We’re Fucked, Pt. 64 (Fiction)

My skin prickles, my muscles twitch, my bones ache. Every breath I take brings the aroma of pine resin into my lungs, and risks numbing them with cold. The breeze ruffles my hair and rustles the leaves of the thicket about six meters to my left. I’m having trouble discerning details in the undulating mesh of bone-thick branches and knee-high undergrowth, but I distinguish the pale silver tresses of moss that hang from upcurved branches, and that the bark of a few slender trunks has been clawed to reveal the rose gold tree flesh beneath. What abominations of nature may be lurking past the treeline?

I will keep my feet firmly planted on the rounded pebbles that are pressing into the soles of my feet. I will become a human statue frozen in time. Remain still: that was the lesson I learned back as I child when I got lost while my parents and I were strolling around Hondarribia. A plush monkey, dressed in a candy-red T-shirt and slutty shorts, was huddled inside the rusted cage of a vending machine. I was transfixed by his slack-jawed smile and the gleaming sadness in his oil-black eyes as he peered out at me from his gloomy lair, but I also admired that beast for having endured the life-long duty of dropping plastic balls in exchange for money, a drudgery that turned his fur dull and patchy. When I attempted to point the monkey out to my parents, they had vanished into the crowd.

For hours or days I sobbed as I tottered aimlessly past towering strangers. None of the passersby recognized my plight; I was just another unwashed urchin whose rags reeked of urine and vomit. Not even a dog offered its tongue to lick my wounds. How did that nightmare end up resolving itself? Maybe I never found my parents. Maybe that damnable monkey was the ringleader of a gang of human traffickers, and I have spent my life ever since chained to a bed in a pitch black basement.

Why was I thinking about that time I got lost in Hondarribia? Wait, why the hell am I in a forest?! My breath is steaming, the soles of my feet are throbbing. My fingers are curled into white-knuckled fists. The ripples of the brook to my right distort the rounded stones and twigs that its waters churn over.

I rub my eyes as if I were trying to claw out some filth.

“This isn’t happening,” I mutter to myself.

Jacqueline hammered into my head that hallucinations don’t open doors, so instead I must be experiencing a bout of psychosis. I shut my eyes tight and I retread in my mind the steps that brought me here. I entered the bathroom to take a shower; I must have opened the door of the shower cabin and stepped inside. I turn on the water, and from the showerhead a jet of ink-black, searing-hot liquid rushes out with a foaming whoosh to soak my hair and stream off my face. The liquid flows down the curvature of my breasts, the contours of my buttocks, the crooks of my knees; it trickles into the pink crevasse between my legs. I scrub shampoo into my scalp, then I pour gel on a sponge and wash away the stench of sweat, fear and guilt clinging to my skin. My mouth is full of lather that tastes of exotic herbs and berries, of tropical fruits and sugary nectar. When I finish showering, I have become as clean as the surface of the moon.

A prickly sensation is flitting across my fingers and toes as a numbness seeps into my muscles. The shivers are creeping into my spine, making my teeth chatter. Soon enough my pale skin will turn a glistening dark blue.

Am I waiting for whoever abducted me to appear? What else could it be but an unholy abomination?

A panicked mass of survival instinct kicks in.

“Wh-why the hell did you teleport me to a random forest, you otherworldly shitstains?! I would prefer that you showed up as I took a piss!”

From deep within the thicket comes a rumbling growl. My body goes rigid, my heart starts thumping like a war drum. I keep my eyes focused on the greenery, refusing to give in to the desire to blink.

Some branches rustle and a twig crunches in the treeline. A flicker of motion catches my eye. Through some breeze-stirred leaves I discern that a child is peeking out from behind a tree trunk. She must be about ten years old. Her disheveled hair is chestnut brown and reaches the shoulders of a crude, ash-colored leather tunic. She’s wearing a tooth necklace, bracelets made of twisted animal hair, and thick boots with fur collars. Her peach-orange skin is stained with dirt, and her slanted, monolid eyes are staring at me in surprise, maybe because she has never seen anyone like me, or because I’m naked in a forest. Is she another spirit who will ask me to sacrifice my blood to make up for the blighted land?

My legs are trembling, my nipples are hard as stone. I’m not sure how long this stand-off lasts while the branches sway in the breeze, the brook burbles and the birds chirp.

“H-hello,” I say in the warmest voice I can muster, “do I have the pleasure of addressing someone with an incredible command of the Spanish language? You can also speak in English if you want.”

The child’s jaw drops slightly, but she remains silent as she looks me up and down with wide-eyed wonderment.

“D-do you understand that I’ve been dumped into the wilderness,” I insist, “that I’m unclothed and freezing my tits off, that I’m mentally unbalanced, and that I’m in desperate need of help?”

From within the thicket comes a crackling noise as if sticks were snapping under the weight of a bear-sized creature. The child’s eyes dart between me and the thicket, then her lips move to say in a high-pitched voice a sentence that sounds like gibberish. She crouches and scuttles along the treeline until she hides behind a thicker tree trunk mottled with eggshell-white spots.

Dead leaves are crunching as they get crushed underfoot. I squint to peer through the web of greenery, and I discern that a looming shape is stirring the shadows and bending branches; some monster is lumbering towards us.

The cold has spread inward, and now it seems to radiate from my bones. My fingers and toes have gone numb, my thoughts are slowing down and my vision narrowing, but I control my ragged breathing. I beckoned this feral child over by shouting into the void, and if the monster that is about to emerge from the thicket devours her, I’ll endure the flashbacks for the rest of my possibly short life.

“H-hey, girl, over here,” I call her through my chattering teeth, and when we hold each other’s gaze, I gesture anxiously for her to approach me.

She hesitates; would I run towards a wild-eyed thirty-year-old woman who’s hanging out naked in the wilderness? The girl pushes herself off the tree she was hiding behind, then she scuttles on the pebbled riverbed over to me. A pungent odor wafts from her leather tunic, as if she had rolled around in grime and filth. She clutches my left hand. When I feel her warm, chapped palm, a dizzy spell threatens to overwhelm me. I have been snatched from Jacqueline’s apartment and dropped into a remote forest. What otherworldly horror will I encounter now?

The undergrowth behind the treeline shudders and jerks, a branch snaps, and from between two trees emerges a hulking, woody-brown quadruped. As its beefy right foreleg flattens a fern, beneath the shaggy fur, which is caked with mud, the muscles along its leg tremble, and the subcutaneous fat shakes up to the beast’s rounded back. Under its furry hands, the pebbles of the riverbed grind and clack together. I discern that the beast’s curved claws are the size of hacksaw blades; they could peel open my ribcage like pulling back the lid of a can of sardines.

As it heads to the rippling waters of the brook, the beast swings its elongated head towards us. The coarse fur of its face is swan-white except for the smoky-black patches that surround the sunken eyes. Its nostrils flare as it sniffs our scent, then it snorts and blows like a bull. The beast stops beside the brook and dips its chin in the stream to drink.

My brain is wrapped in barbed wire. What is this jarring cackling that is punishing my eardrums? Oh, it’s bursting forth from my throat. But why am I laughing?

The beast raises its head and looks straight at me as water drips from its drenched chin, then it turns around to face us. The feral child squeezes my left hand; even through my shrieks of laughter I realize that she’s trying to communicate with me, but I can’t decipher her jabber. That monster’s claws are churning up the pebbles as it stomps towards us. I catch a whiff of its musk, that smells of earth, loam and moss.

My throat closes up; the surge of laughter pushes against it, then desists and dissipates. I need to gallop away, but I must remain rooted to this spot or I will be lost forever.

The beast’s honey-colored eyes are aglow with bloody malice. As it bellows a thunderous burp, a plume of white-hot steam spirals out and a spray of hot spittle splatters onto my face. The nearby birds have scattered away in a panic.

The girl is tugging on my arm, my knees are buckling. This noble monster is waiting for me to kneel in worship; I’m a bug crawling around its feet. I should try my best to seem cool and aloof, like a woman with regular sexual appetites instead of like an insane shut-in who has been abducted.

“G-greetings, brave soldier of the forest,” I say in a quavering, hysterical voice. “I-I salute your service in the field of battle and I promise that if I live through this experience, I-I will surrender the best cut of my meat to you.”

The beast pushes itself off the ground to rear up on its hind legs, then it throws its head back to tower even further over me; a fearsome god looming over my puny body. Its mouth yawns cavernously. The muscles in the monster’s girthy torso, which is matted with clots of mud and leaf litter, bulge under the shaggy fur like taut, industrial-sized leather belts.

At the final moment of my dismal existence, I have an intense craving to make love.

The girl yanks at my arm hard enough that I tumble backwards, but before I land on the pebbles, a crackle of energy fills me, and my back hits a flat surface. I got the wind knocked out of me. As I prop myself up and take a big gulp of air, I realize that I’m at room temperature and that I’m staring at a pastel grey ceiling that I recognize.

Someone kneels beside me. The smooth touch of silk caresses the skin of my shoulder, then the person seizes me, turns me around and buries my face in a pillowy pair of breasts.

“You’re back,” Jacqueline says in a strained voice racked with worry. When she wraps her warm arms around my trembling back, she recoils, then starts rubbing my skin vigorously. “Baby, you are freezing!”

I’m shaking from the cold and the adrenaline surge, but now that Jacqueline’s breasts have enveloped my face, I will heal quickly.

“D-don’t worry,” I mumble through her cleavage.

A childish utterance of confusion behind me causes Jacqueline to stiffen up.

“Leire,” she whispers, “who the hell is this girl?”

I unstick my mouth from the silky skin of her breast to glance over my shoulder. The feral child is sitting on her knees and squinting at the bright light in the hallway as she checks her surroundings with bewilderment.

Author’s note: the two songs for today are ‘Sapokanikan’ by Joanna Newsom and ‘Baba O’Riley’ by The Who.

From all the chapters that remained to write of this novel, this one I looked forward to the least; I suspect that I didn’t believe I could pull it off. But it came out good enough for me, so the ride should be smoother from now on.

That story about Leire getting lost in Hondarribia as a child because a monkey distracted her happened to me. They eventually found my bloated corpse washed up on a beach.

In case you missed it, I exploited the services of a neural network that runs on a supercomputer to generate images that depict moments of this scene. Here is the link.

I usually get 8-10 visits a day on my site. Less than 24 hours ago, someone from the US racked up about 170 hits. That person even went through entries of the fanfiction of ‘Re:Zero’ I wrote a couple of years ago. I never liked ‘Re:Zero’ that much; I preferred my darker, crazier spin on that story. I worked on it during a turning point in what passes for my career as a writer; I had ceased to read anything in Spanish, my own native language, and I didn’t want to write in Spanish anymore even though I had self-published two books in that language, but I felt like I could never become proficient enough at writing in English. Working through those sixty or so chapters of fanfiction changed my mind, and I had a blast throughout.

Anyway, thank you for checking out so many pages of my site, whoever you are. I hope you were entertained.

AI-generated images of Leire from ‘We’re Fucked’

I’m still two-fifths of the way through the last draft of the 64th chapter, but I have been sending prompts to the neural network that generates images on some supercomputer; it merely requires me to input a sentence. So here are some depictions of Leire, the protagonist of my ongoing novel.

This one is so ‘Uzumaki’ that the neural network must have been trained on Junji Ito’s works; I merely included ‘falls in spiral through a vortex’ as part of the prompt

As a bonus, here’s a portrait of Spike’s decapitated head:

We’re Fucked, Pt. 64: AI-generated images

I have finished the first draft of the next chapter of my ongoing novel, but as I was working on it I kept generating images with the neural network that runs on a supercomputer, feeding it prompts about the images I had in my head. The results have been interesting, and some horrifying.

Although chapter 64 isn’t out in the wild yet, maybe this sequence of images can work as an intriguing teaser. Probably in the future I will only post an entry with all the related images after I’ve uploaded the corresponding chapter, though.

EDIT: here’s the link to chapter sixty-four.

Although the bunnyman doesn’t show up in the next chapter, I made the unforgivable mistake of asking the neural network to generate images of him. No wonder Leire behaves likes she does.

I don’t want to end this entry on such a note, so here’s a generated picture of Jacqueline:

State-of-the-art AI-powered image generation

I came across a paid service that allows you to take advantage of trained neural networks that run on supercomputers and are specialized on generating images. So far I’ve been busy for a couple of hours generating masterpieces like the following:

A new banner for my site
Harelactal, the sasquatch goddess from a poem I wrote

A very unflattering portrait of Leire, the protagonist of my ongoing novel ‘We’re Fucked’

Needless to say, as long as I have the time and I can pay for such services, I’m going to generate images for my chapters and poems from now on.

We’re Fucked, Pt. 63 (Fiction)

“No, I don’t want breakfast!” I shriek.

I have sat bolt upright on a mattress. The bedsheets are puddled around my waist. I’m panting, my heart is racing in my throat. It feels like the bed is rocking back and forth like a ship at sea. Although sweat is dripping down my face and naked torso, a frigid lurch runs through me and I almost vomit.

An insidious force is slithering inside me while my head buzzes with thoughts like flies trapped inside a jam jar. My mind is a pile of detritus rusting in a fetid puddle of gunk. A single tear is trailing down my cheek, and I wipe it away with the pad of my thumb. Once again I wish I would become a catatonic mute lost in my pitch-black depths.

To my left, a weight depresses the mattress, then a warm arm drapes around my tits.

“You’ll be all right now,” Jacqueline whispers. “Lie down, baby girl.”

Her soft voice soothes my frail bones and tattered mind. I slump backwards until my head sinks into the pillow.

Jacqueline cuddles up against me, squeezing her breasts against my naked chest and wrapping her long legs around mine. Her hair is tickling my neck, and her lips are playing over the skin of my jaw as she breathes warm air into my ear. The heat that radiates through her smooth, silk-blend robe makes my despair dissipate like a noxious stench. Second by second, a quiet descends upon me like in the wake of an orgasm.

A blinding white light pierces the dark behind my eyelids in a jolt of anxiety. What the hell am I worried about now? Ah, we have to go to work in the morning. When I reach to the nightstand for my phone, Jacqueline’s half-lidded gaze meets mine in the mirrored wardrobe. In the pale moonlight that streams through the balcony door, Jacqueline’s skin is glowing with a silvery luster, and her cobalt-blue eyes are shining like gemstones. She embodies the serenity of the ocean on a clear day.

I hold my phone up and check the time while the device glows bright.

“A quarter past four,” I say in dismay.

Jacqueline sighs and tenses her thighs around mine.

“Three hours more and we’ll be forced to leave our bed.”

I place the phone on the nightstand, then I stare up at the shadowed space between two hemispherical lamps on the ceiling. Jacqueline runs her fingertips over my right cheek as she nuzzles up against the crook of my neck. My nipples tingle, the hairs of my nape stand on end.

“That previous shout of yours must have woken up the neighbors,” she says casually.

I guess she wants me to open up about my nightmare. I should apologize for having disturbed her sleep, but I have spent my whole life apologizing for my shortcomings.

“These nightmares…” I start in a weary voice. “I feel like I’m becoming increasingly attuned to stuff… to which I shouldn’t be privy.”

“Such as? What terrible vision has tortured my baby this time?”

My face involuntarily contorts into a grimace as I attempt to repress a shiver of disgust.

“That filthy, maggot-infested scumbag,” I spit out.

“I suspect that for you those words could describe many people, including yourself. Are you referring to the bunnyman?”

My tongue feels like a slab of leather as I swallow the word that conjures up his horrifying visage in my mind’s eye.

“That monster… was robbing a bank, but he slipped on some leaves and fell down, cracking his head open, spilling his blood on the carpet. In the middle of the crimson pool was an envelope, and when I opened it I found that it contained a letter addressed to me. The bunnyman wanted me to know that he’d be keeping me company until the end of time. He also invited me to a rabbit ranch that he owns.”

My voice sounded raw and raspy. Jacqueline’s left arm tightens around my ribs.

“And I guess that at some point someone offered you breakfast. He did a number on you, that well-endowed devil.”

I take a deep breath, then I rub my eyelids. I’m a baby lying helpless in an oversized crib surrounded by monsters. They have smudges of grease on their faces, they’re wearing rags that hang off them like flappy skin, their bellies are bulging with foul produce. They keep snorting lines of white powder off rusty spoons. Soon their bloated fingers will dig into me like grubs into a rotten corpse.

“When I was five,” I whisper in a fragile voice, “I woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare, my first one ever. Some soft, fleshy thing was coiled around my ankle. I jumped from the bed and ran to my parents’ room, because they were supposed to protect me from bad dreams, but when I opened the door I realized that the fleshy thing coiled around my ankle was my father’s balls. He was sleeping on his back, and they were hanging out of his boxers as he snored like a donkey.”

Jacqueline gasps, then her left arm cradles my head and pulls me in for a kiss on my forehead.

“Oh no, you are getting like that again. Shush, doll. Just fill your mind with sunny things.”

My eyes are wet with unshed tears. My voice chokes.

“This world is a cold lake whose edges are shrouded in mist. The decapitated heads of everyone I’ve ever met bob on the water, and in the ripples they cause I glimpse my own reflection. I wonder if after death we are dumped into a desert of shiny black obsidian, a labyrinth made out of the most bitter thoughts.”

Jacqueline presses a kiss against my lips, which shuts me up.

“I have no clue what you mean,” she coos, “but I’ll share something that I’ve daydreamed about recently: how about you and I go, soon enough, on a holiday to some Caribbean island? We would stay in a cute bungalow for a couple of weeks. Imagine yourself standing beside the ocean with your feet in the sand and your hair waving in the warm breeze. Think of the sunlight filtering through the palm fronds and casting golden ripples on the blue waters as they lap against the shore. The waves will wash away your despair with their frothy, salty foam. We’ll laze on a hammock while we watch the setting sun turn the horizon into a blazing spectacle. We’ll fuck as the night sky glitters with uncountable stars.”

A wave of relief is washing over me when Jacqueline gives my neck a lick with her hot tongue, and now a tingling sensation is building in my pelvis. I close my eyes and breathe in her heady scent. In the theater of my mind, the water of a tropical sea splashes our naked feet. We’re sitting in a cave hollowed out of the rock by the crashing waves. A pillar candle casts an eerie glow over the grotto that Jacqueline has transformed into a cozy bedroom, with pillows and soft sheets that the sea has delivered to us. The pounding of the surf deafens me in the tiny space, and my skin is feverish from the humid heat.

When I open my eyes, I remain caked in the stale sweat that the bunnyman induced.

“That sounds idyllic, although I’d have to shave my armpits first,” I say with a shy smile. “I’d also have to trim the green scum coating my soul. But no way such a positive development could happen to me. Our plane’s engines would malfunction and we would plummet to the ocean.”

“We wouldn’t travel in a plane, silly. I’ll book a private cabin on a luxury cruise ship.”

“When we get to the island, I’ll fall into an open manhole. If we arrive at the resort, I’ll get violently sick and vomit all over the bar area. The tropical sun will render me as black as charcoal. I’ll offend a massive German man, a giant who will shatter my collarbone with a single punch, then he’ll dump my remains onto a beach and spit on my corpse. While I’m lying in bed, I’ll wet the bed.”

Jacqueline’s tits tremble against mine as she giggles.

“Oh my sweet darling, you are a complete nincompoop sometimes. Such horror stories will do nothing to dampen my enthusiasm about that dream vacation. When we get to the island, I’ll make sure you drink lots of water so that you don’t get sunstroke. If you have to leave the shade for even a minute, you’ll be made to wear a hat so that you don’t burn your precious head. I promise you won’t experience any mishaps like that, none whatsoever. I’ll treat you as if you were made of porcelain.”

“I still believe in the ghoulish prophecies I’ve dreamed up for myself.”

Jacqueline caresses my face with both hands.

“A nap will dislodge you from your current state of mind.”

I envision a cruise ship exploding in a gigantic fireball.

“Yeah, I don’t know how I would tolerate eight hours of work with all this madness in my head.” I push myself up, and when Jacqueline rolls onto the mattress, I sit on the edge of the bed. “But first I have to wash the filth off my skin.”

Jacqueline stretches like a cat in the sun.

“I like that humid, musty smell, though,” she purrs.

“So do the sweat-eating bacteria.”

I yawn widely. When I slide out of bed and plant my soles on the lukewarm hardwood floor, I’m weighed down by exhaustion. I shamble towards the hallway as Jacqueline’s gaze warms up my naked ass.

“Please, don’t let any horses in the bathroom,” I say over my shoulder.

She chuckles at my request, which is further evidence that I’m not human.

“If you see any, yell and I’ll shoo them off with a broom.”

The moonlight shines through the acid-etched glass of the bathroom window, and its luminous image gets reflected in the door of the shower cabin. When I reach to switch on the light, a crackle of energy fills me. I’m engulfed in cold air as if I stepped into a walk-in refrigerator. As I blink away the whiteness that has blinded me, I feel that cool, muddy pebbles are pressing into the soles of my feet, and a couple of sharp edges are digging into my flesh. I hear a burbling brook and the twittering of birds. The air is crisp, and rich with the primeval smell of a forest.

I’m standing on the sedimentary rocks of a riverbed. To my right, the wavy surface of a brook is slate grey where it reflects the overcast sky, and otter brown where it reflects the other bank of the stream. At that woodland edge, the slender, swan-colored trunks of trees with orange-yellow canopies dominate, but above them protrude the brown, pointed tops of pines like lance tips. Beyond a forested hill I glimpse the ice-capped peaks of a mountain range.

About six meters to my left, leafy ferns sway gently in the breeze at the edge of a thicket three-stories tall, in which the trees blend into a patchwork of deep greens and onyx-black shadows. A bird flutters overhead as it wings out of the canopy and traces an arc across the grey riverbed, which is strewn with branches and leaves.

I’m frozen in place, and my eyes dart back and forth between the thicket and the rippling brook. My breaths are shallow. Goosebumps are forming along my back as the cold creeps up my spine and seeps into my toes and fingers.

I turn my head slowly to look over my shoulder. Twenty meters away, the grey riverbed gives way to knee-high grasses and thick bushes, and the brook bends between pines and threadbare canopies.

Author’s note: three songs for today, which are ‘Island In the Sun’ by Weezer, ‘Cut Connection’ by Jesca Hoop and ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Airplane.

These last couple of days I’ve felt better. Maybe the black beast has gotten tired of my cowardice, and it has wandered off until the next time it deigns to visit me again.

We’re Fucked, Pt. 62 (Fiction)

The dining hall is shrouded in a sweltering, bushfire-orange haze, and I feel like I’m sinking in the yolk of a room-sized egg. Above the antique cherry paneling on the walls, a continuous painting that depicts the streets of a bygone town has faded to saddle brown. I’m surrounded by canned chatter, knives and forks clinking and scraping against plates, and open-mouthed chomping on slabs of meat, although the other tables are empty and their linen napkins folded into triangles. The checkered floor is littered with glass shards, smeared with rotten food and covered in patches of mold.

A radiant chandelier is tinting the tablecloth of my round table sand-yellow. Behind two twinkling wine glasses, a swaying cord of drool clashes against the black-and-white tuxedo that the creature sitting across from me is wearing. A fluffy, cream-colored mane obscures a bowtie. I get a glimpse of the matted tufts that come out of grey-tipped, pointy ears, and of two bulging eyes on either side of a whiskey-colored patch like bruised fur, before two overgrown incisors plunge into the crunchy toast of a sandwich. A chunky piece falls onto the tablecloth as the bunnyman retracts his teeth with a slurping sound.

“A-a-ah, you’re awake!” A plume of spit escapes his lips and sails through the heated air. “I thought I’d have to chew you up, you filthy shit-gobbler!”

He shovels the rest of the sandwich into his mouth, tangling slimy crumbs in the tobacco-brown fur of his muzzle. I want to wipe the droplets of saliva off my face, but I feel like my arms and legs are bound to the chair with ropes; I’d love to call the bunnyman a mendacious, mangy son of a bitch, but my vocal cords disobey me.

The bunnyman wiggles his whiskers. The black vest of his tuxedo is stretched tightly over his barrel chest, and his belly is rolling under the fabric like a raging sea.

“You’ve forgotten how to speak, huh? Tsk tsk tsk. I should have expected it from one of you stinking piles of bones and meat. You smell like a brood of horny rabbits having a furtive fuck session in a cage. And you are so eager to abandon your sickly life. How could anyone give up on herself so quickly?” He guffaws. “What a waste of precious meat you are! How do you expect to enjoy life if you don’t live it? Don’t you wish for some fangy and throbbing love meat to slurp up between your lips? Your heart and lungs are filled with muck, but I want you to live.”

His voice makes my eardrums feel like they’re going to rupture, and his breath reeks like a bloated corpse floating in a pool of blood. That I gave up on myself so quickly, this sow-fucking demon said? I did give up; I came so close to leaving Jacqueline behind in that barren world along with my childhood, all the books that I read and all the board games that I played. Everything was about to disappear into an infinite sea of darkness. But now I’ll never escape from this shithole; I will remain a wailing, hunchbacked lunatic who screams at the sky, and not one person will remember me after I’m gone. I should spend my days locked up in some dark cave until I rot away to dust.

The bunnyman swallows down an entire glass of wine, splashes red on the tablecloth, and belches out a vine of acidy fumes. A sneering smile spreads across his lips as a thread of drool seeps out of their corners.

“You stink and you stink and you stink, so let me give you the name that you deserve: I will call you Gummo, which sounds like a dribble of phlegm trickling out of your twisted throat. Yes, that’s such a fitting name for a filthy, unspeakable thing like you. Unwashed flesh lying around in the dirt.” He raises his furry arms, and his fingers plump out into claws. “I’ll also give you my name! It’s Leopold, Leopold the Rabbit-Thing. Now, how many years have I spent stalking you? A few hundred? A thousand?” He makes a sucking gesture with his lips. “I’m no stranger to your malodorous, squeaking, demented thoughts. I’ve watched your anus drool as you squatted in the bathroom. I’ve watched you stroke yourself to a climax as you sat on an anthill. All for you, my favorite meal: a miserable human being. You’re like an emaciated cow standing in a field while the flies buzz around her head.”

It feels like my brain has been turned inside out and scrubbed with bleach. The bunnyman slides with his dirt-brown hand a platter to my side, making its heap of soggy pancakes tremble. The pancakes are the color of brown sugar, and they are glazed with a translucent, cloudy liquid that contains inert bubbles and that is oozing down the heap in gooey strings.

When a smell of chlorine assaults me, my stomach clenches like a fist and my mouth dries up.

“Your fucking breakfast is waiting!” the bunnyman bellows out.

He seizes a fork and sticks it into the soft, tender mass of the top pancake. He lifts the fork, and as the soggy pancake approaches my mouth, it drips the liquid onto the tablecloth, forming gluey puddles.

My body refuses to struggle against the restraints. I’m about to gag on the bile that gushes up, but my mouth opens by itself, and my tongue protrudes to collect the viscous strings of goo that dangle from the pancake.

“Your imbecile brain has started working again,” the bunnyman says in a husky voice. “How lovely!”

His cackle fills my ears; it echoes in my brain like a tsunami, sweeping away every thought.

A familiar tingling starts in my fingers and toes, and as my nerves are pushed to the brink of overload I hear a faint popping sound in the back of my head.

Author’s note: today’s songs are both by Modest Mouse, and they are ‘Alone Down There’ and ‘The Cold Part’ from ‘The Moon & Antarctica’, which has been one of my favorite albums for about twenty years.

I’ve already written the first draft of the next chapter. I call a first draft that point of a text in which I consider it good enough for publication, but then I subject it to another full creative pass line by line to improve it. I’ve also written most of the tentative sentences of the chapter that will follow afterwards, and somehow I still have 14,000 words left of notes to render into the remaining scenes of this deranged novel.

We’re Fucked, Pt. 61 (Fiction)

Jacqueline’s Audi Avant is climbing up the incline that passes by the rain-dirtied bunker of the Lugaritz train station. I would love to sink in her passenger seat and relax. Knowing that my beloved is in charge of driving us to her apartment, my brain would give up on its need to scan the environment for threats, and for as long as the ride lasted I would commit myself to oblivion. But Jacqueline’s grip on the wheel is too tense, and she’s gazing through the car’s windscreen with unfocused eyes full of concern and worry. She has been on edge since I dragged her along to see the bunnyman.

I’m a chipmunk trapped in a narrowing crevice. Although I want to escape, one wrong wiggle will cause me to slide further down, and the rock walls will trap me and suffocate me. I was convinced that drafting Jacqueline in as an escort against the otherworldly intruder was a good idea; her presence invigorates me and relights the delusion that I deserve to exist. But Jacqueline’s sanity spared her the sight of that abominable bunny, so from her perspective I hurled insults at the empty space of that hallway even as I wept. I should have kept mum instead of ruining Jacqueline’s day by forcing her to witness my pathetic breakdown, like that of a drunkard screaming malarkey into the microphone at a karaoke bar.

Does my girlfriend resent having pressed her warm flesh against mine, or even having allowed me to guzzle her holy juices? Maybe she feels that I contaminated her, and she’s trying to figure out how to get rid of me in a way that won’t cause this raving lunatic to go on a rampage. For my queen, our relationship is likely a passing, feverish fling, but if she were to go down on one knee and ask me to spend the rest of my life with her, I would faint, collapse backwards and crack my skull open against the chewing-gum-stained pavement of the seaside promenade that Jacqueline would have chosen for her proposal. As dark blood leaked over the chunks of my brain matter, my lips would sport the loveliest smile imaginable.

What would be better than to die suddenly at the height of happiness? Someone should have invented an instant suicide button that people could buy and carry with them, and if for once in your life such a bliss coursed through your veins, a press of the button would sever your consciousness from its organic frame. How sweet it would be to free myself from the panic that roils the depths of my mind, to free myself from these visions of Jacqueline turning her head towards me and stating with a variety of words that our relationship would never work, that I’m too deranged and depraved for love, that due to the putrefaction that I spread to everyone I touch, her cells are necrosing one by one on their way to transform my beloved into a desiccated prune.

Past Jacqueline’s profile, a short-haired woman in her forties is pedaling up the steep slope on the bike lane, framed against the slender, skeletal trees that line the path. Beyond, the platinum-colored, concave façade of a building towers over the road. Three sections of the building bulge out like the projecting towers of some ancient capital’s walls. Jacqueline should exit the roundabout through the path that runs up the hill; she would continue driving past expensive residential buildings with hedged lawns, past the last isolated shops, until we reached the neighborhood at the end of that winding road, where my pimp girlfriend bought her quiet abode. Instead, Jacqueline passes the exit on purpose.

My heart gallops in my ribcage, my nerves are frayed like tattered strings.

Jacqueline is biting her lower lip as she steers into the parking lot of the concave building that looms over us like some stern sentinel. Two cars, one pastel-grey and the other silver-colored, that likely belong to workers, are maneuvering out of the parking lot. Jacqueline pulls over a few parking spaces away from the nearest car.

My queen shuts off her Audi’s engine. After she leans back on the seat, she traces the back of her right hand with the fingertips of her left one. Through the branches of a copse of pines, the slanting beams of the setting sun pouring into the car are shadowing the right half of Jacqueline’s face, and highlighting her outline with a golden light.

“Let’s talk,” Jacqueline says.

This is it: she’s going to abandon me to the darkness and the pain. She’s going to crush my heart then throw my corpse in a rubbish bin.

My body goes numb, and I let my head droop.

“Let’s not,” I utter in a hollow voice. “Let’s just sit here and remain silent. Like, forever.”

“I can’t hold it in anymore, Leire.”

It’s okay, I tell myself. She’ll have a better life without me. In a matter of years I’ll get sent to a mental institution where I’ll be confined until my mind rots away, and even then I’ll still be held responsible for all the crimes I committed in my psychotic bouts.

“W-well, what is it?”

“Leire, do you have telekinetic powers?”

I lift my gaze at Jacqueline’s face; I must have heard her wrong. Her ivory skin has a splash of red on her cheeks, tendrils of her raven-black hair are peaking over her shoulders, and those cobalt-blue eyes look upon me with their limpid beauty, threatening to sweep through me and make me disappear like dust in the air.

“What a weird question to ask seriously,” I say with a tinge of hysteria. “Could the answer possibly be ‘yes’?”

Jacqueline stares at me intently as her forehead creases.

“No, no telekinesis,” I say. “Never got to learn that one at school. I’m also unable to fly, I can’t turn invisible, I can’t read minds. Hell, I can barely read my own mind. I’m very clumsy and prone to injuries, I get tired easily, I have difficulty concentrating, and I’m very nervous. I am a pervert to an extraordinary degree, though. W-would you care for me to list all the things I lack, to please you?”

“Not at the moment, sweetie, but thank you.” Jacqueline draws a deep breath. “Either you have telekinetic powers or that… person you referred to as ‘bunnyman’ opened the bathroom door.”

“Huh? That he did. Then he slammed the door as if he were a tantruming teenager. Well, more like a giant, matted-haired rabbit with bloodshot eyes and an obscenely fat cock.”

Jacqueline touches her temples as if they ached.

“Leire… there was nobody in the bathroom.”

As I’m trying to figure out what she means, I remember that after the bunnyman slammed the door, Jacqueline remained frozen for a few seconds, then she strode in pursuit of the demon like some Hellenic heroine, bursting into the bathroom as if she intended to punish the bunnyman for having annoyed me. She searched around frantically, she opened and closed the stall doors, but the intruder had already fled into the netherworld.

I have a moment of this morning etched in my mind: Jacqueline’s skirt, the color of Irish coffee, hugging the plump mounds of her ass as she, crouched, wiped the puddles I had left in my wake after I jumped from the toilet, as if I were a wounded beast whose heart pumped piss through her veins. The sight of my beloved cleaning up the liquid by-product of my metabolism permeated me with a snuggly warmth, and it took all of my willpower to avoid touching myself.

“I already figured out that you couldn’t see the bunnyman,” I say, short of breath, “although I had hoped that you would, because of Spike’s revolver.”

This ordeal has stunned Jacqueline into silence unless she wrenches herself out of that state, yet I remain calm and in control of myself; I’m a veteran of humanity’s war against these otherworldly harassers.

“I should have warned you that a whole variety of demons is visiting our dimension, but can you imagine me saying, ‘Don’t masturbate, because a demon may be recording it for blackmail,’ and expecting you to stop? Wouldn’t I have sounded like an idiot?”

“I suspect you would have.”

I reach out and stroke Jacqueline’s neck. The sternocleidomastoid feels firm against my palm.

“I understand how troubling this encounter must have been for you, but I have survived through all of them, so I suppose I’ll be alright no matter how much they insist on wasting my time with their shenanigans. Did I tell you that once I was masturbating in the kitchen when one of these abominations approached me and showed me on his smartphone a picture of my pussy? They aren’t above using smartphones to record a naked woman, but at least they’re honest about it. After that I was visited several times by a big-titted succubus. She told me that if I didn’t hand over my money, she would stuff my mouth with dicks until I suffocated to death. Well… to be honest, I lied just now. I don’t know why I felt the need to hyperbolize my experiences, because they are terrible enough on their own.”

“Leire, the door opened and closed,” Jacqueline says hoarsely.

“That bunny bastard did open the door and close it, yes. What’s the matter? If I recall correctly, I told you that Spike had headbutted my living room window into a hundred tiny pieces. These demons have no respect for the objects in our world.”

Jacqueline shakes her head slowly as her unfocused gaze rests on my lap.

“This bunnyman terrified you, didn’t he? Was it because of how he looked?”

I wish I could reveal to Jacqueline that the awful rabbit has always showed up in my dreams, that he haunts and tortures me, that he keeps returning to remind me that death is preferable to being a broken freak. The instant that fiend appeared under my butt this morning, I should have called the police so they would have shot him like a fish, and all of his demonic essence would have been sucked out through the bullet holes.

“He was a big brute with overgrown incisors and completely unremarkable genitals.”

“You referred to his cock as ‘obscenely fat’. And I was standing behind you as you berated him for intending to have a normal conversation while he was showing you his monstrous dick.”

I shift my weight in the passenger seat, trying to ease the discomfort in my crotch.

“Jacqueline, it was just a dick.” The word ‘dick’ made my lips vibrate like a phonograph record on its last groove. “The truth is that I’ve never understood how people get aroused by those hideous appendages. A man should only show his penis to a trusted friend, who should then cut it off and bury it as a token of friendship. And perhaps some salt should be sprinkled over its grave; an old Germanic tradition to ward off trolls. Anyway, my point is that every one of the bunnyman’s utterances was a cacophonous clatter unbefitting of an intelligent creature. His ugliness did give me goosebumps, but the terror came from his essence: an ooze emanating from him in waves of unconquerable malice, a leprosy of his soul. Even better, let me put it this way: your first impression of someone can last for the rest of your life, right? Think about pets. If you fail to introduce a new cat to the previous one properly, you may end up with two cats who will despise each other until the day one of them dies, after which the remaining cat will likely believe that his nemesis gave up and surrendered the territory. In the case of this bunnyman bastard, he entered the bathroom through the toilet as I was peeing in it. My piss is too precious to waste it on such scum.”

“I get it.” Jacqueline’s voice sounds tired. “Something weird is going on.”

I chuckle bitterly.

“Something weird has always been going on, mommy. The world is full of monsters.”

Jacqueline reaches over to hug me, and before I know it, my face sinks in the hollow between her shoulder blades. As she squeezes me tight, her hair drapes around my cheeks, and I fill my lungs with her sweet perfume. For a moment, my mind empties like a gutted balloon.

“Whenever any of these creatures visits you again, please, tell me all about it,” Jacqueline whispers as she rubs my back in circles. “I bet you felt like you had to keep this nightmare to yourself because I may have thought less of you. But you are my baby and I will help you however I can.”

My throat constricts, and I close my eyes to dissuade the incoming tears from falling. I can’t understand how Jacqueline prefers a sick freak like me to a normal man with whom she could enjoy a normal life, but I’ve ceased trying to comprehend this world’s obscure logic.

Although I want to sink into a long, soothing slumber, Jacqueline pulls away from our embrace. My head is swimming with hazy, drug-like euphoria as I stare at the colorful spread of my queen’s face.

“I would have been grateful if you merely obliged me whenever I brought up some craziness, but you actually believe me!”

Jacqueline fiddles with a strand of my hair.

“I would be delusional otherwise, wouldn’t I? As you said, we must accept we are living in a dimension where it’s possible for a horse to gift you a gun. From my perspective, the bathroom door opened by itself. So either you are visited by otherworldly intelligent creatures that only you can see, or you have dormant telekinetic powers that manifest themselves through your interactions with hallucinations. Either way, something supernatural is going on. I think it’s more likely that intelligent beings are visiting our world and are able to affect it physically. But if they can manifest a revolver, what else could they do?”

A chill spreads throughout my body and turns my nipples to icicles. I had categorized Spike, this bunnyman, as well as a myriad of other foul abominations, such as the black carpet of slimy blobs that proliferate near the garbage bins at the entrance of our office building, as hallucinations caused by a mental illness of mine, a product of some genetic defect, lifelong loneliness and having been treated as an unwanted guest my whole life. But if these demons are real, then I’m fucked, as that Alberto voyeur wrote on the dashboard of my car. I shudder at the thought that I might become the main course at some cosmic banquet of horrors.

“Wh-where the hell do they come from, these demons?”

“You should be the expert on that subject.”

I rub my eyes and take a deep breath.

“There are lots of things I don’t know, and I understand even less. I don’t trust anything beyond my immediate existence and my ability to interact with it. Who knows how planets form, how cells live, how computers function, why plants grow, how dinosaurs survived a catastrophic extinction, how ants communicate, how light travels, how humans blink, how my blood pressure changes when I masturbate, how children grow, why my little toe is smaller than my big one, what I’d be doing right now if my parents weren’t dead, what will happen when the sun burns out…”

“I could probably answer a few of those questions.”

“The truth is that I can’t control anything in this world, I have no intrinsic purpose or meaning here, I can’t deceive myself into believing that in some inexplicable way I’m part of a grand plan, and until I met you I wished to forget all about it, go back into the womb and fall asleep, because from the moment I took my first breath I knew that I’m a horrid abomination doomed to wither away for decades until I died an early death. Perhaps the demons are dreaming all of us and we don’t even realize it. But don’t you think that the government is aware of these intruders from the netherworld and have operated a cover-up all these years?”

I can’t tell if I’m delirious or if I’m a puddle of quivering gelatin. Jacqueline touches her index finger to my lips.

“Did the visitors explain what they wanted from you?”

“I mean, they babbled plenty, but I don’t have the patience to listen to nonsense. They likely want nothing from me; they hate me like everyone else does, and I’m a living embodiment of their loathing.”

Jacqueline’s cobalt-blues are shining as though they are aflame. I’m feeling guiltier by the second. All those times Spike intended me to pay attention to some message he wanted to convey, could it be that he wasn’t annoying me for his own amusement?

“I-I thought I was dealing with the effluvia of my subconscious mind. At the most they knew as much as I did, right?”

Jacqueline takes my face in her hands and gazes into my eyes.

“Even if that were the case, sometimes your brain needs to blow off some steam, and you should listen to it. But please, try to pay attention to these visitors from now on. Maybe they just want something reasonable from you, and once they are satisfied they’ll leave you be.”

Author’s note: listen to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Go Your Own Way’ and The Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’.

We’re Fucked, Pt. 60 (Fiction)

The bunnyman must have been waddling towards our office at a leisure pace, because we catch him mid-step about seven meters away from us. His flint-grey-tipped ears twitch. On the periphery of my vision, his girthy sausage dangles to a stop. He lifts a dirt-brown hand to scratch at his fluffy mane, that reminds me of an Elizabethan ruff.

I hold my breath as I wait for the bunnyman to pounce at me and sink his incisors into my face. I almost crave for him to do so, to feel the shockwaves of pain as he shreds my flesh.

Jacqueline drapes an arm around my back and squeezes my shoulder to comfort me.

“What are you seeing, Leire? That horse again?”

In my mind, I see myself reflected in my doomed, equine friend’s bulging eyes, when they were puffy with sorrow as they leaked copious tears. I wish I could admire his glossy coat, with its tawny shades of sable and russet, perfectly groomed and polished to perfection. I wish I could pet him on his majestic forehead or caress the deep furrows above his nostrils. Spike had been bred by the dark gods to become the best cavalry horse in the universe, but he made the unforgivable mistake of rebelling against his fate.

I swallow a lump in my throat.

“No, Spike died. You know that, mommy.”

Jacqueline kneads my shoulder gently.

“A different horse then?”

The hulking, bunny-headed demon is eyeing me up as he sways on his feet like a ship bobbing on the ocean. I want to reach into his chest and rip out the pulsing, black-blooded heart that beats in there with sinister malice.

“Sentient, elegant horses I can handle,” I mutter, “but this bunnyman is just a pile of fur and fat with a glistening shaft to show for it. He should have died in the mud long before civilizations came about. I can’t deal with his drooling or the stink of death coming out of his armpits. I’m going to give him a piece of my mind.”

I approach the bunnyman with Jacqueline in tow while my spine trembles. I feel like a svelte, sexed-up whore in front of this brute’s sagging belly and his hunched back. The wet, matted fur of his face is yellow-tinged and reeks of urine. A glob of drool drops from the tip of his overgrown upper incisors and lands on the vinyl floor with a plop.

I’m scared out of my wits, I’m shivering with revulsion. I fear that my sanity will snap like a rubber band if I have to stare for one more second into this abomination’s gunmetal-grey eyeballs, that resemble marbles wedged into his skull. I’ve gotten a glimpse of the abyss of his soul, his vast and unfathomable depravity. I want to yank out his eyeballs then plunge my hands into the sockets to squeeze his rubbery gray matter until it bursts out in an explosion of gruel.

“Wh-what’s your problem, bunnyman?” I muster in an anguished voice. “You’re standing in the middle of our hallway and you think that you are allowed to be here? Look at that mess you call fur! It’s like a ratty carpet of fleas and lice. You must be the result of a sick orgy involving donkeys and sows, you hideous bastard. I shan’t bear the invasion of a horde of bunnymen who will prowl around to the ends of this planet, so come at me, demon! I’m ready to rip out your festering guts!”

My brain is bubbling with rage and disgust; when I hear Jacqueline giggle, it bewilders me. She bear-hugs me from behind.

“Leire, sweetie, you should calm down. Any of our neighbors may come down the hallway at any moment.”

“Good,” I grumble. “If I’m forced to stare at a naked bunnyman, so should they.”

The intruder draws his lips back, exposing the glinting incisors to their roots; his upper lip is parted in an inverted V-shape, and in between peeks out a clam-shell-pink nub of flesh disturbingly similar to a clit. He then huffs out a thick breath that smells like rotten flesh and stale urine.

“You are Leire,” he says with a gravelly voice. “You can help.”

My heart sinks into my bowels. I’m tempted to take a step back, then as many necessary until I reach the doorway to our office.

His eyes glaze over and a drooling slobber drops from his mouth.

“Wh-what the hell is wrong with you?” I ask while trying to hold in my hysteria. “Are you on drugs? Did you fall out of a tree and smash your head against a boulder? Spike seemed this spaced out the first few times he stalked me… Wait, you aren’t Spike, are you?!”

The bunnyman’s whiskers twitch. He raises a stubby hand, and I’m expecting a swipe to my jaw, a punch to my temple or a blow to my groin, but instead he reveals a handkerchief that’s embroidered with a coat of arms. He uses it to mop the piss off his face.

“Spike is gone,” he says somberly. “He’s lost in the void of time.”

A pang of grief rises in my throat as I contemplate Spike’s hay bed and his empty trough. His crazed black eyes will never gaze at me again with unbridled love as he gallops to greet me, or chase after me for that matter. Spike, my loyal mount, was a visionary: his idea of heaven was forcing me to ride him although I begged him to stop.

I clench my teeth before the tangle of emotions overwhelms me.

“So, Lord of the Hellfires, you are one of his pals, huh…?” I utter in a bitter voice.

The bunnyman lodges the handkerchief between his belly folds.

“We were friends, yes. And I’ve come in his place because he failed.”

I’m shaking with anger.

“You dare to stand before me in your abominable form without bringing me good news about my old pal Spike? You spineless turd! You let your friend rot away in some dank ditch? I was going to send him a bottle of whiskey from France and a letter describing my suffering. Instead, I’ll have to compose my own poem: ‘I will drink a glass of your piss, old friend, then I’ll give you a pat on the head and a scratch behind your ear’.”

The bunnyman’s lips droop, making him resemble a senile grandpa. As far as I can tell, this furry, bunghole-riddled lump of humanoid is thirty to thirty-five years older than me.

“Well, we’ve been short of good news since we meddled with the laws of nature, but there may still be hope left.”

My eyes are fixed on the bunnyman’s gum-nub. I shudder at the thought that one day it’ll sprout into a fully functioning clitoris. My loins ache, and the urge to touch myself is almost overwhelming.

“H-how can you expect any help from me while you’re presenting yourself as a hulking bunny beast? Why don’t you take off your skin and show me what lies beneath, you revolting monstrosity? Your fur is full of muck, your breath stinks of dead animals, you’re insane as a bag of rabid squirrels.”

The bunnyman huffs.

“We are the result of a daring experiment, one that I fear will get abused again and again.”

“I’m also the result of an experiment. Did you know that humans can produce new beings when they copulate? How did you come to exist, though? Were you spawned in a giant pile of manure with the help of some insane proctologist? I wish that the bacteria present in human and animal waste would have concentrated in a broth that would have stewed your beastly flesh in its own juices. If I didn’t have a pressing engagement, I’d smash you so hard that you’d end up as a puddle of bone fragments.”

The bunnyman’s nostrils flare wide.

“Are you done venting your outrage? Can we start talking in an amicable fashion?”

“Not with that cock in the picture! It’s so long and thick that it may as well be a shovel. At least Spike had the decency to be castrated. How could I have a civilized conversation with you while you’re concealing the most disgusting thing on my planet in that accursed sheath of skin? It looks like a length of rotten, knotted intestine.”

The bunnyman grimaces as if I had shoved a cold turd down his throat. More saliva drips down his chin in thick threads.

“It’s not my cock per se,” he says in a voice like a gravel-ridden, rusty pump. “And in this dimension I can only wear my current appearance. Leire, I see your thought patterns; they are noisy and illogical. Please, remain quiet and listen to me. You see, we were trying to break out of this awful cycle of death and rebirth. The essence of the cosmos is an electromagnetic field that we’re able to manipulate.”

I shake my head to disperse the foul thoughts.

“I’m already going through enough heartbreak, and you come searching for my help? Do I look like I can even help myself? And you look like you haven’t bathed for months! What can you offer me other than more suffering? I wouldn’t trust you with my car keys, and I certainly wouldn’t ask you to wash my back if I needed it scrubbed.”

The bunnyman glances at the wall.

“I’m not an expert at treating psychological distress, but I know that you have struggled to make the best out of a bad situation for quite a while now. You had been crying in a dark room. You were longing to be free although you had no means of escape. You were looking for hope, but it had faded away.” The bunnyman’s gunmetal-grey eyes are peeling my soul out like an egg from its shell. “Leire, you can never get rid of your pain. However, you can avoid wallowing in it, and instead focus on saving us from a dark fate.”

I lift my chin and try to keep myself from crying, but tears well up and fall down my cheeks.

“Let me guess: this help you want from me involves some ritual,” I mutter, “one that will start with me performing a cutesy dance and that will end with you sticking your cock in my mouth and saying ‘wibble-wobble-gobble’ while I taste your slime. You think that your genitals are going to make me worship the ground you walk on because you’re a big bad rabbit and I’m a sick slave girl that just wants to fall in love? You think I’ll be begging you for more and more until I become a brainless husk? That’s what it always comes down to, isn’t it?”

The bunnyman shudders. After he takes a deep breath, the air he exhales stinks like the aftermath of a tornado that devastated a pet shop.

“You were given a brain but no control over your emotions. I assure you: I want no part of such perversion.”

I look down to make sure that my nipples haven’t sprouted erect, but to my dismay, the nipples have sprouted erect. My lips are trembling.

“All of you freaks think that you know me. Do you have any clue what it’s like to exist in a brain infested with spiders, in a body that is constantly wet with pre-cum, in a world full of monsters and abominations? Until Jacqueline found me, all I did was work, work, work, work, and no one understood me. I am a person, I have a mind, and I could have probably achieved some level of mastery, but here I am, stuck with one foot in reality and the other in an insane asylum. I am Leire, the Great Bunnywoman, Lady of the Skull, Emissary of the Gods, Rabbit Killer of the Universe! I am not some nympho who gets turned on by the sight of your oversized dong!”

The bunnyman takes a lumbering step back.

“Look, lady, we’re on the brink of a crisis. If we don’t do something soon, we will be sucked into the maelstrom of a collapsing universe.”

“I won’t be your prostitute, I won’t be your sex slave, and I will never give birth to a bunch of bunnybabies to further your unholy cause! Do you wish to taste the sweet nectar of death?! I have slain beasts ten thousand times larger than you, a dozen of them a day! I will bite off your giant penis and spit it at your feet! So flee, go back to the mud and the slimy marshland, and tell Alberto to shove his likely furry dick up his own ass!”

The bunnyman gasps, displaying the sickly pink inside of his mouth, which looks like a wrinkled vagina. As he stammers some words, I jab a finger at him and let out a noise of glee.

“I knew it! The bastard who disturbed me with random messages and ruined my car had to belong to your flock of freaks. Tell him that I don’t appreciate being filmed while I’m pleasuring myself, unless Jacqueline is handling the cinematography! W-wait… you aren’t Alberto, are you?”

The bunnyman bows his head.

“I’m not,” he says in a surly voice.

“Are you sure? Is there any chance that Alberto is hiding somewhere in your bunny body?”

He buries his face in his furry hands, and when he lowers them, he evades my gaze.

“Alberto was right: you are impossible. If he’s going to interfere anyway, I’ll tell him that he should deal with you himself. This place has already begun to collapse into madness.”

The bunnyman shifts his hulking weight awkwardly to turn around, then he waddles down the hallway towards the bathroom. His tail is an ash-grey pom-pom; it clashes with his rotund ass as if someone had stuck in there one of those BDSM butt plugs.

A flood of relief pours out of my mouth in the form of an exhausted sigh. I sniffle. I’m about to wipe my tears when two warm hands reach from behind me and dry my cheeks. I flinch, but I remember that I dragged Jacqueline along with me. I forced her to witness this deranged face-off.

When she stands in front of me, the burn of shame compels me to avoid her gaze. She grabs my chin and tilts my head so that I’m looking straight into her cobalt-blues.

“I-I’m sorry…” I whine.

Jacqueline shushes me.

“My baby is afflicted with some sort of incurable condition. She suffers from a lack of sleep, depression, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. You have burst into tears while shouting obscenities at a bunny. That was a wonderful performance, Leire. I believe that you believe you were arguing with this creature.”

“I don’t need to believe in what shows up in front of my eyes, or under my butt for that matter.”

“Of course. Has he vanished, though?”

I shake my head and point at the big bastard, who’s lumbering down the hallway as he scratches his flank through the almond-colored, matted fur.

“I guess he intends to leave the same way he came in, through the toilet,” I say in a quavering voice. “B-because I was peeing when he showed up, that’s why I likely turned the bathroom into a disaster zone. Perhaps the damage cannot be undone.”

Jacqueline’s smile lights up my sky like a rainbow after the rain. She grabs my hand.

“Let’s chase this bunnyman so you can see him leave. Then tell me all about it.”

She’s already dragging me along when I react.

“Wait! Are we really going to pursue that monster?”

“Yeah, why not? He had ample opportunity to hurt you, right?”

“He could have caught me in a headlock and smashed my brains against the wall,” I concede. “But maybe this is what bunnymen do: they chase prey until they become prey themselves.”

Jacqueline lets me control our pace to avoid alerting the otherworldly demon of our pursuit. By the time we catch up to him, he has reached the bathroom door. He looks over his bulky shoulder at us and he scrunches up his nose in disdain.

“Hey, stop following me, you nutbag.”

As I’m trying to come up with a quip, the bunnyman pushes the door open, strides inside and shoves the door shut behind him so that it slams against the frame.

Jacqueline’s grip on my hand tightens. I sigh.

“Escaping an argument through a toilet must be a sorry sight. Well, good riddance to him.”

I glance up at my beloved. Her face has paled, and she’s gaping wide-eyed at the closed bathroom door.

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.

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.