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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
A faceless, egg-headed mannequin stands in the spotlight, naked except for a pair of sunglasses and a creased, ash-grey suit jacket. The right arm is crossed under its chest, the left hand is holding up a lit cigarette. Its legs are spread in a pose that lets a stallion-sized cock hang loose.
I’m riding a horse I can hardly steer, whose name I’ve forgotten, whose breath stinks of cigarettes and whiskey. The reins are dangling and I have failed to hold on to the saddle, so I’ve leaned over and I’m clutching the sweaty, flayed flesh of the horse’s neck, which looks like it’s been boiled and painted red. It’s crisscrossed with purple jagged lines, an intricate network of blood vessels and nerves. The rough grassland we are traversing is littered with corpses, and the flowers’ petals are made of human flesh.
In the moonlit horizon, a herd of white horses are galloping away from us. Their tails are streaming behind them like white fire. The ground trembles as the colossal mass of flesh, bones and hooves pounds over it, and the thumping reverberates throughout the night sky as if the universe were collapsing on itself.
My horse gallops faster and faster. I’m struggling to hold on to its slippery flesh while the wind slaps against my eyes and the stench of death fills my nostrils. My grip on the horse’s neck slips. I slide backwards, then I tumble through empty space until my face smashes into a muddy embankment, cracking my nose with a sharp crunch. The wind’s been knocked out of me, and I’m choking on the mud and blood that coat my face. My bones are screaming. I roll over and I push myself up on my elbows. The moonlight shines on my horse’s maddened expression before the beast lands on top of me with its head between my breasts, crushing my ribcage, breaking apart my spine.
I’m looking down at an open, horse-shaped coffin that contains a naked, limbless woman. The coffin is surrounded by packed dirt, stones and bones, as if I was staring at a cut along the frontal pane that removed the coffin’s lid and tons of dirt. The woman’s skin has the texture of a rubber eraser. Her right eye is missing, and the left one is glassy and lifeless. Her mouth has been sewn shut with black thread. The holes from her severed limbs have been stuffed with reeds. A pair of flat areas in her chest suggest that someone has detached her breasts like they were toy parts. Further down from her hairless mons pubis, her throbbing clit is twirling as if invisible fingers were rubbing it.
Like a fast-motion video of a pustulent pimple growing, the woman’s torso and head expand until they fill the inside of the coffin. Her skin and flesh tear open. A squirming, greenish-yellow mass of tissue bulges out from the wounds in her torso. Her vagina blooms and stretches until it sprays a cloud of dark brown blood, and from between her legs, a swollen, misshapen head bursts out. It’s a mass of cauliflower-like lumps and membranous sacs filled with putrefied matter. A pair of giant, fish-like eyes roll back and forth. Its mouth is a dark pit filled with twisted, yellow-and-black teeth; its tongue is a long, pink slug. The newborn lets out a screeching scream louder than a flock of roosters crowing.
I jolt awake. I’m lying face down on a mattress. The sheets that have covered me feel sweat-soaked and clammy. I try to catch my breath, but my brain is pounding against my skull.
I can’t see shit, what time is it? Did I wake up on a workday? I’m about to panic when I feel the weight of Jacqueline’s warm body beside me. I hear her soft breathing and I smell her scent, as well as our stale fluids.
My mouth is as dry as a salt-crusted desert. I slide out of bed carefully, then I grope in the dark to reach the hallway. I pull the bedroom door behind me in slow motion until it closes with a quiet click.
The bathroom tiles are cold against my soles. When I flip the light on, the radiance hurts my eyes as if a flashbang had exploded in my face. I end up leaning against the sink and blinking until I can keep my eyes open. The mirror reflects my puffy face, some powdery sleep crust on my cheeks and forehead, and armpits stains in my dove-grey, sleeveless pyjama top that features the drawing of a cat sleeping on top of a pile of pillows.
I swallow a few times to push a knot down my throat, then I splash cold water on my face. My head is numb as a half-frozen bag of peanuts. I haven’t rested at all, but how could I, after two nights in a row filled with such nightmares? Compared to the visions that have assailed me these past nights, the previous dreams were like listening to an untuned station playing in another room. The kind of brain I’ve been doomed to inhabit shouldn’t provide its owner with lucid nightmares.
If I hadn’t found Jacqueline, if I had been forced to fester in the gloom of my apartment, the cycle of growing dread would have fed worse dreams. My mood swings would have disturbed my coworkers. Any irritation could have made me snap and take my frustration out on the innocent. Meanwhile, those damnable horses would have waited for me behind closed doors, in the night shadows, in the darkness of my mind. One morning, before sunrise, I would find myself unable to leave my bedroom to face the ordeal of another meaningless workday. I would hide until my boss fired me, which I would embrace as a relief.
From then on I’d stay inside my apartment for days or weeks. I’d become so terrified of humans that I would cease even ordering food online. For the remainder of my rotten life, I would survive by drinking my urine and eating my feces. I would bathe in the blood of cockroaches. One day the neighbors would complain about the stench emanating from my apartment. The police would break down my door to arrest me for my crimes against decency, but they would walk in on my corpse sprawled across my ramshackle sofa. My throat would be cut from ear to ear, my wrists slit, my guts spilled all over the hardwood floor. The coroner would pronounce that my body was in a state of advanced decay and maggot infestation. Once buried, my bones would melt with the earth and turn into diamonds and rubies. In my next life I would be reincarnated as a giant cockroach, and would fight monsters made of slime.
I feel my way to the kitchen, where I fill a glass with tap water and I chug it down. I open the balcony door and I step out to inflate my lungs with cold air, but as soon as I breathe in, my sinuses burn and my eyes get watery. Goosebumps prick along my bare arms, and the hairs on my nape stand on end.
The kitchen light illuminates my vaporous exhalations, as well as the row of potted, spiky plants, against the darkness of this overcast night on the hills of Donostia. In the distant streets of the valley, lone glowing windows hang like fireflies frozen in time above the citrine-yellow haloes of streetlights. I listen to the breeze whoosh through unseen trees; life in this world has ended except for those tree branches clacking against each other.
I keep rubbing my arms, but they are going numb. I sniffle. When I turn around to retreat into the kitchen, my watery gaze lands on the gleaming, silvery frame of a revolver that two appendages are rotating round the x axis. I gasp, and for a long second I fail to register that I’m staring at Jacqueline. She’s sitting on the dining chair that always faces the balcony. She has tied up her raven-black hair in a loose ponytail draped across her shoulder, and she’s wearing her pastel pink, satin night robe with lace hems and neckline. The robe barely covers half of her thighs, that are pressed together due to the cold.
“Jacqueline,” I say as I lower my right hand from my chest. “I thought you were a horse.”
“Thankfully that barely makes a dent in my self-esteem. Close the door, would you? The cold is crawling up my legs.”
I obey her, then I roll the shutters down for extra protection against the night chill. She sounded so tired, and I must be responsible for that; who would sleep soundly while the body lying right beside is tossing and turning, apart from sweating and possibly moaning in distress?
Jacqueline holds the revolver up. She presses with her thumb a latch next to the grip and pushes the cylinder open. The six empty chambers frame the ivory-white skin of her cheek and the vermillion zone of her lips. After she closes the cylinder, she’s about to speak when a yawn escapes her mouth, which forces me to yawn as well. Jacqueline rests the revolver on her right thigh.
“I bet that whatever has ruined your sleep is related to this sexy piece of hardware. Can we talk more now about your sudden gun ownership?”
I lower my head and rub my eyes.
“I’ll repeat myself, but… I have a gun because the horse had a gun.”
“Spike,” Jacqueline says.
Is she trying to figure out if a few hours of painful sleep have changed my tune and I’ll admit shamefully that I made my stalker up, or at least his intellect? I shouldn’t have revealed his name to anyone, and I should have burned that revolver in my fireplace if I owned one. Spike wasn’t a creature of light, but an ambulatory tomb. His hooves dug a pit to trap me in its gloomy depths. A name more appropriate for that cursed ungulate would be Eternally Shit-Fucked Horseshoe. He had nothing valuable to say before death, and I’m fairly certain he was incapable of speaking after, but I fear that his voice will haunt my life for centuries to come.
“Yes… that was his name, or what he called himself anyway. Don’t ask me from where he got the revolver. Maybe some cowboy tossed it in the hay after he murdered a lawman.”
The revolver makes a thunk noise. Jacqueline has left it on the dining table, and now she’s sitting lazily. Her robe has opened enough to reveal her creamy inner thighs and offer a glimpse of her pink slit, but I’m too exhausted and disturbed to get horny.
“I can accept a sentient horse, I can accept you owning a revolver, but I can’t handle both being related,” Jacqueline says. “That’s not how things work at all.”
I shake my head slowly in resignation.
“Apparently they do. If you hold certain notions throughout your life about how reality functions, only for them to get butt-fucked in front of your eyes, what else can you do but accept humbly that you were wrong all along? Life is like a cat walking on your stomach, except that the cat is a lion. You know me; I haven’t bought a revolver. Where does one start the process of owning a firearm legally in this country? I doubt that even police officers can. Do you know that someone who shoots at people without a permit is committing a crime? They’re breaking the law just to feel good about themselves. And even if I knew how to legally buy a gun, I can’t organize myself to buy enough food to stock my fridge for a week! I reside in my rotten hometown, so I guess I’m entitled to own a Napoleonic musket with the excuse that I’ll parade around during the San Marcial festivities, although I wouldn’t be caught dead getting involved with thousands of drunken conformists. Anyway, I’m suddenly in possession of a revolver, so I deal with it, and if I get caught I’m gonna claim it’s a prank. Won’t that be good enough to make everyone shut their mouths? It’s really easy to screw up our lives by trying to put together a puzzle that has missing pieces. Like what if ghosts stare at us while we sleep and we think we’re safe because we closed our eyes, but they’re watching us through every single hole we’ve ever had? It’s a miracle that we manage to rest at all, when we keep sleepwalking into traps set by entities that could end up killing us. I still hear the horses: the snorting, the champing of teeth, the clumping hooves on the dirt, the furtive rustling in the tall grass, the wicked neighs. They are chasing me through the backwaters of my dreams.”
Jacqueline is wiping the sleepiness from her glassy eyes with the palms of her hands. I continue nervously.
“Will you accept that we’re living in a dimension where it’s possible for a horse to gift you a gun, or do you want me to come up with a more compelling tale of how Spike bequeathed his revolver to me? Let’s see… That horse-fiend got me drunk and convinced me to help him murder some girl in a grove. Some gangbangers, who I guess were related to the girl, spotted us and shot Spike to pieces. No, that doesn’t work. We tried to flee from the scene, but they shot out a tire of Spike’s car, which he ended up crashing into a tree. We hobbled away until we came across a village. Its sheriff offered us a slab of meat as a reward for getting rid of his worst enemy: a giant spider. Spike chomped on the meat, but suddenly found himself with a mouth full of spiders. He freaked out and bit off the sheriff’s nose. No, there were no spiders involved! Spike got attacked by a hobo; I guess the guy hated horses. Anyway, he lodged a knife in Spike’s rectum. It hurt so much that the horse went berserk and ran through the streets smashing up every car he could find. He ended up committing suicide by cop. No, that’s too inaccurate… Let’s rewind to the car crash. That traitorous horse abandoned me, or maybe left me for dead; I did pass out from blood loss. When I awoke, I found the revolver lying next to me. I never saw Spike again, but I can picture his life in exile: he grew his mane and tail longer, and even grew a cock! This is important because someone had castrated him. He wanted to start a family and sire children, so he mated with cows. There are so many cows in the countryside, Jacqueline; he must have bred with hundreds of them before he got ousted by angry bulls. When the time came for him to meet his maker he had forgotten everything, and he ended up in hell.”
At some point of my rant, Jacqueline started stroking the solid frame of the revolver in such a way that if the firearm wasn’t empty, it may have shot its load. She smiles tiredly at me.
“To be honest, your stories have holes in them big enough for a horse to fit through.”
“I like that, horse references.”
“And I suppose that’s as much information as I’ll glean from you.”
That was disappointment in her voice. As I try to rake my brain to figure out what details I have forgotten to reveal, my mood sours.
“In truth, the whole deal is a whole lot more sinister: the common impression that horses are mindless creatures was a lie all along, Jacqueline! Horses are a different species of intelligence altogether, one that has been hidden behind the mask of stupidness. What kind of fool would believe that a creature that looks like a horse has nothing more than a toothy grin to offer? Their big heads contain a bigger skull cavity in order to house their otherworldly, alternate-reality powers. Horsekind has spent ages tricking the world into believing that they’re harmless beasts who need humans to look after them and clean out their shit. Like other mysterious ruminant creatures, they live in herds, but horses are organized in a matriarchal society that rules the world. Every once in a while, some particularly gifted mare becomes their queen. She can send her horde across seas, or over mountains, or even on long journeys in the sky. All horses are evil, and the sole purpose of their existence is to mutate and destroy the human race. If we manage to make our home inhospitable for everyone, horses will teleport to another planet somewhere far away, perhaps on another universe, so they can continue their tyranny there. If I had a tail, I’d stick it right between my legs.”
Jacqueline twirls the revolver on the tabletop.
“Is this the part where you confess to me that you’re actually a horse in disguise?”
I laugh nervously. I consider telling her that I have nothing to confess except that my life is an endless cycle of disappointment and despair, but I suspect that I better keep such a comment to myself.
“To be honest, I’ve long wanted to own a gun for self-defense, and this one has a real nice heft to it. You are okay with me using it, right?”
I’m overcome by a wave of morbid self-loathing. I take a deep breath.
“I’m fine with you using anything of mine, Jacqueline, or me for that matter, however you please.”
She lifts her warm gaze to gift me a smile, but her expression turns serious as if reluctantly, like a mother’s who wants to justify to her crying child why they can’t adopt a scarred, stray pitbull.
“But I… don’t want you to keep the revolver. Ever since I recovered from the shock of seeing it in my purse, I have pictured you pointing it at your own head.”
My heart skips a beat.
“It only takes a few seconds to make such a decision during a fit of despair, don’t you think?”
I imagine a future nightly ritual for Jacqueline: she will clean and polish the revolver by rubbing a little hand-lotion on the cold steel, she will wet the grip with her warm spit, she will slip the barrel into her mouth like a lollipop, and then she will insert the barrel into her womb, which is her very own firearm chamber. Once she’s done, a lick of gluey fluids will dangle off the muzzle of the revolver like a leech from a rock.
I also imagine myself buying from a stationery shop a thank you card that has an engraving of a horse holding a bouquet of red roses. I don’t know where to send it, so I go to a bus stop where a crouched mother is cleaning her kid’s sticky, jam-smeared hands with a wet handkerchief. The woman doesn’t notice me; I’m invisible to her as if I were already dead and my flesh rotting. I’m an ant in an abandoned subway station and heading to an underpass where the tracks are flooded with rainwater. I read my written note out loud.
Dear horse-fiend, thank you for killing yourself in my presence, and also thank you for providing me with the means to commit suicide. I will forget having written this letter within moments of finishing the final stroke; the words will have melted away without leaving a trace, like so much of my life. I hope that every time I feel low about my worthless, broken existence, I can call up your face in my mind’s eye, and with your help I will summon a black sense of humor to dull the pain. I hope you continue living in my mind for centuries to come, since that’s how long it will take for me to get over you. Yours, Leire.
I burst into sobs. I cry as if my tears could make up for all the tears that I have ever failed to cry. The child, whose hands are now clean, is busy poking a stick into an anthill, but his mother hands me a tissue and asks, “The world is full of beauty, so why do you have to write?”
I shiver as if a cold, dark current had rushed into my spine, and my head starts to throb.
“M-maybe it’s best that you don’t give this gun back to me,” I say grimly. “I admit I am a bit unstable.”
“Yeah, I figured that much.”
I hang my head low.
“Sometimes I even have trouble recalling who I was only moments ago. I’m… sorry for giving you so much trouble, Jacqueline. And thank you for taking care of me.”
Jacqueline’s face scrunches up for a second, then she scoots her chair closer and gestures for me to come to her arms. I let out a weary sigh. I kneel on the cold tiles and wrap my arms around her waist, resting half of my face on her satin robe and the other half on her warm thigh. As I take a deep breath to slow my heart, I get a good whiff of Jacqueline’s musky insides, and I wonder what the smell would be like if she didn’t shower or bathe for a week. I feel an arm around my shoulders and a hand caressing my scalp. It feels like a miracle that she’s here for me, holding me, comforting me. I love her even though I haven’t told her yet.
“Maybe we need to figure out what medicine,” Jacqueline says softly, “or home remedy, you could take that would put your troublesome brain out of commission for the whole night, so you could benefit from dreamless, restorative sleep.”
I consider coming up with a comment, but I only nuzzle my way closer to the sultry scent that emanates from Jacqueline’s crotch. The skin of her thigh is so hot and smooth that I want to rub myself against it like a cat. I hear my pulse echo in my ears, and I see stars in the sky dome of my mind.
“In your current state,” Jacqueline murmurs as her fingertips stroke my hair gently, “we are lucky we won’t have to work on Monday. I could see you passing out at our desk.”
I turn my head in reflex to look up at her face, but the inside of her night robe canopies the snuggly space I’ve wormed my way into.
“Why would that be?” I ask in a thin voice. “Has our office building burned down?”
Jacqueline chuckles, which causes her torso to tremble and her pubic hair to brush my cheek.
“If that were the case, sweetie, I doubt they’d rebuild it in a day. No, it’s November first. All Saints’ Day.”
I shiver. A rush of warmth to my eyes convinces me to shut them tight. I bury my nose in Jacqueline’s soft jungle and I speak against her moist lips.
“It has taken ages, but it’s finally over.” My voice breaks into a whimper. “October is ending.”
Jacqueline has wrapped her left arm around my waist to guide me along the pavement, towards Ondarreta beach. I wish I could say that a myriad stars twinkle in the cloudless night sky like a shimmering crystal veil over an enchanted realm, but instead the sky has blackened as if it were suffocating in woodsmoke. Above the low wall that prevents boozers and even stupider people from falling into the freezing waters of the Cantabrian Sea, the string of glowing streetlights along the opposite coast of Donostia are projecting hazy, swelling pillars of citrine-yellow light onto the wrinkles of the waves, transmuting the bay into an agitated pool of piss.
The breeze is pushing its atoms of cold through my exposed pores, forcing me to shiver in the grasp of my beloved. I’m exhaling puffs of vaporous breath. Although Jacqueline is keeping me upright, my legs are trembling. When an elderly couple and later a group of teenagers passed us by, I feared that I would trip and faceplant on the pavement, imprinting a bloody smear.
I’m venturing through the barren, boreal interspace between a sweltering, vis-à-vis encounter with my girlfriend and the holy moment in which I will slide under her sheets. I need to kneel and plead to the vaginal vaults of heaven for a blessing upon my wretched self. I hope that it will rain menstrual blood, that I will feel those warm drops running down my face, that all the earthworms will drown. In the end the earth will go dark and silent like in a blackout. I yearn to meet the bottomless blackness that waits outside of time, for a cataclysmic storm to erase my life, rubbing out even the shadows. The only things left to worship in this world will be the glowing spheres of our love-spoilt flesh.
As I narrow my eyes to shield them against the headlights of an incoming car, Jacqueline leans in to whisper in my ear.
“Leire, you are shaken up by something. And don’t pretend it’s about the cold.”
“I’m having a fit of despair,” I blurt out in a hoarse voice.
Jacqueline stops walking, which causes me to stumble. I’m about to dismiss my comment with an exaggerated gesture when she unlinks her arm from my waist, grabs my hand and pulls me towards the long stretch of public gardens that run along the beachfront, dragging me at her pace as if I were her pet. Gravel crunches under our shoes as we walk past a sculpture that resembles three upright, five-meters-tall rolled-up newspapers shoved into the ground.
Jacqueline stops us next to one of the scattered benches with a view of the sea. Distanced from the closest streetlight, the grass and trees from the adjoined garden have been drained of colors, giving way to a shadowy monochrome world, lifeless as the inside of a grave. A gust of cold air whistles between the branches of a nearby tree, and sends leaves scampering around like a squad of tumbling pawns. In summer, this spot would make for a suitable trysting place to indulge in some lewd act or another.
The backpack’s weight is pulling down on my shoulder. I figure that we will stick around for a while, so I take the backpack off and drop it onto the bench. When I dare to lift my gaze, I expected to face Jacqueline’s annoyance, but she’s scrutinizing my expression with the fathomless affection of a mother for her child.
“So the sexual videos of those other women didn’t bother you that much,” Jacqueline says. “What is it, then?”
I avert my gaze. Jacqueline runs her fingers along my jawline, then she turns my head towards her.
“Are you having suicidal thoughts again?” she asks with a tremor in her voice.
“Ah, you know I’ve tried to kill myself before… W-well, not more of those thoughts than usual, I don’t think. I’ve always been terrified of that abyss, and of the darkness that it wants to drag me into.”
Jacqueline takes a deep breath. She cups the back of my head and rests her forehead against mine. Our lips touch each other, but I restrain myself from sucking on hers or even letting my tongue wander out of my mouth, in case she shuts me down.
“I won’t let you fall in,” Jacqueline says.
My chest trembles. A rush of warmth behind my eyes forces me to take a labored breath.
“The truth is, Jacqueline, that if I were to fall in, not even you would be able to prevent it.”
She tightens the grip on my nape.
“We’ll see about that. Now tell me what you’ve been dying to share for the whole afternoon, you idiot.”
Although her hot breath is tickling my lips, my spine keeps shivering. I’m growing numb. My tongue feels as heavy and paralyzed as an anchor stuck in the muck of a deep-sea trench. I hear the low, ruminating murmur of the waves against the shore, as well as the ticking of time’s clockwork winding down my life.
I should remain obnoxiously quiet and wait for Jacqueline to grow bored of my personal pains, but I’m sick of worrying her.
“I-I used to watch my parents commit slow suicide day after day. They lived without a shred of passion or compassion as they drowned in mediocrity.”
Jacqueline pats my nape.
“Oh Leire,” she coos. “I meant about what’s going on with you now.”
My teeth are chattering, my lungs filling up with cold air.
“M-my hometown has become unrecognizable. Someone has stolen my door handle, and now my living room window is broken.”
Jacqueline pulls back and grabs my shoulders. I had never seen her this outraged.
“Holy shit, someone broke into your house? What did they steal?”
“Maybe I’m misrepresenting the situation,” I mumble. “Someone did steal the door handle of my apartment building. The culprit was likely a fiend, some insane monster, a vile child murderer who just appeared in town as if summoned by the most malevolent sorcerer of the nine hells, or maybe by a rabid dog. He stole our door handle to sneak inside and inflict unspeakable evils on us.”
“Okay, Leire, calm down. But your living room window broke, right? Did someone throw a stone at it? Some drunk asshole maybe?”
My legs are trembling like the tectonic plates of a fractured planet, my heart is leaping wilder than a rabbit on cocaine.
“I-I mean, I saw who broke it, but it… couldn’t have happened that way.”
Jacqueline furrows her brow and turns her head slightly.
“You mean that maybe you were the one who broke it, during a peculiar state of mind perhaps?”
I let out a pained groan and bury my face in my hands.
“I don’t know, Jacqueline. That would have made sense, but if I faced the proof that I’ve lost my mind to that extent, I don’t know how I would be able to continue living. That wasn’t what I saw. I didn’t headbutt that damn window.”
I flinch at the sound of a passing car, then at the feeling of warm hands closing around mine. Jacqueline lowers my arms so she can look into my eyes. The breeze is making her raven-black locks flap around her neck like a bird trying to escape its cage.
“Tell me who did it then,” she orders me calmly.
My lungs have been vacuumed out; my body forces me to take in a big gulp of air, inviting the stink of burnt gunpowder. A wind is sweeping through the cracks of my mind. Jacqueline as well as the ruthless world that surrounds her go blurry, then two hot tears roll down my cheeks.
“It w-was a h-h-horse. A h-horse who had failed to kill himself with a murdering implement, so he headbutted the window, shattering it. Then he threw himself out the same way some filthy smoker would discard a cigarette butt.”
Jacqueline softens her expression. She reaches to wipe my tears away.
“I-I told the honest truth,” I say in a desperate tone. “That’s how insane I’ve become.”
Jacqueline sighs and nods in resignation, as if I shared that our preferred vending machine at work had doubled its prices overnight.
“The world is a strange place, far stranger than I would have considered years ago. So maybe a horse did break your window.”
“You had been strangely fixated on horses recently. How did that animal end up in your apartment, then? Tell me about it.”
I let out a painful laugh, which causes more tears to leap from my eyes.
“It was just a run-of-the-mill, worthless horse. But he was my friend. I once saved him from a slaughterhouse; I carried him on my back when I rescued him, and for many years I helped him regain his dignity. He has ceased to matter, though, because he’s dead. We shouldn’t be talking about him or even remembering him. Being a horse is a way of life, Jacqueline. Sometimes I’ve thought about becoming a horse myself. You would prefer to die as a horse, wouldn’t you? Your demise would be more honorable than a human’s. But the world is better off not being filled with horses. Besides, I’d better die in obscurity rather than become a beast that has to put up with people like me.”
“Oh, honey,” Jacqueline murmurs as she strokes my hair. “You’re much too hard on yourself. You know I’d prefer for you to live as long as you can, don’t you? You’ve become precious to me in so many ways.”
“There’s no other way to deal with the world but with utter hopelessness and disdain for your fellow humans.”
Jacqueline presses her index finger against my lips, as if to suggest I should shut up.
“I guess you haven’t called anyone to fix the window, have you? I’d hate to lose you for another night, but maybe you’d feel better if you spent it at your apartment? I wouldn’t be comfortable sleeping away from home if one of my windows was broken.”
“No!” I cry out in horror.
Jacqueline flinches and steps back. Her lovely features, that would bring joy to anyone’s heart, suggested for moment that she was facing a battle against a hellhound.
I press my hands together as an apologetic gesture.
“I didn’t mean to… I want to stay away from my apartment!” I cry. “That dreary ruin has long become a fetish room for my sick delusions. I’ve rolled down the shutters anyway, so nobody will even notice that the window is broken. My living room will turn into a fridge and my board games will freeze, but I have only played a third of them.” I grab onto Jacqueline’s arms and I step closer. “Believe me, there’s nothing I’d rather do now than to go to your apartment, get naked and jump into your bed so you can order me what to do. Those are the only times when I’ve ever felt free, when I can forget for a while that I’m forced to exist among horrifying monsters. I’ve been dreaming for decades, Jacqueline, but nothing ever changed. I’m sick, I’ve been sick for as long as I can remember, of living in terror. Maybe… Maybe others should fear me instead.”
Jacqueline places a kiss on my forehead, then she wraps me in a tight embrace, snuggling her cheek against mine. Her body heat envelops me. I clutch the back of her suede trench coat like a drowning woman would cling to a floating log.
“You are a creation of flesh and blood that has the right to love,” she whispers in my ear. “You don’t need to be a monster to be a person.”
I bury my face in her neck and choke back a sob. When I finally pull away, her turtleneck must have absorbed plenty of my tears and snot.
“P-please, Jacqueline, give me your purse and close your eyes until I tell you to open them,” I say in a hoarse voice.
My request confuses her, but she slides the strap of her purse off her shoulder and gives it to me. She closes her eyes and stands there as if expecting a present.
I open the purse. As I reach inside my jacket, I look around warily. The few human-shaped silhouettes framed against the distant, darkened bulk of the island are busy strolling along the beachfront.
I pull out Spike’s revolver and put it in Jacqueline’s purse, on top of her wallet, her keys and some paper handkerchiefs.
Author’s note: thus concludes the sequence I’ll refer to at this moment as ‘Leire’s Got a Gun’, that has taken me fifteen days to write. According to the 11,793 words of notes left to render into coherent scenes, things are going to get far weirder from here.
Spike headbutted Leire’s living room window back in chapter 51.
Anyway, it’s six o’clock in the afternoon on a Sunday, which means that the day is almost over; I go to bed at ten to wake up at six for work. I’ve spent this weekend writing, lifting weights, shedding tears and masturbating, so I’m fully prepared to face a series of five new workdays filled with meaningless drudgery and unknown horrors.
My gaze traces the vermillion border where Jacqueline’s pearly-white skin meets the rounded, jasper-red vermillion zone of her lips, but I wish I could close my eyes and chart with my own thin skin those millimetric grooves and wrinkles. Her mouth opens, exposing that sultry cave to the evening chill. It’s a forbidden, slippery topography that could swallow me up with ease. As the lips part, they unveil two shiny frontal incisors, cast like premium tokens for a beloved board game, as well as the saliva pooled in the basin between the dorsal surfaces of her watermelon-pink tongue.
From the bottom of the frame rises a roughly cubical potato chunk, its yellow-ochre skin crispy and smeared with a swath of alioli sauce. I’d like to have you inside me, Jacqueline thinks to the potato chunk. She guides the fork towards her mouth, and when her lips slide over the chunk to enfold it, they get coated in a greasy sheen and spotted with flecks of paprika. Those two voluminous, glossy surfaces curve around each other as she purses them to rip the potato away from the fork. She bites into the chunk, cracking its skin to expose a bright layer of flesh. Her cheeks dimple while she chews. A yellow-ochre dribble runs down from the corners of her mouth to meet at her chin, where they entwine into a long, oily strand. I want to reach with my stretched fingers to scoop the mixture up. I’d let that elongating strand hang down from my palm like an elastic stalactite, so it would trickle slowly onto my face and the warmth of Jacqueline’s saliva would seep through my pores.
She lets out a juicy grunt as her throat swells and the mashed potato slides down the cozy tube of her esophagus. Her tongue riffles along her teeth, dips and weaves its way across her lips, and swabs at the corners of her mouth. Her cheeks are flushed with a mix of crimson and coral, her cobalt-blues are glazed with potato lust. She has swallowed a secret message, one that reveals that she has become more than human and that the world of pleasure is at her doorstep.
As a child I dreamt that Jacqueline would offer me a bite of such a spiced, fried, tumefied tuber. That fantasy had fueled many an evening of masturbation, but now my memory fails to conjure up how my lips would feel on that flesh, creamy like the supple lips of an oyster.
“I’d like to have you inside me,” I mumble.
Jacqueline’s eyelashes flutter. When she exhales my way, her hot breath is tinged with the scent of garlic and pepper.
“What did you say? You better stop focusing on my mouth so much,” Jacqueline says in a voice that suggests that I should keep focusing on her mouth, “or else I’ll snarf through the rest of the potatoes before you know it. Was your stomach gurgling for nothing?”
I’ve gulped down my latte to combat the growing chill of the evening. The setting sun’s fire has dyed the sky a scarlet shade, turning the clouds into a fiery display of crimson and gold. On the opposite side of the chain link fence, the remaining tennis players, two middle-aged men that look like they own a collection of suits and spend their mornings shouting into phones, along with two dwarf-sized children, are engaged in a doubles match. One of the kids, whose face has the shape of a pizza, waddles towards the net as the racket wobbles in his right hand, to volley the descending ball. However, it whizzes past the kid and strikes the ground with a dull thud.
The world’s babble gets drowned out by a deep grumble coming from my stomach. The potato lover in me is screaming to go for a bite. I want to drown in a tidal wave of potatoes and alioli sauce, so that I’ll be able to forget the pangs of despair that are stabbing my insides.
I jab a chunk, but as I hold it to the evening light, it has transformed into a satanic totem, an offering to be consumed by some demon. I shove the food into my mouth and I gnaw on it in an effort to masticate my anxiety. The chunk’s skin is crisp and slightly charred, its insides are meaty and unctuous. I devour my fourth potato in one minute.
“My mouth is burning,” I say with a strained voice, “and I’d really like to have you inside me.”
My girlfriend laughs.
“But, Jacqueline…” I continue timidly.
Jacqueline has rested her right elbow next to her coffee cup and leaned her head on that hand. Her kindly expression suggests she had been waiting for me to gather enough courage to open up.
“Yes, baby girl?” she asks in a mellifluous voice.
“About your external hard drive…”
Jacqueline perks up.
“Ah, did you forget it at home? Is that why you are so tense?”
I pat the top of my backpack, that is resting against one of the rear legs of my chair.
“No, I got it right here.”
She sighs in relief.
“To be honest, I would have been a bit annoyed if you had forgotten it, because I’ve wanted to revisit some of those videos. But even if you had forgotten to grab it, we can make new ones, right? At least a couple more tonight.”
“I hope so. But I meant to bring up that… ‘Misc’ folder.”
A roguish smile of recognition lights up Jacqueline’s face. She starts twirling her fork around in her fingers.
“Yeah? What about it?”
“Well,” I say, trying to keep the tension out of my voice, “why did you include the videos of other women masturbating?”
“Oh.” Jacqueline snickers. “Partly so they would make you horny. Those ladies were delicious, weren’t they?”
She said it in the same tone I would have praised gummy bears as a kid. I want to bring up that she filmed those strangers in her apartment, that they doused with their girly juices the same fabrics that kept me warm at night, but as I try to push some words together into an objection, the words congeal into a thick clot of panic. I give up and let the air out through my mouth.
“That was me also opening up to you,” Jacqueline adds. “Are you troubled because you rubbed your sensitive little button to someone other than your girlfriend?”
My shoulders have drooped. I have to make an effort to remain upright in my seat, and it feels unfair that Jacqueline is demanding that I spend my limited energies talking.
“I don’t know, Jacqueline,” I say in a weary voice. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel.”
A tennis ball rattles the nearby chain link fence, then it rolls back into the court. I take a sip of my tepid latte. Jacqueline grabs a potato chunk with her thumb and index finger. She rotates the potato as if inspecting whether or not it deserves to get shoved into her mouth.
“You aren’t supposed to feel in any particular way, baby,” she says in a calm, motherly tone. “People don’t experience the feelings that they are expected to or would prefer to have; they feel whatever chemical mix their brain produces. They sometimes pretend otherwise to fit into someone else’s idea of how a human being should feel.”
She slathers alioli sauce from the plate on the potato chunk, smearing it too on her nails and fingertips. The chunk has transformed into a savory weapon.
“Does it bother you that those videos made you horny while you were struggling with other feelings?” Jacqueline asks as she shoots me a sideways look.
What little remains of warmth on this October evening is evaporating into a bitter chill.
“I don’t think I want to know that far more attractive women than me have lain in the same bed where you and I have made love. I want you all to myself. I wish you had always been mine, and me yours. But yes, those videos made me feel guilty because I couldn’t stop myself from abusing my genitals to them.”
Jacqueline breaks into a gentle laugh, and when that melody stops, her satisfied smile suggests that I have overcome some hurdle.
“That’s what I want, your authentic self, full of contradictions and confusions. Some poor fools spend their whole lives repressing themselves, even in the solitude of their own minds, just to please cowards who have wasted their existence straitjacketed. Isn’t that a shame?”
I shift my weight in the chair.
“Apart from my feelings, whatever passes for sentient thought in my rotting brain fails to understand the purpose of presenting those past lovers of yours to me.”
Jacqueline chuckles, then she stares down at the piece of potato she’s holding, as if she expected it to start talking.
“They aren’t my lovers, at least in the strict sense.”
“Huh? Just business partners then?”
“Yes, something like that.”
“I know for a fact that you mix business and pleasure. So do I, for that matter.”
Jacqueline squares her shoulders and holds my gaze steadily with her cobalt-blues.
“I promise you, sweetie, that this mouth you see, and that you were previously salivating over, has never kissed any of those ladies, nor has this skin felt theirs.”
My muscles loosen up.
“You may have found your vocation in the porn industry, then. I haven’t seen you this serious about anything else.”
“I would respect anything that brought me so much dough.”
Jacqueline scoots her chair closer to me, then she guides the potato chunk through the air until it waits in front of my lips like a car at a toll booth. I inhale its spicy, smoky scent.
“Open up, baby,” she says as her smile broadens.
I want to be stuffed so hard with potatoes that my blood turns into potatoes. When I part my lips, Jacqueline pops the potato chunk into my mouth, which gets filled with the taste of salt, oil and garlic, and a hint of lemon. My tongue relishes the rough texture of crisp skin.
“Good girl,” Jacqueline adds huskily. “I’m curious to know, though, which among my starlets was your favorite.”
After she lowers her gaze to my mouth, she slides her lower lip against her two maxillary central incisors in a way that makes me want to swallow before I’ve finished chewing the potato chunk.
“I was partial to that redheaded… girl,” I mumble sheepishly.
Jacqueline’s eyebrows shoot up, and she beams like I just praised one of her proudest accomplishments.
“She’s really something, isn’t she? A legend in certain circles. Unfortunately, hers is not a look that can be exploited for long before strangers on the internet start getting nosy.”
My stomach acid has started dissolving the bolus of tuber when I attempt to understand Jacqueline’s words, but a searing memory flashes in my mind: that sylphlike, freckle-spattered girl lying in a pool of cum, her burgundy mane blotched and her frozen grimace of agony concealed by a daisy-white crust.
A cold shiver runs down my spine. I rub my face with both hands to regain my composure.
“May she rest in peace,” I utter gravely.
Jacqueline lets out an unusual noise of confusion.
“What do you mean? She’s alive and well.”
I shake my head slowly. I won’t clarify any of the horrors burned into my brain, lest I traumatize my beloved. Anyway, I’m a wilted violet; I can’t be expected to make sense.
“Hey,” Jacqueline says calmly.
When I look up, she’s holding the index finger and thumb of her right hand in a pinching motion in front of my mouth. Those fingertips, as well as her short, almond-shaped nails, are smeared with sauce. Jacqueline’s cobalt-blues twinkle like a naughty schoolgirl’s.
“Clean them up for me, sweetheart.”
Despite the growing cold, my cheeks puff up with heat. I close my eyes and I lean in to house her fingers within my warm mouth. I lap and swirl my tongue around her fingertips and the edges of her nails, spreading the alioli sauce on my tastebuds.
My mind draws in its darkened theatre the outline of nearby seated patrons by the babel of their conversations. A child lets out an enthusiastic vocalization, and someone follows it with the whap of a tennis racket hitting a ball. A blaring motorcycle passes by the entrance of the pub’s grounds.
I want to taste more and more of Jacqueline; she’s bread and water for my starving body. But she must have noticed that I’ve removed every trace of the oily coating, because she withdraws her two fingers from my mouth, scratching lightly the surface of my tongue with her nail on the way out.
When I open my eyes, Jacqueline’s gaze threatens to drown me. I’ve learned to recognize her two moods; as she ordered me to suck on her fingers, she was a house cat that alternates between playfulness and carefree lounging, but now she has become a relentless predator aching to pounce on her prey to rip a juicy throat out. She breathes deeply through her teeth while her moist lips quiver. As she narrows her shoulders, overcome by some swell of emotion, a thick lock of her lustrous, raven-black hair bends against the turtleneck of her blouse. My skin erupts with gooseflesh.
“I missed you so much last night,” Jacqueline says, lowering her voice to a husky whisper. “But tonight I’ll have you back in my bed, won’t I? And that bottomless hunger of yours will devour me until I can’t walk anymore.”
I nod fervently as my crotch warms up with sticky, creamy desire. Once again Jacqueline will allow me to gnaw on her flesh with the vigor of a desert locust. I’ll provide the most sensitive patches of her skin a feverish tongue-bath. Unfortunately, this pub is populated with families that would be disturbed by the sight of a couple of women openly indulging in sex on top of this rickety table, although some of the men would likely offer the two of us free drinks.
“I’ll choke on your saliva as your hot tongue rambles around my own,” I say between gasps of air, “I’ll lick your tits wet and shiny, I’ll kiss and nibble on your nipples, I’ll bury my face in your pussy until I suck up your juices to the last drop. Just tell me when and where I should drop to my knees. I exist to pleasure you.”
Jacqueline chuckles throatily as her lips curl into a smile that would make any hardened criminal fear the end of the world. She lowers her head to stare at me through her eyelashes with an air of bloodthirsty divinity. Her pupils have become wide-open tunnels to the bottom of an ocean.
“Alright, you may have your wish. It’s going to be my treat to take you away from this stressful life of yours. You’re all mine now, and I won’t let you ever forget it. But I’m afraid that your behavior needs some polishing.”
My heart is thundering in my chest, and the needy pressure in my clit is increasing uncontrollably.
“Maybe you need to try harsher methods, mommy,” I utter in a rough voice. “Spank me with a tennis racket. Carve my flesh with a rusty knife. Chain me to your bed using high security combination locks with codes that you’ve long forgotten. Make me disappear from the world. I want to shit in a bucket for the rest of my life.”
Jacqueline rests her elbows on the table, pushing her coffee mug towards the remaining potatoes, and she shuts her eyes tight. A bead of saliva grows at a corner of her mouth until she dabs at it with the tip of her tongue. When she holds my gaze again, her cobalt-blues have become pools of burning lust.
“Baby,” she starts hoarsely, “you are such a good girl that I regret having asked you to spend the afternoon anywhere else than at my place.”
“Nothing will prevent me from ending up naked at your mercy tonight, Jacqueline. You are the only person who has ever made me feel like I’m human.”
Jacqueline stands up forcefully, nearly toppling over her chair.
“Fuck the rest of the potatoes. Let’s leave.”
I leap to my feet. I lift my bulky backpack and I sling it over my left shoulder. Jacqueline is rubbing her cheeks with one hand as if to hide the traces of her frenzy. She retrieves her purse and clicks the clasp to open it, then she takes out her wallet. I hurry to fish mine from whatever pocket of my trousers I shoved it in. Under such pressure, carrying a purse would have helped me, but I’ve never been a fan of them; I fear that I would lose it, that some fiend would snatch it, or that I would leave incriminating evidence inside that would lead me to prison.
“Wait, I can pay for this one,” I say.
Jacqueline raises my chin with her thumb, and her gaze shuts me up.
“You will never have to worry about money with me, doll. You’ll repay me by letting me do to you whatever I want.”
Author’s note: as I wrote most of this chapter (and the following) these past couple of days, I mostly listened to compilations like this one on YouTube, which are helpful if you want to feel like you are writing at an empty coffee shop during the thirties/forties while it’s raining outside. But throughout this past week, on the train to and from work, I listened to Jackson C. Frank’s stuff. Songs like ‘Blues Run the Game’, ‘Milk & Honey’, ‘October’ and, of course, ‘Marlene’. He was maybe the cursed songwriter of the sixties.
Jacqueline’s infamous external hard drive and its contents were developed back in chapter 45.
As it has happened before, I originally believed that this part and the following one would fit into the same chapter, but I eventually decided to divide it. I’ve already written about two thousand words of the next part, that will conclude this sequence, so I’ll likely be able to upload it in a couple of days.
The cerulean sky, bedecked with the indigo silhouettes of amorphous clouds, has been ripped open as the October sun falls, aching to incinerate me into ashes along with this whole planet. My chest has constricted, and an itchy sensation keeps crawling between my shoulder blades like a centipede.
I’m hunched over and tapping my feet anxiously when I realize that Jacqueline is returning through the corridor between the tables. The leafy canopies of the palm trees are sliding their shadows over my girlfriend’s luscious body like some greasy pervert on a crowded train. When our gazes meet, her mouth stretches in a smile, bending the pink bow of her upper lip. Her eyes shine like a riverbed of sapphires.
My heartbeat kicks up. I leap to my feet, then I walk to intercept Jacqueline.
“Gotta empty your bladder?” she asks.
“That’s right, I’m going to the bathroom.”
I rest my hands on her shoulders, I stand on my tiptoes and I press my lips against her cheek. Jacqueline chuckles and draws her head back, confounded by my sudden warmth.
“Oh? Have I taken that long?”
I swallow the lump in my throat.
“Thirty years,” I say in a quavering voice. “Thirty years of suffocating in this suit of bones and blood. But thank you for being so nice to me.”
She cups the back of my head and kisses my forehead.
“I’m not done yet, idiot. Go to relieve yourself, will you? You’ll feel better.”
I nod, then pull away from her towards the watermelon-pink building of the pub, but I’ve just passed by two occupied tables when I look over my shoulder. Jacqueline has retrieved the purse with which she claimed a chair, and she’s sitting down gracefully.
When I turn my head forward, I’m forced to sidestep two dickheads wearing pit-stained T-shirts and shorts that parade their hairy, masculine legs and their cloven-hoofed feet. Their stench reminds me of the flatulences my grandfather spewed out as he sat on the toilet seat, even before I helped him unbutton his trousers and pull down his underpants. The tennis players have slung their bags over the shoulder; they must have bought them too small on purpose so the racket handle would stick out. Surely they noticed that I was distracted, so they intended to march their way through me.
I shudder, then quicken my pace. The itching between my shoulder blades has spread to the back of my neck; my skin crawls as I imagine the human vermin skulking behind me. Their calloused hands will rove over me, creeping up my armpits and thighs. I’d love to close my eyes to shut the world out and grope my way to the bathroom, but I have to keep an eye out in case some barbarous child sets itself on a collision course with my legs.
I pass between the counterfeit Greek-style columns that guard the front door, and I find myself in a dim room. The recessed lights mounted above the bar counter, as well as few globe lamps, light up the varnish of the rosewood tables. Long-dead tennis players from the beginning of the Age of Modernity have been captured in faded, black-and-white photographs. Regarding a row of flags mounted on the wall, their colors have waned as if they were medieval paintings displayed in a cathedral. The air smells of beer and wine, and of Spanish omelette and crab meat from the small portions on sale behind a sneeze guard.
I approach the bar counter. The two men working behind it are middle-aged, grey-haired and broad-shouldered, their iron-colored shirts smooth and ironed. I flag down the closest bartender, who takes his time chuckling at whatever comment the other dude made. He places his hands on the counter and locks my gaze.
“What can I get’cha, miss?”
“Bang,” I say.
The bartender draws his head back and blinks twice. His lips twist in a smile.
“That a shot? Sounds like one helluva hangover cure. I don’t think we serve it, though.”
He shuts up, likely because my eyes have gone wide and the color has drained from my face. My tongue swells inside my mouth like a fat slug. I swallow a gulp of saliva to quell my sudden nausea.
“You don’t have bang?” I ask in a rough voice. “I was looking forward to it. Bloody brilliant drink.”
The bartender knits his brows in suspicion.
“Would you like a beer instead?”
“You know I’m a non-drinker.”
“I know nothing of the sort, miss.”
I catch him staring at my crotch through the bar counter, so I quickly cross my legs.
“W-well, can you point me in the direction of the nearest bathroom?”
The bartender leans in and lowers his voice.
“You’re looking a tad unwell, like you should go to a hospital.”
I straighten my back and furrow my brow.
“How dare you? This is my regular look. Besides, it’s nothing that peeing won’t fix.”
The bartender crosses his arms over his chest, then he stares me up and down.
“You’re gonna pee to make that green look disappear from your face?”
My heartbeat hammers at the base of my throat. Why does every random human I come across have to make my life more difficult?
“I’m sure you guys don’t have bang because you’ve stocked that stockroom of yours full of crystal meth,” I say in a dry voice. “So how about you point me towards the nearest bathroom, you insensitive prick, before I call in an anonymous tip to the authorities?”
The bartender glances at his buddy, then he chuckles as if he was the victim of a dumb joke. He points somewhere behind my left shoulder.
“Right around the corner. Can’t miss it.”
“Sorry for insulting you, but pricks piss me off.”
Both men laugh.
“Aren’t you special?” the bartender asks rhetorically. “Don’t forget to wash your hands, miss.”
I spin around and tramp my way towards the toilets. My head keeps spinning, my body withering. When I turn the corner, I come across a row of decrepit, wooden lockers that show, through a wire mesh fit for a chicken coop, the caveman’s version of a tennis racket. The bathrooms are identified with framed, drawn depictions of a member of each gender; the woman is brushing her black mane with her fingers while she flaunts her naked, rotund backside.
I go into the ladies’ room and lock the door behind me. I flick on the light to dazzle the dark, but the claustrophobic space feels suffocatingly full of blood and vomit. A taste of copper lingers in my mouth; I turn on the tap and take long gulps of chilly water.
When I straighten my spine, I dare to face the tarnished mirror, which is streaked by tiny cracks that form a fine web like a spider’s. My hair is a mess of brown snakes. The wrinkles on my forehead have deepened into crevasses. My eyes are bottomless pits except for their whites, that have become two pieces of blood-spattered glass swirling around in a soup made of stagnant water and bits of rotting vegetation. A sickly hue stains the skin beneath my eyes, and I can discern the capillaries that crawl under the surface. The bones of my cheeks are protruding like those of a months-dead corpse dug up by a necrophile. I’m as fragile as a brittle-boned baby bird fallen from its nest, who waits for someone to step on it carelessly.
What did I expect to see when I opened that pair of face holes? A comforting vision of myself as an innocent baby? No matter how I imagine the person in the mirror, she will always remain a stranger. All I’ve achieved in my thirty years of living is a form of self-exsanguination.
A flurry of sparks runs through my brain. I plop down on the toilet seat and rub my face.
Spike, whose equine existence had become a permanent vacation as far as I can tell, decided that I was responsible for his despair; when I proved myself impervious to his charms and tricks, the horse demon, devastated, chose to kill himself. I’ve had enough of men of any species believing that they have the right to manipulate me.
I’m a thirty-year-old female programmer. My first instinct is to shrug off the notion. I want to be something else: a horse, or a wolf, or a basilisk. I want to be an alien, to have my own spaceship with which to land on pristine worlds so I can terraform them to suit my tastes. Spike had wanted to be an angel, and thus he seduced me with the promise of eternal peace, but I’m a human. I’m meant to suffer for eternity.
My hands are trembling. I slip my right one under my jacket, reaching into the interior pocket where I’ve felt a conspicuous weight pulling down throughout the whole date. I draw the revolver out. Its shiny, metallic frame feels heavy and warm against my sweaty palms, solid like an erect penis encrusted with steel. With my fingertips, I trace the contour of the engraved skull and bones. I open the cylinder; its chambers are loaded with lead. I push the cylinder closed.
My whole skin is sweating like an armpit. I get the urge again, a mental command, to shove the barrel of the revolver in my mouth and pull the trigger. Dying would solve every problem I’ve ever had, along with the thousands of problems I can only anticipate in horror. I’m going to save myself from the consequences of my abysmal luck, my rotten genes, and my own actions, by walking out of this dream.
I close my eyes and I rerun the simulation: the muzzle of the revolver presses into my palate and the trigger resists against my finger as I squeeze it first slowly, then all at once. A deafening blast shakes the toilet room. The force of the explosion propels me against the ceiling and sends bits of porcelain flying. I fall, landing face first on the floor with my neck twisted. A black, sticky substance spills from my mouth, and my lips are dusted with gunpowder residue, but I’m wearing my sexiest smile; I’ve succeeded in blowing my worthless head off.
I scratch the edge of the revolver’s muzzle with the bitten nail of my thumb. I should shoot myself now. I won’t have to see what face Jacqueline makes when they find my corpse. She won’t love someone like me. Nobody could.
A fresh wave of nausea takes hold of my innards. No, I don’t want to put Jacqueline through such grief. And if I die, I’ll never see her again. I won’t feel her skin against mine, nor hear her heart beating within her chest.
I slide down the toilet seat until my knees hit the floor. I slump forward. The revolver slips out of my hand as my face lands on the cold ceramic tiles, which are moist as if someone had splashed water from the sink, or pissed on the floor. My chest hurts; I have a splinter lodged in my heart.
If Jacqueline likes me, if my company improves her day, I guess I can keep on hanging on.
I haul myself to my feet, but my back spasms and I eject a mouthful of bile. After I wipe my mess up, I grab the revolver and shove it under my jacket. I wash my hands and my face thoroughly with cold water.
If I could, I would have walked out of the pub’s main building with my hands over my ears and a hood pulled over my head. I feel like I’m walking for the first time after I’ve spent a week lying in a hospital bed.
I’m dragging my gaze along the floor of the terrace; the voices coming from the occupied tables that I leave behind judge and mock me. When I dare to look up, Jacqueline is leaning back against her chair. She has entwined her fingers behind her head and she’s staring sideways at me. My mommy would have thrived as a fifties pin-up model. That raven-black mane of hers looks dark and mysterious like a bat orgy at midnight.
When I reach the chair I chose for myself, I fear that my flesh will pass through any solid material, so I lower my ass carefully. My head hurts as though a couple of crows have built a nest inside my skull. I guess I can’t subject myself to the prospect of annihilation without earning a headache.
“You’re always so pale,” Jacqueline says.
When her warm hand strokes my cheek, I restrain myself from bawling like a child. It takes me a few seconds to compose myself.
“I’m a glassy-eyed, naked baby bird whose wings are still wet,” I say in a thin, squeaky voice. “I’m a fatigued soldier whose tank was knocked out in the war. I’m a rusty key for a long-decommissioned lock, waiting for its owner to retrieve it from a chain that has been thrown in the ocean.”
Jacqueline chuckles as a courtesy, but I’ve learned to recognize whenever she grows concerned about me.
“You are the strangest person I’ve ever met. But what has been troubling you today, Leire? I can tell you are dying to open up about it.”
I avert my gaze, then I lean forward to rest my arms on the table, but it wobbles. I adjust my elbows to even out the motion.
“Leire,” Jacqueline says in a tone that harkens me back to the times I’ve lain sideways on her lap and latched on to her breast. “Look at me, baby.”
I shake my head weakly.
“I couldn’t bear the sight of your splendorous face right now.”
“Well, that’s nice of you to say. But surely you know that you can tell me anything, right?”
Although if someone were to prick my skin with a needle I would implode, I hoist my gaze to Jacqueline’s lips.
“H-half of it is the usual business. I’m being controlled by a stranger, someone who doesn’t care for my comfort or consent. A person who despises me for having been born.”
“That’s horrible enough, Leire. What about the other half?”
As I struggle to gather my thoughts, an electrical discharge shakes my brain. I shut my eyes closed and suck air through my teeth.
Jacqueline squeezes my right hand, that I had rested on the table.
“Baby, people don’t get zapping in the brain for no reason,” she says, worried. “Maybe you should call for an appointment with a neurologist.”
I lean back in the chair and open my mouth to speak, but a man’s cheery voice violates our privacy.
“Coffee and spicy potatoes, coming up.”
Our waiter is a South American guy with coffee-colored skin, who’s wearing tiny hoop earrings and that has ruined his hair with frosted tips. More importantly, he’s striding towards us while holding a tray with two lattes and a plate of steaming, spicy potatoes.
I sit upright.
“Ah yes, we came here to eat…”
As the waiter sets the two cups of latte and the spicy potatoes on our table, he dares to speak to us.
“How are you two doing this evening?” he asks in a too-friendly tone, as if we chose this establishment to have sex in front of him and his fellow staff members.
“Very well, thank you,” Jacqueline says.
“Is it okay if I call you Gerard?” I ask him.
The waiter tilts his head, then his cheeks dimple as he smiles.
“Gerard is fine. My name’s actually César, though.”
“Are you a time traveler from the nineties?”
Jacqueline lets out a noise of surprise. She taps my right shoulder with the back of her hand.
“Leire, don’t be a dick for no reason.”
“But that was an honest question.”
The waiter seems more amused than disturbed.
“I was born in ninety-three, back in Brazil.”
“Like anacondas and Brazilians.”
“That is true. Anyway, I hope you enjoy your food, ladies.”
Gerard saunters away from us like we’re no longer worthy of his time.
The mound of fried, roughly cubical potatoes is sprinkled with gunpowder, and covered in a cum-colored alioli sauce. Its aroma invades my nostrils and delivers a tangy, spicy kick to my brains. My mouth fills with saliva, so I hurry to close it in case I start drooling.
Jacqueline pours sugar onto her latte, then she stirs it until the powder dissolves. She’s smiling warmly at me like a parent at Christmas.
I grab one of the forks. Instead of stabbing myself in the neck again, I impale one of the potatoes and I bring it to the cavernous hole in my face. As I taste the hot, spiced potato and the oily, garlic-based sauce, I feel like I’m going to tear up, so I close my eyes.
“They look so small,” I mumble with my mouth full, “but they’re so fucking heavy.”
My limbs loosen up, and I sink into my chair.
“That’s the stuff, isn’t it?” Jacqueline asks softly. “Despite our worries and pains, we can look forward to tasty delights, and in our case, we can also care for each other.”
Author’s note: This week I’ve been listening to one of my favorite albums from fifteen or so years ago (most of my favorite albums are from at least a decade ago, because I’ve grown old): The Unicorns’ ‘Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?’, particularly the ghost-themed songs ‘Tuff Ghost’ and ‘Sea Ghost’. They were also favorites of Irene, the protagonist of my previous novel. Self-promotion!
Anyway, I’ve had a hard time getting through this scene. I thought that by working in the afternoon this week, I would wake up early and write for a few hours until I was forced to abandon my post to waste my time and energies at the office. But my brain has been a muddled mess recently.
I’ve decided to hyphenate what I call color qualifiers like ‘watermelon-pink’ from now on. I use that stuff a lot, and I refused to hyphenate it because it didn’t look good to me, but it looks better to me now, so that’s what I will do. I will revise all the other instances whenever I finish this novel.
How come Leire, one of the most dangerous people in the world to own a revolver, suddenly has one? If you don’t know already (why are you reading this?), you should likely read through the entirety of the previous sequence, that started back at chapter 43. It actually happens right at the end, but just read through the entirety of it, will you?
Yesterday, a Friday, I returned home from work at eleven. I fell asleep like a couple of hours later, and woke up at six in the morning for my solitary shift on a Saturday. Thankfully, for a few hours my desk looked like this:
I’ve gotten back to the ‘Arkham Horror’ LCG, probably my favorite “board game” ever. I played through the first scenario of the ‘Edge of the Earth’ campaign, with the decks I made for Zoey Samaras (a vicious damage dealer who gets rewards for engaging enemies), Monterey Jack (who mostly travels around doing his stuff), and Jacqueline Fine. Of course, I have no choice but to play with an investigator named Jacqueline, but apart from that, her ability to manipulate the Chaos Bag tokens is very powerful. The links go to each of my public decks at ArkhamDB. I prefer to build thematic decks that mainly focus on the one or two things that an investigator does that nobody else can; however, that requires a good team. My Zoey got screwed bad in Agility-based treachery cards because she doesn’t have a single related skill card.
Anyway, I wrote about this board/card game because it keeps me entertained and distracted from the shittiness of the rest of the world, in a similar way that writing does. I feel like crap otherwise.
Jacqueline and I stroll through the sand back to the promenade. I thought that we would cross the stretch of gardens, but instead she guides me along the low wall that delimits the western edge of Ondarreta beach, past the open courts of the tennis club, which are half-filled with players that intend to sweat their way through the remaining hour of sun on this October afternoon. We leave behind two teenagers on their bikes, a group of seniors walking their dogs, a mother pushing a pram. All thankfully absorbed in their own little worlds, without a second glance to spare for the couple walking past them.
Jacqueline tugs on my arm to stop me. On the opposite side of the narrow road, a canopied entryway flanked by tennis courts leads to an outdoor café, although a sign next to the entrance calls it an English pub. To the right of the overhang of palm trees that line the outdoor café, the apartment buildings built on the terraced slopes of Mount Igueldo look so close that I want to figure out how crazy rich I’d need to be to afford them.
“Have you been here before?” Jacqueline asks.
“Are you kidding me?”
“But it’s nice enough, right?”
“And likely expensive.”
Jacqueline takes my hand and pulls me into the pub’s grounds. Past the tall hedges meant to offer some privacy to the tennis players, the spread-out tables and chairs are white and plasticky; likely promotional items from some brewery. The folded parasols stick out like erect, hooded penises.
I choose a table distanced two empty ones from a family that has come to watch their kids play, judging by the flamboyant tennis bags. Our table has been placed next to a hedge, but on the opposite side of the terrace, only a chain link fence separates us from two ongoing tennis matches in which men wearing shorts are pursuing a bouncing ball to whack it severely.
I take off my backpack and put it down next to my picked chair. I roll the sore shoulder that had endured the weight all the way from my apartment. Jacqueline observes me as I exaggerate a grimace of pain.
“Are you into tennis?” she asks.
I narrow my eyes at her. My girlfriend has seen me cry during the strain of merely exercising to a YouTube video in her living room, yet she asks me if I would enjoy witnessing a more gruesome torture.
“I don’t know much about tennis except that it’s a sport, a horrifying fact, and that it involves two men hitting each other’s balls.”
“It can also involve two women hitting each other’s balls, or a combination of genders hitting each other’s balls.”
“I was unaware of such crude details of the game.”
“Oh yes. Men are not the only ones who get their jollies from other people’s pain and humiliation.”
Spike’s stupid horse face flashes in my mind, and I find myself scratching my cheek anxiously. I clear my throat.
“Well, if the sport also mixed species, I may have found it intriguing. What, does tennis get you off, Jacqueline?”
“Oh, I wish,” she says, sounding wistful. “But I do love to see two people compete over something, it’s fascinating. One of these days I’ll drag you down here to play.”
Although Jacqueline smiles, my skin prickles with unease, to which also contributed the loud thwack of a racket hitting a ball behind the hedge that separates us from another tennis court.
“I think you meant bring.”
She crosses her arms and tilts her head as if she intended to look stern, but the silly grin betrays her.
“You know what I mean, don’t you, sweetie? The same way I got you to sweat with me in the living room, you’ll learn how to whack tennis balls.”
My muscles complain in anticipation.
“A simple glimpse of you, with your graceful yet commanding presence, suggests that you were born with the tennis skill and an instinct to use it as a choice in warfare.”
“I know I’m gorgeous, Leire, and you are just changing the subject.”
“What I meant to add is that, in contrast, I’m lucky if I can rely on enough energy to remain coherent throughout a whole workday.”
Jacqueline shrugs cruelly.
“Well, now you’ll have to adapt to a life in which you play tennis all day long. But don’t worry, I’ll show you the sport in the most unusual ways.”
A ball hits the chain link fence, making it rattle with a metallic sound.
“Once you experience such a level of second-hand embarrassment, you’ll regret it,” I say wearily. “In any case, please let’s sit down. Gravity is torturing me more than usual.”
When I plop myself down, the plasticky chair creaks. Jacqueline rests her hands on the back of the closest chair, which is facing the hedge.
One of the tennis players behind the fence shouts incoherently; sportspeople believe they have the right to annoy others in such ways. The man swerves to intercept an incoming projectile, and I imagine his sweaty penis flopping around inside his shorts. The glans must be shaped like a tennis ball.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to enjoy this place…” I mutter. A chill shoots up my spine, and I go wide-eyed. “W-wait a second, tennis?!”
“What sudden realization has horrified you?” Jacqueline asks patiently.
“Is this where you met…? I mean, you did date a whole lot of tennis players…”
“I’ve never dated a tennis player. However, I have fucked a couple of them, and yes, I met them here. One of them was trying to lose his virginity.”
I sit bolt upright as if someone just offered me a cupcake.
“What does that have to do with anything?!”
Jacqueline’s eyes shine with mischief.
“He wanted to have sex with me, I wanted to have sex with him, and we happened to play tennis together.”
I try in vain to suppress a shudder.
“I’d rather not hear about your conquests. So why have you brought me to this restaurant in particular? To see how I’d react? To hurt me?”
“No, baby! I just like this place and it’s relatively close to my apartment, plus, I didn’t think you’d mind.”
I lower my head and rub my temples.
“I’m in no shape to pass any type of test. I’ll warn you: if those men approach us to greet you, I may implode.”
“Don’t worry, they wouldn’t recognize me looking like this. But if we had to avoid the locations where I met my lovers, we’d barely go anywhere.” I feel the blood drain from my face. Jacqueline reaches for my hand and squeezes it gently. “Oh, you know I’m joking, right?”
When I take a deep breath, my belly growls.
“You sound like a hungry bear,” she says. “I’ll go order two lattes and a plate of spicy potatoes.”
Jacqueline takes off her purse and leaves it on the seat of the chair next to me, claiming it for herself. She struts away down the corridor between the tables and its occupants, as well as palm trees, towards a two-story building, which is painted watermelon pink, has Greek-style columns guarding the front door, and features a signboard that brings attention to the word ‘Wimbledon’. A toddler totters into my girlfriend’s path, but Jacqueline, instead of punting the tiny creature, crouches enough to pat the toddler’s head. The kid keeps waddling away until a man in his late thirties, presumably the father, hurries after her and scoops the toddler up, to the little girl’s displeasure. The father glances at Jacqueline, who’s walking away with a spring in her step, and my girlfriend’s long legs clad in thigh-high tights must have registered in his depraved mind, because he does a double take.
At the table where that toddler originated, a pair of nine-or-ten-year-old kids are running around and taking turns hiding behind chairs from the other’s murderous impulses. Meanwhile they scream and laugh, oblivious of the lives being crushed around them.
A weight is pulling down the inside pocket of my jacket, as if I had stuffed in there a block of lead. I slouch in the chair, take a deep breath of the sea breeze, and close my eyes.
My nose gets molested by the smell of salty food, hot coffee, perfume and sweat. My ears are assaulted by the hubbub of nearby conversations, the brouhaha of strung-out children, the whaps of taut nets getting abused by errant balls, the grunts of men who’ve just hit a projectile into someone’s sternum, and the cries of their opponents as they fight for their lives.
The sound of a tennis ball smacking hard rubber reaches me muted, as if I were sinking to the bottom of a lake. A rumbling is building up under my consciousness: a herd of stampeding horses bearing down on me. Once it reaches me, my body will crumble like made of cardboard and plaster.
At the edge of hearing, someone whispers my name: the gurgly voice of a female who needs to swallow a build-up of phlegm. I sigh, then dig out my phone and hold it to my ear; nobody would consider me crazy for talking to a phantom as long as they can picture a presence talking from somewhere else on this wretched planet.
“Who’s there?” I ask weakly.
“I am a caryatid,” the female voice whispers.
“And what the hell is that?”
The female presence remains silent, but I feel her breathing near my nape.
“Are you a friend?” I ask.
“I am not a friend.”
“A stranger, then?”
Something hits the canopy of a nearby palm tree. When I open my eyes, a tennis ball bounces on the terrace between the tables. A smiling kid runs to grab the ball, then tosses it back over the fence.
“I asked you something, intruder,” I say gruffly. “Are you listening?”
“I’m always listening to you, and I answered: I am not a stranger.”
A few gulls scream as they fly past. I wipe my sweaty palm on my denim trousers.
“What do you want from me? Do I have to take revenge on these tennis players? Or are you the vengeful spirit of someone I killed in a past life?”
“I am not a spirit.”
An electrical zap makes my brain tremble. My eyelids twitch.
“You aren’t any fun either,” I say, my voice cracking. “I’ll tell you what you are, though: a burden that I carry on my shoulders. And I’m sick and tired of carrying it, you’re just too heavy to bear. So tell me, what can I do to get rid of you?”
The horses are galloping towards me. Their hooves are thundering, their nostrils foaming. Their eyes are hollow and hungry.
“You think that your suffering will end if you get rid of your consciousness,” the caryatid whispers.
I cast my gaze down at the fossil grey tiles of the terrace. My shoulders sag, my vision blurs. I blink the sudden surge of tears away.
“Well, it would end. What else do you expect me to do?”
“You might find a cure for your malaise, but you’d miss out on experiencing the world.”
“How about showing yourself if you are going to insist on bothering me?” I complain in a croaky voice.
From behind me, a tan-colored bust creeps sideways into my field of vision. Her Hellenic face resembles a cliff. Despite the serenity of her expression, her nose has been chiseled off, her cheeks are worn like rubbed with sandpaper, her lips and chin are nicked like pecked at by crows. She’s marred by downward, soot black streaks as if someone had toppled an inkwell on her head.
I roll my eyes.
“Oh, fuck off.”
My backhanded swat pops the vision like a bubble.
I draw a deep breath, inhaling a cocktail of smoky smells that are getting drowned in the sea breeze, then I place my phone on the table.
As I sink in my chair and I rub the bridge of my nose, I grow paranoid: what if someone witnessed me assaulting a hallucination?
Seated near the trunk of a palm tree as wide as an Egyptian pillar, two middle-aged women, both sporting a layered bob and a chiffon scarf around the neck, nod gravely at each other’s words. A woman in her early twenties beams as she hunches over to feed with a spoon the concealed baby inside a pram. A bald guy dressed like an electrician guffaws and slaps his knee while his mate slugs a pint of foamy beer. A solitary woman in her mid-forties, who’s wearing a gingham dress and white sandals, pours wine in her glass. On the other side of the fence, a sweaty man twirls his racket, then he strikes a pose and swings at an incoming ball.
Why would I be surprised that otherworldly apparitions feel familiar, or at the most annoy me for invading my personal space? I’ve spent most of my life surrounded by incomprehensible monsters. I’m stuck in a low-budget horror movie, doomed to witness it while drooling all over myself in a state of undiluted panic.
For how long must I walk the same ground wearing this human costume, for how much time must I endure being me? Three more decades going by averages, four or five if I’m unlucky, six or seven if the universe despises me like I’m sure it does.
Electric trees flash in the velvety darkness of my mind. The zaps come more frequently when I move my eyeballs from side to side, even behind my eyelids. I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with fresh, brine-scented air, and I try to forget about the crackle and sparks inside my skull.
Fifteen meters ahead, a wave breaks with a languid whoosh. Beyond the Cantabrian Sea that washes over the bay, the ocean burbles and hisses like the stomach of some leviathan that swallowed a whale. I would have thought that after millions of years of unabated hunger despite having gulped down one giant beast after another, its belly would have bulged with blubber until it exploded, which would have drowned the entire planet in black sludge.
The beach is covered in bits of rotting wood, sun-bleached bones and blistered flesh. Torn, traumatized ships that have drifted from the oceans are stacked in a floating graveyard that gets rhythmically pounded against the rocky shore like driftwood. The wreckage and their dead crews are shrouded with a layer of muck and algae. Colossal squids propel themselves around the hulking carcasses to gnaw at the rotting corpses, leaving trails of coagulated blood and viscera in their wake.
When I open my eyes, a bright world assaults me: a pitted, banana-colored carpet of sand slopes down to the opaque, teal seawater; nearby, four students have gathered their backpacks on the sand and are lounging with their backs to us, although they are wearing coats and jackets to protect themselves against the October chill; and in the distance, a town-sized island stands against the horizon like a rocky, green sideways boob. The island’s tiny spit of beach, jutting out from the rocky shore, must be littered with bones: the destination of an arduous pilgrimage where every traveler is bequeathed a bone by a weary skeleton that has stood sentry for millennia.
I start rubbing my temple, trying to relieve a tingle of pain. A hand strokes my left shoulder tenderly. The sea breeze ruffles Jacqueline’s raven black hair as her skin glows faintly in the afternoon sun. She’s wearing a chocolate brown, suede trench coat over a white turtleneck blouse. Her scarlet skirt has a tapering hemline and is decorated with white dots; a cum-stained tulip.
Jacqueline deepens the creases at the corners of her eyes in a warm smile.
“Are you getting a headache?”
“Brain zaps,” I say wearily. “Even worse than I used to get years ago, when I stopped taking serotonin reuptake inhibitors.”
“I don’t know what that is. A drug?”
“Uh-huh. The kind that a psychiatrist prescribes to you when you say that you regret being alive.”
Jacqueline’s eyebrows come together in concern. My throat tightens, and I avert my gaze to the apartment buildings that are clinging to the forested face of Mount Igueldo, past the far end of the beach.
“I guess I was using them to suppress my existential dread,” I continue, “but they didn’t do shit. At least not remotely enough. Once I dropped them, the withdrawals taught me how it feels to experience short circuits in your brain, and I’m getting an echo of them now.”
“Do you think they are stress-related?”
“Who knows? I’m always bobbing in an ocean of anxiety and stress, and I can’t tell when I’m going to start drowning in my own mind. It’s a bit like thirst: by the time you feel it, you are already dehydrated.”
The strap of my bulky backpack, filled with clothes I grabbed from my apartment, is pulling down on my right shoulder, but as I shift the strap, it gives me the chance to avoid Jacqueline’s gaze; if her expression suggested that she’s getting sick of broken old me, I would start wading through the sea until I reached Iceland or I drowned, whichever happened first.
But could I admit that my recent spike of anxiety may be related to the self-murder that I witnessed yesterday? That horsey scoundrel’s only crime was looking for love in the wrong places. Who would have suspected that I, a creature that otherwise passes for human, was born an unlikely abomination: a living being with a cavity instead of a heart? I knew that my unwieldy backpack would burden me throughout our date, but what will I be for Jacqueline as her girlfriend but a humpback whale draped across her shoulders?
The students lounging nearby laugh, and their exuberance floats to our ears along with the lapping of the foamy breakers on the shore.
“So… this may turn out to be an abysmal date,” I say guiltily. “I’m sorry.”
Jacqueline raises my chin gently so I can meet her cobalt blues.
“Come on now,” she coos as if dulcifying a child, “you don’t need to apologize for having a brain meltdown. Why, I am pretty much used to it by now. And look at those waves rolling in. The sea’s alive here. We all are, in fact.”
“Oh, really? Well, I’m sorry then,” she says with mock annoyance.
I gulp to ease my growing sense of dread. My memory flashes with an image of my grandfather’s face back when the rusty shard of a ship’s anchor impaled it, because he bludgeoned his skull against the anchor during a psychotic episode. He had daydreamed that he was steering his beloved battleship to fight against evil spirits that were trying to destroy the world. When the ship ran out of fuel, he ordered his sailors to murder everyone aboard so he could set sail in a great voyage into space. His final words before he threw himself off the stern deck were, “Take me to the stars, men!” I never found out what made my grandfather snap, but I was transfixed by his gruesome act of self-mutilation.
“H-have you ever felt that the island over there has been unduly haunted by the restless souls of drowned sailors and abducted mermaids, who are longing to break free?”
Jacqueline grins as she gazes out at the island with a captivated expression.
“Neither do I, but it’s what they say,” I mumble, aware of the desperation in my voice.
Jacqueline pats my back.
“I’m not sixteen years old anymore, you know.”
“Could’ve fooled me,” I say as I dig my sneaker into the sand. “But what do you mean?”
“You don’t need to impress me by organizing some mind-blowing outing. I just want to spend time with you. Maybe even do some necking.”
I rest the side of my head against her shoulder, then I sigh.
“Don’t you think you pamper me excessively?”
“Don’t you need to be pampered to that extent?”
Maybe so, but I don’t know why you would want to, it’s what I was going to say but didn’t dare utter.
It’s far easier to pull someone down than to pull them up. Those misguided souls that want to help the depressed should flee and save themselves.
Jacqueline slides an arm around my shoulders. Her warm breath tickles my earlobe.
“I happen to know just what you need to shut down that self-harming mind of yours,” she whispers.
Jacqueline turns my head towards her, leans in and kisses me lightly on the mouth. I close my eyes; the warmth of her silky lips and of her face lights up in shades of red against the pale blue of the autumn breeze. Her tongue finds mine, and I turn into a kid standing up to my waist in a strong tide that’s receding from the shore. I step closer to Jacqueline, bumping my hips into hers, and I wrap my arms under her coat, around her lower back, while her hands move down to cradle my ass cheeks through my denim trousers.
My heart thuds against my ribcage, my blood becomes electrified, my brain turns to jellied oatmeal. I long to be swallowed by my woman, to dissolve in her insides and become part of her.
I’d love to let myself fall backwards onto the sand and pull Jacqueline down with me. Instead, she pulls back a few centimeters, elongating a catenary of saliva between our lips.
For a moment we had constructed our own universe, an impenetrable bubble of spacetime, but now my brain is absorbing a flood of prickly sensory information as if the outside world was trying to reclaim me. The breeze is cooling my exposed skin. A salty scent tickles my nostrils. The distant shrieks of gulls pierce through the noise of the sea. Two of the students, both girls, are looking over their shoulder to pry into the private affairs that we’ve conducted in public. One of them, petite, with short-cropped auburn hair and ivory skin flushed pink, makes a point of holding my gaze.
My cheeks burn, and I’m forced to dilate my nostrils to pass enough air through them. I let go of Jacqueline’s hips and I step aside. I feel like a tween again, back when I was caught masturbating in a public park, a misadventure that concluded with me passing out in a puddle of my own pee.
Jacqueline wipes my lips with her thumb.
“Oh, come on now. Don’t look so shy. Does it bother you that others may find out that you are mine?”
“I… dislike when strangers stare at me for any reason.”
“They are thinking how nice it would be to join us, you know.”
“It’s none of their business,” I mutter.
Jacqueline chortles, then she shakes her head.
“You are an incorrigible nutjob.”
“And you’re a diva!”
Her grin displays a row of straight white teeth that glisten against her rosy gums.
“How about we move somewhere else, huh? Do you want me to treat you to an ice cream?”
“We could take a nap in some quiet cove until sunset.”
“You do sound tired,” Jacqueline says, and wraps her hand around my nape. “I know a nice place nearby to sit down for a cup of coffee and an appetizer. How about some spicy potatoes?”
I open my mouth to answer, but my stomach interrupts me by gurgling loudly.
“I just have to mention food with you, huh?” she asks, amused. “Let’s go.”
When we turn around, Jacqueline runs her hand down the back of my jacket and grabs my ass. I flinch.
Author’s note: These last few days I’ve been listening to The Stone Roses almost exclusively, particularly to ‘I Am the Resurrection’ and ‘This Is the One’. I’d like to leave the country / For a month of Sundays / Burn the town where I was born.
I intended to upload this chapter and the following as a single part, but I got carried away with nonsense, as usual. Although this chapter by itself is far gentler than I’m used to writing, it was a nice change of pace. The next chapter is mostly finished, just needs another pass, so I’ll likely upload it tomorrow.
I’ve been in a bad mood recently. I grew even sicker of human beings and ended up doing a spring cleaning of contacts both on Goodreads and on WordPress.
I step closer to Spike, although he stinks like shit and rancid death, and I glare into those protruding eyeballs that are the color of storm clouds.
“Do you want me to cry, you horsey cunt?” I sneer, my voice sounding like a rusted-out door. “Do you want my tears so you can feel superior? Get your fill then! Witness my pathetic self in all its ugliness! But I can make you cry too with this little mouth, and I don’t mean biting down on your tongue to fill my oral cavity with blood! Although you dared to call me a child, I’m an adult who will make the best of her life despite having been born in hell! How would you know what it means to be human anyway, huh? You’re a horse-shaped demon. You don’t even have a pussy! Life must have been so easy for you, spending your whole day eating hay and having your legs stroked. And you called me a bad person! What about all those times you chased me through the city’s streets? As I attempted to reach a shelter, you would snatch me up and throw me onto your back, then you carried me in circles as I flailed to keep my balance. You galloped and galloped even though I begged for mercy! Every one of our encounters ended up with me returning home covered in mud and shit and bruises. You even tried to strangle me on occasion.”
Spike stares down at me like a deaf, silent beast who doesn’t understand why the strange human keeps scrunching her face and making wild shapes with her mouth hole. Then he smacks his lips and speaks calmly.
“You can’t use stuff that has never happened as an argument in your defense.”
“It may have happened. Who can be sure? What I intended to convey is that it matters little whether you’re bad or good, even if you are a horse, a whale or a worm. I’m just a whore who needs a hug. But soon enough I’ll get to kneel at the altar of the goddess of depravity, and one of these days I may never have to masturbate again! Now, trot off to your grave, you deplorable ungulate! Lie down in that hole and get buried in your own shit, you stinking corpse!”
Spike hangs his head low and sighs.
“Like me, Leire, you’ve been dead since you were born.”
His words hit my face like a sharp punch. I step back until the pile of board games blocks my escape.
“Stop saying things that hurt!”
Spike averts his gaze, running it over the eggnog yellow wallpaper of the living room, as if he himself were hoping to find an exit and return to his horse paradise, to the love of hooves and the never-ending gallop.
“You are lucky, regarding Jacqueline I mean,” he utters in a mournful tone. “I’ve never experienced such intimacy. I never would have, even if I had existed for centuries.”
Until a moment ago, I wanted to slap him across his stupid horse face, but now I’d rather hug him so hard that his eyes would burst from their sockets and his ribs would shatter. I’m left with nothing but the taste of shame.
“Spike, don’t sell yourself short. You pretend to be an ordinary horse, but you are the one true horse, because nobody else will ever speak to me with such disrespect. Do you remember all the good times we spent together? I would ride you along the seaside, play on the beach and use sticks as lances to fight pirates. We swam with dolphins in the ocean, we bit into seashells, we cooked seafood, we sank in quicksand up to our noses, we explored caves beneath ancient castles, we wrestled goats then shot them with crossbows. You once told me that you would die for me, that you would always be my faithful horse. Those days will never end, they will remain with me forever.”
“Yeah, none of that happened either,” Spike murmurs in a voice that is breaking apart.
“In any case, when you come out of your horse trance, you’re still Spike. I don’t think anyone is really the master of their life except Jacqueline. As for me, I can only act out of desperation.”
Spike’s lips tremble while he struggles to formulate a sentence, as if he had to wrench the words out, but he gives up and teeters away, nearly toppling over the coffee table.
I want to brush the dirt and caked blood off his mane, then place my hand on his round belly to feel the coarse coat as well as the blood pulsing through him. I’d let him lick my fingers one by one with his warm, viscous tongue, which must smell of rot and death. But I fear that any physical contact with this creature would transform me into an equivalent equine abomination.
I take a tentative step towards Spike’s trembling, scarred back.
“I can see that you’re very depressed, and I’m here for you if you want to open up about it. Let me tell you that, although you stink like rotten dung, you surely are one of the most impressive horsemen in history. In fact, you’ve never been a horse for me, Spike, but a unicorn in disguise.”
His hind legs twitch, his shaggy tail jerks around in a way that reminds me of a puppy, then he tilts his bulky head back and lets out a blaring neigh, raw and deep and full of grief, the first note of a requiem that will be played over the grave of our civilization. I’m astonished at how readily my pal can transform into a beast that could have only crawled out from the underworld.
As my eyes get watery, I stagger to the sofa and I plop down. A throng of words is jostling in my throat, and I want to claw them out as if they were wasps trapped under my tongue.
“The world has become a twisted place,” I say in a brittle voice. “I wish I could return to my distant childhood, to those brief moments in which nothing mattered except for how the warm light bathed my body and how the birdsongs filled my soul with a gentle harmony. But ever since, I’ve never been able to shut my eyes to the truth: we’re trapped in an insane asylum with no escape route, surrounded by demented monsters. We have ended up at the mercy of blackguards who consider themselves human beings, although they’ll provide us with a hundred thousand ways to suffer, to be humiliated, and to die in our own homes.”
I’m enveloped in Spike’s fetid, sickly stench, but I take a deep breath, then I wipe away the salty streaks on my cheeks.
“Who knows if I was born with a chance to become a normal person,” I continue. “When I was little, I felt like something was missing inside of me. Then one day I realized that it was my humanity. I understood that I could never become a girl or a boy, and instead I grew up into a verminous slug that crawled along the cracks of this world. How could I have the slightest notion of what it means to be a human being, when the most basic things have been stripped from me? If Jacqueline hadn’t diverted my destiny, I would have shambled through the rest of my life like a mindless corpse with a hungry heart and empty guts. In my final day, lying in bed and covered from head to toe in dried piss, feces and semen, I would have wasted my last energies masturbating until my heart gave out. What I mean to say, Spike, is that I understand your plight perfectly well: every second feels muddy and heavy as if you were wading through a swamp, and you’d do anything to drown out the agonized squeals from your festering subconscious.” My voice has been choking and cracking, but I take a deep breath and I brace myself to continue, because I must explain to Spike how utterly hopeless he is. “If I ever get my hands on a computer that runs on real horses instead of the synthetic ones that the humans have shoved into their pathetic machines, I’ll transfer every treasure in my mind onto it: memories and feelings, programs and board games. Then I’ll abandon this insane world where people run around with their heads cut off, and from my eternal shelter I will contact you so you can join me in paradise. But for now I remain trapped in this cage of flesh and bones, hopeless and terrified of dying alone as you are of turning into one of the insane horses that roam through the night. So I can’t save you from your pain. I had only been able to stifle mine through masturbation, which requires a functioning set of genitals.”
When I gather the strength to look up, Spike is standing near the coffee table. His drool-soaked lips quiver as he stares at me unblinkingly with those bulging, crazed eyes of his. I’m overwhelmed by the harrowing thought of becoming another victim of an equine rampage, but he’s wobbling like a drunk guy on a rooftop.
“Throughout my life, I always did what I was expected to do,” Spike says in a thin, dry voice that reminds me of dead leaves fluttering in the wind. “Maybe I believed that self-sacrifice was noble. Maybe I believed that by following the rules, I was making the world a better place. I performed my duties with nary a complaint, I wore myself down to the bone like a workhorse, and what did I get in return?”
I hoped that Spike had intended that as a rhetorical question, but he’s prolonging the silence. I shrug and look down at my pitiful hands.
“Please, don’t stare at me with those bulging eyes or I’ll scream. You know we are the slaves of some colossal evil, and we’ve never had any choice but to obey monsters. And then there are all these ghosts, the voices and visions that assail me as my brain torments me with a relentless stream of horrors, which I wish I could ward off with a hammer. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, Spike, is that people are merely bags of flesh and bones that contain all sorts of shit. No one is an exception, except for Jacqueline. As for you and I, we’re freaks of nature, abominations that have been thrust into solid frames.”
Spike shuts his eyes tight, and as he shakes his head, a string of drool flings towards me and sticks onto my corduroy jacket.
“Nobody ever cared about me,” he mutters, “let alone love me. I was always treated like an outcast. For my entire life I was only valued for what I could provide for others, and even then, they noticed me reluctantly. Once I was gone, most of the people of whom I was fond forgot me and carried on with their lives. So what was the point?”
I swallow the lump in my throat. I scoot closer to the edge of the sofa cushion and I press my hand against my chest.
“In the name of your filthy, scarred, decomposing hide,” I say earnestly, “I want you to know that from now on I’m going to work towards a world that makes sense, a world that won’t contain a single thing that could make me think of death, rape or destruction.”
Spike shoots me a look of incredulity as the thick vein that stretches down his neck squirms like a squid’s tentacle. His hind legs must be struggling to keep him upright, because he staggers backwards towards the window, making his hooves clatter on the hardwood floor. He takes a deep, tremulous breath.
“If only you weren’t all talk, Leire,” he says bitterly. “So many times I’ve tried to warn you about what’s about to happen, hoping that we could prevent it together, but I couldn’t get you to care, or even to listen. I shouldn’t have volunteered to convince you. What the hell did I know about anything? I’ve always been helpless. I waited for someone to come and whisk me away. I just wanted… to be special somehow.”
“You are special, Spike. You are my friend.”
As he stares at me befuddled, his lips part slowly in a grimace of anguish.
“Is that worth anything?”
I hang my head low. A pulsating darkness spreads from the center of my chest. I should have known better than to open my heart even to this horse. Now I want to lie down on the floor, hug my knees and sob uncontrollably.
Spike sways as he widens a demented smile, but a single tear rolls down his bony jaw.
“In the end you were right, Leire. Everything is rotten to the core. Why would I care about our future? The whole world can go fuck itself.”
A ropey strand of saliva dribbles from his muzzle onto the silvery barrel of a revolver precariously perched on top of his frontal hooves. The weapon has a checkered wood grip and deep shade in the flutes of its thick cylinder. The frame is engraved with a skull and bones. He must have also coated the bullets with rat poison.
I sit bolt upright as a storm of screams racks my skull.
“Spike, where were you hiding that gun?!”
He gazes at me with a mournful, almost apologetic expression. His front hooves fumble to tilt the barrel upwards, but as he attempts to pull back the hammer, the revolver springs from his grip, lands with a thud on the coffee table and slides off onto the hardwood floor.
I gawk at the inert weapon that’s lying close to my sneakers. I imagine the click-click-click of the hammer’s firing pin striking the primers, and the thunderous blasts of gunfire, and a bunch of bullets ejecting into the air like a metallic bouquet of flowers. I also picture the self-inflicted wounding of a bullet to Spike’s craggy face. Not even a horse would have survived such an assault.
My breath comes in heaving gasps and my pulse is thumping in my veins. Spike’s hoofsteps clattering against the floor snap me out of my daze: he’s tromping towards the window. When he reaches it, he leans his forehead against the windowpane and lets his shoulders droop.
In the moonlight, my friend has become a shadow in the shadows, the silhouette of a horse made of darkness and of the cold chill that clings to its presence. When I squint I can almost make out a saddle and stirrups and the buckles of the leather straps.
I’m struggling to come up with words, but Spike lets out an ear-piercing howl. He slams his head against the windowpane, shattering the glass. Blood-dyed shards and bits scatter over the floor like hail. A cold draught comes in through the empty window frame, curling the curtains.
Reality has mixed its essence with equine blood. The abominable potion must be seeping through all dimensions, leaving behind a residue of madness and despair.
I leap off the sofa. Spike has turned towards me. The ragged fur coat of his elongated face is drenched with red, and glass shards are embedded in his forehead. As he sways on his hind hooves, he splits his lips open, showing his dagger-like incisors, and spits bloody foam.
Spike lifts an atrophied, trembling foreleg. He angles that hoof so it points at the groove of his chin. I see myself reflected in his black eyes, that are wide and puffy with sorrow as they leak copious tears.
“Bang,” he says.
Spike throws himself back, somersaulting through the empty window frame, snagging his hide on shards of glass still attached. He disappears into the night. A gasp later, I hear a muffled, sickening splat of flesh and bone.
“Spike!” I yell.
My legs feel numb and slow, but I race over to the window. I clutch at the edge of the frame and I lean out.
On the street below, a large pool of dark blood is spreading under my friend’s broken body and splayed limbs. His black eyes, that have rolled back in his mangled head, are staring at the night sky.
The cold October wind whips my hair around my face. My heart is about to burst. I want to crumple on the floor. I cradle my head in my trembling hands and I listen to the roaring in my ears.
Spike had made himself small to escape his pain, but there are no bottoms of despair so deep that they can’t be reached. I should tell myself that he’s found peace and solace in death, that he has nothing left to fear. I should feel elated because he has been liberated from his prison as I wished to free myself from mine. But instead I’m weeping for my friend and for all other horses who have died like this; for every poor soul who’s being crushed under the clattering hoofsteps of despair; for this world that has become a crumbling madhouse of horrors; for everyone, because one day we will all disappear in an endless black void, never to be seen or heard again, never to feel the warmth of the sun, never to hear a melodious song, never to smell the sweet aroma of a mother’s milk, never to feel the delicate fingertips of a loved one caressing our skin.
The metallic-tasting darkness has started to lap at my consciousness like black water swirling through a sewer grate. It will become a cool shadow enveloping my flesh, a dark mist settling in my mind. Soon I will be sucked down as well.
I pull out my phone from a pocket of my jacket, but as I try to remember the emergency number, I realize that talking to a professional about this debacle would end up with me dragged to a psych ward. What else can I do now but abandon Spike down there, to be picked apart by carrion birds and scavengers?
My friend’s body convulses. His limbs twitch. Inch by inch, Spike rolls over and retracts his legs. Although chunks of his flesh and bloodied hide are plastered across the pavement, he pushes himself onto his hind hooves and raises his mangled head. As if being pulled by invisible strings, he takes a faltering step, then another and another. While he wheezes out inky blood-foam, and blood gushes out from his wounds like a red rain, my old friend continues shambling down the street into oblivion.
Author’s note: this chapter concludes the sequence that started back in chapter 43. Plenty of far crazier stuff to come in the 12,500 words of notes left to render.
Tomorrow I’ll start a six-workdays-long week. Most if not all of my coworkers will be absent due to a strike. I was going to go to work anyway because I’d rather not get involved with that stuff, but in any case I’ve been forced to work as the token “guy that needs to be present at the office in case some nasty shit happens”. My boss even gave me an official note that states that if I decide to stay home anyway, I would be prosecuted for a criminal liability. I work at a hospital, after all. So tomorrow Monday I’ll be on phone duty as well as handling whatever stops working in our hospital complex and in nearby outpatients clinics (we serve like half of the province). Apart from this madness, I’m also the sole technician for next Saturday.
So this may have been the last chapter for a while.
“Holy shit! Spike! I haven’t seen you in ages! Are you alive?!”
Spike grunts as his sleep is shattered by the joyous tone in my voice. I consider tickling his exposed anus to stir him awake, but the horse’s long-lashed eyes flutter open. He lifts his cumbersome head off the armrest, and the fleshy ridges of his nostrils quiver as he snorts a gust of snot.
Good thing I didn’t dare touch any part of his anatomy; I could have contracted untold plagues.
“It’s okay if you’re dead,” I say.
Spike jerks his body into an upright position, then he lowers his head to wipe the rheum from his eyes with his front hooves. It looks like he’s crushing his eyeballs into his skull.
I rest my fists on my waist and I nod approvingly.
“You look good! Your face is getting longer. But dude, you’ve never stunk worse! Have you passed the time farting up a storm?”
Spike shakes his head vigorously to jumpstart his brain, as if he had been soaking it in a tub of toxic waste. Otherwise he remains silent.
I press my index finger against my nostrils, and I realize my predicament.
“I was supposed to grab a bunch of clothes to store them at my girlfriend’s apartment, but how am I going to wash this stench off the fabric?”
Spike glares up at me through his eyelashes. Those moist, black eyeballs reveal a madness as deep as my own.
I’m taken aback by his malice. Can I blame him, though? I must have awoken him during the sweetest part of his slumber: visions of bloodshed and decapitation, of nipples carved out by vile blades, of mares slithering through a pool of entrails.
“I may be dead,” Spike grumbles.
“Maybe you’re just dreaming that you’re dead. Or maybe you’re one of those creatures whose hearts have been removed for medical reasons, then replaced by a fake organ made of silicone.”
As he taps on the hardwood floor with his right hind hoof, he dilates his nostrils, which are shaped like a fat, upside-down comma, and he takes a deep breath.
I contain a fit of nervous giggles.
“I swear, I must be the most weak-minded human who ever lived. A single afternoon without Jacqueline, and my brain fills her absence with hallucinations. Alright, I may as well take advantage of my derangement!”
I skip to my pile of board games, a collection of colorful cardboard boxes with exotic names: Terraforming Mars, Dead of Winter, Pax Pamir, Viscounts of the West Kingdom, 51st State, Labyrinth, Shadowrun Crossfire, Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness, Through the Ages, Twilight Struggle… Their illustrations promise hours of fun, but nearly half of the games remain wrapped in plastic. Except for Renegade, their exposed upper sides are also coated in a layer of dust that resembles lustrous velvet.
“How about this time we get through more than a turn in Renegade? Our old nemesis, Shadowcluster, remains undefeated.”
“I’m done playing games with you, Leire,” Spike says bleakly.
I was about to lift Renegade’s box off the top, but I hear Spike’s hind hooves clack on the hardwood floor as he heaves himself off of the couch. When I turn around, a horse-shaped demon is towering over me. His lips are grey and decayed; they must taste like the dried-out meat of a slug. A hot, fetid gust of exhalation blows into my face. It’s the stench of a corpse that has been rotting in a well for a century.
“I had expected you to neigh in delight,” I say weakly. “You would turn your back on an activity that offers a temporary relief from reality? Are you trying to tell me that you prefer to live in the stupor of insanity?”
I make the mistake of holding Spike’s gaze, and I feel myself getting sucked into the frothy whirlpool of his delirium.
“Everything is going to shit,” he mutters in a hoarse, guttural voice, “and you are out there having sex.”
He must have waited for me in my living room, but these last few days, instead of returning home from work, I escaped my routine to get fucked over and over by the goddess of depravity. I wish that Jacqueline was here.
“W-well, does anything else matter when you’re having sex regularly?”
Spike lets out air explosively through his buttery teeth, which causes a gout of drool to squirt from his mouth and splatter on my pile of board games. Wobbly, he staggers back while his horse tail swishes along the floor. His chin drops to his breast, then he closes his eyes as if he were worn out from looking down upon mankind for far too long.
“I guess not, Leire. Sex is the only thing that matters.”
Spike averts his gaze; his shoulders are starting to tremble with repressed sobs. He must have been stewing in his insane horse thoughts for days, alone in my dreary apartment.
“You don’t understand how one’s life changes after Jacqueline has ravaged your body,” I say carefully. “She’s only been missing from my life for a single afternoon, but it’s like trying to breathe after someone has slit my throat.”
Spike’s lips curl up in a snarl, and his dark nostrils twitch like a dilated asshole. He shakes his girthy head dismissively.
“Don’t patronize me, Leire. I know how it feels to be you, I can read your mind. And you are a bad person.”
Why can’t my brain conjure up hallucinations that wish the best for me? I could have been given visions of a long marriage and a family, but I’m cursed with treachery instead. The mute parts of myself that dwell in the depths of my subconscious must spend their existence pleading silently for me to self-destruct. When will anyone apart from Jacqueline treat me as if I deserved to feel good from time to time?
“Yes, I’ve done bad things, I know,” I say icily. “I’m a bad person. But, Spike, isn’t it true that we all do bad things sometimes? I don’t think it matters whether we’re good or bad as long as we do our best to be happy with whatever little time we’ve been granted by our fickle universe. That’s why I’m trying to get my life together and have fun while I can.”
“Yeah, that’s a bunch of horseshit,” Spike snaps. “You’re so obsessed with pleasure, you live like a child.”
My teeth clack in frustration. I’m tired of this horse’s bizarre behavior. I’m tired of waiting to feel Jacqueline’s arms around me again.
“For your information, I was the one who asked Jacqueline out on a date. I was masturbating in bed when I came out with the idea, so I called her! Would a child dare to do that? Would a child want to spend time with someone they love on their own terms, or would they want to live a life that’s completely based on their parents’ whims? And you probably want to sabotage my sex life to steal my turn at the board games!”
The old, cracked horse merely stands there as he breathes into my face like a toxic bag of spoiled roadkill.
“No, you’re wrong, Leire,” he whispers. “You are like a child because you’ve never been loved.”
His acid words seethe through my brain and clench my heart. I’m the daughter of a man who shat me out in jail after another inmate fist-fucked him. When he died, I was thrown into a dumpster on a snowy night. I believed I would perish to pay for the sins of my father, but instead I was scooped out of the dumpster by a crackhead who first tried to snort me and then took me home. This woman, who insisted that I called her mom, was too strung out to care for me, so I was left alone to fend for myself from the age of seven. A couple of years later, mom was murdered by a cop who found her dealing drugs. My father, my mother, both dead from stupidity, sin, or the ravages of this insane planet. After a year of living in squalor, I was passed around to different foster families. One of my new sisters beat the shit out of me whenever I wanted something, so I hid in my assigned closet and masturbated. I became addicted to it because it took away the pain. Another foster family threw me out after I ate the last slice of a chocolate cake. By the age of thirteen I was sleeping in the hallways of a psychiatric ward because I’d become convinced that I was a ghost. My only friend was a psychotic squirrel that hoarded nuts in a cardboard box.
In truth, I’ve forgotten most of the details that would allow me to understand who I am. I only remember how it feels to have love taken away, to be hungry for it, to yearn for it, to cry in vain for it. I was abandoned. I can’t forgive them for failing to take care of me. And now I’m being condemned by a horse.
I feel like a scab, oozing blood and pus for all to see. No wonder I’m a reckless woman who’s never had the ability to take responsibility for anyone, even herself. I’ve only had one true love in my life, and that’s Jacqueline. She’s my mommy and my lover and my closest friend. Without her, I would revert to my natural state as a lab experiment who shouldn’t have been.
Author’s note: it has taken me about a week to work through this scene, because I couldn’t get it to flow right. I ended up splitting the scene into three parts; this is the second one, and I may be able to finish the third one tomorrow.
The issue is that I’m working full-time. I have never been able to concentrate properly at work to write, because I’m surrounded by technicians and the general chaos of working at a hospital, and besides, writing is something you need to do alone. However, whenever I’m working the morning shift, I can only write for about two or two and a half hours in the afternoon, but I tend to be so exhausted, mentally drained from merely being around human beings for hours upon hours, that I can end up dreading the act of writing; getting through any sentence may involve wrenching the words out of myself. As expected, it took me waking up at eight in the morning on a Saturday, and spending most of the day on my writing, to finally shape this thing.
For me, writing is as physiologically necessary as sleeping. I need to write to stave off the tide of meaninglessness that the rest of reality forces me to sink in. I never know if the next period of depression is going to catch me at my lowest. So I’m dreading the day when I finally end up with a permanent contract at my job or any other, which would also pile up more responsibilities on me.
Anyway, I’ve been feeling the itch to play board games. Every day of this week, right after dinner, I’ve grabbed one of my game boxes and I’ve had a good ol’ time. Yesterday was Viscounts of the West Kingdom, and tonight Marvel Champions. I’m also waiting to get back to Arkham Horror; they’ve changed their distribution method, and they’ll release a whole expansion box with an entire campaign based upon Lovecraft’s story ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ (link to the expansion’s page at the BGG). The fuckers used to sell each campaign mission individually, which ended up making the campaigns much more episodic because they couldn’t rely on the player having any of the other cards.
So yes, Leire is into board games because I’m into board games. She’s also into other stuff because I’m into that other stuff. Here’s a secret, though: her urge to masturbate is my urge to write. Mostly. But writing about writers is fucking lame.