Friday, November 11, 2011

Billy's Comet

     Billy Dean owned a comet. His father discovered it the day Billy was born and named it after him as his first birthday present. It was called “Billy’s Comet” and it was so small it could only be seen with a very large telescope. It appeared once every 15 years, and its orbit came into view from the Earth for only 5 seconds.
     When Billy was a 15-year-old amateur astronomer, his father set up a telescope on a hill in a park so Billy could see his comet for the very first time. Billy stared into that telescope for a whole hour waiting for it. Unfortunately, seconds before it came, a Frisbee thrown by another boy hit Billy in the head, knocking him into the telescope and throwing it off track. By the time Billy’s father repositioned the telescope it was too late—the comet was already gone. The boy who threw the Frisbee didn’t even say he was sorry. He just laughed and made fun of Billy and his telescope, then ran off. Billy had to get eight stitches above his eye where the Frisbee hit him.
     When Billy was 30, his father set up an even bigger telescope in a window of Billy’s house so no Frisbees, baseballs, badmittens or javelins could hit it. Billy was getting married the next day, so it was a special wedding present for him. Billy, now pursuing a PhD in astrophysics, stared into the telescope for two hours because he didn’t want to risk missing his comet. But right before the comet came, a teenager down the street set off a bottle rocket. The rocket soared into the air right in front of the telescope and left a trail of sparks so bright that Billy could see nothing else. By the time the sparks faded, the comet was gone. Billy let out a cry, and the teenager who set off the rocket pointed at him and laughed. Minutes later, Billy noticed smoke in the hallway and realized the bottle rocket landed in his attic. The fire burned Billy’s house to the ground.
     When Billy was 45, his old father tried to show him the comet once more. This time, they rented an observatory on government property for the whole day. This was difficult because of Billy’s low status in the scientific community. Billy’s genius was so advanced that no other scientist could understand his theories on astro-gravitational physics and they ridiculed him for it, leaving him a poor, unpublished and unemployed space nerd. With nothing else to strive for, he and his father pooled all their savings together to rent the observatory and nobody else was allowed to come anywhere near it except Billy’s wife. The telescope was so big that they would see a big and clear picture of the comet on a large screen. While he was in the observatory, Billy’s wife came to tell him she was leaving him. It turned out she was having an affair with one of Billy’s former students and they were running off together. She called Billy all sorts of horrible names and said she was sick of his stupid obsession with comets. She laughed at him and turned to leave, but she slipped on one of the observatory’s slick metal steps and fell down a flight of stairs, breaking her neck. Government guards outside heard the argument and burst into the room to find Billy standing over his wife’s body, which looked very suspicious. By the time the comet came into view, Billy was in jail.
     When Billy was 60, he was released from jail on the same day the comet was scheduled to come, His father passed away while he was incarcerated and he now had no money and no place to stay. He had no friends and felt unconnected to the world. Billy hated his comet and wished it had never been discovered. He didn’t even try to look at the comet that night, because he thought it was bad luck. Instead, he spent the night at a bar drinking heavily and running up a large tab that he couldn’t pay.
     While he was drinking, a young man came and sat on the barstool next to him. The young man had a big grin on his face. He tried to order champagne, but the bartender told him they didn’t have any. “Oh well,” the young man said, and ordered a beer instead. He kept smiling more and more. When he was halfway through the beer, he was smiling so hard it looked like it hurt. Billy couldn’t take it anymore.
     “Why the hell are you so happy?” Billy asked, then ordered another shot of whiskey.
     “I’m happy because I just defended my thesis,” the young man said. “I’m a student of astronomy and my professors told me I’ve made astounding progress in my theories about the physics of orbiting satellites.
     Billy grunted again.
     “It’s actually very fascinating,” the young man said, “although I guess it must sound like gibberish to the common man.”
     “Let me tell you something about orbiting satellites!” Billy’s ferocity startled the young man, who gave Billy his complete attention. Over the next hour, Billy astounded him with the revolutionary scientific theories and calculations he made over the course of his academic life. He ended his rant by telling him about a certain comet that appears every 15 years, and was scheduled to come that very night.
     “This is amazing!” the young man said, gawking at Billy in awe. “I can’t believe you’re keeping all this to yourself, and I can’t believe you’re not watching your comet right now! It’s been my life dream to have a comet named after me.”
     “If you want it, you can have it,” said Billy. “What’s your name?”
     The young man told him his name was Mark.
     “Well then, Mark, the comet’s all yours. It’s now named ‘Mark’s Comet.’”
     Mark couldn’t believe his luck! He thanked Billy over and over, and even paid his tab for him. Then he checked his watch and realized he still had time to see the comet. He thanked Billy one more time and ran out of the bar.
     Two seconds later, Mark was hit by a bus.
     The next day, Billy won the Powerball lottery and became a millionaire.
     Years later, on a warm spring day, Billy said to himself, “Hmm, I guess that comet really was bad luck.” Then he walked back inside his house made of gold.

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