Bewildering Stories

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Number of the End

by Jason Earls

Six hundred thirteen. I wish I would have never heard of that number. Six hundred thirteen. A bizarre man on the street told me of it. And now it tortures me.

He was over 50, dark-complexioned with a black beard and long black hair. He wore a Navy officer’s cap and a green military jacket with patches that looked as if they were homemade. He must have not bathed in weeks because he smelled of sweat, gasoline, cheap cigars, and other rancid, unidentifiable things.

He stopped on the street directly in front of me, squared off his shoulders with mine, and said, “I want to show you a magic trick.”

I chuckled.

He raised his rough, calloused hands with the palms facing me, and said, “Look. There’s absolutely nothing in my hands.” He lowered them and shook his right arm in a comically obvious manner until I saw a white rock fall from his sleeve into his palm. He raised both arms and displayed the rock pinched between his thumb and the side of his hand with a smug grin.

I must have not acted very impressed, because a psychotic snarl registered on his lined and jittery face. His left eye twitched out a random sequence. Then he spoke the number that haunts me to this day: “613. I can utter it, but you cannot. 613 is prime. Bring the first digit back to get 136, it’s triangular. Now bring the first digit of that back to get 361, it’s a square. 613. Diabolical. I can utter it. But you had better not even try.”

He was leaning in close to my face, invading my personal space. His brown eyes were wide and intimidating. They protruded menacingly as he hissed the words. I could have counted every wrinkle in his forehead. Every dirty blemish on his cheeks. There were a lot. Too many. And the stench from his black teeth was almost as horrendous as the tone of voice and eerie manner he used to tell me of the mathematical enigma, 613.

He turned to walk away. Before he took a single step, he spun around, leaned forward, and said, “Sssiiiixxxxx Hhuunnndrred Tthhiirrrttteennn.” The excruciatingly slow pace and awkward enunciation he put on the syllables sent a murderous chill through me.

I went home.

I thought about the number.

He had said 613 was prime. I knew what a prime was: a number with no divisors. I knew what a square was, and found that 192 = 361. But I had to do a little research to find out that 16*(16+1)/2 = 136, a triangular number.

Then I made my first mistake. I spoke the number aloud. 613. I was glad my girlfriend wasn’t home.

My house shook as if an earthquake were bringing it down. I ran to the kitchen table to try and hold myself up. I became dizzy and fell to the ground. I saw hundreds of metal balls, like ball bearings, shoot from the walls and bounce around the room. I grunted as they slammed into me. Something like a red, clay pot formed in the next room and spewed out thick green liquid in erratic bursts. Lying on my back and trying to protect myself, I noticed a crack form in the wall. A demon with a black crocodile-like head and yellow eyes burst through the wall and roared. I turned away for a moment, fear assaulting my spinal column. Everywhere I looked, and whatever I focused on, the same demon would tear out of a crack and scream. After shutting my eyes and waiting a few minutes, the demon disappeared. Out of the walls in its place, eyes popped and fell to the ground. Hands formed out of the floorboards, grabbed my wrists and ankles. Something shot from the wall — a hammer maybe — and struck me. I blacked out.

The next thing I remember is my girlfriend shaking me awake. She asked if I was all right. I said, “No. I’m not. My head feels like someone’s slicing into it with a chain saw. What time is it?”

“10 pm,” she said.

I looked around and saw traces of the evil happenings that had occurred earlier.

“Go look out the window,” she said. “Something strange is going on. I’m scared.”

I did not want to investigate. Not after what had already happened. My fear was so intense it was as if someone was tilting a sawed off shotgun to my temple. I got up and walked over to the window anyway. Pulled back the curtain. Streaks of blood and bile ran down the glass. The number 613 was written on the window in white paint. Symbols surrounded the number. A triangle. A square. A large X. Something else I can’t describe.

I thought for a moment and realized the first three symbols represented the properties of the number. The properties the man on the street mentioned, with the X representing the prime quality. It was all so bizarre. Logic-defying. I didn’t know who or what had drawn the symbols, or why.

My girlfriend said, “What the hell does the number...”

I clamped my hand over her mouth to prevent her from saying it. “Whatever you do, don’t say that number out loud. Horrible things will happen. That’s the reason you found me unconscious on the floor.”

She threw my hand away from her mouth. “Well, then don’t read the newspaper aloud. Earlier I brought it in. Glanced at the front page. The number is plastered all over it.”

When she told me that I was thoroughly convinced that our world was ruined from here on out. That all we knew as reality was going to be flushed away. And soon.

She went over to the newspaper and held it up. I could see a big bold 613 in the corner of the front page. She read a few phrases from some of the articles.

“A tornado killed 613 people today in...

“613 million cattle slaughtered due to latest discovered case of Mad Cow disease...

“Local bank robbed, 613 thousand dollars taken...”

As she read she was careful not to say the actual number aloud. She substituted the phrase “evil number” for 613. She read a few more excerpts before I told her to stop.

“What is this all about?” she asked.

“The world is obviously going to shit. And I think it all started today when this weird homeless man told me about the ‘evil number’. First, he showed me some stupid magic trick. Then he started in on the evil number and all its properties. How it’s a prime, and if you rotate the first digit to the back you get a triangular number. And if you rotate the first digit of that to the back you get a square.”

She pulled her jacket around tighter, as if it were some adequate source of protection. “Are those other numbers equally evil?”

I shrugged. “Good question. I don’t want to find out.”

She realized how scared I was. She was getting scared too. She leaned over and placed a hand on my cheek. “Let’s see if there’s anything on television about this.”

She switched it on. We saw the president sitting in the Oval Office giving a report: “Astronomers have predicted the earth will come to an end in...” he spoke the digits like this: six, long pause, one, long pause, three “...days because an asteroid has been detected heading for Earth. I must warn everyone listening: Do not speak this number aloud. Scientists think that due to the nature of fate, among other things, this number conjures terrible evil from the outer reaches of our solar system whenever it is spoken. The more the number is said, the more horrible the punishment. Of course, tomorrow...“

My girlfriend interrupted, looked into my eyes, and spoke in perfect synchronization with the president, “the number will be six, long pause, one, long pause, two.”

My eyes widened and I shook my head. “The countdown to the end of the world has begun.”

* * *

Quite a bit of time has passed since the world discovered 613. It’s safe to say the number now. No one knows why the evil didn’t start with, say, 735 or 2,056. Some people argue it is because of the unusual properties 613 contains: how one can shift its digits to obtain different classes of numbers. But I don’t think that is correct. I think the bizarre magician on the street had something to do with it. Even though I cannot say what exactly. But it doesn’t really matter now.

There are only f... i... v... e... days to go.

Copyright © 2005 by Jason Earls

The anthology in which “Number of the End” appears is Death Knocks (the thumbnail is a link):

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