Project 52: Toppling Atlas

1 short story a week. 52 weeks a year.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Week Seventeen: June 28th - July 4th

Star Catcher: A Tale of Average Proportions

“I sometimes raise my hand to the night sky, and drag my fingers through the lights, hoping to catch one and bring it to me. But the stars never move do they? Maybe they aren't so beautiful after all.”

My name is James Morrison Murphy. And before you ask, yes I was named after the late lead singer of The Doors. My parents grew up in an age where the popular burned away the necessary brain cells to remember all the good times they had. To try and be nice, you could say my parents lived a life larger than their brains could hold. I, however, call them burnouts who mentally peaked at 20.
My name is James Morrison Murphy, and unlike the Lizard King, I don't have much sex appeal. I am an average man, of average build, with an average face, and an average personality. For that, I do so solemnly apologize for telling you my name. I know a person with a name like mine sounds like the adventurous sort, but the fact of the matter is that I'm not. Things always have a way of changing though. Here is my story.

When I turned 24, I was a lighthearted fellow, fresh from college, and just beginning to taste the bitter flavor life has to offer. I had always wanted to write a novel, but the sad reality was that I was just too plain of a person. Taking the wrong way to work, or getting lost for a few minutes was an adventure to me, and gambling felt like a life or death decision. I decided to be a book publicist instead; working with books, but in a safe environment. It sometimes occurs to me that the only changes I've made in my life, are the results of my mistakes. Does everyone experience this? Is this some sort of life lesson we were all supposed to learn in elementary school?
Working for a book publishing company was my first mistake. When two people of explosive personalities collide, the result echoes through the ages. However, when an explosive personality turns on a candle flame, the result is only the absence of a small puddle of light. This is how I felt when I met my superiors at Castel Publishing. I didn't have a backbone to show, so they would push me as far as they wanted. They knew I wouldn't break, and knew that I wouldn't push back. It's a terrible thing, being so average.
My second mistake was meeting Sarah. Sarah was similar to me in many ways, much in the same way climbing a cliff is similar to falling off of one. Her father was the president of the company, and she took it upon herself to become my backbone. She loved me, for whatever reason, and I suppose I also loved her as well. Whatever it was, it helped me become better at my job and climb the corporate ladder. I was now in charge of the lower level of publishing; the make it or break it for hopeful authors. To paraphrase the brilliant physicist Robert Oppenheimer; I had become death, destroyer of worlds. At least in my own petty, watered down way.
My biggest mistake though, was actually Sarah's. Why would you put someone lacking imagination in a position to turn down ideas? A novel I turned down was instantly picked up elsewhere, and became a best seller. They even made a movie about it, with that pretty brunette from those big mobster movies a few years back. It managed grabbed a nomination at the Oscars. Because of this - and several other major errors - the company decided to let me go, but for whatever reason, Sarah told me she wanted to marry me anyway. The headache I got from trying to fathom this was the kind to keep me off my feet for days. You'd think ceilings were mirrors to some magical land of love and wonder, from how long I stared into it.
When I finally got up, I spent the day with Sarah. Perhaps the things we did had been done a thousand times by a thousand people, but for once, something average felt like something more to me. I held Sarah close to me, sitting in a hammock outside, staring up at the moon, and asked her what she wanted. With her eyes closed, and her head on my chest, she playfully told me “The stars James. Give me the stars.” She fell asleep on me there that night, but I didn't sleep for many hours yet. “The stars hmm?” I whispered to myself. Can I do that? Can someone like me do something like that?
I spent the next month of my life sleeping outside under the stars. Hands gliding through the dark clouds, jumping into infinite pits of complicated questions under that night sky. I told myself that I was done being average. I was going to grab something of the confusion out there, and make it solid. I was going to give Sarah a star, and that for once, I would be able to view life from above, looking down at past troubles, and laughing. My hands always seemed to fall short though.
On our year anniversary, we went out to eat at our favorite restaurant. I had never been a social person, and as such wasn't too great at hiding things. It was like being at work for her, since she sat there and read me like a book. Dinner was uneventful, and we went home, and laid down in my hammock. She asked me what was wrong, and I didn't know how to answer her.

“I couldn't get you that star.”
“I didn't think you could.”
“I'm so tired of being average.”
“I'm okay with it.”
“I'm sorry, but I'm not.”

Looking back, I realize that I lost much more than Sarah that night. However, like I said earlier, for all of you out there like me who never had the ability to look into the black curtain of life, and pull out basic truths as children usually do, I had also gained something. I picked up a typewriter sometime between then and now, and I started to write a novel. It was published by a decent company, and actually made me some good money. I didn't get any movie deals, and I didn't win any awards, I never got the girl, and I never found a way to capture the stars.
But you know what? When I wake up in the morning, and I look in the mirror, I can tell myself that I am not average. Of course I'm no Alexander the Great. I'm certainly not Nicolah Tesla, or Robert Oppenheimer. I haven't picked the world up on my shoulders, and set it down a little different. I am no ones messiah, but I did have an average looking person come up to me at a book signing, and you know what they told me? They told me that I gave them hope. She told me that I gave her hope. I had given someone else hope.
I, plain old James Morrison Murphy, the lying lizard king, the school yard Oppenheimer, the heart breaker, the failed starry night sky conqueror, and the man who never had a spine or a shadow, had taken someone up in my arms, and told them everything would be alright, and they believed me. I won't soar through the stars in the sky, looking down at my legacy, nor will I again be that candle, so easily put out. I'm stuck somewhere between the two, looking down at my past mistakes, and looking forward to the future ones.

My name is James Morrison Murphy. And before you ask, yes I was named after the late lead signer of The Doors, and yes, I am nothing like him. My name is James Morrison Murphy, and I am just myself, not average, not unique. Just James, and for once, I think I am truly okay with that, and I truly hope you can look back at your life -- mistakes included -- and be proud of yourself as well. Thank you.


  1. I am 1/5 of the way through this story and I love it already! (I'm on the gambling part) I can hear the voice of the "writer" but oddly it's not your voice, it's an older, beginning of a movie type of voice.

    Also, I'm noticing that this is really well written, it seems like you took a long time going over this and retyping it.

    I love everything this story illustrates.

    This is a very upbeat story, and it has almost like a warm texture.

    My favorite prose of yours so far! they continually keep getting better.

    Ok, I need to stop... oh, wait one more thing. This is really different from your other stories in the respect that a lot of them are written with strong metaphors i.e. "Echoes" "The Watcher of Achillbeg" "Aria's Lanterns."

  2. Mm hmm. I am constantly trying to branch out, and see where I shine and where I fall short. I never would have thought I could do warm, and hopeful. I'd like to think that although it is a tale of hope, I think I put my signature gloom and despair into it in good taste.

    I know I have told you already, but I am so damn proud of this story. Not only for how it turned out, but how it came to be. I literally was just staring at my screen, and typed out the "“I sometimes raise my hand to the night sky, and drag my fingers through the lights, hoping to catch one and bring it to me. But the stars never move do they? Maybe they aren't so beautiful after all.”" beginning. After that, I just sort of winged it. What really makes me proud though is that I did absolutely no editing to this. What you see is my first draft, and I for once just made it look like I put time into it. Which in a sense I did. It was put together on the spot, but I at least thought things out more than usual, trying to find something deeper in it.

    "Sarah was similar to me in many ways, much in the same way climbing a cliff is similar to falling off of one." When I wrote that line, I was so incredibly happy that I came up with something so clever, and pretty. I'm just in a really good mood since writing this :D