You can see them out in cities, after the roar of rush hour has passed and the people have moved inside to ignore the sunset. They appear where the world bottoms out and holes start to show in our perfect blanket of order: cold spots, humming wires, pavement cracked wide and spidery by roots. If you stop, and you watch, you’ll see castoffs dance into your view, broken glass and loose leaves and papers for concerts long past. They’ll draw close to you, their movements disguised in the dance of chaos but apparent to those who are watching for it. If you look at them, and if you do not hold your breath, you will see.
They’ll touch before they show; you’ll know they’ve arrived by the hairs on the backs of your arms, or the idiot feeling of someone staring at your neck. Then comes the heat, or the cold, and the electric vertigo that pulls all your muscles loose. Your vision will darken, and it will blur, but that means that it is really, truly time.
The detritus will scatter, and the ground will seem to bubble, to toss and play with the snaky distortions you see on your ceiling after a sudden wakening. Do not rub your eyes. Do not look away. They are here.
The distortions will grow, fatter and more frightening, and details will reach out to you, coarse heads and crude fingers like a child’s sketch. You will think of things and people you have lost, and it is here that your road curves upward: do not think of your lovers. The ones you let in the furthest are the spies inside your heart; you can never open that part of yourself to them.
The distortions will mate and meld, and your thoughts will be a jumbled panic. You’ll find hurts dredging up from the lakes of memory, monsters crawling toward your forebrain from nightmares left abandoned in your past. Do not be afraid; and do not look away.
Sometimes, the answer is yes; sometimes, it is no. But whatever the answer , do not let it out. They do not ask so you will converse; they ask so you will open your mouth.
They hunger for breath, the warmth and the cycle inside, the fuel that burns out the quickest when it is gone. They will take it if they can and they will go out into the world, stopped people with sunburnt skin, watching the world with hollow, glassy eyes and talking in grunts that make the locals shake their heads.
If the question does not suffice, however, that is when they will bring you gifts: golden, bladed flowers, and taurine creatures that scamper in their palms, and two-dimensional jars with the thoughts of old philosophers stored beneath their lids. They’ll offer them with love and silence, and when you look at them, you’ll think of someone whose smile would come roaring forward if they were given some of these wares. Do not remember them; the one who gives the gift would not be you.
They will stop then, and watch you, and their number will be greater than you had thought. Their stares will be cold and compelling, and you’ll sense even more of them behind you. The smell of your sweat will be unbearable. They’ll shift then, and shatter, their pieces forming new shapes you had only seen on the canvas of your mind, naked lovers and yoked sphinxes and the looming, cyclopean Tower. Watch them go by, primitive and primal, crude but terrifying. Bow your head to the Emperor; avert your eyes from the Devil; and when the World dances past you, never let her see you blush.
When it is over, the images will scatter, and they will be nothing but scraps of dust, brown stains born from bad light or bits of eyelash on your cornea. And when you close your eyes you’ll see them as crawling blue lightning against the grey, and before a minute has passed they’ll be swirling down toward some common spot, and then, eyes closed, that is where you must look.
On the outside you’ll see nothing, feel only a rush of blood to your head as the fevered perspective rights itself; but if you watch from within, you’ll see the point at the center of it all, the psychic whirlpool to which they all are drawn.
Your answer is in there, if you want it; but understand that the price is all the questions you were planning to ask, and that the truth may not be the beacon you would like to think. Magic is and has always been on the edge, the cliff beneath the feet of the Fool; but now, and today, it is angry.