(Note: We’ll return soon enough to my thoughts on suffering. I’ve got plenty more thoughts on the subject, if any of you are worried. I also apologize that while working on this post last night, I accidentally hit “publish” too soon. Some of you might have seen a half-finished draft in your RSS feeds and what not — sorry about that. Thanks for reading, as always. Don’t forget, I’m on the Twitters, now!)

In the hallway, just past the closed door, I hear him groaning under the weight of chains. The floor tremors as his huge body makes laborious steps on long, spindly legs. His breaths are heavy, reeking of stale piss as it seeps through the cracks. I cannot see him, but I lean my ear against the door. I only hear his coming.

He clanks and offers to tell my fortune. No matter, he will just tell me that I will die soon, probably with his chains wrapped around my neck a few times, lifting me up as my legs kick the ground, flailing in vain. Or he’ll crush my ribs with his calf’s hoofs in a slow jig, as I watch him eating my heart with veins dripping from his jaws. I can feel the weight of him now on top of me, and he’s not even in the room — he’s still afar off.

The candle in my hand flickers, so I quickly snuff it. He growls, wheezing painfully, “I know . . . you’re . . . in there . . .” The chains lift with each step, then drag on the floor. What would I have done differently? What road have I traveled to find myself hiding in a windowless room, shivering in the cold? Step, lift, drag, the chains go in the hallway, getting louder and louder, deafening my ears. What led me to this point? “Turn back, O Man!” I hear them say, but they always said that. Then, the sound stops and the door opens.

As his breath fills the room, I choke on the stench of fecund death. We stand eye-to-eye in the darkness, and I feel him looking through me with sterile disinterest. I stammer out quickly, “I, I, I think I want my fortune, now.” He silently whistles, “The time . . . for . . . fortunes . . . is past.” I go to speak, but all that comes out is wind; I scream, but only sigh. “You’re . . . to come . . . with me”, he states. In the darkness, we walk slowly down the steps together. I must be careful of his chains, as they are long and pour out the front door for some distance.

The silence of the night is deafening, hallow. The cicadas and the crickets quiet their roar as we pass by, silent out of respect. Step, lift, drag, we progress like a turtle while the stars cover their faces with shame, out in the greater darkness. After sometime, I climb up, up the back of this unnamed ancient beast, without a murmur, only regrets. I hang onto his matted fur as he steps, lifts and drags me homelessly through the night.

Knowing my thoughts, he turns his head back to me with the reply, “You wouldn’t . . . believe . . . me if I . . . told you.” He answers nothing more and I think nothing more. We go on in the night.

In the distance, though, there is a smattering of scattered lights held by people who talk as if in an elevator. Obscured by the darkness, I can not make out their faces nor do their voices sound familiar, but they all know me. The beast stops as I slide down his back, past his long, spindly legs to earth. We are standing by a pond.

One of them comes to the beast and holds onto his leg. Then, one after another, they all set down their candles and form a great chain by holding hands. When their line reaches water’s edge, they all look at me. They say nothing, but I know what I must do. Touching their shoulders, I find my way to the edge of the pond. And, as I stand on the banks of nothingness with the undiscovered country lapping at my feet, I grasp the last hand. Languidly, I edge out into the deep, where my feet no longer touch bottom and the waters cover my head. They all let go.

Picking up their candles, they mill about once again, conversing quietly and politely. Turning, The beast steps, lifts and drags himself back to the distant darkness, his chains slithering behind.