by Paul Alex Gray

I swear, Mikki is the weirdest guy ever, but painting huge symbols on neighborhood rooves is the most bizarre thing he’s done. He asked me to help when the news broke that a comet from outside the solar system would come spin around Earth.

Right now, he’s circling above me on a garage roof, the corrugated metal buckling in a sketchy way.

He’s always been odd, even when we were little. I mean, he never wanted to ride the big wheel, which even my mom thought was strange. When all the kids would play, he’d stare up at the sky.

‘OK,’ he says. ‘Done.’

I step back, squinting in the afternoon light. Above the house, I see the comet, a wispy, white smear sliced into the hazy summer sky. It’s been all over the news, and tonight it’s going to come closest to Earth.

There’s a loud flomp as Mikki lands beside me. He shakes his paintbrush and gets on his bike, motioning for me to follow.

We’ve been doing this all summer, in between sleeping in, playing Xbox and smoking cigarettes. We ride around the suburbs with cans of pink paint stashed in our backpacks. I’m totally convinced we’re going to get busted soon, but Mikki somehow finds places where no one’s home.

I went up once to see what he was painting, figuring it must be giant cocks or something stupid, but it was a strange circle shape with squiggly lines inside.

‘Why are you doing this?’ I’d asked.

‘You won’t discern anything from one,’ he had said.

A car beeps and I move closer to the side of the road as it passes.

‘One more,’ I say. ‘Then let’s go to Jesse’s.’

‘One more will suffice.’

‘Gonna suck when summer’s done, right?’ I ask, pedaling beside him.

‘What’s next will be quite different.’

‘What is next?’ I ask as he drops his bike onto someone’s long dead patch of lawn.

‘You’re a good person,’ he says.

Totally not weird, right?

Afterwards we toss the paint cans in a dumpster and ride up to Jesse’s place up in the hills. It’s a long way and it’s hot as hell but it will be a great place to watch the comet.

Jesse’s dad’s a wreck, but he’s got a sweet old kombi van that looks over the whole town. He isn’t violent or crazy, just kinda checked out. He’s got to know that we get into his bourbon, but he never chews us up.

Mikki even rides his bike weird, with his arms crossed, not touching the handles. I could do that, for a bit maybe, to show off. Mikki just about does it the whole way.

The air’s dry and smells like bush smoke and all around us echoes with the sound of cicadas or some other bugs. My legs are killing me and my throat feels rough. I better have a water before I get stuck into the bourbon.

It’s evening by the time we get to the kombi and sure enough, Jesse and Ammi are making out on the old couch out front. The damn thing is disgusting, full of dust and bugs and probably rats and rat shit too. I bet they’ve boned on it.

‘Well, well,’ says Jesse.

‘What’s happening, boys?’ asks Ammi.

‘Oh, just painting rooves like regular weirdos,’ I say.

‘Woah, Mikki!’ yells Jesse, turning. ‘I don’t mind your artistic penchant in the valley, but you’re not painting my dad’s van. Hey!’

Mikki’s already on the top of the kombi, but he just sits down and crosses his legs.

‘You can see now,’ he says.

Ammi smiles at me and her lips say WTF but we all climb up to join him.

It’s dusty as shit up here, but it’s cool sitting on top. We’ve got an amazing place to watch the comet, which seems to be growing bigger by the second, a glowing gash cut in the night.

‘Mikki, my man,’ says Jesse, passing a bottle. ‘That’s quite the project.’

I follow his gaze down to the suburbs. They’re dried out and dead, spliced by snaking black roads. And…the rooves. Marked with pink symbols, patterns and shapes. So many…hundreds, maybe. Had we really done that many? He must have been going out alone too.

The paint glimmers in the light from the comet, reflecting bright, almost like it’s wet. I follow the lines that arc out in a giant circle, wrapped in and around the houses. Jesse gives me the bourbon and I take a swig.

‘What is it, Mikki?’ I ask, although I’m not sure what sort of answer he’ll give me.

He’s lying beside me, staring up.

‘A message.’

The comet is incredibly bright now. Its tail twinkles, little fragments of light stripping away. There’s sound too, a vibration that hums and drowns out the crickets and cicadas. I look back and see our shadows, twisting out longer, then collapsing and disappearing.

Jesse nudges me with his elbow.

I see his lips mouthing Holy shit.

There’s so much noise now, high and low pitched all together. Then suddenly everything stops and there’s just bright light above and all around. White light, like the middle of the day out in the desert.

‘Time to go,’ says Mikki and he leaps off the kombi.

We all stare at him, blinking and squinting. There’s a different kind of light up ahead, golden and warm that he’s walking right into. The light’s shifting already, slipping up and away, pulling back from the world below. I know it’s not coming back.

Mikki pauses and turns back to us and I jump off the kombi and he says, ‘Coming?’ but I’m already walking towards him saying, ‘Coming.’

Paul Alex Gray enjoys writing linear and interactive fiction featuring sentient black holes, wayward sea monsters, curious AIs and more. His work has been published in Nature Futures, McSweeney’s, 365 Tomorrows and others. Paul grew up in Australia and now lives in Canada with his wife and two children.

Twitter @paulalexgray