A faceless, egg-headed mannequin stands in the spotlight, naked except for a pair of sunglasses and a creased, ash-grey suit jacket. The right arm is crossed under its chest, the left hand is holding up a lit cigarette. Its legs are spread in a pose that lets a stallion-sized cock hang loose.
I’m riding a horse I can hardly steer, whose name I’ve forgotten, whose breath stinks of cigarettes and whiskey. The reins are dangling and I have failed to hold on to the saddle, so I’ve leaned over and I’m clutching the sweaty, flayed flesh of the horse’s neck, which looks like it’s been boiled and painted red. It’s crisscrossed with purple jagged lines, an intricate network of blood vessels and nerves. The rough grassland we are traversing is littered with corpses, and the flowers’ petals are made of human flesh.
In the moonlit horizon, a herd of white horses are galloping away from us. Their tails are streaming behind them like white fire. The ground trembles as the colossal mass of flesh, bones and hooves pounds over it, and the thumping reverberates throughout the night sky as if the universe were collapsing on itself.
My horse gallops faster and faster. I’m struggling to hold on to its slippery flesh while the wind slaps against my eyes and the stench of death fills my nostrils. My grip on the horse’s neck slips. I slide backwards, then I tumble through empty space until my face smashes into a muddy embankment, cracking my nose with a sharp crunch. The wind’s been knocked out of me, and I’m choking on the mud and blood that coat my face. My bones are screaming. I roll over and I push myself up on my elbows. The moonlight shines on my horse’s maddened expression before the beast lands on top of me with its head between my breasts, crushing my ribcage, breaking apart my spine.
I’m looking down at an open, horse-shaped coffin that contains a naked, limbless woman. The coffin is surrounded by packed dirt, stones and bones, as if I was staring at a cut along the frontal pane that removed the coffin’s lid and tons of dirt. The woman’s skin has the texture of a rubber eraser. Her right eye is missing, and the left one is glassy and lifeless. Her mouth has been sewn shut with black thread. The holes from her severed limbs have been stuffed with reeds. A pair of flat areas in her chest suggest that someone has detached her breasts like they were toy parts. Further down from her hairless mons pubis, her throbbing clit is twirling as if invisible fingers were rubbing it.
Like a fast-motion video of a pustulent pimple growing, the woman’s torso and head expand until they fill the inside of the coffin. Her skin and flesh tear open. A squirming, greenish-yellow mass of tissue bulges out from the wounds in her torso. Her vagina blooms and stretches until it sprays a cloud of dark brown blood, and from between her legs, a swollen, misshapen head bursts out. It’s a mass of cauliflower-like lumps and membranous sacs filled with putrefied matter. A pair of giant, fish-like eyes roll back and forth. Its mouth is a dark pit filled with twisted, yellow-and-black teeth; its tongue is a long, pink slug. The newborn lets out a screeching scream louder than a flock of roosters crowing.
I jolt awake. I’m lying face down on a mattress. The sheets that have covered me feel sweat-soaked and clammy. I try to catch my breath, but my brain is pounding against my skull.
I can’t see shit, what time is it? Did I wake up on a workday? I’m about to panic when I feel the weight of Jacqueline’s warm body beside me. I hear her soft breathing and I smell her scent, as well as our stale fluids.
My mouth is as dry as a salt-crusted desert. I slide out of bed carefully, then I grope in the dark to reach the hallway. I pull the bedroom door behind me in slow motion until it closes with a quiet click.
The bathroom tiles are cold against my soles. When I flip the light on, the radiance hurts my eyes as if a flashbang had exploded in my face. I end up leaning against the sink and blinking until I can keep my eyes open. The mirror reflects my puffy face, some powdery sleep crust on my cheeks and forehead, and armpits stains in my dove-grey, sleeveless pyjama top that features the drawing of a cat sleeping on top of a pile of pillows.
I swallow a few times to push a knot down my throat, then I splash cold water on my face. My head is numb as a half-frozen bag of peanuts. I haven’t rested at all, but how could I, after two nights in a row filled with such nightmares? Compared to the visions that have assailed me these past nights, the previous dreams were like listening to an untuned station playing in another room. The kind of brain I’ve been doomed to inhabit shouldn’t provide its owner with lucid nightmares.
If I hadn’t found Jacqueline, if I had been forced to fester in the gloom of my apartment, the cycle of growing dread would have fed worse dreams. My mood swings would have disturbed my coworkers. Any irritation could have made me snap and take my frustration out on the innocent. Meanwhile, those damnable horses would have waited for me behind closed doors, in the night shadows, in the darkness of my mind. One morning, before sunrise, I would find myself unable to leave my bedroom to face the ordeal of another meaningless workday. I would hide until my boss fired me, which I would embrace as a relief.
From then on I’d stay inside my apartment for days or weeks. I’d become so terrified of humans that I would cease even ordering food online. For the remainder of my rotten life, I would survive by drinking my urine and eating my feces. I would bathe in the blood of cockroaches. One day the neighbors would complain about the stench emanating from my apartment. The police would break down my door to arrest me for my crimes against decency, but they would walk in on my corpse sprawled across my ramshackle sofa. My throat would be cut from ear to ear, my wrists slit, my guts spilled all over the hardwood floor. The coroner would pronounce that my body was in a state of advanced decay and maggot infestation. Once buried, my bones would melt with the earth and turn into diamonds and rubies. In my next life I would be reincarnated as a giant cockroach, and would fight monsters made of slime.
I feel my way to the kitchen, where I fill a glass with tap water and I chug it down. I open the balcony door and I step out to inflate my lungs with cold air, but as soon as I breathe in, my sinuses burn and my eyes get watery. Goosebumps prick along my bare arms, and the hairs on my nape stand on end.
The kitchen light illuminates my vaporous exhalations, as well as the row of potted, spiky plants, against the darkness of this overcast night on the hills of Donostia. In the distant streets of the valley, lone glowing windows hang like fireflies frozen in time above the citrine-yellow haloes of streetlights. I listen to the breeze whoosh through unseen trees; life in this world has ended except for those tree branches clacking against each other.
I keep rubbing my arms, but they are going numb. I sniffle. When I turn around to retreat into the kitchen, my watery gaze lands on the gleaming, silvery frame of a revolver that two appendages are rotating round the x axis. I gasp, and for a long second I fail to register that I’m staring at Jacqueline. She’s sitting on the dining chair that always faces the balcony. She has tied up her raven-black hair in a loose ponytail draped across her shoulder, and she’s wearing her pastel pink, satin night robe with lace hems and neckline. The robe barely covers half of her thighs, that are pressed together due to the cold.
“Jacqueline,” I say as I lower my right hand from my chest. “I thought you were a horse.”
“Thankfully that barely makes a dent in my self-esteem. Close the door, would you? The cold is crawling up my legs.”
I obey her, then I roll the shutters down for extra protection against the night chill. She sounded so tired, and I must be responsible for that; who would sleep soundly while the body lying right beside is tossing and turning, apart from sweating and possibly moaning in distress?
Jacqueline holds the revolver up. She presses with her thumb a latch next to the grip and pushes the cylinder open. The six empty chambers frame the ivory-white skin of her cheek and the vermillion zone of her lips. After she closes the cylinder, she’s about to speak when a yawn escapes her mouth, which forces me to yawn as well. Jacqueline rests the revolver on her right thigh.
“I bet that whatever has ruined your sleep is related to this sexy piece of hardware. Can we talk more now about your sudden gun ownership?”
I lower my head and rub my eyes.
“I’ll repeat myself, but… I have a gun because the horse had a gun.”
“Spike,” Jacqueline says.
Is she trying to figure out if a few hours of painful sleep have changed my tune and I’ll admit shamefully that I made my stalker up, or at least his intellect? I shouldn’t have revealed his name to anyone, and I should have burned that revolver in my fireplace if I owned one. Spike wasn’t a creature of light, but an ambulatory tomb. His hooves dug a pit to trap me in its gloomy depths. A name more appropriate for that cursed ungulate would be Eternally Shit-Fucked Horseshoe. He had nothing valuable to say before death, and I’m fairly certain he was incapable of speaking after, but I fear that his voice will haunt my life for centuries to come.
“Yes… that was his name, or what he called himself anyway. Don’t ask me from where he got the revolver. Maybe some cowboy tossed it in the hay after he murdered a lawman.”
The revolver makes a thunk noise. Jacqueline has left it on the dining table, and now she’s sitting lazily. Her robe has opened enough to reveal her creamy inner thighs and offer a glimpse of her pink slit, but I’m too exhausted and disturbed to get horny.
“I can accept a sentient horse, I can accept you owning a revolver, but I can’t handle both being related,” Jacqueline says. “That’s not how things work at all.”
I shake my head slowly in resignation.
“Apparently they do. If you hold certain notions throughout your life about how reality functions, only for them to get butt-fucked in front of your eyes, what else can you do but accept humbly that you were wrong all along? Life is like a cat walking on your stomach, except that the cat is a lion. You know me; I haven’t bought a revolver. Where does one start the process of owning a firearm legally in this country? I doubt that even police officers can. Do you know that someone who shoots at people without a permit is committing a crime? They’re breaking the law just to feel good about themselves. And even if I knew how to legally buy a gun, I can’t organize myself to buy enough food to stock my fridge for a week! I reside in my rotten hometown, so I guess I’m entitled to own a Napoleonic musket with the excuse that I’ll parade around during the San Marcial festivities, although I wouldn’t be caught dead getting involved with thousands of drunken conformists. Anyway, I’m suddenly in possession of a revolver, so I deal with it, and if I get caught I’m gonna claim it’s a prank. Won’t that be good enough to make everyone shut their mouths? It’s really easy to screw up our lives by trying to put together a puzzle that has missing pieces. Like what if ghosts stare at us while we sleep and we think we’re safe because we closed our eyes, but they’re watching us through every single hole we’ve ever had? It’s a miracle that we manage to rest at all, when we keep sleepwalking into traps set by entities that could end up killing us. I still hear the horses: the snorting, the champing of teeth, the clumping hooves on the dirt, the furtive rustling in the tall grass, the wicked neighs. They are chasing me through the backwaters of my dreams.”
Jacqueline is wiping the sleepiness from her glassy eyes with the palms of her hands. I continue nervously.
“Will you accept that we’re living in a dimension where it’s possible for a horse to gift you a gun, or do you want me to come up with a more compelling tale of how Spike bequeathed his revolver to me? Let’s see… That horse-fiend got me drunk and convinced me to help him murder some girl in a grove. Some gangbangers, who I guess were related to the girl, spotted us and shot Spike to pieces. No, that doesn’t work. We tried to flee from the scene, but they shot out a tire of Spike’s car, which he ended up crashing into a tree. We hobbled away until we came across a village. Its sheriff offered us a slab of meat as a reward for getting rid of his worst enemy: a giant spider. Spike chomped on the meat, but suddenly found himself with a mouth full of spiders. He freaked out and bit off the sheriff’s nose. No, there were no spiders involved! Spike got attacked by a hobo; I guess the guy hated horses. Anyway, he lodged a knife in Spike’s rectum. It hurt so much that the horse went berserk and ran through the streets smashing up every car he could find. He ended up committing suicide by cop. No, that’s too inaccurate… Let’s rewind to the car crash. That traitorous horse abandoned me, or maybe left me for dead; I did pass out from blood loss. When I awoke, I found the revolver lying next to me. I never saw Spike again, but I can picture his life in exile: he grew his mane and tail longer, and even grew a cock! This is important because someone had castrated him. He wanted to start a family and sire children, so he mated with cows. There are so many cows in the countryside, Jacqueline; he must have bred with hundreds of them before he got ousted by angry bulls. When the time came for him to meet his maker he had forgotten everything, and he ended up in hell.”
At some point of my rant, Jacqueline started stroking the solid frame of the revolver in such a way that if the firearm wasn’t empty, it may have shot its load. She smiles tiredly at me.
“To be honest, your stories have holes in them big enough for a horse to fit through.”
“I like that, horse references.”
“And I suppose that’s as much information as I’ll glean from you.”
That was disappointment in her voice. As I try to rake my brain to figure out what details I have forgotten to reveal, my mood sours.
“In truth, the whole deal is a whole lot more sinister: the common impression that horses are mindless creatures was a lie all along, Jacqueline! Horses are a different species of intelligence altogether, one that has been hidden behind the mask of stupidness. What kind of fool would believe that a creature that looks like a horse has nothing more than a toothy grin to offer? Their big heads contain a bigger skull cavity in order to house their otherworldly, alternate-reality powers. Horsekind has spent ages tricking the world into believing that they’re harmless beasts who need humans to look after them and clean out their shit. Like other mysterious ruminant creatures, they live in herds, but horses are organized in a matriarchal society that rules the world. Every once in a while, some particularly gifted mare becomes their queen. She can send her horde across seas, or over mountains, or even on long journeys in the sky. All horses are evil, and the sole purpose of their existence is to mutate and destroy the human race. If we manage to make our home inhospitable for everyone, horses will teleport to another planet somewhere far away, perhaps on another universe, so they can continue their tyranny there. If I had a tail, I’d stick it right between my legs.”
Jacqueline twirls the revolver on the tabletop.
“Is this the part where you confess to me that you’re actually a horse in disguise?”
I laugh nervously. I consider telling her that I have nothing to confess except that my life is an endless cycle of disappointment and despair, but I suspect that I better keep such a comment to myself.
“To be honest, I’ve long wanted to own a gun for self-defense, and this one has a real nice heft to it. You are okay with me using it, right?”
I’m overcome by a wave of morbid self-loathing. I take a deep breath.
“I’m fine with you using anything of mine, Jacqueline, or me for that matter, however you please.”
She lifts her warm gaze to gift me a smile, but her expression turns serious as if reluctantly, like a mother’s who wants to justify to her crying child why they can’t adopt a scarred, stray pitbull.
“But I… don’t want you to keep the revolver. Ever since I recovered from the shock of seeing it in my purse, I have pictured you pointing it at your own head.”
My heart skips a beat.
“It only takes a few seconds to make such a decision during a fit of despair, don’t you think?”
I imagine a future nightly ritual for Jacqueline: she will clean and polish the revolver by rubbing a little hand-lotion on the cold steel, she will wet the grip with her warm spit, she will slip the barrel into her mouth like a lollipop, and then she will insert the barrel into her womb, which is her very own firearm chamber. Once she’s done, a lick of gluey fluids will dangle off the muzzle of the revolver like a leech from a rock.
I also imagine myself buying from a stationery shop a thank you card that has an engraving of a horse holding a bouquet of red roses. I don’t know where to send it, so I go to a bus stop where a crouched mother is cleaning her kid’s sticky, jam-smeared hands with a wet handkerchief. The woman doesn’t notice me; I’m invisible to her as if I were already dead and my flesh rotting. I’m an ant in an abandoned subway station and heading to an underpass where the tracks are flooded with rainwater. I read my written note out loud.
Dear horse-fiend, thank you for killing yourself in my presence, and also thank you for providing me with the means to commit suicide. I will forget having written this letter within moments of finishing the final stroke; the words will have melted away without leaving a trace, like so much of my life. I hope that every time I feel low about my worthless, broken existence, I can call up your face in my mind’s eye, and with your help I will summon a black sense of humor to dull the pain. I hope you continue living in my mind for centuries to come, since that’s how long it will take for me to get over you. Yours, Leire.
I burst into sobs. I cry as if my tears could make up for all the tears that I have ever failed to cry. The child, whose hands are now clean, is busy poking a stick into an anthill, but his mother hands me a tissue and asks, “The world is full of beauty, so why do you have to write?”
I shiver as if a cold, dark current had rushed into my spine, and my head starts to throb.
“M-maybe it’s best that you don’t give this gun back to me,” I say grimly. “I admit I am a bit unstable.”
“Yeah, I figured that much.”
I hang my head low.
“Sometimes I even have trouble recalling who I was only moments ago. I’m… sorry for giving you so much trouble, Jacqueline. And thank you for taking care of me.”
Jacqueline’s face scrunches up for a second, then she scoots her chair closer and gestures for me to come to her arms. I let out a weary sigh. I kneel on the cold tiles and wrap my arms around her waist, resting half of my face on her satin robe and the other half on her warm thigh. As I take a deep breath to slow my heart, I get a good whiff of Jacqueline’s musky insides, and I wonder what the smell would be like if she didn’t shower or bathe for a week. I feel an arm around my shoulders and a hand caressing my scalp. It feels like a miracle that she’s here for me, holding me, comforting me. I love her even though I haven’t told her yet.
“Maybe we need to figure out what medicine,” Jacqueline says softly, “or home remedy, you could take that would put your troublesome brain out of commission for the whole night, so you could benefit from dreamless, restorative sleep.”
I consider coming up with a comment, but I only nuzzle my way closer to the sultry scent that emanates from Jacqueline’s crotch. The skin of her thigh is so hot and smooth that I want to rub myself against it like a cat. I hear my pulse echo in my ears, and I see stars in the sky dome of my mind.
“In your current state,” Jacqueline murmurs as her fingertips stroke my hair gently, “we are lucky we won’t have to work on Monday. I could see you passing out at our desk.”
I turn my head in reflex to look up at her face, but the inside of her night robe canopies the snuggly space I’ve wormed my way into.
“Why would that be?” I ask in a thin voice. “Has our office building burned down?”
Jacqueline chuckles, which causes her torso to tremble and her pubic hair to brush my cheek.
“If that were the case, sweetie, I doubt they’d rebuild it in a day. No, it’s November first. All Saints’ Day.”
I shiver. A rush of warmth to my eyes convinces me to shut them tight. I bury my nose in Jacqueline’s soft jungle and I speak against her moist lips.
“It has taken ages, but it’s finally over.” My voice breaks into a whimper. “October is ending.”