In the dream I was in an old-style fair, like the fairs of my childhood: dazzling lights, blaring music, obscure comings and goings in the dark alleys between the stalls. The booths were selling Unhappiness, Failure, Disease, Disaster, Despair—all at high prices. I wandered around, and noticed a stall a little apart, with its shutters up. An inconspicuous notice read: “The Kingdom of the Universe: First Customer Only.” I smiled and went on.
I lost my way, and later found myself before the little stall again. The front shutter was being taken down from inside, revealing a counter and dimly behind it a stalwart, fierce-looking old man in a patched cloak. He looked at me, and on impulse I put my little handful of money on the counter, but keeping back three coins which I knew I would need to get back home.
“You are the first customer!” cried the old man in an arresting voice which made some of the passing crowd stop and look. “But the bid is not enough. Are there any supporters?”
As if pulled by strings, some of the crowd came forward. A soldier put his bedizened sword on the counter beside my coins: “Remember me when you come to your greatness,” he muttered. An old lady laid down a few trinkets. “These are my treasures, mementos of my dear husband. Remember me.” A merchant put a bar of gold, and others brought jewels.
“Still not enough, not quite enough,” shouted the stall-holder. “It wants three copper coins more to make up the price.”
The others looked helplessly at each other. “We have given everything, we have no more,” they whispered.
My hand felt the three little coins in my pocket, but I knew I needed them. I could not give these too.
“The price has not been met: I am going to close the shop!” The voice was like thunder. My hand still closed on the three coins. Patched-cloak raised his hand. There was dead silence. Time stopped. Nothing moved.
Was it only this once, or has it been many times, dream after dream, incarnation after incarnation, that I have stood there, clutching the last coins that I will not give up?