Lit Mag Prose Short Fiction

Rising and Falling and Rising Again

In Deep Run, Massachusetts, there is always a hint of magic. Turn up the corner, and roll down the ivory streets; make a left here and a right there.

The moon strikingly rises to the west and falls to the east. Opposing orientation. A luminous, right rock sandwiched between northeast hills.

Now, don’t ask why this phenomenon only happens here in this small, for nothing suburb. It’s merely a part of its nature, ingrained in reality just as you and I.

The night melts into an evening of tranquility: the polar stars woven into an inky blanket of sable softness; the hills fluffy with moss and patches of grass.

Andromeda likewise loves the sky. Her child fingers cup the heavens as she lays upon a checkered blanket, giggling softly. Her auburn straggles flow out behind her like intrepid, young feathers.

And it’s on this peculiar evening, that eight year old Andromeda wishes upon a star. Her brown eyes shut, her veins rushed with life, her heart tumbles in flight. Her mind lurches onto every fragment of a dream, a moment of solace and hope. A silhouette in the grass, running free.

That’s when a shooting star cascades from midnight, and lands in her pocket.
Andromeda tenses, her back pressed up against the chair. The drab classroom squeezes her shoulders, as she slinks into the rigid desk. Hunched over now, the classroom seems so looming, so hazy. She casually takes a sip from her water bottle. Ugh, Sophomore year.

Ms. Beyer’s words are interesting- yet they are snuffed out, unfortunately. Too much noise fills her head. (periodic sentence)
She feels eyes everywhere she glances. Andromeda looks down at her hands, hides behind her unruly ginger mess. Through her hair she scans her classmates.

There’s that smart kid, there’s that one who’s way better than me, there’s the kid who won the contest and aced the Algebra quiz… Her anxiety storms. Her heart races, her mind floods. Her foot taps rhythmically against the granite floor.

“Andromeda!” Ms. Beyer cheerfully calls out.

The student snaps her head up. The stress quickens, the internal fire snarls at her heart.

“What kind of chemical reaction is on the board?”

“Single Replacement” Andromeda blurts.

Ms. Beyer gives a subtle nod. Good, one down.

The flames simmer down as the class continues with the equation.
School is a game of right versus wrong. Who answers more accurately? Who is doing this better? Who is the smartest? Who is right?

Andromeda must live up against them. She must conquer the classroom.

“What kind of relationship is the data in the graph?”

“Uhhhh,” Andromeda stalled, “Is it Inverse? Because the… ”

Ms. Beyer shook her head- then called on Sarah- whose hand was practically bulging out of her chair.

“Exponential!” Sarah exclaimed- before satisfactorily sliding back in her chair.

Andromeda’s head once again burns. She grips her pencil a little tighter. Her knuckles bleed white. Her legs quake.

Never good enough.

And that’s when the bell saves Andromeda Bell. She quietly slips her pencil case into her three ton backpack and strolls out of class. Her shoulders feel a lot heavier after that.

Deep Run is picture perfect. Such a quintessential New England town, that no one will suspect it is filled with lore of opposite celestial cycles, estranged magic, and catching shooting stars. Andromeda just so happens to be living proof of her town’s mythos.

They say that anyone who catches a shooting star is “destined for greatness”. And when not a single star has fallen in the past eight years since Andromeda made her catch- she therefore must be such a perfect being. Such a perfect person, yes. The most in all the lands.

Andromeda walks through the quiet suburb- light filtering off the muted green leaves and hazel tree bark and the old bricks.

What’s wrong with you, Andy? She whispers darkly. Why can’t you just be good enough? Why do you have to mess up everything?

She pictures the star in her room, peacefully floating in a jar and bursting with incandescence on her windowsill. A fragment of destiny. Glowing- magnified and bright.

But do you even deserve it? She is nothing compared to its brightness. Her reflection looks so tiny and insignificant on that glass.

It must’ve been you for a reason. Some kind of reason….

But struggling with all these thoughts only makes her feel worse. Her eyes flutter with drowsiness. Her stomach droops and overflows with stormy darkness.

Andromeda shifts her attention to her surroundings- to clear her head. She focuses on the cracks in the sidewalk as she meanders, and gazes at the textures all around.

As her eyes become a telescope, she spots someone; another Deep Run student. Better yet, an acquaintance from her grade, Jamie Porter, taking photographs. There is something odd about the way he moves, as if he is quicker than the world around him, his brown hair and gray hoodie so casual. Some people are just kind of like that.

Not wanting to be rude and interrupt, Andromeda just quietly waves and tries to slip past.

“Hey, Andromeda,” Jamie says indifferently, lowering his camera. “How are things?”

“Oh!” she looks up back towards him and stops. “You would… actually want to talk to me… Things are… okay.”

“That’s good,” he responds, “How’s Chem going?”

Andromeda winces. “Not the best. I have a B+”

Jamie practically spits out his skull.

“OH MY GOD, how????? I am just barely scraping out of that class! That’s pretty smart, you know?”

Andromeda chuckles at his naivete. “Well, that’s- not what it feels like…”

“Hey, Bs are good. I hope you know that…”

“Hm. Yeah”

The two of them walk parallel down the sidewalk. A slight breeze lashes at her face and rustles the trees every once in a while. The little ruffles of footsteps tickle her ears.

But she remembers the burning. And the eyes. And all the noise in her head. The peace is drowned out, and Andromeda is drowning.
“It’s just…it’s been so hard. For so long. You don’t understand. I have to be bright and smart and perfect. There’s just so much pressure when you have to live up to something like that. Be good enough to be worthy of catching a shooting star…”

Andromeda’s eyes dart back towards Jamie- trying to read his reaction. He hums a tune and his fingers glide across an imaginary instrument, something stringed like a lute or guitar. It shocks her how he can be so calm, his shoulders so relaxed. Andromeda tries to catch his attention- but he is clearly lost in thought.

Casually, Jamie takes out his camera and snaps pictures of random things. His lens swivels about the suburban street, almost trapped in time. He will focus on a subject, and become so engrossed in his art, that the world seems to freeze around him.

“Why don’t you take some street photography?” he offhandedly mutters, “It can ease your mind off it, and show you the real world.”

“What? How’s that going to help anything?”

In that moment, Jamie swivels around cinematically and points his lens toward Andromeda. Flash. Light winks in her eyes. The world sputters down to a slow dance- the warm orange sun soaks into her pale ghost skin. Vulnerable, for a millisecond, a tear drizzles along her nose.

The moment ends. Seconds pass. Time jolts forward once more. Andromeda stares viscerally at Jamie’s camera. (Magical Realism)

“What was that????”

Jamie shrugs. “Just a simple gift of mine. Similar to your shooting star shenanigans.” He passes her the photo.

The paper sits coarse between her fingers. Her mousy chocolate eyes beam out in fractals. Her flaming strands run down her face, curving slightly at her ears. Her cheeks are slick and wet and raw. The photo makes her look real, human, and not only that, but young. Like her 8 year old self. How much has changed since then… Andromeda’s breathing slows, with her mind clear as day.

Her head tilts up from looking at the image, smiling.

“How can you be so relaxed and confident all the time?”

Jamie irks. “That’s just about the most untrue statement I’ve ever heard. I’m not relaxed all the time. I’m human. Everyone has their own hidden battles. Not everything is see-through, Andromeda.”

Something clicks in her mind. See-through, the jar, my shooting star!
Just like societal expectations, glass can break and stars can shatter. Andromeda receives the sudden urge to break something, and let herself go.

“Come with me. We have to do something”

The moon strikingly rises to the west and falls to the east. Opposing orientation. A luminous, right rock sandwiched between northeast hills.
The night melts into an evening of tranquility: the polar stars woven into an inky blanket of sable softness; the hills fluffy with moss and patches of grass.

Andromeda and Jamie sit in this landscape, the sky dark with clouds. Their backs starkly protrude into the deep blue, their knees up to their chests, as Andromeda’s hand plays with the ribbons of grass. They seem silkier now, being older in this same field. Beside her, the jar glows, twinkling ultra bright.

The teen girl looks into the face of the glass- her reflection now dominating its features.

“Are you ready?” Jamie asks, looking over his shoulder. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I’ve never been more ready.”

Without a moment of hesitation, the two of them grip the lid of the jar and twist until the thin circlet of metal releases. The top goes flying and the luminous star sits at the bottom. Andromeda seizes the jar and pours the star out into her palm, and stomps on the Mason glassware.

Never before has light felt so heavy.

Andromeda’s fingers wrap around its corners and she crushes it to bits. The little, celestial pieces bubble up to the heavens; they transform into indistinguishable specks in the collage of midnight.

The stress is gone, the pressure evaporated. People care about her. As the sparks fly, Andromeda senses a flaming, new sense of confidence.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Andromeda is set free.

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