Oi! Could ya lend me a tenner, mate? The bloody bartender there wants thirty dollars for a jug o’ Guinness, if ya can believe it. I been comin’ here for absolutely ages and a jug o’ Guinness has always been twenty, an’ if ya smile nicely, they chuck in a pack o’ peanuts pro bono. Capitalist ghouls, I tell ya, drainin’ everythin’ they can out o’ the working classes. Disgraceful.
What’s in it fer you? Yer ain’t one o’ them conservative types, are ya? Starve the poor, privatise prisons, an’ let Australia go to tha’ dogs.
No, no, come back! I didn’t mean to insult yer personal beliefs or nuthin’; it was only a bit o’ banter between friends. Look: if ya stand me the drinks, I’ll tell ya the tale o’ how I ended up in this place. Sound fair?
Bloody brilliant, mate.
I’ll find us a little table where we can talk privately.
Here we are, now. Put the jug there, good man. Oh, ya even got a pack o’ peanuts! I knew yer weren’t a conservative. I’m gettin’ to the story, be patient. Ahhh, me mind always works better with a bit o’ lubricant.
Now, it all started back when I were a wee bugger ‘bout 11 or 12. Back when Ma still made me breakfast and Pa drove me to school in the mornings an’ soccer practice in the afternoons. It started, as all these things normally start, with a dream. Don’t go checkin’ yer watch, ya bastard, this wasn’t one o’ yer Kim-From-Accountin’ dreams, this was a proper strange one. Ya see, everyone in our town had it.
I can remember Pa tellin’ us ‘bout it over brekky one mornin’, as Ma sizzled the bacon an’ cooked the eggs. I knew before he started talkin’ that he were in a weird mood, ‘cause it took ‘im three tries to light ‘is pipe. Normally he just sat there all gentlemanly like, as inscrutable as a brick wall. I asks ‘im what was wrong an’ he says:
“I had this bloody awful dream last night,” though not in that exact word order, an’ minus the profanity. “There was this blinding bright light I saw, like a small sun. God, I felt like I were standin’ next to a battleship or somtin’ killer like that. Like I was an ant.”
And Ma, she comes in from the kitchen an’ says she had the exact same dream. Pa says that’s impossible; two people can’t have the same dream an’ she shouldn’t make things up ‘cause I was listening. Ma got real angry at that an’ said marriage was a dream between two people an’ stormed back to the kitchen. Well, Pa just sat there puffin’ his pipe all broody an’ I figured it’d be best to keep the fact that I’d had the same dream to myself.
Say, friend, have ya gotta light? I ran out o’ matches ages ago an’ me throat’s got that nicotine feelin’ about it. Much obliged. Where was I? Yeah, the dreams.
Somehow, the rumour goes round that the dreams are a sign that a comet is goin’ to go over our town that night. Oh, that got everyone excited. Nobody could remember the last time anything cosmic had happened round our parts. So we all trooped down to the field on the outskirts o’ town. Even got a half day off school we was so excited. Don’t get me wrong, we knew there probably wasn’t no comet coming. One chap studyin’ Astronomy looked it up in a database an’ said there wasn’t goin’ to be no comet. But if it didn’t show, we reckoned we’d get a darn nice picnic out of it an’ that beats school, anyway.
Well, we all stretched out on our blankets real decadent like, the whole town just starin’ up at the sky an’ waitin’. Some local muso types set up a kind o’ stage—little more than plywood an’ love—an’ started belting out a pretty terrible rendition o’ Hey Jude. Pa was over talkin’ to his mates from work, Ma with some o’ the other Mas, an’ I with my school chums. Just passin’ the time till nightfall. It did an’ some o’ the parents set up some torches so people could see good.
When everythin’ was set up, we fell silent. Like we were in a cathedral or somtin’. We could feel it comin’, ya see, on some deep primal level we could feel it. An’ then this silvery shine stole over the field. It was like we were underwater; everythin’ slowed down. It took an eternity to move yer hand across yer face. An’ everyone looked all jumpy, like they’d been teleported to the moon an’ were now swimmin’ round in space. I felt like a speck of dust floatin’ peacefully in a vacuum.
Then came the real light an’ words cannot even begin to describe it, my friend. A flamin’ ball o’ rock tearin’ through the sky, radiatin’ bands o’ pulsatin’ heat through the field that made it look like the air itself was made of kaleidoscopic flames… but inside the light, friend, inside was a vision so enchantin’ it has haunted me my entire life.
If ya stared at the comet just right, ya could see a city made o’ pure summer. Great Greek facades an’ mountainous fields o’ flower covered paradise. A shinin’ mirage trapped inside an ever-fadin’ light. I only saw it fer one moment, but that was enough to make it clear the truth of this existence. This world is but the merest reflection of that great city, a fleetin’ shadow, somtin’ less than real.
It’s gettin’ late, friend, I’m nearin’ the end now. There was a small riot when the comet passed, we all went a bit loony. Properly trashed the town we did. Had to call in outside help to set all the broken bones an’ repair the damaged property. I left soon after with a big group o’ fellas to follow the comet. We hitchhiked here an’ there, workin’ where we could get it, drawn forward by the memory of that night. The others fell away, for whatever reason, lost interest, or the law. A few died. Just me now, I ain’t seen me parents for many a year. But I can feel it, my friend, deep down in that inside part o’ me. I’ll see that city again, even if it’s only a glimpse, even if it kills me. An’ that’ll be enough. It has to be.
Harman studies Psychology at the University of Newcastle, Australia. His short fiction has previously appeared, or is forthcoming, in numerous magazines including Flame Tree Press Newsletter, After Dinner Conversation, and Cosmic Horror Monthly.