Life update (06/27/2022)

Last Wednesday I went through my first hours-long episode of atrial fibrillation, which confirmed that my heart has a physical issue. I already suspected it because I had been experiencing weird heart hiccups. I ended up lying in a bed of the Observation Unit at the local hospital for hours, and the episode of atrial fibrillation only passed because they gave me 300 mg of flecainide, an apparently hardcore medicine that comes with plenty of warnings against its use. That medicine made me unable to even sit down for the remainder of the day, unless I wanted to break in cold sweat and get dizzy and nauseous. It took two days to get the drug out of my system.

I didn’t go to work for those two days, but I intended to return the following week unless I endured through a new episode of atrial fibrillation, which would have suggested that my heart was in an even worse state than I suspected. The doctor and nurses that attended me told me that I should monitor my heart rate in my spare time with a pulse oximeter, which I have access to because my mother was a nurse. I have a scheduled visit with a cardiologist in August, but apart from that, they told me that if another episode of atrial fibrillation starts, I should leave whatever I’m doing and go immediately to the nearest Emergency Department to get an ECG and possibly take some medicine. The related information I’ve found online is confusing and often contradictory, but in general people who suffer through atrial fibrillation are much more likely to suffer terrible issues such as ischemic strokes and other conditions caused by irregular blood flow or clots to vital organs.

This Sunday I woke up, prepared myself a cup of coffee and monitored my heart rate. It was in the mid 40s, the lowest I had ever noticed it. I walked around for a bit and it increased to the high 50s and low 60s, but it quickly fell to the 40s again. My heart still felt (and still does) sore, weird and weak in general. The doctor had told me I should monitor my heart rate, and this seemed like a bad sign, so I called to ask what I should do. They told me to visit the Emergency Department and get an ECG, at least to record that my heart rate had gotten that low, in case that factors in when I visit the cardiologist. After I lay on a different bed of the Observation Unit for half an hour, an attractive doctor in her early twenties told me that I shouldn’t worry about such a low heart rate, only if it fails to go up after some movement. She suggested that I have an athlete’s heart because I walk around quite a bit in the hospital complex where I work, and because I’ve lifted weights semi-regularly for years. I doubt that anyone who looks at me would seriously think that I’m an athlete of any sort.

Also, getting touched by the warm hands of attractive young women made me face that although I can’t stand to be around human beings for long, I do need to get touched. If I wasn’t so ashamed of my penis, I may consider visiting some professional.

As a somewhat random comment, suffering through a physical heart issue reminded me of Hisao Nakai from my favorite visual novel/dating sim ‘Katawa Shoujo’ (an obscure reference). I could swear that I played the game back in 2008, but the information I’ve found suggests it was released in 2012. Anyway, its protagonist suffers a heart attack in the very first scene, then he gets diagnosed with cardiac arrhythmia and congenital heart muscle deficiency. He ends up getting sent to a private school for disabled students in which he may get to befriend, romance and possibly frick some peculiar, pained students who endure their own unfair disabilities. The director of this game suffered from the same heart issues, and he ended up passing away due to them a couple of years ago.

Back when I was lying in bed at the Observation Unit, I asked every professional who treated me if the stress I have to deal with on a regular basis contributed to this sudden health issue. They told me that atrial fibrillation is purely a physical matter, unrelated to stress. However, those professionals (all of them suspiciously young) were either ignorant or bold-faced liars, because every article I come across online states the opposite. For example, the following article says that stress and mental health issues may cause atrial fibrillation symptoms to worsen, and it adds that “there is a complex relationship between atrial fibrillation and anxiety and depression. Some research shows that people with atrial fibrillation may be more affected by depression and anxiety.”

I was born with high-functioning autism (formerly Asperger’s), dealing with increasing anxiety is a constant struggle from the moment I leave the safety of a locked room in which I’m alone, and I endure through cycles of a depression that a former psychiatrist diagnosed as “resistant to treatment”. Obviously I’m fucked. I have to assume that heart failure or a serious stroke is on the horizon for me. I don’t think I will go through the pain of trying to find another job that I can tolerate better. I am too old for that already, and although my current job as a computer technician at a hospital only keeps me employed for eight or so months out of a year, it’s still the most reliable job I’ve ever had. Previously I was a programmer; when I managed to get hired, half of the time I worked as an unpaid intern, and exploited as such.

These last four days I’ve rested as much as I could. Instead of writing as feverishly as I used to, I played a couple of sessions of my favorite card/board game of all time: ‘Arkham Horror’. I’m halfway through the ‘Edge of the Earth’ campaign with my personal decks for Zoey Samaras (who’s an OP beast with the Cyclopean Hammer; I suspect it’ll get tabooed at some point), Monterey Jack and my beloved Jacqueline Fine (unrelated), whose ability to manipulate the Chaos Bag makes for a very peculiar playstyle. I’m already playing with premium tokens from BuyTheSameToken (I had to pay sixty-five or so euros just to import them from the UK, though), and I’m waiting to receive in the mail additional 3D-printed stuff such as this fantastic deck/discard holder combo.

In general, movies and shows fail to grab my attention enough (in part because I can’t connect with people); I have very little patience with books and I bail on them if they annoy me, which happens more often than not; and videogames these days are almost fraudulent, or the dreaded FOMO causes me to wait until some vital updates/mods come out. I’m waiting for the Elder Scrolls mod to come out for ‘Crusader Kings 3’, and I’m also waiting for ‘Victoria 3’, the Steam version of ‘Dwarf Fortress’, and ‘Starfield’ to be released. Board games give me a tight, tense two-to-three hours of gameplay, which can go up to four in the case of ‘Arkham Horror’, then I can shelve them for another day.

Anyway, I’m trying to get back into writing my current novel. Plenty of increasingly deranged stuff to come as we head into what will pass for a traditional third act in this tale. I’ll also try not to die, at least until I finish what I must.

We’re Fucked, Pt. 59 (Fiction)

My temples are throbbing, my shoes are tapping an anxious rhythm on the ceramic tiles of the bathroom floor. I’m wrung dry, I’m desiccating, I’m wilting. I want to be in ecstasy, possessed, and hear myself moan as I rub my crotch raw, but there’s only the chuff of my breath and the hollow beating of my heart. How long will it take me to die of shame?

Maybe I already needed to pee, or I’m about to empty my bladder out of fear; either way, I pull down my pants and panties and I allow myself to relax enough that a stream of urine shoots out from my urethra. I’m rubbing my eyes when I feel something solid and furry pushing my butt cheeks upwards.

I jump to my feet. As I turn around, I stumble and hit the stall door with my back, making the door rattle.

A basketball-sized, furry head is sticking out of the toilet. Almond-colored tufts of matted fur, like fuzzy wings, come out of close-set, pointy ears. A gunmetal-grey eye bulges out on either side of a whiskey-colored, downward band of fur that ends in a tobacco-brown muzzle. Framed against a fluffy, cream-colored mane, a pair of overgrown, shimmering incisors are dripping a gluey drool, and look sharp enough to punch through bone. The fur on top of its head is drenched in urine that is also trickling down its face. This creature resembles some stuffed animal that ghost hunters would come across at a dilapidated insane asylum.

My mind is buzzing with fright. I’m spritzing the tiles with pee, and I doubt I’ve emptied my bladder when I yank my panties up then I squat awkwardly to reach for the waist band of my pants.

I’m gawking at a rabbit, one whose head is bigger than mine, and whose eyes glint with intelligence. After an instant of recognition, the rabbit rises further, lifting the toilet seat with its human-like shoulders. The creature’s massive body gets jammed; the toilet seat won’t budge anymore. As my shaking left hand fumbles for the door latch, two dirt-brown, stubby hands maneuver under the toilet seat and lift it over the rabbit’s head.

I open the stall door. I’m retreating backwards on my wobbly legs when the toilet water sloshes about and the bunnyman steps out to plant its feet on the ceramic tiles.

This beast towers over me. From up close, its fur is matted with filth and splotched with gunky crusts. Its soaked face stinks of ammonia, and its breath suggests that it’s been fed a steady diet of rotten offal and garbage. A grotesquely sagging belly leads down to a pendulating penis as thick and dirty pink as a salami sausage.

I shriek.

My limbic system must have taken the reins, because I’m sprinting down the hallway towards the door to our office while repeating the word ‘nope’ over and over. My heart skips a beat, and my legs collapse underneath me. The vinyl floor makes a screeching noise as I slide on my chest for half a meter.

I’m stretched out on the floor like a broken doll, I’m breathing in the particles that dozens of shoes dragged into the hallway. As I hold my breath to avoid wheezing and gagging on dust and grime, I turn over and witness the broad-shouldered, fluffy bunnyman waddling down the hallway towards me. In the brute’s massive frame, his belly, the color of rusted copper, is swollen like pregnant and wobbles with every step. His cock waggles left and right, bouncing against the furry mounds of his thighs.

A chill shoots through my body. I scramble to my feet and rush to our front door. I throw it wide open, jump inside and slam the door shut behind me.

Jordi and Jacqueline, seated at their workstations, look over their shoulder in unison at the savage that just disturbed their peace of mind.

Sweat is trickling through my pores like molten lead; it burns while it travels down my neck, then along my spine and finally into my lower back. Although I suspect that my eyeballs will collapse into bloody slop and dribble down my cheeks, I fix my wide-eyed gaze on Jacqueline and I gesture for her to approach me. She swivels on her chair, she stretches her tall frame, and as she strides her way to me, her skirt, the color of Irish coffee, rides up slightly towards her waist; her lean legs, tanned by walnut-brown, dotted tights, exchange places in front of the other; her glossy ankle boots clop-clop-clop.

Jacqueline halts a couple of feet away from me and rests her left hand on my neck. Her raven-black hair falls over her shoulders like a wave. Those luscious, moist lips are parted, and her breath smells of spearmint gum.

Jacqueline’s cobalt-blues remind me of a summer morning when we were eleven years old and she bequeathed me a kiss in the middle of a forest near our country home in Aquitaine. I want to devour her as if she were a chewy piece of candy.

“Leire, you smell like pee,” Jacqueline whispers. “Have you cleaned yourself properly, sweetie?”

A thick, spongy sound rings from my throat, like a retch.

“I-I may have made a mess in the bathroom. I had a fit in there.”

My gaze darts around as I try to figure out the best way to explain that a bulky, humanoid rabbit has risen out of the toilet as I was peeing, but Jacqueline caresses my neck, which eases my anxiety, and she speaks to me with a voice like a serene ocean lapping at its shores.

“That’s okay. It’s all okay, honey.”

I wish she would guide her warm hand below the edge of my panties.

“W-wait, you saw the revolver that Spike brought over,” I say in a hushed voice, “so maybe you can see the bunnyman as well.”

“A bunnyman?”

That’s right, I’m sick of being harassed by demons from the underworld. Maybe that well-hung abomination is standing right behind our office door, ready to smash his fist into my skull, but as long as Jacqueline remains by my side, I know that everything will turn out all right.

I’m a swirling dervish, a pouncing panther, an enraged rhino. I grab Jacqueline’s left wrist, swing the door open and pull my beloved after me out of the office.

Authors note: listen to Echo & the Bunnymen’s ‘The Killing Moon’ (obligatory), Modest Mouse’s ‘Tiny Cities Made of Ashes’ and The National’s ‘Abel’.

I usually wouldn’t upload such a short chapter, but this part of the scene had a natural stopping point. Apart from that, I’ve run into some personal issues recently and it’s been hard to focus on anything. However, I’ve finished the first draft of the remainder of this scene, so it will go up in a day or two.

Ended up in the hospital (as a patient)

I woke up at half past two in the morning and I figured that I may as well tell the tale of how I spent most of the previous afternoon in the Observation Unit of the local Emergency Department.

On Tuesday night I went through a routine that I have repeated from time to time at the lowest points of my life: as I was climbing on the bed to sleep, I thought to myself, “this was the last time I’ve stepped on this floor or any other. I’m going to pass away in my sleep. I’ve seen all the things I wanted to see, I’ve done all the stuff I wanted to do. Let it end already.” Well, it feels like I nearly got my wish.

Yesterday I ended up waking up anyway, at six in the morning. I prepared myself in a hurry to walk through my decaying city, get on the train, then on a bus so I could reach the hospital complex where I work. I’ve been feeling even more stressed than usual lately; on top of the maddening routine as a computer technician at a hospital complex where anything can go wrong at any moment, where most people consider their problems the most urgent, and where half of the users I handle are complete idiots no matter how good they may be as nurses, doctors or however the hell they ended up working at the hospital, I had a quarrel with a coworker because he locked me out of books related to a public examination that we bought together (I bought most of them, actually), for no good reason, which made me face I couldn’t trust this guy, which in turn made me realize I have to cut back on involving myself with people in person unless it’s absolutely necessary to earn a paycheck.

Anyway, for whatever reason my job kept piling up tasks on me, some labeled as urgent, while I was already having to schedule operations at specific times and half of my coworkers were free; the trio of loudmouths who spend most of their time at the office blabbering, ruining everyone else’s concentration, seemed to have worked half an hour at the most. Going through the emails I’ve received these last couple of days:

-A laptop located at an operating room of the Ophthalmology Department wasn’t loading their needed apps reliably. Their supervisor had refused to open a ticket about this beyond the first one weeks ago, and instead she was either emailing specific technicians (I was one of them), or phoning our secretary and naming technicians so we would handle the issue. I happened to be one of the technicians who had already seen this problem and was in the office at the moment, so I ended up dealing with this irate supervisor. She was right, though, because the usual solution for this common problem (restarting the computer so it can set up the network drives properly) didn’t work *all* the time; such intermittent issues are the most troublesome to handle. I ended up opening a couple of tickets to HQ so they would review all the basic details about that laptop’s presence in the general network of our organization, and they detected that its specific build of Windows was outdated. Great, I thought, that’s the solution. I convinced my boss to just exchange their oldish laptop for a new one. Eventually, though, when I got there not only the new laptop had the same issue of not loading the network drives reliably, but also did a laptop from a neighboring operating room. Now I think that the problem is more likely due to Wi-Fi coverage, a whole nonsense to diagnose that will involve coordinating ourselves with confused and chatty nurses to move the laptops around (most of the time such devices are under lock and key, because plenty of patients have stolen stuff) so the guys at HQ can check how strongly the specific MAC addresses receive the signal. This will take hours of a single technician’s time, and it hasn’t been done yet.

-Some doctor from a department that does some kind of animal testing complained that she couldn’t open certain Google Drive invites in Chrome, so she requested it to be updated. When I handled the issue I found out that the invites were getting loaded in Internet Explorer instead. I taught her to copy and paste the hyperlinks to Chrome, which opened them properly. However, she ended up calling me later because Google Drive wasn’t letting it open certain files, and it was due to certain idiots from Network Security at HQ that consider it necessary to block stuff from Google Drive, so I had to open a ticket to let that doctor’s requests pass through the firewall.

-They opened up a new “reports room” at a department that handles operating kids. I managed the move, but one of the computers that ended up there was ancient, one of those troublesome kinds who use very specific software that has never been updated for newer operating systems and that some of the time isn’t maintained anymore because the company no longer works with the healthcare organization. Anyway, this computer had a proprietary set of cables that went to specially mounted sockets on the wall, but the cables didn’t make clear which cable went where. I had to locate technicians from that random company and return to that “reports room” (a process that involves me dressing myself up, because it’s a sterile environment) and snap a few photos of the damn cables to mail them. They haven’t answered yet.

-Someone from a clinic located a couple dozen kilometers away wants to be able to print in a different printer, “just in case”. It takes me a good while to coordinate myself with her so she can free up her computer. When I finish, she asks, “hey, can you do that for this coworker and this one and this one too?” I tell her that they should open their own tickets.

-Some barcode scanner works intermittently. Half of the time the users are handling it wrong. The ticket doesn’t say anything about the model of the scanner nor its physical location, so I email the person for details.

-Suddenly nobody in a whole wing of the ICU could print on their assigned printer. Yesterday afternoon they called my department because there were blocked documents on the queue, but whatever my coworker did screwed stuff up for everybody. I connected remotely to the print server; it was still open on the list of printer addresses and focused on the one with the issue: my coworker linked the name of the printer to another IP address by mistake.

-Some lab technician can’t open certain attached images because it gives an error regarding virtual memory. The technician insists on me checking her disk space. It’s partially a RAM issue, but also there may be some weird allocation matter, because restarting the computer (she said she did, anyway) hasn’t solved it. I still haven’t finished dealing with it.

-There were also a few more mundane matters that don’t warrant me writing about them.

I really dislike my job, but it’s the only one that has employed me semi-reliably. As a programmer I ended up working half of the time as an unpaid intern, but even when I was getting paid, I barely made minimum wage. By the way, this is a country where some people can enter illegally from certain continents and earn three times minimum wage just for existing. Such are the ethnic backgrounds of more than half of the people that hang out at the Maternity building of my hospital complex.

Anyway, at a quarter past two I was heading to the Ophthalmology Department located in one of the farthest reaches of this complex to hand them a new laptop. Right as I reach their floor, I start sweating, feeling light-headed and getting a weird pressure in my chest. My heart goes arrhythmic. I feel it jumping, and as I check my pulse, it’s clearly all over the place.

The first time I experienced such arrhythmia was the very same day that I received my latest booster vaccine (which I was forced to take because I wouldn’t keep getting hired as a computer technician at any hospital otherwise). From then on I experienced such “heart jumps” semi-regularly, moments in which my heart seemed to hiccup in a disturbing way, but it had always passed a couple of heartbeats later. This time it didn’t stop. I could tell it wasn’t normal in any way, but I figured that I would give the Ophthalmology crew a new laptop to solve the issue they had been badgering us about, then visit the Workplace Health department or however it’s called in English.

As I waited for a few nurses to get me some disposable operating room clothing, one of the chatty nurses (have I said enough times that talking to people in person makes my skin crawl?) approached me and asked me, “by the way, do you work for [our Healthcare Organization]?”. Me, wearing a lab coat that features prominently the logo of said organization: “Yes.” “Can you help me with a problem? I haven’t been able to print reports with my credentials in forever. My coworker can’t do it either. We keep asking around and going crazy because nothing works and we have to ask other nurses to let us enter with their credentials.” “Have either of you opened a ticket for it?” “Well, no.” I realized quickly that they hadn’t assigned the printer correctly in the program like virtually every other department is told how to do.

I was expecting any of them to point out that I seemed sick, because I was sweating profusely, my pulse was trembling, and in general I must have looked like death. But they just ended up giving me one of those disposable sets of clothes. When I found myself alone in the locker room, my heart kept going crazy, I was getting weaker and weaker and experiencing weird electrical pains along my collarbone and shoulders. I thought, “I’m having a heart attack. I’m having a heart attack and the last thing I’ll do in my worthless life is set up a laptop for these motherfuckers who have been pestering us for weeks without following any proper protocol.” I wanted to cry, or throw myself out of the window. Instead I got dressed and walked to the operating room. There I discovered that changing the old laptop for a new one didn’t solve the issue, and I explained to a few nurses that we’d have to coordinate ourselves to arrange a Wi-Fi coverage study in the following days.

When I left that department, it was already time to go home. My arrhythmia hadn’t stopped; if anything it had gotten worse. I felt dizzy and confused, and I can’t remember almost anything about the ride home. I realized that my heart issue was serious; although usually I would avoid going to a hospital for any reason because it would be too much of a bother, this time I got my father to drive me to the Emergency Department of the local hospital at Irún. By then I could barely stay upright, so an orderly wheeled me to the Observation Unit in a wheelchair. They hooked me up to a vitals monitor that kept beeping because my heart rate was out of whack, jumping wildly from the 80s to the 140s, and beeping even more urgently when it hit the 140s. The main nurse that treated me had the same name as the girlfriend that fucked me over the worst, but this young woman was very kind. They referred to my condition as atrial fibrillation. I have forgotten most of the stuff they did to me, but they made me swallow three flecainide pills and told me that I would lie in bed for the foreseeable future. If in six hours my heart hadn’t gone back to normal, they would defibrillate me.

I lay there for hours (most of the afternoon), staring at the hooks hanging from the ceiling and at the curiously designed ventilation slits, which looked like the bidimensional version of one of those spiky balls that they use to detonate minefields. On the opposite box some woman in her forties was being treated for covid. I would have supposed that these observation units were reasonably quiet due to the rest that the patients require, but the son of a bitch they had on the box immediately to my left kept groaning in an obnoxious, obviously fake way every few seconds, annoying everyone to the extent that the nurses kept saying, “we have to do something about the guy from 7”, and even other patients were shushing that idiot. I figured he must have been an elderly man with dementia or such shit, but the orderly that later wheeled me around to get an X-Ray of my chest told me, “he’s a Hispanic guy, just forty years old. I don’t know what is it with these Hispanics, but we get such kinds all the time: habitual drunkards who sometimes come in also drugged up to their eyeballs.”

After the nurses had to rush at the Hispanic guy because he kept trying to get up and even push stuff around, they decided to move him to another box. Regarding where they had to move him, they specified that he should be “distanced from the guy on 6 (me); he has a heart condition.”

Eventually my heart stopped hiccuping. The main nurse talked to me about the health issue assuming that it would happen again in the future, and that when it does I should go immediately to the nearest Emergency Department to get an ECG. They also told me I should make an appointment with a cardiologist. I asked them if my stressful routine may have caused this, but they told me it was a purely physical issue. I asked them if I should end up carrying with me the kind of pills they made me swallow, in case I experienced such an episode again when I was out there in the wild. They told me no way.

Later on I googled flecainide; most of the websites warn against its use with notices like this one: “This drug has a Black Box Warning. This is the most serious warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A black box warning alerts doctors and patients to potentially dangerous effects. If you’ve had a heart attack within the past two years, flecainide may raise your risk of having another heart attack, which can be fatal. This drug should only be used if you have a life-threatening irregular heart rate. Tell your doctor if you have atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter. If you have these conditions where your heart does not beat correctly, you have an increased risk for developing certain types of irregular heartbeats. Flecainide is not recommended if you have chronic atrial fibrillation.” So either my nurses (or their hospital) were incompetent, or I’ve gone through a life-threatening irregular heart rate. Good to know.

They gave me the following report:

When they told me I could go home, I quickly discovered that I couldn’t even sit down without breaking in cold sweat and getting nauseous. I felt like I would pass out at any point. The same orderly wheeled me out to my father’s car. Soon after I got home, I emailed my boss to tell him that I would take it easy the two following days and that I would contact my GP to figure out what to do about this matter. Shortly after I went to bed and passed out.

I woke up at half past two in the morning and I decided to write this account, as I had nothing better to do. My heart feels physically weak and sore. Of course, I’m paranoid about it failing at any point. I read up on atrial fibrillation, and the following stuff bothered me the most: it’s associated with an increased risk of heart failure, dementia, and stroke. That’s on top of my regular migraines, which are also linked to an increased risk of stroke. The two fates I fear the most health-wise are dementia, Alzheimer’s and the likes, and strokes. One of my favorite writers, John Fowles, who wrote ‘The Collector’ and ‘The Magus’, suffered one in his sixties. Fowles never wrote another novel again, and stated that the stroke had “robbed him of his imagination”.

It’s nearly six in the morning, when I would need to wake up to go to work, but I’m going to sleep. I won’t have to work, which will likely cause me untold issues next week. However, as far as I care at the moment, it can fuck right off along with my failing body and my pointless life.

Life update (06/20/2022)

Last week was rough, but then again I don’t recall any week of work that hasn’t been grueling for one reason or another. I have been enduring stress-related pains such as upper back strains; many years ago I ended up getting such aches checked, and they confirmed that they were caused by stress. Last Monday, as I was standing on the bus on my way to the hospital complex where I work, I got the characteristic migraine aura that impedes my sight. In addition, every migraine seems to reduce my IQ for as long as it lasts, likely due to changes in the blood flow to my brain. Whenever I get one I fear that I’ll end up with permanent brain damage, which is apparently possible. Anyway, I always carry some ibuprofen with me, but I still had to deal with the resulting headache, that lasted two days.

I have forgotten the details of the many problems I had to solve at work; they have blurred into the general hellish sensation of navigating around in a hospital complex during a record-breaking heat wave while wearing a lab coat. I’m likely still depressed, which may explain part of why I’ve found half of my coworkers utterly unbearable these past few weeks. A group of them ruins whatever passes for peace in the office whenever they are present; although they are in their forties and fifties, they behave like children in a playground, bickering about stuff unrelated to work or goofing around with each other so loudly that if I were in charge of this place I would have admonished them almost daily. I’m forced to wear earplugs so I can concentrate on whatever the hell I’m doing.

The most bitter moment for me was a quarrel I had this Friday with a coworker. We are both preparing to pass a public examination in a few months, which requires the students to buy about twelve expensive textbooks. This guy and I decided to divide the purchases between us. He bought four and I bought about eight. It happened that way because he had already bought the first four, and I went ahead and bought the remainder. He decided to go through the trouble of paying a stationery store, or however they are called in English, to remove the spines and covers of the books, then use the industrial printers we have at the office to scan them, a process that he said took like a minute and a half per book. He then gave me access to a single folder of his Google Drive that only contained the scanned books in PDF format.

This guy is more than a bit paranoid, the kind who’ll get weird with you if he realizes you are talking to someone who may dislike him or have an issue with him for one reason or another. He told me that under no circumstance should I download the books on my workstation, because some other coworker may snatch them. I obliged him. After all, I could just go to the shared folder and open them there. I didn’t download most of them at home either, because I could access that folder.

I’m the second person that enters the office every morning. This guy is always the first one; he starts an hour early because it’s more convenient for him. Anyway, four of the five days of the week he wasn’t at his workstation when I came in, which was odd. We only greeted each other in passing otherwise.

At about ten in the morning on that Friday, I tried to open one of the PDF files located in the shared folder, so I could study for a bit between tasks. I found out that this coworker had revoked my access. This was a folder of his Google Drive that contains the digital versions of eight books that I paid for, and four that he did. Nobody else had access to this folder. He made the very conscious decision of shutting my access down.

Through Google Drive’s interface, I sent him a petition to regain access, saying that I hadn’t downloaded all the books. From my position I can see enough of his screens that I’m quite sure that he opened that request (I recognized the layout of the website), and let out a derisive chuckle. He wasn’t talking to anyone.

I gave him five minutes or so to grant me access again, but he didn’t. I was fuming. It was such a pointlessly malicious thing to do, to revoke access to a folder that just contains stuff that both of us had purchased, and for a shared purpose that won’t be resolved until October or November. There was no way I couldn’t interpret this except as a “fuck you” to me. In truth, I hadn’t gotten so internally enraged for good while, and it harkened me back to the years I had to live with my seven-years-younger sister, who stole money and jewelry from her family members to fund her drug habit, and in general started arguments and conflicts of every kind because she couldn’t tolerate boredom. I also grew to understand that although I’m a laid back person and I want as little conflict with people as possible (internally I’m often on the verge of brutally murdering someone), some will step on people like me because they consider us easy targets that won’t retaliate. I knew I had to confront my coworker about this immediately.

I walked up to him as we were surrounded by six or so other coworkers. I told him that I give him the benefit of the doubt, but that he must reinstate my access to the folder, because I hadn’t gotten to download all the books. This guy usually turns around on his chair with a self-assured smile as soon as anyone approaches him, but this time he remained still for my entire part of the dialogue, as if he went “oh shit” internally. That was my impression anyway. He told me that he didn’t know what I was talking about. I asked him whether or not he had revoked my access to the folder. He told me that he had, because he thought I would have already downloaded the files (why revoke my access, though, to a folder that just contains those files, when there’s no security risk?). I reminded him how particular he got about not downloading the books at work; I’m not sure if he opens the books at the office, but I did tell him that I was studying them when I’m not busy. Anyway, he told me that he would reinstate my access. I proceeded to immediately download all the PDFs and store them in a pen drive.

He didn’t speak to me again, and in fact he still hasn’t, but when I got home from work I had received two emails. The first one said that he thought I would have downloaded the files already, and that he had meant not to download them at work. The second email, in a sterner tone, told me to download the files this weekend because he would revoke my access again early on Monday. I still have access to the folder, though.

After this nonsense, I want to cut back on dealing with people in person as much as humanly possible. Due to autism, my brain simply can’t tell others’ intentions as normal people apparently can, and due its inability to process and register people’s faces properly (prosopagnosia; bad enough that I have no clue if I ever saw again people I was romantically involved with), I can’t read much on their faces. I’ve always had to distrust people to survive; I get taught that lesson over and over again. I just can’t ever know when someone is going to fuck me over, and the intentions and motivations of people often seem incomprehensible to me.

Obviously my job isn’t fulfilling; I only work to add money to my bank account at the end of the month. And I can only consider it tolerable because I have no social life nor a family of my own. When I get back home, half of the week I barely have the energy to stay awake. At the most I can invest two hours and a half of lucidity into whatever scene of my novel I’m working on at the moment. During my last long-term relationship I was so exhausted and mentally worn out from my nine-to-five job that I once took the train in the opposite direction by mistake, and I didn’t find out for forty minutes because I fell asleep; and after I went to my then girlfriend’s place just to spend the afternoon together, I sat on her sofa and passed out. She was mad at me often during those last months because I barely had the energy to shamble around.

Having to keep a job is truly a disaster, as it steals the most valuable things of your life: your time and your energy that should be spent on stuff that matters. Obviously I wish I could write from morning to night, which I’ve done gladly whenever I’m unemployed. However, if you expect to make a living writing, you are delusional; you may as well base your future on winning the lottery. It’s always been in part about having the right connections, but these days you need to belong to some preferred group and have the right opinions as well.

I’m getting assailed by the intrusive thoughts that have visited me regularly for as long as I remember, and that suggest that I should kill myself and get this whole bullshit over with. When I think about why I still stick around, I can only come up with the following: I want to finish my current novel, I have some campaigns of Arkham Horror to play through, and one of these days both ‘Victoria 3’ and ‘Starfield’ will get released. Otherwise, the sensory issues that autism causes make navigating virtually any environment a low-level torture (or even trauma inducing), at least beyond the confines of a locked room containing only me. I’m always bloated and gassy, and several times during the workday I’m even on the verge of shitting myself, due to Irritable Bowel Syndrome that I can’t regulate because it’s linked to anxiety, and I’m always anxious whenever I’m around people. I deal with life-long health issues caused in part by the pituitary tumor with which I was born. Virtually every interaction with other human beings in person is damn near unbearable. The intimate relationships I got involved in, until I gave up in my early-to-mid twenties, were humiliating, painful, forced me to run on a treadmill to fulfill someone else’s wishes and goals although mine remained neglected, and in the end those girls/women just left. I don’t see myself ever wanting to have children, because I’d only curse them with conditions that make me wish I wasn’t born; besides, I’d be a horrible father because I can’t give enough of a shit about anyone, even myself. I can’t look forward to the future on this continent, because in a generation or two Europe will become an extension of Africa and the Middle East, and I lack any support system to move elsewhere. It seems inevitable that one day the growing mountain of painful memories and traumas will tip the scales in favor of getting the hell out of Dodge as soon as possible.

Right now I have to prepare a couple of computers and hook them up to the network, and this afternoon I’ll work on my next scene. I’m close to finishing its first draft already. How did Cioran put it? “Man starts over again everyday, in spite of all he knows, against all he knows.”

We’re Fucked, Pt. 58 (Fiction)

I run the latest batch of unit tests on Visual Studio Code. When the red cross next to the test name changes to a green mark, a speech bubble pops up in the swirly tar of my mind, and it says, “Well done!” Some organic contraption in my body tasked with synthesizing drugs supplies the promised dopamine hit. My brain is convinced that I have stepped forward towards fulfilling my purpose as a living creature, but the wrinkly mass of soft tissue and blood vessels that contains my self won’t remain deceived for long. Soon enough, another speech bubble will pop up inside my head, this one saying, “Leire, you are wasting your time. You have the chance to do something worthwhile in your life, why do you let it slip through your fingers?”

Thankfully, some programming maestros figured out that if you systematize software development into a growing pyramid of unit tests, you can chase a reliable sequence of dopamine hits and still end up with a functioning product. If I didn’t spend my workdays zooming through this reward course of intellectual orgasms, I’d get mired in self-destructive thoughts regarding my inability to become an acceptable member of my species. It takes a regular pounding of dopamine hits on my soggy brain to shield me from the background radiation of reality; only when I am under the influence do I manage to forget the vast swath of shit that I’ve been dragging around: the pains of inhabiting a rotting body, the knowledge that we were born to grow old and die, the humiliation of wasting at least eight hours working, five days a week, so the government can steal part of my paycheck to fund the destruction of our society.

Yet, these dopamine hits are a pale shadow of the main reward that life built into us so we would remain slaves to its bidding: orgasms. I wish I could catalyze each orgasm from the previous one, in a consecutive chain that would barely allow me to breathe; that’s how I could aspire to enjoy my existence instead of tolerating it for a few minutes at a time. I’d love to see my brain turned into a bonobo jungle. I want to become a selfish, self-obsessed idiot whose only goal is to indulge her appetites without any regard for her fellow human beings or the planet she’s inhabiting. I want to stay in a bath for hours, lazing and masturbating. I want to eat a whole damn vat of ice cream even though you can only hold so much before you feel ill. But I suspect that life must have developed some regulatory programs into our brains or into some hormone-secreting lump of tissue, and if those biological algorithms detected that we dared to enjoy ourselves too much, even orgasming would start to feel dull and pointless. If due to excessive self-diddling I ended up locking my finite-state machine into such an anhedonia, I’d have no choice but to grab the nearest sharp tool and lacerate my carotid arteries. Then I’d jab the tool’s pointy end into each of my eyeballs, because I wouldn’t want to witness a second longer of this worthless world. I better take a break every now and then from masturbating, lest I become permanently brain-damaged.

I once read an article about a woman, a Floridian I believe, who due to a medical condition was blessed with constant, uncontrollable orgasms. She had so many that she didn’t know what to do with them. She could have bought a jet ski, a houseboat, a miniature zoo, and an island in the Bahamas so she could party with her friends and family. She could have invested in several casinos, started a line of vibrators, founded a private school where rich kids would be taught by tutors how to be filthy rich and even filthier in bed. She could have built a huge robot, crammed all the most important men in the world inside, and fucked them all in every orifice she had. Instead, such bliss impeded her ability to function as a human, so she chose to escape her life through the emergency door. She swallowed a bottle of pills, or perhaps she slit her wrists. In any case, I wish I had stood in front of this woman during her final moments as she cursed the purest pleasure that nature made available to us, claiming that even the ultimate reward wasn’t worth suffering through the terror of being alive.

“It seems we are both in the zone, senpai,” Jordi says. “We are going to finish this contract two or three days ahead of time.”

Our intern’s fingers dash across the keyboard as his gaze darts over the screen in precise jumps. When I first met him, Jordi seemed frail and timid, but these days he comes off as an unyielding machine, so concentrated at times that I could sneak away with one of his kidneys. While I distracted myself suffering mental breakdowns and wishing to die, my twenty-three-year-old coworker absorbed new programming techniques. I dread the day that he’ll choose to keep treating me deferentially as a legacy issue.

“I’m in the zone alright,” I say in a croaky voice. “I keep coming and coming.”

Jordi snorts, then he pushes the glasses up his nose as his dark eyes snap into focus on me.

“Both of you have been on an exhibitionist streak recently. I’m feeling out of my element.”

Jacqueline giggles.

“Leire, you can’t be that frank with the kids these days. They force them to grow up in padded rooms, the poor things.”

Jacqueline, seated to my right, is wearing a purple-magenta crossover blouse with puff sleeves that show off her toned arms, which she strengthens regularly by imitating the grueling exercise routines of American YouTuber despots. The way the crossing pieces of fabric struggle over Jacqueline’s majestic tits makes me want to grasp the blouse in a fist, rip it off, and latch on to either of my girlfriend’s nipples for an hour-long session of sucking and nibbling. It would white out the myriad of anxious scribbles that have marred the surface of my mind lately.

I swallow the excess saliva building in my throat.

“Jordi is forced to share a desk with the most curvesome temptress, whom he’ll never get to touch, so his subconscious must be bubbling with sexual frustration on a daily basis.”

“You know that I usually have my mind on other things,” Jordi says as he continues typing.

I may have intended to turn Jordi’s pale, freckled cheeks into hot fudge sundae of molten desire, but I missed my target. This kid seems as detached from sex as if he had been chemically castrated.

“I was only… what’s the word that humans use? Teasing. You may need to see a neurologist, though. At your age you should be awkwardly trying to hide your erections under the desk.”

Jordi stops typing and turns his head towards me to gift me a gentle smile.

Senpai, I wouldn’t pursue a taken woman.”

“My, aren’t you a gentleman,” Jacqueline says in a mellow voice.

“Besides, I believe that flat is justice.”

Jacqueline gasps, then she stares open-mouthed at our intern as if he insulted her ancestors. Jordi has returned his fingers to the keyboard and his gaze to the screen, but the kid is pursing his lips to restrain a silly grin.

I’m amused despite my instinct to experience every instant of living as a nerve-racking nightmare. I grab my bottle of water, and when I lean back in the chair to take a sip of the tepid liquid, I find myself staring at a sentence in bold letters glued across the row of frost-white cabinets as if it were a sticker. The sentence reads: YOU’VE GOT MAIL.

A chill runs down my spine. I shudder. Although Jacqueline’s heavenly voice is flowing around my head on its way to our intern, it sounds remote as if I were sinking underwater. I must have blinked; the sentence, a message to me, has vanished. I once saw a sentence like that written across the dashboard of my car, didn’t I? That one told me that we were fucked. It had shouted silently at me until I tried to peel it off, then it blinked out of existence.

I scoot closer to the desk. My hands coordinate themselves to move the mouse and type on the keyboard so Gmail opens in a new tab. I’ve received a new email from someone named Alberto Portuondo. The subject reads: KNOCK KNOCK.

I’ve heard of plenty of Albertos, but if I ever met one, it must have been at school. Back then I had no choice but to interact unwillingly with thirty or so other students in my classroom, in addition to the rest of the developing humans whose lives collided with me over those grueling years. I couldn’t tell you the name of most of the boys who spent their time staring at the back of some girl’s head, who made eyes at anyone with a pussy so they could get a girl’s attention, who whispered words into some girl’s ear as they moved their hands under her skirt. I remain only distantly aware of the adults who were in a position to take care of me, but I doubt that any of them were looking out for my best interests. My own father, a dark shape in a forest of faces, would pull me up into his lap, stroke my head, and tell me to be brave. I thought that being brave meant suffering more to earn their love, so I acted as brave as I could.

The email body contains a single sentence: Now check your phone, you silly bitch.

I slide my gaze to the mobile phone lying close to my mouse, and as soon as the first photons that bounced off the phone hit my retinas, the device buzzes. An ice cube of dread is melting in my stomach. After I grab the phone, a notification leads me to a new message. Someone who chooses to represent himself as the Linux penguin has sent me a video locked behind a black thumbnail. A down arrow symbol offers me the choice to download its seven point seven megabytes of content.

“No thanks,” I mumble, then I press the download button.

While a loading wheel spins, my heart thumps faster and faster. About ten seconds later, a video fills the phone screen showing an isometric view of a seated woman, filmed as if the camera was mounted on the ceiling behind her right shoulder. The woman is sitting on the same chair that is holding my body, near the desk that supports the workstation that justifies my existence. She’s wearing a dark mauve hoodie with white, frayed drawcords and long sleeves that hide half of her hands, as well as rifle-green cargo pants that look like a hand-me-down from a drug-dealing older brother. I refuse to focus on the woman’s face, but why would I need to, when that stranger has presented herself as me for my entire life as I remain trapped inside her human frame? She’s a cuckoo in a nest of fluffy eggs, a worker drone for the horse-human empire.

The creature in the video is squeezing her thighs together, spellbound by the territory of the desk that Jacqueline claimed for herself, which she embellished with a photo collage, a plastic rose bouquet, a silver pen holder and a leather blotter. The line of four puncture wounds on my past self’s neck, from when I stuck a fork in my flesh, must have scabbed over a couple of days before this video was shot. As the woman breathes deeply, her right hand keeps fiddling with the fabric of her pants next to the fly. She resembles some trailer park loner who’s peeping through a hole in a wooden fence at a sunbathing babe.

The woman on-screen rolls her chair closer to Jacqueline’s domain. She runs her fingertips over a half-empty water bottle that belongs to her coworker, and when she stares at the pineapple-yellow tube of lip balm, a shiver of recognition makes me stop the video and flip my phone. I know against which part of her greasy body my past self was going to rub that cosmetic product.

I feel like a deer who has stumbled into the middle of the road in front of a speeding truck. When I rise to my feet, my legs are trembling. A maniacal laugh rings through my head, like the high-pitched screeching of a murderous harpy.

“You’ve gotten so pale all of a sudden,” Jacqueline says as she looks up at me.

“With all due respects, my queen: have I ever not looked pale as death? It’s safe to assume that I will look sickly for the rest of my life. Anyway, I’ve received a sexual video on my phone, so I’m going to lock myself in a stall and enjoy it in private.”

Jacqueline chuckles, then she twists her lips in a silly smile.

“Alright, baby doll. Have fun.”

Jordi clears his throat.

“And remember to wash your hands afterwards.”

I stride towards the front door of our office while I clutch the mobile phone. When I close the door behind me, I dash down the hallway to the bathroom. Both stalls are vacant. I lock myself in one and I plop down on the toilet seat. Hunched over, I resume the video. The recorded sounds of ragged breaths fill the enclosed space as my past self plants kisses on the surface of Jacqueline’s lip balm. She slides it cap-first into her drooling mouth, and after she closes her eyes, the ruminant motion of her jaw suggests that she’s licking the cap of the tube. I vaguely recall that I imagined myself suckling on any of Jacqueline’s nipples, but instead it looks like I was giving a blowjob to a micropenis.

The woman on-screen shivers. She unbuckles her belt and pulls down her pants, revealing her downy thighs.

I feel a wave of embarrassment and anger at my own crotch. I stop the video, then shove the phone in a pocket. My head spins with dizziness. Why would I want to witness the proof that I violated that innocent lip balm? And I already knew that someone had recorded me as I diddled myself at work, didn’t I? My mind must have blocked it out the same way it allows me to forget, at least for a couple of hours at a time, that I have an expiration date. Why would any random Alberto want to record me masturbating at work? Does he intend to extort money from me?

I stick my head between my knees, I dig my fingers into my scalp, I force air deep into my nostrils. I’m tasting bile. My chest feels like a barrel of toxic waste that’s been dragged through mud and filled with acid.

As my fingers knead my temples, I yearn for the shadow of the goddess of lust to spread over my mind and take up residence inside my cranium. I would feel her thighs squeezing me into a quivering pulp as she mounted the back of my mind. I need to close my eyes and enjoy the delights of an orgasm-by-numbers, a mechanical act. My crotch would clench, my breasts heave, my nipples throb and my toes curl. I would hold my breath and pretend to be a dolphin. Then I’d relax and sink into the sticky pool of orgasmic sensations until I fell asleep.

If any justice remained on this shell-shocked planet, in any of the millions of videos distributed of me pleasuring myself, I’d resemble a creature of myth and legend. Instead of skin I’d be covered in scales, which would be painted red as a raging fire. I’d have pointed ears, gills on my neck and a tail that flicked behind me. I’d inhale the smoke of smoldering wood and breathe out flames. Instead of a bra I’d wear a spiderweb that hung from my breasts. Instead of a heart I’d have a pulsating jellyfish inside my chest that was drowning in a sea of my own blood. My inner thighs would be slick with sweat and shimmering with a shiny sheen. Two pink and dainty protuberances would stick out from my cheeks, ready to satisfy simultaneously two women who would be squirming on their knees, desperate to lick the viscous secretions from my dripping face-cocks. I’d hear the sounds of my flesh sloughing off my bones and into the void as I climbed up cliff walls and fucked every hole and crevice like some monstrous woodpecker. I would be hideous as a blackened sun, and worshipped by a mass of sex-crazed creatures who’d want nothing more than to adore my cold and crackling scales.

My stomach churns, my chest heaves in and out. I retch, but I can’t throw up. The acid that burns my tongue is me, that’s my very flesh roasting from within. A razor-sharp claw stuck in my guts is scratching and scratching, trying to break free by gouging out my entrails.

I can always escape into daydreams. I light up the theater of my mind, where I materialize an octogonal mahogany table, an Edwardian antique that would make a great prop for a murder mystery. I conjure up some velvet curtains that billow gently when the room gets a breath of air. I add a gilt-framed mirror, a chandelier, two thronelike chairs, and a sculpted lamp with ornate shades that look like they were made from King Louis XIV’s ceremonial wigs.

On the tabletop I set up a session of one of my imaginary games, which I named ‘The Game of the Gods: the Tower’. It’s the first and arguably best entry in a trilogy that was continued by ‘The Game of the Gods: the Agony’ and ‘The Game of the Gods: the Fall’. The game’s black box is adorned with a relief that shows three women making love under a crown of roses. The gameboard is made of thick grey board, but regarding the pawns I invested in premium replacements, which are made of jade, green jasper and blood-red agate, all carved from mythical gemstones by a master jeweler. Several sculptures represent the traps that must be arranged on the board, including a heart-shaped maze of thorns, a secluded hideaway guarded by a phoenix that spews fire, a boudoir full of handcuffs, and a cavernous vagina in the shape of a satyr’s penis. The game’s main piece is a figurine of Minerva, the Roman goddess of civilization, strategy, poetry, the crafts and twenty or so other subjects, whose bejeweled crown and rich robes represent wisdom and power. Minerva’s finely carved, white-faced beauty is backed by a silver shield and a shining gold spear.

I place my player pieces on the board. My avatar, an elf queen, wears a metallic lace dress and stands on a mountaintop. Her elaborately braided hair hangs down past her hips, trailing in the wind like a golden mantle. She’s surrounded by a court of warrior princesses, dwarves, a charioteer, a cat-headed lady who’s carrying a pomegranate, and a few stags who sport crowns of oak leaves.

In the solo version, the player decides between fighting to protect their civilization and starting a war of extermination against their enemies, which are controlled by Automa decks. In the multiplayer version, each player must keep taking sips of poisoned wine and wear a mask made of human skin. The masks get glued to their faces, so if they tear them off, they’ll expose the skulls underneath. In the solo game, any player who reveals all of the opponents’ cards triumphs, but in the multiplayer game, if even one player removes their mask, that’s the end of civilization.

I have played this board game a couple hundred times, and I’ve developed a simple, if obtuse strategy for victory: I try not to lose. I play the same strategy for life, and it’s worked out pretty well so far.

Author’s note: shout-out to the YouTube channel named Nemo’s Dreamscapes due to videos like this one, that allow me to remain sane during the many, many hours that takes me to produce any of these chapters. I must also thank the anonymous sentient creatures that upload hours of genuine storm and rain sounds, which I use to shut out the outside world during my train rides and in bed as I’m trying to sleep. I have no clue what I’d do without you.

I’ve also been on a Jackson C. Frank binge recently. I came across this recording from back in 1968, when he hosted a BBC Radio program. He plays fantastic live versions of beloved songs, and even speaks to the audience. I wish that cursed bastard had gotten to do more with his life.

We’re Fucked, Pt. 57 (Fiction)

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 chuckle.

“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.

Jacqueline sighs.

“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.

“I see.”

“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.”

Author’s note: you may as well listen to Anna St. Louis’ ‘The Bells’, Youth Lagoon’s ‘Pelican Man’ and Jackson C. Frank’s ‘Tumble in the Wind’.

Life update (06/08/2022)

Today I ended up getting sent home from work due to the health issues I experienced these past two days. Here’s how it went: yesterday morning I felt like shit at the office, although I can’t recall any concrete details beyond a weariness, mental fog and weird chest sensations. When I got home, I wasted the entire afternoon trying to stay awake. My body felt like it weighed twice as much. As expected, I barely progressed the current scene of my novel (writing is virtually the only thing that matters to me these days, because life in general feels like a ceaseless nightmare). I know what happens if I take a nap in the afternoons: even if I just sleep for an hour, it’s very likely that I will spend the whole night dealing with insomnia. The days when I’ve ended up going to work on zero sleep, or at the most an hour, are fucking harrowing.

Anyway, this morning on the train I found myself unable to concentrate on my reading, so I just closed my eyes and tried to disappear inside my mind by blasting storm sounds through my earbuds. Once I reached the office, I couldn’t muster the strength to look at my coworkers in the eye, and I could barely make sense of what was happening around me. I was experiencing hot and cold flashes. My chest ached, particularly the area of my heart. I wasn’t surprised about any of it, because a week or so ago I deduced that I’m depressed again.

However, as I was talking to a couple of secretaries to handle a ticket (and I was begging in my mind for them to please stop talking to me and let me return to the office), one of them mentioned a rash around my eyes. I looked in a mirror a bit later and I saw something like this (that’s someone else’s photo):

I’m not allergic to anything, nor had I touched or consumed anything in particular. I found the same spots on my neck. I went to the workplace health service, but they were only interested in ruling out whether or not I had covid, so they told me to go home and wait for the call that’ll provide the schedule for the covid test. I ended up receiving the call as I was waiting for the bus. When I got home, my temperature was higher than normal, although not to the level of a fever; however, it wouldn’t surprise me if I always ran a higher than normal temperature as I get back from the hospital complex to my place, given that the experience of venturing through this ruinous society is a feverish ordeal. The test turned out negative, although my symptoms started less than forty-eight hours ago. I don’t consider my symptoms covid related, but what do I know.

Anyway, right now I have no clue if I should go to work tomorrow or not, or if I even can. I called the help service for this whole covid nonsense and they told me to ask my general practitioner (or however it’s called in English), contact the workplace health service (they close at three in the afternoon), or just contact my boss. I wrote my boss an email, but he hasn’t answered.

I don’t know where my depression ends and other health issues begin. I can’t think clearly, and of course the baseline of everything feels meaningless and hopeless. It’s better for my brain if I push myself to go to work; otherwise I may just hide under a blanket and wish I didn’t exist.

We’re Fucked, Pt. 56 (Fiction)

Jacqueline has wrapped her left arm around my waist to guide me along the pavement, towards Ondarreta beach. I wish I could say that a myriad stars twinkle in the cloudless night sky like a shimmering crystal veil over an enchanted realm, but instead the sky has blackened as if it were suffocating in woodsmoke. Above the low wall that prevents boozers and even stupider people from falling into the freezing waters of the Cantabrian Sea, the string of glowing streetlights along the opposite coast of Donostia are projecting hazy, swelling pillars of citrine-yellow light onto the wrinkles of the waves, transmuting the bay into an agitated pool of piss.

The breeze is pushing its atoms of cold through my exposed pores, forcing me to shiver in the grasp of my beloved. I’m exhaling puffs of vaporous breath. Although Jacqueline is keeping me upright, my legs are trembling. When an elderly couple and later a group of teenagers passed us by, I feared that I would trip and faceplant on the pavement, imprinting a bloody smear.

I’m venturing through the barren, boreal interspace between a sweltering, vis-à-vis encounter with my girlfriend and the holy moment in which I will slide under her sheets. I need to kneel and plead to the vaginal vaults of heaven for a blessing upon my wretched self. I hope that it will rain menstrual blood, that I will feel those warm drops running down my face, that all the earthworms will drown. In the end the earth will go dark and silent like in a blackout. I yearn to meet the bottomless blackness that waits outside of time, for a cataclysmic storm to erase my life, rubbing out even the shadows. The only things left to worship in this world will be the glowing spheres of our love-spoilt flesh.

As I narrow my eyes to shield them against the headlights of an incoming car, Jacqueline leans in to whisper in my ear.

“Leire, you are shaken up by something. And don’t pretend it’s about the cold.”

“I’m having a fit of despair,” I blurt out in a hoarse voice.

Jacqueline stops walking, which causes me to stumble. I’m about to dismiss my comment with an exaggerated gesture when she unlinks her arm from my waist, grabs my hand and pulls me towards the long stretch of public gardens that run along the beachfront, dragging me at her pace as if I were her pet. Gravel crunches under our shoes as we walk past a sculpture that resembles three upright, five-meters-tall rolled-up newspapers shoved into the ground.

Jacqueline stops us next to one of the scattered benches with a view of the sea. Distanced from the closest streetlight, the grass and trees from the adjoined garden have been drained of colors, giving way to a shadowy monochrome world, lifeless as the inside of a grave. A gust of cold air whistles between the branches of a nearby tree, and sends leaves scampering around like a squad of tumbling pawns. In summer, this spot would make for a suitable trysting place to indulge in some lewd act or another.

The backpack’s weight is pulling down on my shoulder. I figure that we will stick around for a while, so I take the backpack off and drop it onto the bench. When I dare to lift my gaze, I expected to face Jacqueline’s annoyance, but she’s scrutinizing my expression with the fathomless affection of a mother for her child.

“So the sexual videos of those other women didn’t bother you that much,” Jacqueline says. “What is it, then?”

I avert my gaze. Jacqueline runs her fingers along my jawline, then she turns my head towards her.

“Are you having suicidal thoughts again?” she asks with a tremor in her voice.

“Ah, you know I’ve tried to kill myself before… W-well, not more of those thoughts than usual, I don’t think. I’ve always been terrified of that abyss, and of the darkness that it wants to drag me into.”

Jacqueline takes a deep breath. She cups the back of my head and rests her forehead against mine. Our lips touch each other, but I restrain myself from sucking on hers or even letting my tongue wander out of my mouth, in case she shuts me down.

“I won’t let you fall in,” Jacqueline says.

My chest trembles. A rush of warmth behind my eyes forces me to take a labored breath.

“The truth is, Jacqueline, that if I were to fall in, not even you would be able to prevent it.”

She tightens the grip on my nape.

“We’ll see about that. Now tell me what you’ve been dying to share for the whole afternoon, you idiot.”

Although her hot breath is tickling my lips, my spine keeps shivering. I’m growing numb. My tongue feels as heavy and paralyzed as an anchor stuck in the muck of a deep-sea trench. I hear the low, ruminating murmur of the waves against the shore, as well as the ticking of time’s clockwork winding down my life.

I should remain obnoxiously quiet and wait for Jacqueline to grow bored of my personal pains, but I’m sick of worrying her.

“I-I used to watch my parents commit slow suicide day after day. They lived without a shred of passion or compassion as they drowned in mediocrity.”

Jacqueline pats my nape.

“Oh Leire,” she coos. “I meant about what’s going on with you now.”

My teeth are chattering, my lungs filling up with cold air.

“M-my hometown has become unrecognizable. Someone has stolen my door handle, and now my living room window is broken.”

Jacqueline pulls back and grabs my shoulders. I had never seen her this outraged.

“Holy shit, someone broke into your house? What did they steal?”

“Maybe I’m misrepresenting the situation,” I mumble. “Someone did steal the door handle of my apartment building. The culprit was likely a fiend, some insane monster, a vile child murderer who just appeared in town as if summoned by the most malevolent sorcerer of the nine hells, or maybe by a rabid dog. He stole our door handle to sneak inside and inflict unspeakable evils on us.”

“Okay, Leire, calm down. But your living room window broke, right? Did someone throw a stone at it? Some drunk asshole maybe?”

My legs are trembling like the tectonic plates of a fractured planet, my heart is leaping wilder than a rabbit on cocaine.

“I-I mean, I saw who broke it, but it… couldn’t have happened that way.”

Jacqueline furrows her brow and turns her head slightly.

“You mean that maybe you were the one who broke it, during a peculiar state of mind perhaps?”

I let out a pained groan and bury my face in my hands.

“I don’t know, Jacqueline. That would have made sense, but if I faced the proof that I’ve lost my mind to that extent, I don’t know how I would be able to continue living. That wasn’t what I saw. I didn’t headbutt that damn window.”

I flinch at the sound of a passing car, then at the feeling of warm hands closing around mine. Jacqueline lowers my arms so she can look into my eyes. The breeze is making her raven-black locks flap around her neck like a bird trying to escape its cage.

“Tell me who did it then,” she orders me calmly.

My lungs have been vacuumed out; my body forces me to take in a big gulp of air, inviting the stink of burnt gunpowder. A wind is sweeping through the cracks of my mind. Jacqueline as well as the ruthless world that surrounds her go blurry, then two hot tears roll down my cheeks.

“It w-was a h-h-horse. A h-horse who had failed to kill himself with a murdering implement, so he headbutted the window, shattering it. Then he threw himself out the same way some filthy smoker would discard a cigarette butt.”

Jacqueline softens her expression. She reaches to wipe my tears away.

“I-I told the honest truth,” I say in a desperate tone. “That’s how insane I’ve become.”

Jacqueline sighs and nods in resignation, as if I shared that our preferred vending machine at work had doubled its prices overnight.

“The world is a strange place, far stranger than I would have considered years ago. So maybe a horse did break your window.”


“You had been strangely fixated on horses recently. How did that animal end up in your apartment, then? Tell me about it.”

I let out a painful laugh, which causes more tears to leap from my eyes.

“It was just a run-of-the-mill, worthless horse. But he was my friend. I once saved him from a slaughterhouse; I carried him on my back when I rescued him, and for many years I helped him regain his dignity. He has ceased to matter, though, because he’s dead. We shouldn’t be talking about him or even remembering him. Being a horse is a way of life, Jacqueline. Sometimes I’ve thought about becoming a horse myself. You would prefer to die as a horse, wouldn’t you? Your demise would be more honorable than a human’s. But the world is better off not being filled with horses. Besides, I’d better die in obscurity rather than become a beast that has to put up with people like me.”

“Oh, honey,” Jacqueline murmurs as she strokes my hair. “You’re much too hard on yourself. You know I’d prefer for you to live as long as you can, don’t you? You’ve become precious to me in so many ways.”

“There’s no other way to deal with the world but with utter hopelessness and disdain for your fellow humans.”

Jacqueline presses her index finger against my lips, as if to suggest I should shut up.

“I guess you haven’t called anyone to fix the window, have you? I’d hate to lose you for another night, but maybe you’d feel better if you spent it at your apartment? I wouldn’t be comfortable sleeping away from home if one of my windows was broken.”

“No!” I cry out in horror.

Jacqueline flinches and steps back. Her lovely features, that would bring joy to anyone’s heart, suggested for moment that she was facing a battle against a hellhound.

I press my hands together as an apologetic gesture.

“I didn’t mean to… I want to stay away from my apartment!” I cry. “That dreary ruin has long become a fetish room for my sick delusions. I’ve rolled down the shutters anyway, so nobody will even notice that the window is broken. My living room will turn into a fridge and my board games will freeze, but I have only played a third of them.” I grab onto Jacqueline’s arms and I step closer. “Believe me, there’s nothing I’d rather do now than to go to your apartment, get naked and jump into your bed so you can order me what to do. Those are the only times when I’ve ever felt free, when I can forget for a while that I’m forced to exist among horrifying monsters. I’ve been dreaming for decades, Jacqueline, but nothing ever changed. I’m sick, I’ve been sick for as long as I can remember, of living in terror. Maybe… Maybe others should fear me instead.”

Jacqueline places a kiss on my forehead, then she wraps me in a tight embrace, snuggling her cheek against mine. Her body heat envelops me. I clutch the back of her suede trench coat like a drowning woman would cling to a floating log.

“You are a creation of flesh and blood that has the right to love,” she whispers in my ear. “You don’t need to be a monster to be a person.”

I bury my face in her neck and choke back a sob. When I finally pull away, her turtleneck must have absorbed plenty of my tears and snot.

“P-please, Jacqueline, give me your purse and close your eyes until I tell you to open them,” I say in a hoarse voice.

My request confuses her, but she slides the strap of her purse off her shoulder and gives it to me. She closes her eyes and stands there as if expecting a present.

I open the purse. As I reach inside my jacket, I look around warily. The few human-shaped silhouettes framed against the distant, darkened bulk of the island are busy strolling along the beachfront.

I pull out Spike’s revolver and put it in Jacqueline’s purse, on top of her wallet, her keys and some paper handkerchiefs.

Author’s note: thus concludes the sequence I’ll refer to at this moment as ‘Leire’s Got a Gun’, that has taken me fifteen days to write. According to the 11,793 words of notes left to render into coherent scenes, things are going to get far weirder from here.

Spike headbutted Leire’s living room window back in chapter 51.

Anyway, it’s six o’clock in the afternoon on a Sunday, which means that the day is almost over; I go to bed at ten to wake up at six for work. I’ve spent this weekend writing, lifting weights, shedding tears and masturbating, so I’m fully prepared to face a series of five new workdays filled with meaningless drudgery and unknown horrors.

We’re Fucked, Pt. 55 (Fiction)

My gaze traces the vermillion border where Jacqueline’s pearly-white skin meets the rounded, jasper-red vermillion zone of her lips, but I wish I could close my eyes and chart with my own thin skin those millimetric grooves and wrinkles. Her mouth opens, exposing that sultry cave to the evening chill. It’s a forbidden, slippery topography that could swallow me up with ease. As the lips part, they unveil two shiny frontal incisors, cast like premium tokens for a beloved board game, as well as the saliva pooled in the basin between the dorsal surfaces of her watermelon-pink tongue.

From the bottom of the frame rises a roughly cubical potato chunk, its yellow-ochre skin crispy and smeared with a swath of alioli sauce. I’d like to have you inside me, Jacqueline thinks to the potato chunk. She guides the fork towards her mouth, and when her lips slide over the chunk to enfold it, they get coated in a greasy sheen and spotted with flecks of paprika. Those two voluminous, glossy surfaces curve around each other as she purses them to rip the potato away from the fork. She bites into the chunk, cracking its skin to expose a bright layer of flesh. Her cheeks dimple while she chews. A yellow-ochre dribble runs down from the corners of her mouth to meet at her chin, where they entwine into a long, oily strand. I want to reach with my stretched fingers to scoop the mixture up. I’d let that elongating strand hang down from my palm like an elastic stalactite, so it would trickle slowly onto my face and the warmth of Jacqueline’s saliva would seep through my pores.

She lets out a juicy grunt as her throat swells and the mashed potato slides down the cozy tube of her esophagus. Her tongue riffles along her teeth, dips and weaves its way across her lips, and swabs at the corners of her mouth. Her cheeks are flushed with a mix of crimson and coral, her cobalt-blues are glazed with potato lust. She has swallowed a secret message, one that reveals that she has become more than human and that the world of pleasure is at her doorstep.

As a child I dreamt that Jacqueline would offer me a bite of such a spiced, fried, tumefied tuber. That fantasy had fueled many an evening of masturbation, but now my memory fails to conjure up how my lips would feel on that flesh, creamy like the supple lips of an oyster.

“I’d like to have you inside me,” I mumble.

Jacqueline’s eyelashes flutter. When she exhales my way, her hot breath is tinged with the scent of garlic and pepper.

“What did you say? You better stop focusing on my mouth so much,” Jacqueline says in a voice that suggests that I should keep focusing on her mouth, “or else I’ll snarf through the rest of the potatoes before you know it. Was your stomach gurgling for nothing?”

I’ve gulped down my latte to combat the growing chill of the evening. The setting sun’s fire has dyed the sky a scarlet shade, turning the clouds into a fiery display of crimson and gold. On the opposite side of the chain link fence, the remaining tennis players, two middle-aged men that look like they own a collection of suits and spend their mornings shouting into phones, along with two dwarf-sized children, are engaged in a doubles match. One of the kids, whose face has the shape of a pizza, waddles towards the net as the racket wobbles in his right hand, to volley the descending ball. However, it whizzes past the kid and strikes the ground with a dull thud.

The world’s babble gets drowned out by a deep grumble coming from my stomach. The potato lover in me is screaming to go for a bite. I want to drown in a tidal wave of potatoes and alioli sauce, so that I’ll be able to forget the pangs of despair that are stabbing my insides.

I jab a chunk, but as I hold it to the evening light, it has transformed into a satanic totem, an offering to be consumed by some demon. I shove the food into my mouth and I gnaw on it in an effort to masticate my anxiety. The chunk’s skin is crisp and slightly charred, its insides are meaty and unctuous. I devour my fourth potato in one minute.

“My mouth is burning,” I say with a strained voice, “and I’d really like to have you inside me.”

My girlfriend laughs.

“But, Jacqueline…” I continue timidly.

Jacqueline has rested her right elbow next to her coffee cup and leaned her head on that hand. Her kindly expression suggests she had been waiting for me to gather enough courage to open up.

“Yes, baby girl?” she asks in a mellifluous voice.

“About your external hard drive…”

Jacqueline perks up.

“Ah, did you forget it at home? Is that why you are so tense?”

I pat the top of my backpack, that is resting against one of the rear legs of my chair.

“No, I got it right here.”

She sighs in relief.

“To be honest, I would have been a bit annoyed if you had forgotten it, because I’ve wanted to revisit some of those videos. But even if you had forgotten to grab it, we can make new ones, right? At least a couple more tonight.”

“I hope so. But I meant to bring up that… ‘Misc’ folder.”

A roguish smile of recognition lights up Jacqueline’s face. She starts twirling her fork around in her fingers.

“Yeah? What about it?”

“Well,” I say, trying to keep the tension out of my voice, “why did you include the videos of other women masturbating?”

“Oh.” Jacqueline snickers. “Partly so they would make you horny. Those ladies were delicious, weren’t they?”

She said it in the same tone I would have praised gummy bears as a kid. I want to bring up that she filmed those strangers in her apartment, that they doused with their girly juices the same fabrics that kept me warm at night, but as I try to push some words together into an objection, the words congeal into a thick clot of panic. I give up and let the air out through my mouth.

“That was me also opening up to you,” Jacqueline adds. “Are you troubled because you rubbed your sensitive little button to someone other than your girlfriend?”

My shoulders have drooped. I have to make an effort to remain upright in my seat, and it feels unfair that Jacqueline is demanding that I spend my limited energies talking.

“I don’t know, Jacqueline,” I say in a weary voice. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel.”

A tennis ball rattles the nearby chain link fence, then it rolls back into the court. I take a sip of my tepid latte. Jacqueline grabs a potato chunk with her thumb and index finger. She rotates the potato as if inspecting whether or not it deserves to get shoved into her mouth.

“You aren’t supposed to feel in any particular way, baby,” she says in a calm, motherly tone. “People don’t experience the feelings that they are expected to or would prefer to have; they feel whatever chemical mix their brain produces. They sometimes pretend otherwise to fit into someone else’s idea of how a human being should feel.”

She slathers alioli sauce from the plate on the potato chunk, smearing it too on her nails and fingertips. The chunk has transformed into a savory weapon.

“Does it bother you that those videos made you horny while you were struggling with other feelings?” Jacqueline asks as she shoots me a sideways look.

What little remains of warmth on this October evening is evaporating into a bitter chill.

“I don’t think I want to know that far more attractive women than me have lain in the same bed where you and I have made love. I want you all to myself. I wish you had always been mine, and me yours. But yes, those videos made me feel guilty because I couldn’t stop myself from abusing my genitals to them.”

Jacqueline breaks into a gentle laugh, and when that melody stops, her satisfied smile suggests that I have overcome some hurdle.

“That’s what I want, your authentic self, full of contradictions and confusions. Some poor fools spend their whole lives repressing themselves, even in the solitude of their own minds, just to please cowards who have wasted their existence straitjacketed. Isn’t that a shame?”

I shift my weight in the chair.

“Apart from my feelings, whatever passes for sentient thought in my rotting brain fails to understand the purpose of presenting those past lovers of yours to me.”

Jacqueline chuckles, then she stares down at the piece of potato she’s holding, as if she expected it to start talking.

“They aren’t my lovers, at least in the strict sense.”

“Huh? Just business partners then?”

“Yes, something like that.”

“I know for a fact that you mix business and pleasure. So do I, for that matter.”

Jacqueline squares her shoulders and holds my gaze steadily with her cobalt-blues.

“I promise you, sweetie, that this mouth you see, and that you were previously salivating over, has never kissed any of those ladies, nor has this skin felt theirs.”

My muscles loosen up.

“You may have found your vocation in the porn industry, then. I haven’t seen you this serious about anything else.”

“I would respect anything that brought me so much dough.”

Jacqueline scoots her chair closer to me, then she guides the potato chunk through the air until it waits in front of my lips like a car at a toll booth. I inhale its spicy, smoky scent.

“Open up, baby,” she says as her smile broadens.

I want to be stuffed so hard with potatoes that my blood turns into potatoes. When I part my lips, Jacqueline pops the potato chunk into my mouth, which gets filled with the taste of salt, oil and garlic, and a hint of lemon. My tongue relishes the rough texture of crisp skin.

“Good girl,” Jacqueline adds huskily. “I’m curious to know, though, which among my starlets was your favorite.”

After she lowers her gaze to my mouth, she slides her lower lip against her two maxillary central incisors in a way that makes me want to swallow before I’ve finished chewing the potato chunk.

“I was partial to that redheaded… girl,” I mumble sheepishly.

Jacqueline’s eyebrows shoot up, and she beams like I just praised one of her proudest accomplishments.

“She’s really something, isn’t she? A legend in certain circles. Unfortunately, hers is not a look that can be exploited for long before strangers on the internet start getting nosy.”

My stomach acid has started dissolving the bolus of tuber when I attempt to understand Jacqueline’s words, but a searing memory flashes in my mind: that sylphlike, freckle-spattered girl lying in a pool of cum, her burgundy mane blotched and her frozen grimace of agony concealed by a daisy-white crust.

A cold shiver runs down my spine. I rub my face with both hands to regain my composure.

“May she rest in peace,” I utter gravely.

Jacqueline lets out an unusual noise of confusion.

“What do you mean? She’s alive and well.”

I shake my head slowly. I won’t clarify any of the horrors burned into my brain, lest I traumatize my beloved. Anyway, I’m a wilted violet; I can’t be expected to make sense.

“Hey,” Jacqueline says calmly.

When I look up, she’s holding the index finger and thumb of her right hand in a pinching motion in front of my mouth. Those fingertips, as well as her short, almond-shaped nails, are smeared with sauce. Jacqueline’s cobalt-blues twinkle like a naughty schoolgirl’s.

“Clean them up for me, sweetheart.”

Despite the growing cold, my cheeks puff up with heat. I close my eyes and I lean in to house her fingers within my warm mouth. I lap and swirl my tongue around her fingertips and the edges of her nails, spreading the alioli sauce on my tastebuds.

My mind draws in its darkened theatre the outline of nearby seated patrons by the babel of their conversations. A child lets out an enthusiastic vocalization, and someone follows it with the whap of a tennis racket hitting a ball. A blaring motorcycle passes by the entrance of the pub’s grounds.

I want to taste more and more of Jacqueline; she’s bread and water for my starving body. But she must have noticed that I’ve removed every trace of the oily coating, because she withdraws her two fingers from my mouth, scratching lightly the surface of my tongue with her nail on the way out.

When I open my eyes, Jacqueline’s gaze threatens to drown me. I’ve learned to recognize her two moods; as she ordered me to suck on her fingers, she was a house cat that alternates between playfulness and carefree lounging, but now she has become a relentless predator aching to pounce on her prey to rip a juicy throat out. She breathes deeply through her teeth while her moist lips quiver. As she narrows her shoulders, overcome by some swell of emotion, a thick lock of her lustrous, raven-black hair bends against the turtleneck of her blouse. My skin erupts with gooseflesh.

“I missed you so much last night,” Jacqueline says, lowering her voice to a husky whisper. “But tonight I’ll have you back in my bed, won’t I? And that bottomless hunger of yours will devour me until I can’t walk anymore.”

I nod fervently as my crotch warms up with sticky, creamy desire. Once again Jacqueline will allow me to gnaw on her flesh with the vigor of a desert locust. I’ll provide the most sensitive patches of her skin a feverish tongue-bath. Unfortunately, this pub is populated with families that would be disturbed by the sight of a couple of women openly indulging in sex on top of this rickety table, although some of the men would likely offer the two of us free drinks.

“I’ll choke on your saliva as your hot tongue rambles around my own,” I say between gasps of air, “I’ll lick your tits wet and shiny, I’ll kiss and nibble on your nipples, I’ll bury my face in your pussy until I suck up your juices to the last drop. Just tell me when and where I should drop to my knees. I exist to pleasure you.”

Jacqueline chuckles throatily as her lips curl into a smile that would make any hardened criminal fear the end of the world. She lowers her head to stare at me through her eyelashes with an air of bloodthirsty divinity. Her pupils have become wide-open tunnels to the bottom of an ocean.

“Alright, you may have your wish. It’s going to be my treat to take you away from this stressful life of yours. You’re all mine now, and I won’t let you ever forget it. But I’m afraid that your behavior needs some polishing.”

My heart is thundering in my chest, and the needy pressure in my clit is increasing uncontrollably.

“Maybe you need to try harsher methods, mommy,” I utter in a rough voice. “Spank me with a tennis racket. Carve my flesh with a rusty knife. Chain me to your bed using high security combination locks with codes that you’ve long forgotten. Make me disappear from the world. I want to shit in a bucket for the rest of my life.”

Jacqueline rests her elbows on the table, pushing her coffee mug towards the remaining potatoes, and she shuts her eyes tight. A bead of saliva grows at a corner of her mouth until she dabs at it with the tip of her tongue. When she holds my gaze again, her cobalt-blues have become pools of burning lust.

“Baby,” she starts hoarsely, “you are such a good girl that I regret having asked you to spend the afternoon anywhere else than at my place.”

“Nothing will prevent me from ending up naked at your mercy tonight, Jacqueline. You are the only person who has ever made me feel like I’m human.”

Jacqueline stands up forcefully, nearly toppling over her chair.

“Fuck the rest of the potatoes. Let’s leave.”

I leap to my feet. I lift my bulky backpack and I sling it over my left shoulder. Jacqueline is rubbing her cheeks with one hand as if to hide the traces of her frenzy. She retrieves her purse and clicks the clasp to open it, then she takes out her wallet. I hurry to fish mine from whatever pocket of my trousers I shoved it in. Under such pressure, carrying a purse would have helped me, but I’ve never been a fan of them; I fear that I would lose it, that some fiend would snatch it, or that I would leave incriminating evidence inside that would lead me to prison.

“Wait, I can pay for this one,” I say.

Jacqueline raises my chin with her thumb, and her gaze shuts me up.

“You will never have to worry about money with me, doll. You’ll repay me by letting me do to you whatever I want.”

Author’s note: as I wrote most of this chapter (and the following) these past couple of days, I mostly listened to compilations like this one on YouTube, which are helpful if you want to feel like you are writing at an empty coffee shop during the thirties/forties while it’s raining outside. But throughout this past week, on the train to and from work, I listened to Jackson C. Frank’s stuff. Songs like ‘Blues Run the Game’‘Milk & Honey’‘October’ and, of course, ‘Marlene’. He was maybe the cursed songwriter of the sixties.

Jacqueline’s infamous external hard drive and its contents were developed back in chapter 45.

As it has happened before, I originally believed that this part and the following one would fit into the same chapter, but I eventually decided to divide it. I’ve already written about two thousand words of the next part, that will conclude this sequence, so I’ll likely be able to upload it in a couple of days.

Life update (06/02/2022)

This last Sunday I failed to write a single word of my ongoing novel. After a while I gave up and spent the rest of that day playing a board game. I also failed to write on Monday, then again on Tuesday. Although I started my current contract, which will last until October, merely three weeks ago, I’m struggling with the exhaustion and dizziness that ten hours or so a day of surrounding myself with sentient creatures causes to my broken brain.

I’m someone whose instincts and particular neurological configuration require him to spend as much time as possible alone in a quiet room, but I have to wake up at six in the morning, plough through my ruined town to the train station, sit among dozens of commuters, then take a bus and stand among dozens of commuters so I can reach the hospital complex where I work at. Usually by the time I get to the office I’m already overwhelmed. I don’t drive (can’t drive, actually), so I have no choice but to take the public transport.

I usually read on the train, but for two days I had given up on doing so, and instead I closed my eyes and listened through my earbuds to a MP3 (ripped from YouTube) of a torrential storm while I tried to lose myself in daydreams. It didn’t help that recently I had been struggling to get through a collection of stories by David Foster Wallace, that involved sifting through innumerable details and getting little enjoyment, but I didn’t feel like reading anything else either.

This week started with me suffering another migraine; at about nine in the morning on Monday I experienced the common symptom of losing sight in my left eye and becoming increasingly unable to understand whatever I needed to read for my job. Thankfully I always carry some ibuprofen with me, but I still struggled through the visual disturbance (a floating multicolored rod in the left side of my vision) for half an hour, and the resulting headache lasted a couple of days as a throbbing discomfort in the right side of my brain. Whenever I endure a migraine, afterwards I get the feeling that I’ve become a bit dumber. Apparently migraines can also “increase the risk of stroke, coronary events, and other related death by roughly 50%”, so that’s some wonderful stuff to look forward to.

I didn’t want to give up on the current scene of my novel for a fourth day, but yesterday I only managed to progress three or four sentences. However, I struggled so much to put them together that I considered the effort a success, so I gave myself a break and moved on to play another scenario of my ongoing Arkham Horror campaign. I had only finished setting up all the moving pieces and drawing the initial hand for my lead investigator when I felt like I was facing the prospect of clambering up a mountain slope. I wasn’t feeling any enthusiasm, let alone joy. I suddenly understood the whole picture of my recent symptoms (persistent brain fog, increased difficulty interacting with people even to the restrained level that I force myself to, lethargy that made me feel like I was dragging my body around, crushing exhaustion, constant irritability, a dull ache in my chest, ghost-like cold flashes): I must be depressed.

These periods, whenever they get serious, may last a few weeks during which I can do little else than sit tight in my head and get used to the dark. Back when I was blissfully unemployed, I could have just hidden under a blanket and tried to convince myself that I had successfully disappeared from reality, but today I had no choice but to wake up before sunrise and try to prepare myself mentally to endure through another meaningless workday.

Yesterday, at about half past one in the afternoon, I had donned my lab coat and headed to solve someone’s problem (I can’t recall what was that particular issue, but I retain very little of what I do, to the extent that I don’t remember the circumstances that led me to write the notes I rely on to solve many recurrent problems; I’m quite sure that life-long depression is linked to memory loss). Anyway, I was waiting for the elevator when someone asks me, loudly, “what’s the matter, Jon?” from nearly the other end of that long hospital hallway. It was our secretary, whom I suspect had been standing there for a while looking at me as these nasty humans do, waiting for the other person to notice them and acknowledge their existence.

I have no idea what I was doing at that moment that prompted the look of concern in that woman, but I had believed myself to be isolated from anyone who knows me, so I had dropped my hypervigilance. My body may have been busy with the stuff it does when I lose focus: idling in circles like the autistic spaz that I am, grimacing and rubbing my face to dispel whatever flashback to a past trauma with which my brain assailed me, or who knows what else. Although I was wearing a mask (I’m forced to breathe in my CO2 throughout most of the workday), I must have looked troubled (or troubling) enough, given that the secretary went out of her way to voice her concern.

Anyway, I dismissed her nosiness with some measured response, then I got on the elevator. When I returned to the office fifteen or so minutes later, she eyed me as if she intended to bring it up, but I ignored her and walked past. Thankfully she must have gotten the right idea, because this morning she greeted me normally.

Sometimes I feel some coworker’s gaze on me, and I can tell that they are expecting me to look up and acknowledge them, usually to hear them say “what’s up” or make some pointless comment. I guess that most human beings want others to pay attention to them even just to find some semblance of moral support to whatever minor issue they are dealing with (am I doing that now, although I feel like I’m just writing to order my thoughts?), or just because they are bored. However, whenever anyone demands my attention through insistent staring, I’m tempted to snap at them, ask them what the fuck do they want, and tell them to leave me alone. I’m the kind of person that in some previous century would have been employed at an isolated lighthouse (hopefully one unrelated to Robert Eggers), where I’d do little else than daydream, masturbate and go insane. I really can’t handle people. I’m only willing to interact with them in a controlled environment (online messages, mostly), but being physically in their presence makes my skin crawl and forces me into a state of constant alertness and anxiety.

In summary, I’m not doing good at the moment. I want to go to sleep for a long, long time.