For Katie. May you never realize I just made you up for this dedication.
Well I could be condemned to hell for every sin but littering
-Soul Coughing, “The Idiot Kings”
+ + +
According to the microwave clock I still had an hour.
According to the wall clock above the toilet I only had about forty minutes, but with so much time before I had to leave, I decided not to get involved in their little dispute.
I gave my increasingly shaggy hair a quick blow-dry (will have to cut it again soon...), and just like every night going out I grabbed a small silver scissors from out of my medicine cabinet to raise and smooth out the bottom of my mustache—You never know who's gonna be there and what kind of turns a night might take with one or another flannel Aphrodite.
I shook any loose hairs off my face and wiped the leavings out of the sink, then popped on the gray long sleeved t-shirt and navy blue jeans I'd set out, some black socks, and a pair of square-toed Oxfords, then tried on several loosened ties I thought might work on top of it, but it was a little too much, darling and I decided to go without.
I did a quick spot check in the mirror:
Shirt tag not sticking up? Check.
Hair carefully-but-not-too-carefully disheveled? Check.
A pen? Check.
Fly zipped? --
Fly zipped? Check.
Alcohol-absorbent frozen pizza in stomach? Check.
A couple squirts of Febreze around the place in case I bring people/a girl back? Check.
A couple minutes to kill before I needed to catch the subway? Spike, put a big check next to Pony Time.
As had been happening more and more for now almost a year, I'd found my thoughts drifting back to broad, colorful landscapes and the wacky adventures of their kaleidoscopic, four-legged inhabitants. For reasons still unknown to me, whenever I decided to watch something, the popular cartoon Friendship is Magic was day by day making its way to the head of the queue. I'd known about its cult status and supposed quality ever since a long-time friend pointed out to me the show's existence, and for a while I assumed it was simply some kind of internet 'secret handshake,' though I avoided actually taking a look out of the simple—and prescient—fear that I'd like it.
But except for dropping or remixing the occasional fan song, I kept myself aloof from its online Republic of Letters, wanting to remain blissfully ignorant of haters or anything else that might spook my internal press secretary: Not that I'd ever denied having seen or even being entertained by it, but “Fan” was just no longer a part of who I was when I got up to my business out there in the world. It wasn't how I saw myself and it wasn't how I wanted to be seen. Maybe I was a bit of a “Gilda” that way, and maybe that's why it had all gotten so thoroughly under my skin.
I plopped down in my taped-up rolly chair, opening iTunes and grabbing the cheap ukulele leaning against my printer, a delightful find that a buddy had abandoned here one night. I picked out “Episode Zero,” one I hadn't seen in a while, and started plinking out a little rhythm to accentuate Twilight Sparkle's descent into madness.
Those checklists'll getcha, dude!
Building into some full-blown finger picking getaway music for the riot over Smarty Pants (hard with a uke), I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed seeing the whole premise of the show deconstructed and rebuilt, as Twilight learns to just be natural and follow whatever inspires her, instead of sticking to a set formula. And how the scope was opened up by allowing the rest of the cast in on the personal growth—Surely it was only a matter of time before everypony from Big Mac to Derpy got to say their piece to the Princess.
Everypony. I'd caught myself randomly thinking that word while on the town more than once.
Urrypony in the club gettin' tipsy!
Hearing those cute ponyisms in lyrics on the store playlist of the place where I'd bought this very shirt was actually what got me to check out the show in the first place, but a part of me worried I'd let one slip myself at some point and the Totally-Not-A-Brony-Dude jig would be up. The last thing I needed was my friends to find out I didn't want to go see their band for the twentieth time because I was deliberating over whether or not to add hand claps to the breakdown for my own kickass track about Rainbow Dash.
But the party that night, I was genuinely excited about. I'd never met the hosts, but they were friends of one of the most interesting people I knew, and they'd apparently been planning it for quite a while, inviting people from all over the city's various creative scenes, as well as enough friends and friends-of-friends from out of town that, after a hangover-killing greasy breakfast, it was supposed to start all over again the next day to make it fully worth the trip. I didn't know who else was going, and likely it was going to be an ocean of new faces, but after that whole world had finally “clicked” in college, and the subsequent years of carousing with strangers, I had nothing but confidence in my superficial, one-night charm, and felt certain I'd have them eating out of my hand before midnight. Especially after I'd discovered that indoor smoking bans had created vulnerable little circles of people huddling around outside, I'd proven I could make friends with just about anybody for a night.
Dear Princess Celestia, I'd write, sometimes Friendship is waiting right outside with a pack of American Spirit Yellows. All they needed was a light and a funny story and for somepony to listen to them complain about waiting tables.
Your Faithful Student,
Rob “Not a Pony Name” LeCroix
Suddenly I heard what sounded like my stove belching. The old gas contraption certainly had its quirks (along with the building, and the neighborhood), and after moving in I'd bothered the landlord with many calls about why it wasn't properly stove-ing, but it generally refrained from making any sound suggesting I was about to get exploded. After a second's hesitation I got up and walked back to the kitchenette, but the stout off-white cube was inert and there was none of the sulfurous miasma of a gas leak. I chalked it up to old pipes, or any of the other myriad things that made this apartment so cheap, as the microwave clock nearby told it me was about time to leave. Should I pop on a little moisturizer on that face, maybe? Snort a bump? Nah. We were solid.
I opened the barren fridge and grabbed the fourpack of Colt 45 I'd picked up as my offering to the party (I sure as shit wasn't carrying that open case of Pabst, and who'd want that head of broccoli?), as well as a mason jar containing a couple dime bags from the cupboard above, stuffing them into the ancient camo shoulder bag hanging by the door, trying not to crush the notebooks and other paper detritus within. Immediately the condensation on the cans evaporated and I glimpsed the tiny wisps of steam corkscrewing their way into invisibility.
I hoisted the bag, opened the door, and turned out the light.
+ + +
The party was only a short walk from the Red Line stop, and though on the way I passed a half dozen other townhouses emanating the muffled rumble of bass and the occasional penetrating high note of a conversation, it proved easy to find, and—I felt a tiny wave of pride to notice—it was the loudest. I hopped up onto the porch and slipped inside, scanning the riotous, busily-furnished living room for familiar faces but as expected I recognized no one. Ignoring the snack table and projector showing the Talking Heads' “Stop Making Sense” barely audible over the thumping party mix, I ambled into the kitchen, exchanging nods with the strangers relaxing against the wall while I took out the fourpack of malt liquor to place it on the counter. Not finding any other options in my line of sight, I casually pulled a can off for myself.
My connection to the party strode into the brightly lit room. “Max!” I called out, and raised my can to him when he turned. I thanked him for the invitation, he grabbed his own can, and then we chatted for a while. Before long I remarked how taken I was with his t-shirt, an apparently custom job entirely covered by an extreme close-up photo of pretzel sticks—An expressive look, certainly, as well as complementing his lanky frame and enormous black Jew-fro.
A small brown-haired woman with green plastic framed glasses entered the kitchen soon afterward, and Max greeted her before introducing her as one of the hosts of the party.
“Hi, I'm Rob.” I straightened up away from the counter I'd been leaning against and shook her hand.
“Shannon. Nice to meet you! ...So how do you know Max?” She gestured to the cans I'd brought and took one when I nodded an OK at them.
“Oh, ya know, music and film shit around town. I wrote a—Hey, this place is great, by the way. Really love the projector in the living room.”
“Thanks! It was actually my roommate's idea.”
“Cool, it's a nice touch.” I activated a smile and nodded casually. “But yeah, I wrote a song and played guitar in this commercial he produced—What was it for, Max? 'There's never any time / But you might make it if you hurry...?” I remembered it just fine but wanted him to associate being around me with feeling on-the-ball.
“Yeah, it was the insurance one, out by the pier. With the little dog?”
“Ohhh right! Remember, we were having that perfect take and then it just peed all over the singer's dress?” I grinned sardonically. “I still maintain we should've used that one, since it was for insurance after all—Just end the spot right there with us all breaking down, all like, 'anything can happen, buy our shit.'”
Shannon chimed in. “Client probably didn't go for that, huh?”
I laughed, “They never do ...But yeah, I felt pretty bad for her...What was her name? We actually hung out a couple times after I ran into her again at the Rooster Room, but I'm blanking on it right now.” This time I honestly didn't remember.
“Erica, wasn't it? I invited her but I don't think she's here,” Max supplied.
“Thaaaat's right... Aw, too bad, though, she was actually pretty cool.” I turned back to the host. “So Shannon, how about you? What brings you and Max, uh, under the same roof tonight?”
“We did film together in college.” She turned to him, “I still love that fake documentary you made about viral videos.”
“Oh noooo, that thing? I'm never gonna get away from that...” Max made a theatrical show of drowning his sorrows. “Hey, that reminds me—Rob, I wanted to talk to you and Troy again about working on that script. What're you doing next Thursday?”
“I dunno, probably that.”
As we went on, I shifted into autopilot, nodding appreciatively or riffing back and forth off small incongruous things one or the other said.
We continued in this vein for twenty minutes or so, until I became bored and excused myself to check out what I discovered to be the back deck, grabbing the final can on the way. A scuffed silver keg was sitting in a blue tub of ice in the far corner, right above an alley, with a half dozen people crowded around it pumping or pouring, and another half dozen evenly spaced along the railing and wall, cigarettes in various stages of depletion. I asked a girl for a cigarette and introduced myself, popping it in my mouth and enunciating around it to ask her name as she passed me the lighter. I wasn't especially interested in flirting with her—Never much cared for the blonde & wholesome look—But she seemed friendly and intelligent, and I figured making her laugh and meeting her friends would be a fun way to run this particular lap of the party. I lifted the shoulder bag strap over my head, careful not to disturb the cigarette, and set the bag down under the eroded wooden bench along the outside wall of the house.
The girl's name was Stephanie (there is always a Stephanie) though despite the everydayness of her name she was sharp and had interesting stories, from camping misadventures while on mushrooms, to once teaching English in Mexico City, to doing guerrilla theater in Austin. I also met her friends Douglass and Ben, who matched her in their easygoing Midwestern guilelessness. The three of them had come down from Michigan to stay overnight with the hosts and hopefully make connections here at this party, and had their bags stashed somewhere upstairs in the bedrooms. I exchanged business cards with Ben (his was some kind of web design... thing) and nodded politely at their ideas for creative projects before launching into my own proposals that were obviously 20%, if not exactly cooler, at least that much more of a commentary on the current Scene...You Know?
By this point I'd finished both my cigarette and Colt 45, so grabbed a red Dixie cup from the stack on the bench and poured myself a nostalgically cheap-tasting and foamy draft of what might have been Old Style or Milwaukee's Best. Having now checked 'keg' off my party itinerary, I was finished with the deck and its entertainments, so excusing myself and pointing to the bag under the bench with a jovial “Hey, watch my shit, will ya?” I strolled back inside to check out that snack table.
Pretzel sticks were on offer, naturally enough, as well as several containers of homemade hummus and some other things I couldn't identify. I've always been a picky eater, to my eternal embarrassment, and stoically masticated some cold, bitter, olive-colored paste I'd put on a chip to humor Shannon, who was deservedly proud of the creative spread she'd assembled. My good food deed for the night accomplished, however, I returned to the safety of the pretzel sticks and tiny, toothpick-speared cheese cubes, which I found made a fantastic accessory for conversational gestures, especially since they could be consumed as a final punctuation.
Check & Mate, sir. NOM.
I milled around in the living room, joked with Max again, and met the other host and resident whom Shannon had mentioned—he of the projector—Adam, a stocky, soft-spoken IT guy with a permanent smirk I recognized from my own face, and a surprisingly beguiling way of getting more and more excited and enthusiastic as conversations went on. He'd been hanging out upstairs, where he and Shannon actually lived (so naturally quasi-off-limits for the night) and before long he excused himself to return there due to an early engagement the next day.
I plopped down on one of the living room couches and looked up at the projector, now showing an old Guns & Roses arena concert, reflecting a glow onto a cluster of people in one corner singing along to “Sweet Child of Mine.” I relaxed for a while and sipped my beer, making eye contact with the little karaoke circle and joining them with an appropriately taut falsetto upon our mutual smile-and-nods, but there wasn't much left in my cup and I was staring at its plastic bottom long before I was satisfied.
Standing up to revisit the keg, my foot bumped against something bulky and hard. Looking down, I saw the old familiar olive bag I was sure I'd left under the bench outside, but quickly concluded I must have absentmindedly put it back on and carried it back inside. I didn't fully believe that, but as a small child I'd gotten in trouble for daydreaming and losing things so many times that my own fix on the location of my possessions was always the first suspect.
With a dismissive shrug, I picked up the bag and began another round of mingling. Snack table. Bathroom line. Keg. Kitchen. “Sure, I'll do a shot.” Living room. “'Sarah?' Hi, I'm Rob. Nice to meet you, dig the shirt, the whole flannel thing is great.” Bathroom line. “Crank it, I love this song!” Drop that bag for impromptu dance circle by the snack table. Pick it up and hit the living room to confirm an outlandish story. Kitchen for telling my own. Bathroom line. Deck for a cigarette.
It was now 1AM-ish and the party had been packed and in full swing for quite some time now. I ran into Stephanie again on the deck and she told me Max (“this pretzel guy”) had been looking for me to ask if I wanted to smoke a bowl with him and some other dudes I kinda-sorta knew, or who at least apparently knew me, but unfortunately that ship had already sailed, and more importantly, going to look for them now would be boring.
I was in luck, however, having brought the dime bags, and now I could be the sweet chariot to swing low and provide, as Steph and her two friends asked to join in as soon as I mentioned the option. No one had a pipe, but I was sure in the bag I had some rolling papers, or we could at least find someone who was part of the roll-your-own-cigarettes fad. I dug through the bag, pulling out wads of convenience store receipts, notebooks of various sizes, guitar picks, a tuner, pens, erasers (but no pencils), assembly instructions for a media center no one I knew could possibly afford, a Hmong-language hospital waiting room pamphlet for expectant mothers, and then I pulled out a roll of delicate golden paper, tied with a green silk ribbon. The sight of it was arresting and we all paused for a moment to look at it.
“Heh, what's that thing?” Douglass smirked and leaned forward to examine the scroll.
“I dunno... I've never seen half the crap I find in here.”
“Well you should stop leaving it places,” Stephanie quipped.
“Apparently I didn't. I guess I took it back inside with me...?” I started undoing the ribbon so I could see if there was anything written on the inside of the paper.
“Yeah, probably. I dunno, though: It's not like anyone ever actually watches someone's shit when they're asked to, right?” Ben jumped in. I chuckled and nodded.
Finally unrolling the paper, we could see it had some markings on it, but they looked more like squiggly pen tests than preservation-worthy writing. I'd been worried about ruining it if it were some kind of document, but this was clearly just some nice paper I'd bought for a project I'd eventually lost interest in, and it was matte-surfaced and apparently not dyed or treated, so I figured it'd be safer to burn than any of the other materials. And, most vital of all for something like this, it had panache.
I took out my keys and used the tiny scissors on the Swiss army knife keychain to cut a strip of the thin, scintillating paper all along one edge. It was surprisingly difficult to cut, and I began to wonder if it wouldn't burn funny after all, remembering a disappointing experiment at a friend's wedding with the seemingly ideal blank final page of a hotel bible. I tied up the “scroll” with its ribbon again and returned it to be bag, along with the other ephemera it had expelled.
Except for the mason jar, that is, from which I removed a baggie and crumbled some of the purple and green fluff inside into a nice thick line. The paper rolled around it easily enough, and I licked the edge to seal it, before holding it up with a flourish honed by an evening of cheese cubes, and placing it in my mouth.
I began inhaling softly in preparation, but as soon as I touched the lighter flame to the end of the joint I was nearly blinded by a brilliant green flash, and felt a hot rush of air painfully burn my lips. I gasped in surprise and inhaled a massive gust of smoke, then began coughing fitfully as my vision faded to white and my hearing became distant and muffled. For a fraction of a second I thought I heard a familiar, cheerful voice but I couldn't make out the words, and the next thing I knew someone was hitting me on the back and asking if I was alright. I hacked a few more times before I could speak again, then rubbed my burned lips before asking what happened.
“I dunno!” Douglass squawked and adjusted his glasses, “You lit it and it, like, blew up! Like I dunno, like you're Yosemite Sam with a cigar after you pissed off Bugs Bunny.”
Ben joined in with a deadpan “Yeah. Just this big green explosion and puff of smoke. It must have been...fireworks paper or something.”
“Yeah, that's exactly what it looked like!” Stephanie offered, “One of those chemicals they burn in those. 'Magnesium-whatever-ate' and like...Jiminy-oxides. You're lucky you didn't burn your fucking face off!”
“Yeah...” I couldn't think of anything good to say. “My lips hurt.”
“Why did you have that shit, anyway?” Ben grimaced. “The crazy-paper.”
“...I'unno. Life is mys'rious,” I said with a practiced nonchalant slur, simultaneously trying to stifle a hiccup. Seriously addressing the issue of the mystery paper right then and there sounded tedious and I wanted to change the subject.
“The whole thing's just gone, though—You figure there'd be ash or, or SOMETHING left...” Douglass shrugged and glared at where he expected to find debris, as if he could shame it into appearing. Several other people on the deck had been looking our way, but they went back to their conversations and didn't come to investigate.
“I think it all went in my lungs...?” I croaked, making my voice squeak in theatrical helplessness on the last word. “I'm gonna go get a glass of water...!” I continued in a pained falsetto.
“Are you gonna be OK?” Douglass and Stephanie said almost in unison.
“Yeah. It's good, y'know, just gonna be all... y'know,” I croaked again, giving a casual two finger salute/wave to the group before turning around to walk back inside. I felt dizzy and somewhat faint—Not stoned but definitely fucked up, and hoped I managed to hide it on my way to the kitchen and the promised relief of its faucet.
You're done, dude. I dunno what was in that, but pop them highway goggles on 'cuz we're going for a riiiiiide, buddy! I call sidecar!
We definitely are...and it's all yours...
My head throbbed as I fumbled through the cupboards for a glass, picking the largest I could fi—No, that has gross plastic palm trees on it—second largest I could find, then filling it to the brim, quickly taking a big sip off the top to minimize spillage. I shuffled to the living room, where I saw a few people already passed out on a couch or in easy chairs, and a couple making out behind an upright speaker, but just intending to drink my water and then go home, I sat down at one end of a couch and momentarily closed my eyes.
OK, I was feeling... pretty heavy. Maybe I'd take a little Disco Nap. “Please let me not have to barf later,” I mumbled, bringing the glass up to chin level. I took maybe four more sips before losing consciousness.
+ + +
My next moment of awareness was an out-of-body dream about a deep purple void, with what could have been stars strewn in ghostly filaments throughout, and a chorus of almost exclusively female voices talking over each other in a language I didn't understand. It was staccato and a little sing-song, and punctuated by the whinnying of a herd of invisible horses. Gradually I became aware of small rectangular objects flitting in front of my vision, almost too fast to perceive, but the rhythm of their passing seemed to match the rising and falling in volume of specific voices in the incomprehensible chorus.
Suddenly I felt my non-existent stomach do a flip, and it was as if the voices turned inside out like a wireframe Necker Cube in a book of optical illusions—I couldn't detect anything different about the sounds, but they were suddenly comprehensible, mapped onto meanings I wasn't aware they had. Even the intermittent neighing seemed to take on a cast of significance, like the tongue clicks of Khoisan tribes, but their strangeness was buried under the realization of what I was hearing.
“Dear Pri- De- Dear Princess- Dear- Dear Princess Celestia...”
I chuckled in recognition. Thousands of voices were talking over each other in time with the objects zipping through my field of vision, blending into a roar broken only by nearer, louder layers of speech. Gradually I became aware of an image, or an impression, accompanying each one, and time seemed to dilate so I could process each in turn. Slowed down, I could see the objects were bound scrolls resembling the one I'd found in my bag. “Of course,” I thought with dreamy detachment, “I knew that paper thingy reminded me of something...That's probably why I bought it in the first place...”
Faces, or impressions of faces, accompanied each whizzing scroll, elongated and strange and indistinct, and swathed in a riot of bright, saturated colors. They reminded me of nothing so much as Ponies, and I smiled, recalling that the charming creatures had never actually appeared in a dream of mine up until that moment. The impressions were too vague to fully discern their features, but it was clear what they were supposed to represent.
I came to imagine that this purple void was “Letterspace,” the timeless otherworldly corridor every scroll traversed, between when it was burned and when it rematerialized in another puff of fireworks.
Slowly, my disembodied view rotated upwards until I was staring at an immense disc. It was difficult to discern the size of it, and the details on its surface didn't suggest any kind of familiar material. It was primarily a dull gray-brown, coruscating with various subtle hues, cut by long, sharp striations and fractal-branching crags, like some surreal combination of shale, marble, and tree bark.
A mottled gray sphere was perched at the apex of a long spike that tapered down in a shallow hyperbolic curve extending smoothly out of the center of the disc, almost seeming to dangle from it like a Christmas tree ornament, or the landing strut of a looming chandelier-shaped starship from the end of an alien encounter film.
I was approaching the disc rapidly, cutting across the stream of flying letters, but they were entirely insubstantial, and I felt only a transitory pang of danger before I realized we would pass right through each other, and once more my stomach dropped as the letter contents reverted to unintelligible foreign chatter and animal braying.
My speed gradually increased, and before long the procession of scrolls became an indistinct squall streaking out from the center of my field of vision. The disc scarcely approached at all, however, and suddenly its staggering immensity became clear.
Now, I have never been to space, but from orbital photographs and gazing out the windows of airliners, I feel like I have a ballpark sense of how large a planet looks. The disc above me now was easily wider than the Earth—A colossal megastructure floating serenely in the glowing abyss, and suddenly the patches of gray on the sphere in the center clicked in my consciousness, and it resolved into a moon, stowed safely in some incomprehensible field that held it fast at the invisibly fine tip of that titanic spike.
I was going even faster now, what must have been many hundreds of miles per second, and saw that I wasn't heading towards the structure itself, but obliquely toward its edge, which I would pass within minutes. A razor-thin line of iridescence bounded the circumference of the disc, and from it I could see projected over the opposite side a faint but luminous bubble, a hemisphere of ghostly haze enclosing whatever lay on the far surface.
As I rocketed past the edge of the disc, the purple glow that suffused the space around me gave way to pure black, but I was far too taken with the sight of the disc's inhabited side to worry about being lost in a frigid vacuum.
My incorporeal view rotated back down towards it, and I saw the swirling white-on-blue of clouds and oceans, and the hazy browns and greens of continents hidden underneath, sprawling out in unrecognized patterns.
It wasn't flat at all, but sloped upwards into a vast, shallow central dome, surrounded by a complementary toroidal depression, as if a world-sized donut had been pressed into the fresh material of the landscape before it had change to dry. A thin, delicate layer of electric blue-white haze clung to the contours of the world below and conveyed its truly astronomical scale.
Suspended far above the surface, at the very boundary of the ethereal dome, was a point of almost solar brilliance, a small yellow disc that shone with a soft but indomitable light, illuminating the landscape and casting a subtle shadow on one side of the central dome, the clouds above catching the last of the light and creating a scalloped white boundary around the small patch of “dusk.”
Below me now was a true geocentric world, straight from humanity's oldest, most natural intuitions and the ravings of the few regressives who will never let them go. In keeping with the elements of the dream so far, I guessed what world this must be, and counted myself lucky that my subconscious had painted me such a vivid and beautiful image.
Looks like we got somethin' from that bone you smoked after all! Whatsername—Erica—was right, that Kevin guy sells some bomb-ass herb.
My speed began to drop off as I arced over the top of the dome, and as my view continued to rotate downward I saw the soft purple glow in which I'd originally appeared trailing from the underside of this world like the tail of a comet, splaying into numbingly intricate multicolored fractals and filigrees as it faded away into the vacuum.
Gradually, near the top of the dome, I seemed to “roll” to a halt, and felt myself catch on something immaterial with a sensation not unlike trying to force uncooperative magnets together. Something vague and green and smoke-like flitted around me, breaking apart and recombining as it traced out a sphere with my point of view in the center. I knew without a doubt that I had been under scrutiny since the beginning of the dream and presently felt a fuzzy, static-like sensation as if I were now being more thoroughly examined.
The vaporous sphere began to exchange rapid pulses of multicolored light with invisibly distant sources on the landscape below, which flashed in response with an array of waving pastel auroras, and as it did so I became aware of an image gradually forming in...no, not in front of me, exactly, but in my mind's eye, though with an immediacy that precluded its being purely imaginary.
It was blue, and roughly horizontally rectangular, though it was presented to me from so many simultaneous shifting angles it was impossible to determine any physical features beyond simple curves or corners. The object seemed to reach some point of maximum solidity, and then with a green flash I was assaulted by the smoky globe as it imploded around me.
It felt like an electric shock, and I felt my stomach drop with a surprisingly corporeal weight as I began to slide “downhill” along the opposite side of the dome.
As I picked up prodigious speed and closed on the opposite edge, I could see the full extent of the purple “comet tail” dragging below the disc. It was much more discernible now, as if it had approached out of a fog, and I could see that in the interminable distance it more closely resembled a scintillating stained glass mandala or spider web, centered on a glowing object I couldn't quite make out.
I shot past the hundred mile-thick edge of the disc in less than a second and once again found myself in the violet, milky expanse of the strange “tail.” With startling quickness, the glow inside the distant lattice came into focus as another sun, this one with a piercing, nuclear intensity that seemed to sear my very consciousness, so different from the diffuse, welcoming glow of the miniature star that illuminated the world rapidly receding above.
Slowly, in front of me inside the “tail,” a vast black circle faded into existence and blocked the scorching light of the other sun, seeming to exchange solidity with the purple glow around me and the monstrous solar net in the distance, which had now faded to spectral, almost subconscious impressions. As I approached the circle, I could discern filaments of ragged light tracing out ancient patterns of humanity inside it, and saw that I was falling directly toward a now quite visible and very familiar grid of glowing orange urbanity.
There was a violent shock and an intense green flash, and then I don't remember what happened.