By age 35 you should have saved enough money to gather into a small pile. You will then dig at least one hole— the recommended number is three—in the shape of an object. Sweep that money into the hole, or those holes, and cover it or them with dirt. You are an adult now.
By age 35 you should be old enough for your thoughts to lengthen in the afternoon. Google “warning signs of degenerative disc disease.” Welcome the unmaking of your temporary and frankly embarrassing human body.
By age 35 you will know if your tongue carries the blessing of Profane Speech, at which point you may address the Orb without counsel present.
All hail the Orb.
By age 35 you should look down at your feet, then to the pier as it bends toward a horizon swallowed by a sea with no bottom. Some people walk slowly to the end, while others sprint and jump. Still others—friends, admirers, partners, people you trust—stray to the sides and fall. Be grateful that you are dry, for now. Do not judge those who fall prematurely. That’s for a vengeful Orb to do.
All hail the Orb.
By age 35, you will have forsaken the Orb. You will deny it when cast into the pit and accused by the others, but your voice will falter under their shouts and the monotonous ringing of the bell. The masked priests will sense your weakness. Their eyes are trained for it.
By age 35, you should know that the acid content in a marinade breaks down proteins in the outer layer of a steak’s connective tissue, softening its surface texture. As that connective tissue shrinks, it becomes easier to chew. In that pit, surrounded by dozens of hooting swine in tattered yellow robes and veils just like yours, you are the steak soaking in each hollered recrimination, each demand to confess, until you too are broken down.
By age 35 you should consider seeing a doctor, then look toward that hole, or those holes, you filled with money. Feel water seeping into your socks. Consider time as an ocean, lapping at the shores of your body. Consider erosion.
By age 35, you will know the euphoria of confession. The noise, the energy of the crowd, and the repetition of the bell are in fact a premeditated cup and squeeze of our need for belonging, a transcendental experience for some, a throbbing narcotic pleasure for others. In all cases, they provide the same shortcuts for large-scale connection as public singing and dancing. Karaoke and the humiliation of a pilloried felon are social rituals of a kind, one might say.
By age 35, you will shriek yes I have forsaken the Orb to the congregation as their stones rend your garments and bruise your flesh. You will bare your back to their whips. Yes you will scream, yes I am guilty. The coma surrounding each toll of the bell settles in your ears as blood soaks through your robe. Your connection to this audience, fellow worshipers of the Orb, has never felt stronger. Your heart swells with love for them, for the Orb, for this chance to unburden yourself.
By age 35 you should have Googled the term “plantar fasciitis” after moderate physical activity at least once.
By age 35, you will learn a sinister purpose of euphoria. You have participated in this ritual before, outside the pit. You have thrown rocks and lashed whips, lulled into stuporous obedience by the bell, the crush of the mob, the commands of the masked priests. You have seen the awful truth of it, that every confession is followed by an execution. The entire mechanism of this ritual is to make you forget that when your turn comes. The priest’s final blow is quick and sharp, not cruel at all, like a cold whisper in your ear.
By age 35 you will leave this world and embark upon a pilgrimage to a city under black stars; there, you will dehumanize yourself and face the Orb. There will be neither tears nor crying, nor extradition, nor pain, only the wind flicking sea mist upon your face.
All hail the Orb.
Dave K’s work has appeared in [PANK], X-R-A-Y, Barrelhouse, Cobalt, and Queen Mob’s Tea House. His first proper novel, The Bong-Ripping Brides of Count Drogado, was published by Mason Jar Press in November 2017. He lives in Baltimore, where he is a species of minute air-breathing land snail.