The Project Gutenberg eBook of Day of the Comet, by Ivar Jorgensen
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Title: Day of the Comet

Author: Ivar Jorgensen
Release Date: June 29, 2021 [eBook #65726]
Language: English
Character set encoding: UTF-8
Produced by: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at

Day Of The Comet

By Ivar Jorgensen

When the world you live on is about to be
destroyed in a matter of hours, petty squabbles
no longer seem important; only Time—and regret!

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
October 1956
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

So far as the public was concerned, the comet was discovered at 10:00 a.m. on a Friday morning; just when Frank and Dee Allison were in the midst of their bitterest domestic quarrel. Dee had just spoken through clenched teeth:

"I never knew I could hate a person the way I hate you."

"I consider that an honor!" Frank snapped back.

Then the music on the radio was cut off and the announcement was made—in the calm, impersonal voice of the announcer that gave it a flavor of grotesque unreality....

"—and so, although the discovery of the celestial interloper was made by astronomers some time ago, the announcement was delayed until all doubt as to its orbit had been dispelled. Thus, a direct and dismal statement becomes a matter of necessity—the earth is doomed—"

Frank and Dee stared mutely at one another, trying to comprehend. "It's some kind of a gag," Frank said.

Dee shook her head. "No—that was John Kalmus, the Green Network commentator who cut in. He wouldn't be a party to any hoax."

Frank knew this of course, but the destruction of the world was a pretty big lump to swallow in a matter of seconds. They continued to stare at each other, taking the rest of the story into their numbed minds. The end would come at exactly 1:42 on Sunday. Prior to that time, there would be vast weather disturbances and tidal catastrophies the world over. But these would be far milder than what would ordinarily be expected because the comet was moving at such a tremendous rate of speed. There would be no long-drawn out suffering.

"At least that's a blessing," Dee said.

"Uh-huh. Say—I'll bet the churches will be crowded."

"No doubt." Dee paused, and added, "How long since we've been to church, Frank?"

There had been a cabinet meeting and now the President of the United States was seated alone in his study. He picked up his phone and asked, "How about that call to the Kremlin? Why the delay?"

The operator said, "The Premier was busy on the phone—not taking any calls, but it seems he was trying to get through to you. May I connect him, sir?"

"By all means."

The normally harsh voice of the Russian Premier was oddly quiet and pensive. "Mr. President?"

"Mr. Premier. I was trying to get through to you."

"They told me. How—how are things there? How are your people taking it in the United States?"

"Very well. They are stunned, naturally, and I'm sure quite a few of them don't believe it. It will take a little time."

The Russian Premier chuckled with a note of wistfulness. "That's exactly what they will have—very little time."

"And your people—?"

"We haven't told them. We thought it best."

The President sighed. "We stick to our ideologies to the very end, don't we?"

"Policy can't be changed overnight. Yet great strides can be made."

"I don't think I understand you."

"I'll try to clarify. We finished our public statement Monday, setting down our position on The Stockholm Conference last month."

"The conference was a great disappointment to me—to you also, I imagine."

"Yes, and our public statement was, well, pretty bleak, but I'm changing it. I'm in the middle of rewriting it now."

"I'd like to sit down with you and perhaps readjust some of our own demands."

"I'd like to have you."

"No time now, of course."

"No, in fact the rewriting may seem futile to you but it gives me great satisfaction. A nice way to end a political career."

"Why don't you call me back and read it to me when you've finished?"

"I'll do that. Goodbye Mr. President."

Frank and Dee Allison walked hand in hand down the street. Dee had been crying but now her tears had been dried and her expression was calm. There was a wistful light in her eyes. "It could have been so much different, Frank."

"Yes darling. My fault. It was my damn temper."

"But I was always ready to snarl back. A wife's job is to—"

He squeezed her hand. "Are you afraid, baby?"

"No—no. I won't be afraid as long as you're there to hold my hand."

He put his arm around her shoulders and drew her close and they walked with the other people toward the Church.

The President of the United States put through a call to the Premier of Russia. Connections clicked into place across half a world and the Russian operator's voice came through warm and cordial. "Of course, Mr. President. The Premier's wire is always open to you. I'll ring him."

The phone was lifted instantly. "Mr. President! How nice of you to call!"

"Our previous conversation set me thinking, Mr. Premier. I want to be a part of your inspiring idea. So I'm rewriting our own statement and I suggest we make a joint public release. I think it will help the people of the world to face the end with greater dignity. The knowing—I think—will help."

"I'm sure it will. How soon will your draft be finished?"

"Can you give me another two hours?"

"Of course. Ring me when you're ready. Perhaps we can set up an international television hookup and appear together."

"I'm sure we can."

Frank and Dee Allison came out of church bringing some of the peace and the strength with them. Dee said, "I'd like to see my mother for a little while before—before—"

Frank nodded. "Of course. And I think you should drop in on her alone."

"Oh, no—I—"

"A goodbye like this one should be said alone. You go up. I'll give you fifteen minutes and then call for you."

Dee's eyes were misty. "You're so understanding. Oh, why couldn't we have—"

Frank grinned. "Come on, angel. Heads up. Eyes bright."

They walked up the street, others around them going quietly about their business. The people were very calm.

The conference of astronomers and scientists realized their ghastly blunder at 11:59 a.m. For a long moment, there was stunned silence in the room. None of them could believe that such a progressive series of errors could have been passed from man to man and been added to by each. Through every mind went the dread of what would come out of this. In the future it would be called the greatest hoax of all time. There would be gigantic investigations. Possibly a goat would have to be found. The world would never believe the truth.

"We might as well make the announcement," someone said.

"You make it," another scientist said. "I'm leaving for the North Pole."

Frank Allison heard the announcement from a loudspeaker in a store window on his sixth trip around the block. He'd been walking slowly, deep in his own thoughts and regrets—giving Dee a little more time with her mother. Then—

"—so the great danger is passed, ladies and gentlemen. The why and the wherefore of it is not known at this time. We are only sure of one thing: The comet will swing away into space. Rumor has it that the size of the invading body was what threw our scientists off. But whether the earlier announcement was sincere or merely a cruel joke will not be known immediately. The main thing is to be thankful that an error existed—whatever its cause—"

Frank straightened his shoulders, turned and started briskly up the street.

The President of the United States put a call through to the Russian Premier. He awaited expectantly with the phone in his hand. But the connections slipped into place slowly and five minutes later a voice came across half a world. "The Premier is busy. Please inform the President of the United States that the Premier is engaged. Inform the President that I am able to connect him with the Premier's secretary. Ask him if that will be satisfactory."

The frost in the voice seemed to chill the President's ear. "I will talk to the Premier's secretary."

The Secretary's voice was careful, guarded. "May I help you, Mr. President?"

"Perhaps you can. I had a conversation with the Premier a little over an hour ago. We were planning a joint statement—a joint television appearance."

The secretary's voice stiffened. "I'm sorry, but I know of no such statement nor of any such plans on the part of the Premier.'"

"May I speak to the Premier?"

"I'm sorry. The Premier has left on an extended vacation."

"I'm sorry too," the President said, and cradled the phone.

Dee Allison sat tight-eyed staring out the window. Her handkerchief was balled into a wad in her hand. "He's so cruel—so thoughtless," she said.

Her mother regarded her with resignation. "What do you want me to tell him when he comes?"

"Tell him I never want to see him again!"

Frank Allison got as far as the lobby of the building in which Mrs. Gregg, Dee's mother, lived. He raised his hand and his finger was inches from the bell. Then he doubled the hand into a fist and thrust it into his pocket. "The hell with it!" he growled. "If she wants to see me, she knows where to find me." He turned and strode out of the building.

The President of the United States had sat staring into space for a long time. A sound caused him to look up. His secretary stood by the desk. "Yes?"

"This new statement you just prepared, Mr. President. I'm not entirely clear on how you plan to use it—what should I do?"

"Tear it up," the President said wearily, "and throw it in the wastebasket. Things are now back to normal."

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