by Dennis Gallagher
The fireflies only swarm around Kenny. Five, six, seven – swirling around, blinking and momentarily disappearing in the gloom. I thought the smoke from Kenny’s joint would have repelled them, but they don’t seem to mind.
“Here.” I snap out of my sudden obsession with the fireflies and look to Kenny – his smoking hand outstretched, the other left hanging between his crossed legs.
The hill’s cold, and my sleeves are damp from what rain lingers on the grass; I take the joint if only to warm my hands. That said, I draw deeply. I feel tingles up my back and a fire inside me. Part of me knows it’s just my alveoli reacting because human lungs aren’t really supposed to have smoke in them, but the rest of me just starts laughing. “Good stuff,” I say, handing the roll-up back to Kenny.
“More.” Kenny speaks firmly. I shrug, giggling.
“Alright.” Another deep draw. The tingles turn to tremors up my back, like wings just beneath the surface, grasping to break free. I make a sound like a swear and a sigh, wishing they would. The joint’s all used up, so I hurl it through the air away from me, before watching its embers die in the dew. I widen my arms and flop back into the grass, letting it cradle me, obscuring anything but my view of the sky and the stars.
Lying on your back like this, with your peripherals obscured, can often become a nerve-wracking experience when you’re high. It can feel like you’re backing into yourself, crumbling, like darkness is encroaching from every side. But some days, like today, giving in to the hole just feels right.
Kenny’s talking but I can’t hear him. The dusk sky has become my entire world. It’s a clear evening – that explains the cold. There are billions of stars and I take the time to get lost in them. All of them shine so brightly, some seem to flicker and some even move – no, no that’s a plane. It’s heading away from the city, to somewhere else. Going overnight to, uh, South Korea - maybe. It’s probably full of well-off businesspeople or handsome travellers, not for a holiday so much as just to exist in a beautiful new place for a time.
And I’m there. Stepping off the plane and getting hit with that first wave of sub-equator heat, the first moment you really feel like you’re in a new place. The taxi to the hotel. A big bed in a big room. The heat. The sun. A tall glass with beads of condensation rolling down it, the liquid inside twisting and refracting the beautiful new world around you. The girl. A seat by the beach – little café or something. A soft wind. Just-
“Daryl.” And I’m back in the hole, just like that. The perfectum fades and I prop myself on one elbow so I can see Kenny over the grass.
“You hear me?”
I cough. “Sorry, I was miles away. What’re you saying?” We’re only a few feet away but Kenny’s just a silhouette in the gloom to me now, the fireflies still orbiting his form.
“The mountains.” I swivel to face them. From up on the hill, Kenny and I can see further than most. Miles of electric lights denote the suburban stretch, and the city beyond the river and beyond that, the mountains – still backlit by the setting sun.
“What about them?”
“You ever think about what’s on the other side?”
“Well… uh, not really. We know what’s on the other side. Couple miles of countryside then the ocean.”
“No, that’s…” Kenny scratches his face. “That’s not what I mean.”
I laugh. “I’m too wrecked for this today.”
Kenny begs to differ. “No, this is the right time.”
I rub my eyes and sit up properly again, trying to absorb what he’s saying. A conversation is a maze when you’re up here. “Start again.”
“There’s a place beyond the mountains.”
“Yeah, it’s… it’s not really there. But it needs to be.” I hold my peace, but my mind’s doing frontflips. “Like – a place you need to get to. It’s the horizon, you know?”
“The thing you’re grasping for. The future… you know?”
And I’m laughing again. “The fuck’re you talking about?”
“We’re all going places – then we’re not. It changes, right? Those mountains are the wall, and you wanna get over it, and see what else is there. The other world.”
“The dream world.”
I can’t follow what Kenny’s talking about but it doesn’t matter ‘cause I’m right into a whole other story – an old one. I used to think about the mountains a lot – not what was beyond them, but what was in them. The kind of communities you find there, totally cut off from the rest of us, insular people where everyone knows everyone. Gossip travels fast, you know your sheriff, your doctor and your butcher by their first names. I reckon I could live easy in a place like that.
I’m lost again. I’m up a hillside, logging with a buddy of mine. We’re sawing a big redwood, the sun beaming down on us. Then we’re chopping it til’ it drops. Then, it’s a job of lugging it to the truck. The whole squad is waiting for us. We load what we can and head back to the depot, then catch the rest of the game at the bar.
We lose, but it doesn’t matter. We down a few and rally the crowd for next time. Then I’m off, the short walk through the aspens to home. Through the door, the smell of cooked meat, clap the dog, and there she is – catching the last of the sunlight in her golden hair.
Yeah. That’d be alright. Fishing on the weekends. Maybe a strongly worded letter to the governor about worker’s rights. Aye. Aye, that’d be good. Standing up for the little guys. Ending up a local hero type. Aye, that’d be good. Better than… than…
I’ve come full circle back myself. Back on the hill, in the dark.
Kenny’s been mumbling to himself this whole time, from the looks of things. A lone firefly rests on his cheek, illuminating his face a half-second at a time. “Kenny.”
“Do you mean ‘the grass is always greener’?”
Kenny snaps his fingers at me. “Exactly.”
“Why didn’t you just fuckin’ say that?”
“Daryl, I’m fuckin’…” He trails off. “Yeah. The grass is always greener. So… where does it end?”
“Well… it doesn’t – right? That’s the point.”
“But what if- ” Kenny stops himself. “What if it does? Somewhere…” He sighs, and I make a mental note to, once I get home, turn out all the lights, put on some ambient techno and just have a little moment to myself.
“Why’re we out here anyway? It’s fuckin’ freezin’,” I shudder.
Kenny pauses. “I need to show you something.”
“Alright, what is it?”
“It’s the end.”
“The end of what?”
“The end of the grass.”
I chuckle. “Kenny, what in the fucking name of God are you talking about?”
“The end of the grass!” Kenny exclaims. “The best… place.”
“Right.” My brow furrows and my smile grows even wider. “Where? Here?”
“Well, this is what I was gonna show you.”
“It’s not here, is it?”
Kenny coughs. “Just wait. It’s coming.” I don’t think I’ve ever been as spaced as Kenny is right this second.
“Right, let’s go. C’mon.” I lurch to my feet, my head suddenly spinning.
“No, no, no,” Kenny grabs my sleeve and pulls me over. I give in to the fall and plonk my arse down right next to him. I lay my head on his shoulder and close my eyes, letting that jovial frustration set in.
“You’ve turned into a right potty cunt this summer.” I snuggle into my coat and settle in for the wait for Kenny’s periodic madness to dissipate. I couldn’t judge him: I was much the same. Summer does weird things to all of us. It’s just the-
My eyes creak open. The mountains are all but invisible in the dusk, the last of the sunlight only highlighting the peaks. “What’s there?” Kenny sticks out a dirty, trembling finger.
“You don’t see it?” He sounds exasperated.
“No…? What is it?” My eyes are playing with me; I’m seeing weird colours in the centre of my vision. It happens, it’s fun.
“The blue. It’s, it’s there…” Kenny’s off his rocker, big time. But I play along, looking across the valley to the other side, where the mountains meet the sky. And…
“Wait…” I speak without fully meaning to. I’m still seeing weird shit. There’s a blue line on the horizon. It looks like the sun has decided it isn’t done and wants to rise again in the opposite direction, bringing the daytime with it.
The line’s right there, I can see it.
“Are you seeing it too?” Kenny asks.
I don’t really know how to respond. “You’re seeing this?”
“What do you see?”
“Uh… the blue line? You’re seeing that too?”
“Yeah.” Kenny’s mouth’s hanging open. He’s totally transfixed. I roll my neck and rub my temples, I’m not getting sucked into the crazy shit. Not tonight. I look back at the horizon and the line’s gone.
“Look,” I start, “It’s…”
It’s back. It begins as a dot, and then spreads out until I can’t see where it ends anymore. It’s bright fucking blue right there, like the birth of a new sky. I blink repeatedly and every time I do, it seems to revert a little, to take a step back in its process: growing smaller then, once I’m observing it again, starts to grow. It’s like it doesn’t want me to miss a thing.
“What the fuck…?”
The line starts to grow now – not outwards but upwards. It’s getting thicker, and thicker, the bright blue spreading and…
My eyes hurt. I need to blink.
Eventually my eyes tell me that I can see things in the blue. Shapes, movement, and… what else? Kenny’s no help, he’s just making amazed noises into the night. I look away from the blue and at him. Tears are running down his face.
I look back and the blue line has grown into a kind of oval shape: protracted at the edges but widening in the middle, like a gigantic eyelid floating over the city. That reminds me, I should blink. My eyes hurt.
But they weren’t lying before: there’s something moving in the blue. Something white, then gold, then white. Then blue again. It’s slowly coming into focus, and I squeeze the cold grass with my hands to make sure I’m still conscious. Looks like I am.
White, then gold. White, gold. What is it? It’s just… it’s not… gold. It’s blonde.
I look up to the stars again. I think I’m losing the plot in a serious way. I look back to the blue to do a quick double check and when I do, I see everything.
The blue is the sky and it’s populated with an armada of clouds. Sand stretches away for miles, the many grains twinkling in the sun. I smell the sea, and I see the girl. She tumbles in the sand, her white sundress billowing and her blonde hair flowing with her as she rolls and flips. She’s trying out some amateur gymnastics, laughing when she sticks the landing and laughing even harder when she fumbles.
She’s looking right at me. At me. She’s smiling.
My eyes hurt. I can’t look away. They’re burning now, burning in the heat - in the sun. My eyes are burning, but I can’t look away. The waves lap on the sand. A dog barks. She smiles.
I blink, and it’s gone. All of it. I’m back on the hill with Kenny. He’s-
“Kenny?” I can’t see him. He isn’t next to me anymore, he’s-
“I’m here.” He’s further down the hill, smoking again. I bumshuffle down to him, rubbing my eyes with one hand. When I reach him, I stand and speak.
“What the fuck was that?”
“I don’t really know.”
“You – you’ve seen that before?”
“Only once.” Kenny pauses. “I thought I was crazy.”
“So – what is it?”
“You’re asking me?” Kenny inhales, then exhales, coughing slightly. I’m just waiting for him to speak. “I think… it’s a seam.”
“Like… the edge of this world.” I’d assume Kenny was eating-his-own-shite crazy if I hadn’t just seen what I had seen. “The weed – it helps us see through. I was here, just as high a few nights ago. Afterwards I went everywhere asking, and nobody else saw it. Just me.”
I can’t really put together my own thoughts right now. So I just keep listening to Kenny’s.
“It’s a seam. Between this world and the next – ours, and… the blue world. This one’s just a window. But there are more.”
“More?” I blurt out, near involuntarily.
“I mean – probably.” Kenny takes the joint out of his mouth and hands it to me. It’s only half-smoked. “If there’s one, there’ll be more. And we’re going to find them all.”
I take the joint and seriously, seriously ponder how far I’m willing to go tonight. With this. With all of this.
“Then – we’re going to find a way through.” And that’s all I need. I finish the joint and join Kenny up on his level. Not unfocused, mentally dallying, killing time. My mind is open, I’m focused and I’m ready to see more.
I ask Kenny, “What did you see?” He doesn’t immediately reply. “In the blue.”
Kenny looks to the horizon, where the line once lay. “Monsters.” I’m grateful the other world kicked up something a little more welcoming for me.
“You really want to break through to the other side? For… monsters?”
“Yes.” Kenny doesn’t hesitate.
I do. “Why?”
“Because they’re monsters. And I need to kill them.” With that, Kenny starts walking away from me, up the hill, towards the treeline.
“What… why?” Kenny looks back at me, the cold air between us holding its breath.
“Because that’s what you do.”
I don’t know what to say. But I think, somewhere deep down, I agree. “Alright.”
“Come on.” Kenny beckons me to follow, and I do. We scale the hill and disappear from all view into the trees. Before I lose sight of the horizon, I look back at it, hoping for a glimpse of the blue. But all I see is darkness.
A little firefly hovers through the air and lands on the back of my hand. It glows and fades, I feel its warmth. And in this moment, right now, I vow to myself that I’ll do whatever I need to do to see that world again.
Even for a second.