I rest my forehead on the windowpane, that barely insulates the office from the cold of this November sunset. My breath fogs the glass. Our star is a cream pie on which someone has landed ass-first, splashing its pinkish-orange filling all over the sky. The fat storm clouds that drift by are dyed the color of dried blood; mixed with the charcoal-black of the clouds themselves, they resemble stains on the clothes of plague victims.
As sound waves pour from the speaker of my cellphone down my ear canal, I close my eyes and rely on my echolocation to render the scene that’s taking place at home: Jacqueline, my queenly beloved, is explaining the purpose of a cellphone to our adopted daughter Nairu, who contributes high-pitched vocalizations of nonsense syllables, sounding more like a fairy than a human child. The forms of the two females, sculpted in obsidian, stand on the carpet of that remote living room, framed against the shapes in relief of the cabinet and the widescreen TV.
My chest feels hollowed out with longing. I’m craving something sweet, warm and moist. I wish I were lounging on the sofa with my girlfriend and our Nairu, but the clock is ticking on the evening hours, and I need to progress my programming tasks for this job that sucks the joy and wonder out of my life.
Through the phone’s speaker comes a rustle, followed by Jacqueline’s sultry voice. Her full lips must be brushing the plasticky surface of her phone, spattering it, blessing it, with microscopic particles of saliva.
“I won’t get Nairu to understand the concept of a phone today, but she misses her other mommy. That’s what I wanted her to convey to you, sweetie.”
I’m touched by my girlfriend’s attempt to comfort and cheer me up, but am I capable of tending to a child’s needs to the extent that she would appreciate me as a mother? Thankfully, Nairu would become a functional adult even if she grew up as a stray; the Ice Age gifted us an Asian kid tempered in the boreal cold, who survived her skirmishes against an ensemble of Paleolithic megafauna. Grade A material.
My voice comes out in a croak, as if a lump was blocking my throat. I swallow hard to dislodge it.
“She must have been cuddling with you all afternoon, so she has likely forgotten that I exist.”
Jacqueline giggles. Nairu was babbling in the background when a flash startles me. A porcelain-white vine of lightning, twisted and barbed, has streaked through the thick belly of a storm cloud, burning its image into that gray slug filled with rain. The electric crackle sends a shiver down my spine, then a shudder forces me to narrow my shoulders. I imagine myself as a critter caught outside during a storm in the tropics: a tree snail clinging onto a mangrove to weather nature’s wrath.
“Eide?” Nairu asks over the phone.
She remembers me! Her worried voice sounded like a cat meowing at a screen that shows her missing owner.
“Help me, Nairu! I’m trapped in this futuristic device!”
Jacqueline’s laugh comes through like a bell pealing over the hilltops. Nairu’s high-pitched voice dwindles to a murmur; I picture my beloved holding the phone to her own ear with one hand while her other strokes the child’s Paleolithic hair.
“I’m sure she fears that you may get attacked by any of the monsters she encountered in the Ice Age, yet you go and tease her. If anything like that would happen, you’d be a goner, little missy. They would consider you a delicious breakfast buffet, the tastiest and nuttiest prey in their hunting ground. So do I, for that matter.”
“Those beasts weren’t monsters, though. Just misunderstood.”
“Even so, the trick is to survive. Fortunately, Nairu’s tummy is full. No danger that she might starve to death. And like you suspect, we have been cuddling all afternoon. She has also discovered the wonders of animated movies. A Pixar one, we got it paused now.”
Despite the distance between us, Jacqueline sounded so snug, like a fur pelt draped over my shoulders, that I can picture myself pressed up against her on the sofa, instead of standing in this brightly-lit, air-conditioned office as I gaze out past the reflection of my computer screen at the thickening gloom of the twilight. Those storm clouds resemble an avalanche of dirty snow sliding across the sky in slow motion.
“Our adopted nugget may be considered insane by today’s standards,” I say, “but she can still enjoy the visual feast presented by 3D environments and characters on a widescreen television. Glad you’re keeping her fed and warm in that glass-encased bubble while I risk my life in this forest of cement and metal. In any case, which Pixar movie were you watching? I hope you chose one of the classics, instead of the turds they’ve been pushing out since they got gobbled up by that demonic mouse, a slobbering beast that has hijacked children’s imagination.”
Jacqueline’s response drowns in a thunderclap like a cannon shot, one that ripples through my body. My arms tense up, my toes curl in my socks and shoes. Above the flat roof of the opposite building, whose silhouette resembles a tombstone, I glimpse the afterimage of the lightning bolt. A drifting cloud has unveiled the moon and its silvery haze: a thinning scab on a bruised sky.
“Did you hear the thunder, Jacqueline?” I ask in a rough voice.
“Poor thing, you must feel like I called from another dimension. I’m just a ten minute drive away from you. But yes, a thunderstorm is rolling in, honey. It may turn nasty soon.”
The part of me that retains a percentage of genes from a dog, procured by some freaky ancestor of mine, wants to yank open the window and stick my head out, so I can bathe my face in cold air that must smell of rain. Being trapped in this dead office instead of spending the evening with Jacqueline and our girl makes me long for an earthquake or flood to strike, for me to see the streets choked with mud, and cars crushed under heaps of debris.
I rub my eyes and take a deep breath to scrub from my mind the yearning for another cataclysm, one that would leave this planet exposed to the starlight.
“A-anyway, what movie did you pick, my statuesque queen of love and lust?”
“Toy Story, dear.”
“Ah, the classic tale involving a murderous cowboy and a clueless space marine. An original, daring narrative that wouldn’t get produced in today’s industry. The 3D humans in that one would traumatize me even now, but… has Nairu ever seen a toy in person?”
“Well, they carved figurines out of wood, right? The Ice Age peoples, I mean.”
“Nairu contradicts some basic assumptions about a child’s knowledge that would make the movie work. When we buy her toys, won’t she assume that they’ll spark to life the moment she looks away, even though they’re made of plastic or some other non-biological material?”
“That may be the case, but wouldn’t it make her world more magical and wondrous?”
“Or sordid and disturbing. I wouldn’t have wanted my toys to know what I did in the privacy of my bedroom. Particularly the stuffed triceratops with the yellow plaid bowtie, who stared blankly at me while I lay in bed with my panties around my ankles, trying to achieve the perfect orgasm. What if the dinosaurs talked to each other? ‘Hey, did you catch sight of the human doing it to herself?’ I would have felt like a pervert.”
Jacqueline must have pulled the phone away from her mouth to muffle a laugh. When she speaks again, her giggle-like tone warms everything within its reach, like the heat emanating from the belly of a giant furnace.
“You should have locked up the stuffie, locked him away and kept your shameful secret a secret. Anyway, I promise you that Nairu loved the spectacle on screen; she gaped and gaped at the talking toys. So focus on what truly matters, my girl: plenty of love is flooding from both of our hearts towards the tiny sweetie that you took out of the ice.”
I nod at Jacqueline’s distant presence, although I’m picturing her assemblage of dildos and vibrators doddering around in her wardrobe like stoic, limbless soldiers, leaving trails of lubricants with each stump-step. They clamber over the piles of external hard drives that store hundreds of gigabytes’ worth of our lovemaking sessions, as well as of the fabled girls that Jacqueline employed to build her porn empire. I imagine myself sitting at the edge of mommy’s bed, facing my reflection in the mirrored wardrobe as her dildoes and vibrators knock and knock on the inside of the door, vying for the privilege of joining me in a muggy session of self-worship. They are calling to me with dollish voices meant to sound melodic: “Hello, Jacqueline’s cummer! Do you need assistance? We are here to serve your needs, little lady!” My own voice interferes: “Come on, motherfucking dildos and dongs, let me get inside this stinking sack of skin so I can taste my own flesh, so I can be submerged in a sea of pleasure, so I can feel something besides the excruciating pressure of my brain against my skull. To hell with you dicks. The last thing I need is a swarm of cocks and pricks crowding my crotch!”
I shudder, then bite my lower lip to keep from giggling, or crying out in distress.
Lightning zigzags along the night sky, and as its glare whitens the windowpanes, I’m left with the afterimage of a black blot suspended in the air between the glass and the opposite office building. A vulture-sized bug? The blot is accompanied by the blurry images of the long desk, the three chairs and the rectangular glow of my monitor. As the booming rumble of thunder sweeps through the business park, a realization prickles the hairs on my nape: I glimpsed a reflection. Or maybe the blot is me.
I look over my shoulder. At the other end of the office, on the lily-white wall, a tar-black stain is growing like ink bleeding into paper, like oil leaking from a deep puncture hole.
Lightning-lizards lurk outside, spreading out their glow into the room while jagged hairline cracks hover in front of me, superposed to the vision of the office and its flickering ceiling-mounted lamps, as if I were encased in scratched glass. My nostrils fill with the odour of burnt ozone.
A crackle of thunder reverberates through my bones and makes my blood surge hotly toward my groin. The hairline cracks have vanished, replaced by a uniform, flawless plane. I am one with the glass.
The black blob on the wall, engulfing a larger patch of white, pulsates as it swells, bulges out in viscous globs like a toilet backing up, and oozes down in gooey tendrils. Light-snakes from the ceiling-mounted lamps are wriggling on the slimy, visceral mass, a glistening murk that has gouged a hole in my skull and is crawling through my gray matter like a centipede.
My vision wavers; the world is swimming. I’m bobbing up to my nose in a gelatinous sea that tastes of vinegar and fish guts. I shiver at the flapping sound of fat membranes uncurling, at the feel of viscid tissue-matter sticking to my skin. Lightning bolts illuminate the waves in stroboscopic flashes, making them resemble a seething kelp forest, while I thrash my limbs around to stay afloat against the churning currents.
From the phone that my right hand is gripping comes crinkly static, the sound of aluminum foil rustling. As the interference scratches my eardrum, a honeyed voice breaks through, floods my mind and envelops my thoughts like a welcoming womb:
“Leire, are you still there? That was some strange lightning phenomenon, must have messed up with the electronics. Thankfully I bought some overvoltage protectors.”
My heart is pumping in my throat. When I open my mouth to speak, my tongue flaps uselessly, and I only manage to exhale a pent-up breath.
“Leire?” Jacqueline insists. “You okay, honey? I can hear you breathing on the phone.”
I miss her luminous allure, that even before we started dating enticed me to steal glances at her. I miss the taste of her silky skin, like an ambrosial mixture of rosehip and milk. I miss the way her panties stick to her slit when she gets wet. I miss the feel of her long fingers kneading my flesh, of her nails scratching the skin of my back. I miss the firmness of her nipples grazing my breasts, the softness of her thighs wrapping around my face as I inhale the hot and juicy tang of her insides. I miss her gasps, sighs and moans during the throes of our lust-frenzy.
I picture the inverted triangle of prominent features that make up Jacqueline’s ivory-white visage: her penetrating cobalt-blues at the two upper vertices, and her full lips at the lower vertex. She’s standing in front of me in her peacoat and turtleneck sweater as the November wind tousles her hair. Jacqueline is my sole lighthouse, a beacon amidst the storm of insanity that rages inside and outside of me.
A croaking voice pours forth through the speaker embedded in my neck, where the voicebox and throat structure must be housed.
“Yeah, I’m still here, my goddess of delights, mistress of dreams. No time for a Pixar flick now, though. Overvoltage probably fried the electronics in my brain.”
Jacqueline’s laughter echoes into the farthest recesses of my being.
“You’re right. I’d love to keep you on the phone when I can’t keep you in my arms, but the sooner you finish that boring stuff, the sooner you can get your butt over here. And once you return to me… I may show you something special.”
“As in I won’t be able to peel your pussy away from my face?”
“Oh, I’ll open myself up to you in plenty of ways,” she answers with a sensual drawl that slithers down to my toes. “You have yet to experience some of my best moves, darling. Bye-bye for now!”
Once Jacqueline clicks off, the warmth evaporates, replaced by a tar-black blob that has encroached upon a huge chunk of the wall, a hole that sucks all hope through its bottomless whirlpool.
Author’s note: the five songs for today are “Man on the Moon” by R.E.M., “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake, “Catch the Wind” by Donovan, “Where Is My Mind?” by Pixies, and “Season of the Witch” by Donovan.
I maintain a playlist that contains all the songs mentioned throughout this novel. Eighty-nine songs so far. Check them out.
Hey, are you aware that neural networks can generate intriguing images based on the prompts you send them? I sent a couple of those artificial intelligences plenty of prompts from this chapter. Check out the results.
This chapter kicks off a new sequence, titled “Cumlord of the Abyss.” You can read any of the previous chapters of this novel through this link.