and rancid death, and I glare into those protruding eyeballs that are the color of storm clouds.
“Do you want me to cry, you horsey cunt?” I sneer, my voice sounding like a rusted-out door. “Do you want my tears so you can feel superior? Get your fill then! Witness my pathetic self in all its ugliness! But I can make you cry too with this little mouth, and I don’t mean biting down on your tongue to fill my oral cavity with blood! Although you dared to call me a child, I’m an adult who will make the best of her life despite having been born in hell! How would you know what it means to be human anyway, huh? You’re a horse-shaped demon. You don’t even have a pussy! Life must have been so easy for you, spending your whole day eating hay and having your legs stroked. And you called me a bad person! What about all those times you chased me through the city’s streets? As I attempted to reach a shelter, you would snatch me up and throw me onto your back, then you carried me in circles as I flailed to keep my balance. You galloped and galloped even though I begged for mercy! Every one of our encounters ended up with me returning home covered in mud and shit and bruises. You even tried to strangle me on occasion.”
Spike stares down at me like a deaf, silent beast who doesn’t understand why the strange human keeps scrunching her face and making wild shapes with her mouth hole. Then he smacks his lips and speaks calmly.
“You can’t use stuff that has never happened as an argument in your defense.”
“It may have happened. Who can be sure? What I intended to convey is that it matters little whether you’re bad or good, even if you are a horse, a whale or a worm. I’m just a whore who needs a hug. But soon enough I’ll get to kneel at the altar of the goddess of depravity, and one of these days I may never have to masturbate again! Now, trot off to your grave, you deplorable ungulate! Lie down in that hole and get buried in your own shit, you stinking corpse!”
Spike hangs his head low and sighs.
“Like me, Leire, you’ve been dead since you were born.”
His words hit my face like a sharp punch. I step back until the pile of board games blocks my escape.
“Stop saying things that hurt!”
Spike averts his gaze, running it over the eggnog yellow wallpaper of the living room, as if he himself were hoping to find an exit and return to his horse paradise, to the love of hooves and the never-ending gallop.
“You are lucky, regarding Jacqueline I mean,” he utters in a mournful tone. “I’ve never experienced such intimacy. I never would have, even if I had existed for centuries.”
Until a moment ago, I wanted to slap him across his stupid horse face, but now I’d rather hug him so hard that his eyes would burst from their sockets and his ribs would shatter. I’m left with nothing but the taste of shame.
“Spike, don’t sell yourself short. You pretend to be an ordinary horse, but you are the one true horse, because nobody else will ever speak to me with such disrespect. Do you remember all the good times we spent together? I would ride you along the seaside, play on the beach and use sticks as lances to fight pirates. We swam with dolphins in the ocean, we bit into seashells, we cooked seafood, we sank in quicksand up to our noses, we explored caves beneath ancient castles, we wrestled goats then shot them with crossbows. You once told me that you would die for me, that you would always be my faithful horse. Those days will never end, they will remain with me forever.”
“Yeah, none of that happened either,” Spike murmurs in a voice that is breaking apart.
“In any case, when you come out of your horse trance, you’re still Spike. I don’t think anyone is really the master of their life except Jacqueline. As for me, I can only act out of desperation.”
Spike’s lips tremble while he struggles to formulate a sentence, as if he had to wrench the words out, but he gives up and teeters away, nearly toppling over the coffee table.
I want to brush the dirt and caked blood off his mane, then place my hand on his round belly to feel the coarse coat as well as the blood pulsing through him. I’d let him lick my fingers one by one with his warm, viscous tongue, which must smell of rot and death. But I fear that any physical contact with this creature would transform me into an equivalent equine abomination.
I take a tentative step towards Spike’s trembling, scarred back.
“I can see that you’re very depressed, and I’m here for you if you want to open up about it. Let me tell you that, although you stink like rotten dung, you surely are one of the most impressive horsemen in history. In fact, you’ve never been a horse for me, Spike, but a unicorn in disguise.”
His hind legs twitch, his shaggy tail jerks around in a way that reminds me of a puppy, then he tilts his bulky head back and lets out a blaring neigh, raw and deep and full of grief, the first note of a requiem that will be played over the grave of our civilization. I’m astonished at how readily my pal can transform into a beast that could have only crawled out from the underworld.
As my eyes get watery, I stagger to the sofa and I plop down. A throng of words is jostling in my throat, and I want to claw them out as if they were wasps trapped under my tongue.
“The world has become a twisted place,” I say in a brittle voice. “I wish I could return to my distant childhood, to those brief moments in which nothing mattered except for how the warm light bathed my body and how the birdsongs filled my soul with a gentle harmony. But ever since, I’ve never been able to shut my eyes to the truth: we’re trapped in an insane asylum with no escape route, surrounded by demented monsters. We have ended up at the mercy of blackguards who consider themselves human beings, although they’ll provide us with a hundred thousand ways to suffer, to be humiliated, and to die in our own homes.”
I’m enveloped in Spike’s fetid, sickly stench, but I take a deep breath, then I wipe away the salty streaks on my cheeks.
“Who knows if I was born with a chance to become a normal person,” I continue. “When I was little, I felt like something was missing inside of me. Then one day I realized that it was my humanity. I understood that I could never become a girl or a boy, and instead I grew up into a verminous slug that crawled along the cracks of this world. How could I have the slightest notion of what it means to be a human being, when the most basic things have been stripped from me? If Jacqueline hadn’t diverted my destiny, I would have shambled through the rest of my life like a mindless corpse with a hungry heart and empty guts. In my final day, lying in bed and covered from head to toe in dried piss, feces and semen, I would have wasted my last energies masturbating until my heart gave out. What I mean to say, Spike, is that I understand your plight perfectly well: every second feels muddy and heavy as if you were wading through a swamp, and you’d do anything to drown out the agonized squeals from your festering subconscious.” My voice has been choking and cracking, but I take a deep breath and I brace myself to continue, because I must explain to Spike how utterly hopeless he is. “If I ever get my hands on a computer that runs on real horses instead of the synthetic ones that the humans have shoved into their pathetic machines, I’ll transfer every treasure in my mind onto it: memories and feelings, programs and board games. Then I’ll abandon this insane world where people run around with their heads cut off, and from my eternal shelter I will contact you so you can join me in paradise. But for now I remain trapped in this cage of flesh and bones, hopeless and terrified of dying alone as you are of turning into one of the insane horses that roam through the night. So I can’t save you from your pain. I had only been able to stifle mine through masturbation, which requires a functioning set of genitals.”
When I gather the strength to look up, Spike is standing near the coffee table. His drool-soaked lips quiver as he stares at me unblinkingly with those bulging, crazed eyes of his. I’m overwhelmed by the harrowing thought of becoming another victim of an equine rampage, but he’s wobbling like a drunk guy on a rooftop.
“Throughout my life, I always did what I was expected to do,” Spike says in a thin, dry voice that reminds me of dead leaves fluttering in the wind. “Maybe I believed that self-sacrifice was noble. Maybe I believed that by following the rules, I was making the world a better place. I performed my duties with nary a complaint, I wore myself down to the bone like a workhorse, and what did I get in return?”
I hoped that Spike had intended that as a rhetorical question, but he’s prolonging the silence. I shrug and look down at my pitiful hands.
“Please, don’t stare at me with those bulging eyes or I’ll scream. You know we are the slaves of some colossal evil, and we’ve never had any choice but to obey monsters. And then there are all these ghosts, the voices and visions that assail me as my brain torments me with a relentless stream of horrors, which I wish I could ward off with a hammer. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, Spike, is that people are merely bags of flesh and bones that contain all sorts of shit. No one is an exception, except for Jacqueline. As for you and I, we’re freaks of nature, abominations that have been thrust into solid frames.”
Spike shuts his eyes tight, and as he shakes his head, a string of drool flings towards me and sticks onto my corduroy jacket.
“Nobody ever cared about me,” he mutters, “let alone love me. I was always treated like an outcast. For my entire life I was only valued for what I could provide for others, and even then, they noticed me reluctantly. Once I was gone, most of the people of whom I was fond forgot me and carried on with their lives. So what was the point?”
I swallow the lump in my throat. I scoot closer to the edge of the sofa cushion and I press my hand against my chest.
“In the name of your filthy, scarred, decomposing hide,” I say earnestly, “I want you to know that from now on I’m going to work towards a world that makes sense, a world that won’t contain a single thing that could make me think of death, rape or destruction.”
Spike shoots me a look of incredulity as the thick vein that stretches down his neck squirms like a squid’s tentacle. His hind legs must be struggling to keep him upright, because he staggers backwards towards the window, making his hooves clatter on the hardwood floor. He takes a deep, tremulous breath.
“If only you weren’t all talk, Leire,” he says bitterly. “So many times I’ve tried to warn you about what’s about to happen, hoping that we could prevent it together, but I couldn’t get you to care, or even to listen. I shouldn’t have volunteered to convince you. What the hell did I know about anything? I’ve always been helpless. I waited for someone to come and whisk me away. I just wanted… to be special somehow.”
“You are special, Spike. You are my friend.”
As he stares at me befuddled, his lips part slowly in a grimace of anguish.
“Is that worth anything?”
I hang my head low. A pulsating darkness spreads from the center of my chest. I should have known better than to open my heart even to this horse. Now I want to lie down on the floor, hug my knees and sob uncontrollably.
Spike sways as he widens a demented smile, but a single tear rolls down his bony jaw.
“In the end you were right, Leire. Everything is rotten to the core. Why would I care about our future? The whole world can go fuck itself.”
A ropey strand of saliva dribbles from his muzzle onto the silvery barrel of a revolver precariously perched on top of his frontal hooves. The weapon has a checkered wood grip and deep shade in the flutes of its thick cylinder. The frame is engraved with a skull and bones. He must have also coated the bullets with rat poison.
I sit bolt upright as a storm of screams racks my skull.
“Spike, where were you hiding that gun?!”
He gazes at me with a mournful, almost apologetic expression. His front hooves fumble to tilt the barrel upwards, but as he attempts to pull back the hammer, the revolver springs from his grip, lands with a thud on the coffee table and slides off onto the hardwood floor.
I gawk at the inert weapon that’s lying close to my sneakers. I imagine the click-click-click of the hammer’s firing pin striking the primers, and the thunderous blasts of gunfire, and a bunch of bullets ejecting into the air like a metallic bouquet of flowers. I also picture the self-inflicted wounding of a bullet to Spike’s craggy face. Not even a horse would have survived such an assault.
My breath comes in heaving gasps and my pulse is thumping in my veins. Spike’s hoofsteps clattering against the floor snap me out of my daze: he’s tromping towards the window. When he reaches it, he leans his forehead against the windowpane and lets his shoulders droop.
In the moonlight, my friend has become a shadow in the shadows, the silhouette of a horse made of darkness and of the cold chill that clings to its presence. When I squint I can almost make out a saddle and stirrups and the buckles of the leather straps.
I’m struggling to come up with words, but Spike lets out an ear-piercing howl. He slams his head against the windowpane, shattering the glass. Blood-dyed shards and bits scatter over the floor like hail. A cold draught comes in through the empty window frame, curling the curtains.
Reality has mixed its essence with equine blood. The abominable potion must be seeping through all dimensions, leaving behind a residue of madness and despair.
I leap off the sofa. Spike has turned towards me. The ragged fur coat of his elongated face is drenched with red, and glass shards are embedded in his forehead. As he sways on his hind hooves, he splits his lips open, showing his dagger-like incisors, and spits bloody foam.
Spike lifts an atrophied, trembling foreleg. He angles that hoof so it points at the groove of his chin. I see myself reflected in his black eyes, that are wide and puffy with sorrow as they leak copious tears.
“Bang,” he says.
Spike throws himself back, somersaulting through the empty window frame, snagging his hide on shards of glass still attached. He disappears into the night. A gasp later, I hear a muffled, sickening splat of flesh and bone.
“Spike!” I yell.
My legs feel numb and slow, but I race over to the window. I clutch at the edge of the frame and I lean out.
On the street below, a large pool of dark blood is spreading under my friend’s broken body and splayed limbs. His black eyes, that have rolled back in his mangled head, are staring at the night sky.
The cold October wind whips my hair around my face. My heart is about to burst. I want to crumple on the floor. I cradle my head in my trembling hands and I listen to the roaring in my ears.
Spike had made himself small to escape his pain, but there are no bottoms of despair so deep that they can’t be reached. I should tell myself that he’s found peace and solace in death, that he has nothing left to fear. I should feel elated because he has been liberated from his prison as I wished to free myself from mine. But instead I’m weeping for my friend and for all other horses who have died like this; for every poor soul who’s being crushed under the clattering hoofsteps of despair; for this world that has become a crumbling madhouse of horrors; for everyone, because one day we will all disappear in an endless black void, never to be seen or heard again, never to feel the warmth of the sun, never to hear a melodious song, never to smell the sweet aroma of a mother’s milk, never to feel the delicate fingertips of a loved one caressing our skin.
The metallic-tasting darkness has started to lap at my consciousness like black water swirling through a sewer grate. It will become a cool shadow enveloping my flesh, a dark mist settling in my mind. Soon I will be sucked down as well.
I pull out my phone from a pocket of my jacket, but as I try to remember the emergency number, I realize that talking to a professional about this debacle would end up with me dragged to a psych ward. What else can I do now but abandon Spike down there, to be picked apart by carrion birds and scavengers?
My friend’s body convulses. His limbs twitch. Inch by inch, Spike rolls over and retracts his legs. Although chunks of his flesh and bloodied hide are plastered across the pavement, he pushes himself onto his hind hooves and raises his mangled head. As if being pulled by invisible strings, he takes a faltering step, then another and another. While he wheezes out inky blood-foam, and blood gushes out from his wounds like a red rain, my old friend continues shambling down the street into oblivion.
Author’s note: this chapter concludes the sequence that started back in chapter 43. Plenty of far crazier stuff to come in the 12,500 words of notes left to render.
Tomorrow I’ll start a six-workdays-long week. Most if not all of my coworkers will be absent due to a strike. I was going to go to work anyway because I’d rather not get involved with that stuff, but in any case I’ve been forced to work as the token “guy that needs to be present at the office in case some nasty shit happens”. My boss even gave me an official note that states that if I decide to stay home anyway, I would be prosecuted for a criminal liability. I work at a hospital, after all. So tomorrow Monday I’ll be on phone duty as well as handling whatever stops working in our hospital complex and in nearby outpatients clinics (we serve like half of the province). Apart from this madness, I’m also the sole technician for next Saturday.
So this may have been the last chapter for a while.