Numbers of the bEast

Open your eyes. Do you see?

The Sign is everywhere—yellow, like caution thrown into an autumn wind that whispers of danger. And Madness. Winding a shadowed path to the places where sane men dare not tread. To a beach of rusted bone. An ancient sea glittering black beneath the woeful glare of violet suns. A forgotten palace, its labyrinthine halls tarnished by aeons of unrelenting plague…

My eyes are open. I have seen. Never one content to merely follow, I pursue.

We meet in the dim, lamp-lit streets of my dreams. He knows me by the sickness burning inside. Recognizes the fever dripping from my fingertips, etching the echoes of unremembered memory upon sheaves of crumbling parchment.

He reaches into his robes. At first I think he’s withdrawn another smoke. Thin. Pale. Tightly wrapped. But he does not press it to his lips. Does not touch fire to its hollow, cylindrical frame. Something else, then. A scroll. Yellow ribbon knotted at its center. He offers it to me like a royal scepter.

Reaching through a veil of silver smoke, I pluck the scroll from his outstretched hand. It pulses, warm and fragile against my trembling flesh. I free the ribbon from its center, slipping the yellow fabric round a bare finger.

Inked upon the scroll a ring of decaying characters.

Open your eyes. Do you see?

Together, they form a sign.

A number.

An invitation.

There were others before me. Their blood stains the steps of the forgotten palace where they hold court in gilded halls—drinking, smoking, and making merry madness—forever…

He smiles. Asks if I can afford the price of admission.

I clutch my number and bleed.

*For Joe Pulver

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