I’m thrust back to that October night in my former home, a madhouse of lurking shadows. Spellbound, I’m staring at the shabby, demon-spawned horse that stood on his hind legs in front of my busted living room window. His mangy coat, crisscrossed by scars, reeked of rot. His brain and nervous system must have been atrophied, maybe vestigial. He had headbutted the windowpane, so his forelock was matted with blood that flowed down his forehead, between his bulging eyes, which were black as midnight oceans, and along the long slope of his face. Through his puffing, the gaping holes of his nostrils blew drops and strings of blood, splattering the shards of glass strewn on the floor. A foul green pus oozed from the jagged wound where his missing genitals ought to be. The horse opened his jaws wide, exposing dagger-sharp teeth, and let out a mournful bray.
Alberto the blob shakes, making his dozens of eyeballs swing and jostle in their gooey sockets.
“Poor Spike, he was unprepared to handle a lunatic like you, and too eager to help if that meant protecting his pals. I never knew him as well as the professor did, but he always struck me as a good guy, the kind of pushover that could irritate you with the lengths he went to accommodate others. He didn’t deserve any of this shit, and now he’s lost to wander madly for eternity.”
My mind is going numb. I avert my gaze from the malevolent glop and his dozens of eyeballs, which are focused, laserlike, on my hunched self. I fear that if the blob blames me again for that horse’s mental collapse, I may break down in tears.
“Wh-why a horse?”
“Why not?” the blob croaks, his voice a cacophony of mucus and slime. “If you are forced to slough off your human form, you may as well become a horse. I’d rather be a majestic animal capable of trampling people to death.”
“That’s a horsey way to put it. Nobody would give a damn if you stepped on your own excrement, and horses care more about their hooves than their souls.”
The blob snickers.
“Do you hold a grudge against equines?”
“Not at all, even though a stallion once pinned my mother to the ground with his steaming member while the rest of the herd feasted on her entrails. Horses may lack empathy and compassion, but they know how to survive in this fucked-up world. They are also a key component in the food chain. However, do I hold a grudge against deformed and putrid horses? I should have despised them on principle, but Spike held a special place in my heart. Anyway, you know what I meant: why a horse instead of a giraffe, or a caribou?”
“The professor suggested that it depended on the person’s self-image. What we truly feel or believe about ourselves, beyond conscious recognition, becomes flesh. Our current forms incorporate elements of decay and suffering because we are always aware that our efforts will be curtailed by death, as much as we’d love to forget it, or deceive ourselves.”
I rub my chin and squint.
“Spike didn’t have a dick. What does that mean?”
“It means he couldn’t get himself off.” He chuckles. “Was it so important to you for his horse form to be capable of ejaculating?”
I fold my arms, annoyed at the blob’s frivolous answer.
“I’d say so, yes. Whenever I caught a glimpse of that jagged scar down south, a chill ran down my spine. Besides, nobody should deny any mammal their primary pleasure.”
The blob sweeps his dozens of gazes around the office. When he focuses back on me, an elongating rope of goo breaks from his underside and plops into a puddle.
“Spike showed up deformed and dickless. What did that illuminate about his self-esteem?”
“I see. An unlovable workhorse that wasn’t even built properly to fulfill his role as a slave to the system. So he was a horse for horses’ sake and a horse for his own sake.”
The blob snorts.
“A sad example of human potential, for sure. The guy even avoided using his real name; he referred to himself by some ancient IRC handle. Is that a symptom of profound self-loathing?”
“Perhaps that’s how horses communicate nowadays.”
“Or he believed that he wasn’t worthy of an authentic name.”
“That is plausible. His low self-esteem manifested as a tenebrous desire to lose himself in the abyss of a nameless existence, to exist unnoticed as inconsequential flotsam. Anyway, what is IRC?”
“Have I become obsolete? It’s short for Internet Relay Chat. Late nineties, early two thousands way of communicating for nerds and horny teens.”
“That’s why Spike referred to himself as IRC?”
“No, that’s why he called himself Spike!” His dozens of eyeballs joggle around as they glitter menacingly. “Whatever. Back to the point: these horrid forms are creative incarnations of our self-image. That’s the professor’s working hypothesis. Some days I’m inclined to believe that the universe is playing a joke on us, maybe to highlight the absurdity of our lives. I used to come to such conclusions even when I could rely on skin to contain my oozing insides.”
“Sure, I hate to see your phlegm-like innards leaking out, but of course you’d rather believe that the universe has conspired to torment us all the while.” I gesture towards the slimy infestation, the many-eyed, squishy bag of rotting guts at which I’ve been staring unflinchingly. “Your bizarre form doesn’t speak wonders about you.”
“I suppose not, but do you choose what reality you accept based on how it suits your vanity?”
“I rarely accept reality. And don’t change the subject! This isn’t about the universe, buddy. This is about you, a lonely and disturbed man-slime.”
The blob glugs as it wobbles from side to side, slopping gunk onto the ruined carpet, expelling a gust of putrescent gas that reminds me of rotten cabbage and anus breath.
“Well, my self-image did falter regularly. Even now I feel my gut digesting what remains of that self-esteem. It’s getting all sludgy inside me.”
“In my youth, I went to see a psychiatrist for my problems. What about you, huh?” he asks in a piqued tone. “Were you ever analyzed, diagnosed and treated by a proverbial horse doctor? ‘Hey, why the long face?'” He laughs insanely. “Because if you want to talk about disturbed minds, you need a shrink far more than I do. Who knows, you may come to shed layers of your own repulsive form.”
“Thanks for the unsolicited advice, but my mental dysfunction can only be cured by a bullet.” I sigh. “It seems that the three of us, collections of fluids and biochemistry that occupy a certain volume in the space-time continuum, are overgrown clusters of germs with a low opinion of ourselves, damaged creatures in need of a hand and a quickie, who grew up as half-person, half-slime in this fucked-up society of one-size-fits-all humanoids. We should have been born to shine as noble steeds.”
I recall a night when I wandered into an old tavern. In a dimly lit, dusty corner, a deformed horse was twisting his elongated neck and torso to accommodate his position atop a worn wooden stool. He was munching on fried chips. The hazy light of a dying bulb highlighted the scars that crisscrossed his once majestic coat. Other patrons were stealing glances at the equine as they traded whispers and hushed theories about the life he must have led before being confined to this hole in the wall, where no self-respecting animal deserved to dwell.
I approached the bar. Despite the horse’s atrophied forelegs, his stench and his dribbling mouth, he possessed a quiet dignity. Melancholy flickered in his bulging black eyes. I recognized a fellow weary soul that sought solace in the embrace of a cold beer, or in my case, a mug of warm milk.
I sat on the stool next to his, and we drank together until the sun awakened from its coma. The horse gazed at the reflections in the dwindling amber liquid of his glass while we talked about life’s inanity, about how little we enjoyed our time as half-people in this world where only whole persons mattered. I have retained a single sentence that the horse uttered from his slobbering muzzle: “Your dreams are wishes you lack the courage to express.”
After I shuffled out of the tavern, a pain ached deep in my chest, as if someone were stabbing my heart with a needle. I miss that broken-down ungulate, my friend, more than words can describe.
Spike suffered like me, like any being that ever existed and will ever exist. Back when he stalked me, I believed that he wanted me to become an accomplice and abettor to his villainous deeds. I had become terribly vigilant of every hurt from which I needed to protect myself; after all, what had my parents achieved except teach me to distrust others? Wary of every bump on the sidewalk and every scrap of litter, of every stranger that crossed my path and every corner I turned, I was afraid to leave my apartment. I pictured savage beasts leaping out of the darkness to strike with claws sharpened by broken bottles. We see in the world a reflection of ourselves.
I kept to myself whenever possible, I hid whenever necessary, and I prevented others from getting too close. I welcomed them believing I was insane, as long as they left me alone. I refused to face in the mirror those tears and scars, and that black ink from the inscriptions of self-hatred. My mind was my only refuge against the all-consuming abyss, the sole weapon against a loneliness that threatened to drown me.
Spike was a vulnerable soul who carried his broken heart around like a primed grenade. He neglected to feed himself, he let his hooves grow long and scratchy as he wasted away, and he killed himself because I’m an unbridled machine of ruination that I can barely steer, destined to hound more and more victims to insanity or suicide.
Can’t I bring everything back like I’ve always done?
A white coat shimmers under a sunny sky, a silky tail lashes around, hooves tread on the sands of time. Show me a beautiful horse. Let that beast look me in the eye and share his name. Tell me he’s proud of what I’ve made out of him.
Author’s note: today’s songs are “A Horse With No Name” by America, “Caribou” by Pixies, “Australia” by The Shins, and “Kim’s Caravan” by Courtney Barnett.
I keep a playlist with all the songs I’ve mentioned throughout this novel. A hundred and forty songs so far. Check them out. I didn’t add “Caribou” because it was already there, but I made a reference to the song.
Are you following the audiochapters I have made for this whole sequence so far? No? Anyway, here’s the latest one.
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