Banquet of the Shooting Stars
By A.D. Sui
The bargain between a wisher and a shooting star seems too good to be true. Nevertheless, the benevolent stars seem to want nothing in return. So, in the dead of the summer night, Anet climbs the rooftop, limber and strong, despite her eleven-year-old awkwardness. She scurries along the shingles and grabs the chimney into a one-armed hug. Below, drowned out by distance, a voice calls to her, “Anet, you get right back here. No daughter of mine will be out this late. Not while you live under my roof!”
Scolded again like a petulant child. Anet pouts, tightens her grip of the chimney. She’ll show them good. No more curfew, no more rules. No more angry mothers to yell at her for staying out late and climbing rooftops all unladylike.
It won’t be long now. Handfuls of scattered diamonds hang against the heavy sky, poised to tumble earthward like ripe apricots. Then, when the velvet tapestry can’t take the weight any longer, a star falls.
And then another.
And then another more.
Anet shuts her eyes so tight her own falling stars erupt behind her eyelids. She whispers her wish. She whispers it again, with demand this time, once for every falling star she saw, just to be sure. Around her, the air cools. It buzzes with electricity. Tied to every molecule of oxygen, the static clings to her fingertips and to her hair strands. She’s proper scared now.
Anet peels one eye open to sudden darkness. Her other eye next, yes, that was the problem perhaps. But there is nothing ahead of her but pitch black, so vivid it’s coarse to her touch. The roof is gone, only the chimney stands, now anchored into nothingness. The tighter Anet clings to the chimney the more frightened she grows.
Then, when her fear nears its zenith, a bolt of white light shoots past her right shoulder. Then, in rhythm with some invisible percussion, another flash of light flies through the black. Now, over her left shoulder. And then, flashing lights rain all around her in a storm of fire.
A circle forms.
To Anet’s left and to her right, two curving arms reach out, each comprised of twinkling dots. They flicker out of synch, to their own silent melody. Bewildered, Anet watches as each flickering light grows and morphs until it comes into possession of two arms and two feet, and one head. A star. A childishly simplistic star.
Anet is old enough to know that stars don’t really look like that, but young enough to still appreciate this form. The stars gleam proudly, privy to their inside joke. The star closest to Anet’s feet cranes its pointed head towards her. Welcome, it thinks, says, projects. Its crystalline voice rings inside the girl’s head, yet the star has no mouth to speak of. The greetings echo between the others. Their voices rise like a frozen echo.
“Uh, thanks,” Anet says. She should be polite, even when speaking to inanimate objects. Her mother taught her so.
The stars shimmer their reply, the air fills with the ringing of bells. Drink with us the stars chime. Stay with us the stars say. Make a wish, why don’t you, when the drinks stop pouring the star closest to her looks up with no eyes and the wish will be yours. The star lets out a mischievous giggle. All the other stars wait expectantly, their pointed heads politely tilted in attention.
It would be rude to decline. Yes, it would be most rude, and there is a wish she has in mind. “Okay,” Anet says and gives the stars a firm nod. “Alright, I’ll drink with you.”
Out of the night comes a shallow bowl of the whitest china she has ever seen. An invisible decanter fills it with a sparkling drink of pure light. Drink, drink the stars chant as Anet brings the bowl to her lips. The drink is harsh and bitter, and she takes a full gulp of it with a scrunch of her nose. She passes the bowl to the star on her left, places it into the comically outstretched arms.
The bowl passes from star to star, sip after sip, again and again.
When the bowl makes it back into Anet’s hands it’s still full. Drink, drink the stars chant and Anet takes another full gulp. Around and around the bowl is passed, never growing emptier. Drink, drink the stars chant, relentless.
Anet’s thoughts grow sluggish. She stumbles across a memory of her house. Red brick, she thinks, no, maybe brown. The shingles on the roof were redone this past summer, no, five years ago. Anet blinks and the bowl is in her hands again. She shared a room with a sister once, or was a brother? Who was it that brought her cut fruit in the sweltering midday? Where had she come from?
Anet drinks from the bowl and light trickles from her pointed chin, spills across the darkness at her feet. The drink is nectar now and she relishes in every drop.
Drink, drink the chilling voices echo.
When had her legs grown this long?
Anet sips from the bowl.
When had she gotten so tall?
Anet passes the bowl to her left.
When the bowl is passed into her hands again it’s empty. “Is it done?” Anet asks and fails to recognize her own voice. “Can I make my wish now?”
But the stars are gone and the wish has already been granted.
Anet wakes up in a room that isn’t hers in a season no longer summer, in a house that is neither brown brick nor red. She can’t remember when her legs had grown this long. She can’t remember when she’d gotten this tall. And she can’t remember exactly when childhood ended, but she remembers a muggy summer night and the bite of electricity, and the sweetness of drink, and the rush of anticipation, and then nothing at all.
About the Author:
A.D.Sui is a Ukrainian-born, queer, and disabled writer. She holds a Ph.D. in Health Promotion from the University of Western Ontario and spends most of her time being a stuffy academic of all things digital.
When not writing convoluted papers that nobody will ever read, you can find her on Twitter as @TheSuiWay where she openly critiques academia and gushes over her two dogs.