by Blake Butler

For a while there was this channel on TV that started following a white horse. No matter what time you tuned in the horse would be there somewhere in frame, eating, walking, wandering. The shots were static tracking shots providing a wide angle on a landscape; when the horse left the screen the feed would cut to another angle that again included the horse. It was unclear who was operating the camera or cameras and how the feed could operate so seamlessly. There was almost never any sound. Only if you turned the volume up as high as it could go you might hear a low wind, though it was difficult to tell if this was just a production of distortion. The terrain looked like earth but there was never any people. There were no indications of destruction, no blood or bodies, though also never any animals or insects in the frames. The horse moved along rivers, into forests, past huge ditches full of mud, toward buildings in the distance glinting, into houses with open doors, across living rooms that looked like our living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, up stairs, down stairs, into shopping malls and banks. Sometimes it would be night, sometimes bright daylight. It would rain and rain.

I became obsessed with watching the horse channel. The horse never seemed to go to sleep. No matter when or how long I came to the set to watch her blinking, her tail gently jostling, an even pace. Sometimes she would begin running for what seemed no reason and that gave a shared sense of adrenaline all through my blood, like something was coming for both of us though only she could provide the mechanism of escape. In these moments I waited as if to be struck at any instant until the horse again slowed and took back to meandering.

The best was when she would look me directly in the eyes. It would only happen for a second, turning her long white lumpy body in such a way that she was looking head on into the current camera. It didn’t seem like she could see she was being filmed, but also once we became locked in this way I wholly knew she sensed me there, through the glass, here in my home. In these instants my body would tense and fill with something warm, my veins tensed, a numbing sensation through my abdomen and legs, kind of vibrating all over, as if about to orgasm, filled with pins. Even when the horse turned away again the feeling would stay in me, sometimes for hours, lessening slowly like a still-sealed balloon releasing air. Each time this happened, afterward I’d sleep for almost a full day, and I would dream of nothing.

This happened three times over a year. I watched and waited for it again and again to come the way it had, spending longer hours at the set. Though I enjoyed just watching her wander, what I really wanted was the feeling. And yet when I would try to line our lines of sight up, she would turn away as if being pushed by magnets from something heavy in the center of my face.

One day on the screen the horse came to a small brown hole. It looked unnatural in the ground there, like it had been cut by a machine. It was about the size of a manhole. It was smoking. I watched the horse stop and inspect it, tottering around the lip. She nudged the hole’s lining with her long face. She breathed the smoke in. I watched her settle downward on her front shanks. I had never seen a horse do that. She laid down with her head over the hole. It kept breathing the smoke in and wriggling around on the earth like a worm. She started convulsing slightly. Her eyes rolled up in her head. Her skin seemed to be creasing under the surface. The smoke was hurting her. The camera did nothing.

I banged my hands on the glass and patted at the horse shouting to stop. I watched as she began to wriggle closer to the hole then, kind of pointing her head and front halves toward its mouth. She began to force herself into the hole, just barely fitting. Her white flesh tugged against the ridge of the mouth of it as she struggled to use her back legs to press into the hole with greater pressure. She was in up to her neck then up to her halfway, at which point she seemed to get stuck. Her legs were bending weirder all around on the earth behind it scuffing at it, searching for purchase. The smoke was no longer coming out, stuffed up with the front half of the horse now spasming and ranting. There was no way she could be breathing under there. There was nothing I could do but watch and shout at the screen. I began to hold myself with my arms and waited in cold horror watching as bit by bit she pushed herself deeper and deeper into the crevice, the earth swallowing her body as she shook. Once she had the bulky middle of her under the rest went easy, her legs becoming bent back as the weight of the rest of her beneath them pulled her wholly under. After a while the smoke began to rise from the mouth of the hole again, and would continue rising in this manner without any further interference in the broadcast terrain beyond mild weather, until almost eleven weeks later the feed was replaced with an uninterrupted 24-hour slate of softcore porn. 


Blake Butler's next book, 300,000,000 will be released by Harper Perennial in July 2014. He lives in Atlanta.