In Case of Finding a Shooting Star, Please Return to Owner / Part 1

“Mama used to tell me a story, you know,” Dan said, panting. “When I was little. About a star that hanged a little too low in the sky. One day, its string snapped off, and it fell down.”

“Its string?” Jamie glanced at him inquiringly, coming to a stop beside him. They leaned against the wall of the building, feet perched against the stone railing that protruded forward, backs flat against the cold bricks. One might ask what were they thinking, climbing a ten-storey building from the outside, in the middle of the night — they would only say they were looking for a better vantage point. Which they were.

“The string that connected it to the center,” explained Dan, eyes staring forward. He wasn’t particularly afraid of heights; neither of them were. And yet Dan knew that if he were to look down, he might not be able to resist the urge to step forward. “Unlucky bastard, that star. Mama said they never came luckier than that. After its string snapped, the star fell down, smashed to pieces.” He hit the wall behind him, a smile tugging at the edges of his lips. “Scattered everywhere.”

“Stars don’t smash,” said Jamie.

“This one does,” replied Dan.

The light in the window on the building opposite them died down, and they took it as their sign to keep on climbing. A storey upward, they got a hold of the emergency fire-escape stairs. Dan grabbed onto their jagged edge, right where at some point they’d broken and fallen. If he had bothered to look, perhaps he would’ve found the remaining metal stairs, discarded somewhere in the bushes underneath.

After hauling himself up, he kneeled on the metal and stretched out a hand for Jamie, who grabbed it. When they were both standing on the stairs, they took another moment to gather their breath.

“Where is this center, anyway?” asked Jamie.

“In the middle,” said Dan.

“Thanks, that clarifies everything,” Jamie replied with a sly grin. Dan rolled his eyes, a gesture that was only visible thanks to the electric lamps embedded in the staircase’s railing; they cast a blue, artificial light across both their faces, sharpening their features. When he put his hand on the metal, Dan could feel their faint buzz, tickling the nerves in his fingertips.

“It’s in the middle,” Dan said again, pulling his hand away. He couldn’t stand the buzz. “I don’t know how to explain it. Nobody’s ever been there.”

“At all?”

“People have tried,” he said. “To find it, I mean. But it seems to keep slipping away every time you’re about to reach it, and at some point, it makes them all give up.”

“Maybe it doesn’t exist,” said Jamie. That earned him a snicker.

“Oh, it exists,” Dan huffed. “I think it just doesn’t want to be found.”

Jamie was left to consider this as they started making their way up the stairs. Every once in a while, one of the blue lights in the railing flickered, giving away their age. Dan has heard that in the newer districts, the buzz of electricity wasn’t as profound as it was around these parts; but he’s also heard it wasn’t completely gone, which made it all the same in his eyes.

When they reached the rooftop, they were greeted by the black sky and a half-lidded moon, looking down upon them.

Dan walked to the edge of the roof and looked down at the city spread out in front of them. Around this part of town, the buildings were smaller and older, but that didn’t stop their rooftops from providing a sneak-peak into Hazen’s view. The sky, in all its vacant glory, was clearly visible overhead; straight ahead, they could see a bare hint of the horizon peeking out from between distant skyscrapers, disfigured against the blazing city-lights.

Tonight, they’ve been looking to watch the stars. Dan has heard a rumour about an article that said that not long after midnight tonight, stars could be seen raining down across the sky in a once-in-a-lifetime shower. Even cities infected with light pollution were said to have a chance of catching a glimpse of it.

“Maybe, if we could see the sky,” Dan had said, “we could grab one of the shooting stars.”

“Hazen has no stars,” Jamie had replied. “Shooting or otherwise.”

Now, dropping to sit on the edge of the roof, Dan’s gaze trailed to the countless spots of light dotting the city below. Jamie tugged his beanie down over his ears and sat beside him, one leg dangling over the ledge, the other pulled close to his chest. They watched in silence as cars drove in the streets and post-lamps flickered, the hustle of the city falling into a steady rhythm with that faint, ever-reverberating buzz.

“I knew we wouldn’t see any of it,” Dan suddenly said, his voice quiet. “But I can’t help but feel disappointed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the stars.”

“Nobody around here has,” said Jamie. 

“Isn’t that the problem?” Dan leaned back, palms pressed flat against the concrete behind him. “There’s so much light, but none of it is real.”

“Some of it is,” said Jamie, looking up. “The moon, for one.”

“It doesn’t make the sky any less dark.”

“And do the stars?”

Dan shrugged. “I wouldn’t know. Ain’t never seen them.”

“Maybe they’re just not that bright,” said Jamie, pulling his dangling leg up to hug his knees close to his chest. His chin buried itself in his arms. “Or maybe they’ve all already fallen. Maybe they’re all just gone.”

“No,” said Dan. “No way. They’re there, I know that. We just can’t see them.” He fell quiet for a long moment, before a mischievous glint sparked in his musket eyes. “Ten bucks says that if we turn off all the lights in Hazen, the sky will light up like a Christmas tree.”

Jamie quirked an eyebrow. “And how exactly do you plan on doing that?”

Dan shrugged. “There’s gotta be a power source somewhere. We just… I don’t know. Plug it out?”

“Five bucks says you’ll fail miserably,” Jamie said with a lazy grin.

“Jay,” whined Dan. “You lack faith in me.”

“I just don’t want you getting arrested, is all.”

“They’ll never catch me in the dark,” said Dan. “I’ll blend in with the shadows. Like a ninja.”

“By the time you’d find a shadow, the trial would be over,” Jamie said, pale blue eyes glistening with humour. “You know what? I’ll put seven.”

Dan opened his mouth to reply when a spark shooting across the sky caught his attention, and he stilled. “Did you see that?”

Jamie trailed after his gaze back up to the sky, only to be met with that same expanse of nothing. “See what?”

“I think I just saw a shooting star.” Dan got up to his feet, leaning forward on his tiptoes in an attempt to steal a glance beyond the horizon, which was surely where the spark has gone. “We gotta go find it.”

“What?” Confused, Jamie got up and followed Dan as that started crossing the roof, back to where they’ve come from. “Dan, you can’t just go and find shooting stars.”

“No, you don’t get it,” Dan insisted, boots clicking against the metal of the stairs as he began to descend. Jamie’s footfall shortly joined, irregular for a few moments before falling in synch with Dan’s. “If the star fell, it means it’s been cut off.” A click of the fingers echoed in the night’s air around them. “The string snapped. Stars don’t just fall, Jay; they fall down.”

The way down was much quicker and considerably less safe than their original ascent, but Dan couldn’t be held back, his body moving on its own accord. The moment his feet hit solid ground, he was about to break into a run, but a pull at the back of his jacket had him holding still.

Jamie jumped down next to him, letting go of his grip on the jacket. “Slow down, Danny. Where are you even going? Over the rainbow?”

“There are no rainbows in Hazen,” said Dan.

“There are also no stars,” countered Jamie. “And say that was really a star that fell, and that it fell somewhere we can reach — we’ve no idea where it landed. We can’t go running blind; we’ll just get lost.”

Dan huffed. “Please. I know this city like the back of my hand.”

“Which is gloved,” replied Jamie offhandedly. “My point is that we need some kind of a plan.”

At that moment, the star clattered on the pavement from the sky, right in front of their feet.

Dan and Jamie both dropped their gazes to look at the star, jaws clasping shut. Dan blinked once, twice, and the star was still there, lying on the pavement in front of him — a small, five-pointed metallic-looking thing, pulsing with a soft yellow light. It was no bigger than his palm.

It was Jamie who finally broke the silence. “Did that just fall from the sky?”

Dan lifted his head to the sky, which was no different than just a moment ago. He dropped his eyes again, landing on the star. To be completely honest, a part of him thought that it would disappear — that maybe he and Jamie have shared a mere hallucination, induced by the electricity that’s somehow finally made it to their blood stream. But it seemed that this wasn’t the case. 

“Shooting stars generally do that,” Dan said.

“But it just…” Jamie’s voice trailed. “Fell. No fire and brimstone, and where’s the impact? It’s not even hot. We should’ve been blasted to all hell by that.”

“Maybe it’s a nice star,” Dan suggested with a shrug. “Maybe it slowed down for us.”

“There isn’t even a dent in the pavement,” continued Jamie, crouching before the star to examine it, albeit keeping his hands close to his chest. “It’s as if a plushie fell down. Puff. Love-tapped the pavement.”

“It looks pretty solid to me,” said Dan.

Jamie lifted his eyes to him. “It’s an analogy, dimwit.” 

Dan’s frown morphed into a scowl. “I know that. I’m just saying, it’s a weird analogy.”

Jamie’s voice was as dry as his expression. “Of course, Mr. Maybe-the-star-is-just-nice. Your judgment clearly makes much more sense.”

“It could be!” 

“I highly doubt it’s conscious,” Jamie said. He craned his neck to further inspect the star. “It’s just a rock. Or some kind of metal.”

Dan crouched next to him, reaching out his arm to touch the star, only to have his arm swatted away. “Hey! What was that for?”

“I don’t think we should touch it.”

“It isn’t even hot,” argued Dan. “And it’s not like it’s going to zap me. It fell from the sky, not out of a comic-book.”

“I don’t know,” Jamie said, biting his lip. “I’ve a bad feeling about this.”

“What could already happen?” Dan said. And before Jamie could stop him, he picked up the star. 

For a single moment, they looked at the star in silence. Then a smirk came onto Dan’s lips, and when he opened his mouth to say, I told you so, the world flashed white around them.

Dan yelped and almost dropped the star when it instantaneously heated up, and then he was free-falling, hearing Jamie’s yell of, “I freaking told you so!”

They crashed onto a soft surface, and the star’s heat in Dan’s hold receded with the clearing of the white light around them. Dan blinked a couple of times, but their surroundings didn’t reveal themselves to him. He was staring at a dark space, and when he looked around him, he found nothing else.

“Jay,” he said, voice small. “Jamie, where are you?”

“I’m right next to you,” Jamie roughly replied. “Are you alright?”

“I can’t see anything.”

“Neither can I,” admitted the other. “I think the street’s dark.”

Dan snorted. “That’s ridiculous.”

There was a brief silence between them, wherein Dan attempted another look at his surroundings. With his heartbeat slowing down, he could vaguely make out the silhouettes of buildings around him. A branch prickled at his cheek when he tried to get up; when he shifted, his back slammed against something uneven and metallic, forcing a startled yelp out of him.

It dawned on him, then, that he was lying in a patch of bushes, his back pressed against a certain broken staircase.

“No way,” he said, voice faint against the dark street. A familiar dark street. “Oh, no, no, no way.” He manoeuvred out of the bushes, gracelessly tumbling to the pavement he couldn’t yet exactly see. Frantically, he pressed his palm that wasn’t clutching the star to the cold bricks and stilled, listening.

Nothing.

He could feel no buzz; none of the constant pulse of electricity that ran through Hazen’s streets. The air was quiet, and the pavement was as still as him, and the street had no light in it.

He looked up and about until his eyes met Jamie’s. “Where the hell are we?”

In Case of Finding a Shooting Star, Please Return to Owner © Michal Rotko

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