by Randy Chandler

3:33 PM

The sun comes back, trailing stringy clots and haloed with crimson fog. Dense silence gives way to metallic ticking and a dry hiss of escaping air that reminds you of the old steam engines you worshiped as a child, your father warning you not to get too close to the tracks and yanking you back by the scruff of your jacket when you ignored his keen counsel. You blink your eyes: kaleidoscopic mosaic of swirling patterns framed by shards of glass. The sun goes dark again.

The smell of warm asphalt and dirty motor oil are somehow as comforting as your mother's hot oven on those cold winter days when she did her holiday baking in preparation for the big feast for the gathered clan. You lick your lips and taste coppery liquid salted like seawater, sacramental and vital to the disposition of your assumptive soul. You waste no time pondering your dubious Assumption. You know such things are out of your hands now.

Buffeted by unnatural winds and lashed by a pungency of burned petroleum, you give yourself to an image of aeons-old giants lumbering overland in search of provender. "Boys love dinosaurs," whispers a phantom of  memory, "Lord knows why."

Warm rain falls. Seasons wheel across the heavens. The circus comes and goes, comes again. A taste of peanuts. Cotton-candy bliss. Clowns frighten you with their painted mouths and sinister eyes. A girl slips her hand into your loose fist. A sticky kiss. A surge of fledgling lust. Leaves die colorful deaths. The carnival comes to town and you wander the midway, haunted by the sad-eyed freaks and the two-headed monster preserved in a cloudy pickle jar. The carnival moves on and the world summons you. No longer chasing carnivals, you go with loins ungirded into the freak-haunted world at large.

The sun burns a hole through the cloudwall's battlement, flares briefly, then is gone for good.

"Oh, my God," someone cries.

Fear now the frailty of existence. Feel life's tenuous connection to this world, and see your destiny writ small in sinew and bone and muscle, all unraveling with dead certainty, leaving you untethered and at ultimate loose ends. The pain and sorrow of a lifetime are drawn together, then honed to a single focal point like sunlight through a magnifying glass, burning away the horror and finally making you fearless and absolutely numb. Now you understand your hold on life was illusory. Life was holding you. The clawing and scraping to get ahead, the psychic turf wars, loves lost or won, the blood spilt on wrong battlefields, the moral choices made in the name of expediency and self-preservation--the whole of it comes to nothing at this unfortunate locus on the teeming infrastructure. You had a pretty good run, you see, at least as good as a gerbil running in its plastic wheel. Hearing echoes of divine laughter, you finally get the joke.

Come now the ghosts.

Old Blue breaks off his fanciful romp and bounds toward you across fields lost to time. His sad eyes betray the happy lashings of his debris-matted tail. You can almost feel his rough tongue on your face. He wants you to follow him somewhere, but you're  in no condition to go traipsing off into your boyhood on a doggie frolic.

"Call nine-one-one."

An old man shrunken in withered skin smiles as he extends gnarled fingers with yellowed nails, and you think you may know him, but you can't be sure at this particular time with that peculiar gray light shining through the slanting rain. He sheds his desiccated skin and wraps himself in a cloak of mist, his skull gleaming beneath a numinous cowl.

Your father hangs back a little at the edge of the black road. He wears an expression of concern, the antipode of the hollow, rouged face he wore when you last saw him in his coffin. Were he to speak, you know what he'd say. Old Dad--who fancied himself a man of science, though he invested his almighty numbers and formulas with near-supernatural properties--would say, "It's all about the numbers, son. Civilization is built on numbers. Your age, your income, your whole identity--it's all numerical. Simple as pi, eh? And don't forget the number of the beast."

Your mother hovers above you, her milkmoon face reddened in the penumbra of eclipsed radiance. You catch the fleeting scents of hot pies, sun-dried linen and fresh-squeezed lemons.

"Can you talk?" asks a stranger, his solemn face blocking your vision of your mother.

But there is nothing to say, even if you could.

In the dimming distance a siren wails, and your impulse is to answer the forlorn cry like a lone wolf howling for its companions, but you have moved beyond mundane exertions. Your tongue is stilled, your vocal cords slack and superfluous.

The old man cloaked in mist raises an arm and points a starry finger at the gray sky.

Seconds strobe/wink at you from your bloody wristwatch.

The shimmering sky pulses like glistening viscera.

The earth begins to release you from its gravitational field. You are suffused with an extraordinary lightness of being.

The sky opens like a ruptured membrane, revealing a red-walled channel filled with cool light. Unborn souls gather to witness your passing.

"It's time," someone whispers.

What time is it? you wonder. If it really is all about the numbers, then this very instant might have meaning of considerable import. Riding inescapable currents, you glance down at the broken, bloodied body falling away from you and you read the numbers on the face of the dead thing's wristwatch as the last digit changes from 3 to 4.


The number means nothing to you.

Your progenitor was wrong.

It's simpler than pi.

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