It was a strange encounter. I’m still not sure what happened, or if it happened. Even as I write it down it seems more like a dream than anything else, or maybe a nightmare.
At the other end of the bar a man sat, frantically scribbling on napkin after napkin, muttering to himself. He had the body of a young man, but with a worn face stretched so thinly across his skull that it seemed as if the bone must show through, and an eye that looked as though it had witnessed the joys and sufferings of a hundred lifetimes. I say eye, for the other was covered from my sight by a ragged patch, which only served to heighten the air of eccentricity that clung to him like a shroud.
“Curious about old Dominic the astronomer, are you?”
The voice came from above. I looked up toward the rafters, and then flushed, embarrassed. Of course there was no one up there. At the peal of laughter following my glance I turned to see a blonde-haired girl standing behind me. She smiled and motioned questioningly at the seat next to me; I nodded, then flushed again, trying to cover my sudden confusion at the appearance of such a beautiful vision in such a dank place.
“What did you say his name was?” I asked her as she sat down beside me.
“I don’t know what his real name is. I doubt even he knows it anymore. They call him Dominic the astronomer. Because of what happened.”
She paused. I waited.
“He wasn’t always like this – talking to himself, writing gibberish. Once upon a time he was a just another member of society. If you passed him on the street you wouldn’t look at him twice. Until that night.
No one quite knew when Dominic showed up in this town. Some said he had been with the circus as a carny, and after the tent stakes were pulled up and the circus rolled on, he stayed. Others claimed he had been an itinerant preacher, leading revivals and handling snakes across the country until he came here searching for anonymity. Most thought he was just another drifter, washing up here as so many did simply because he had nowhere else to go.
No one could say that they knew him well. He worked alone – all kinds of odd jobs, at every hour of the day and night. On the night of the happening, he was digging a grave in the cemetery on the outskirts of town. Breaking from his labors, he lay on his back in the dew-laden grass, gazing at the stars, and he began to hum.
As he hummed, the night itself seemed to take up the tune. The stars moved in time to his melody, and after a moment he thought he heard another voice in the darkness, singing in harmony. At first, he thought it simply a trick of his ear, but the voice grew stronger, and was joined by second, and then a third. As the voices grew louder, the stars became bigger in the sky, until he realized that they were coming toward him, faster and faster with every passing moment.
He tried to close his eyes as the blinding light enveloped him, but an irresistible force seemed to have taken his faculties hostage, and his eyelids stayed fast, open to the light.
And then as quickly as they had fallen, the stars were gone. In the ensuing darkness, Dominic thought at first that he had gone blind, but as he strained his eyes into the pitch black, his right eye slowly came into focus on three glowing figures approaching him out of the night.
The tallest spoke, and he heard in her voice the golden harmonies of his song. She reached out her hand and took his own. He felt a thrill at her touch, a vibrant energy that passed through her into him, and the song of the night played again - a symphony of color and sound that he felt first in his body and then down into the furthest reaches of his soul.
She looked deeply into his eye, his right eye, and spoke. Her every word dropped into his brain and remained there like perfectly formed golden jewels, but her lips never moved. Then she stepped back from him, joining her hands with the other golden figures, and suddenly great wings spread from their backs, and they rose from the spot.
From that moment, Dominic’s life was changed. His left eye remained dark, but his right seemed to assume the power of both, and something beyond either. He saw all things in their perfected state, as they were meant to be, and he could see into the hearts and minds of men, from their greatest desires to their darkest fantasies.
More strangely still, his hands had the power to set fire to anything they touched: a glowing, golden fire, that did not burn and consume but purged and perfected. Every instrument was obedient to his touch, and he made them sing the symphony of the night so that all who had ears to hear could listen and be made free from their unrest.
In his breast pocket, he carried a piece of paper with the words the angel spoke to him on that strange night, and he would read the words every evening before he slept, and resolve to use his gifts for good.
But over time, the slow drip of greed ate away at his soul. He grew obsessed with power and fame, his spirit became consumed with self-importance. He began to use his knowledge of men’s souls for his own success, and the awful beauty of his song to strike terror into their hearts and minds and subject them to his will.
Then one day, his sight began to dim. As his vision wavered, he scrambled to find the angel’s words, the paper long abandoned. Finally discovering it in a cast-off vest, he clasped the paper in his hands, trying to focus his eye on the fading words. As he looked, the paper glowed and sparked at his touch, and then to his horror, burst into flame, consuming itself and him in its violence.
When he recovered consciousness, he was lying in the very spot that the angels had appeared to him so many years before, the sight in his left eye completely restored, but completely gone in his right. His shovel lay behind him, the dirt still fresh on its head, the open grave beyond.
He staggered back into town to find everything exactly as it had been years before, as if no time had passed. For indeed, it hadn’t: the time of his success had disappeared as if it never occurred.
And now he sits here, night after night, trying to remember the words of the angel, scribbling furiously away and muttering to himself.”
There was a long silence. I looked up and saw that I was alone in the bar. The blonde was gone, and so was Dominic the astronomer.
I rose and walked to the corner of the bar, where Dominic’s napkins still lay in chaotic profusion. On each one, written in a faltering hand, I read the words, “something this way magic.”