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The Sunset Falls by Hanna Docampo Pham

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Once upon a time, Avery went to high school.
They manage to complete all their assignments on time. For them that means working right up to the exact hour on the day the deadline is.
At their school, they sign up for soccer. The Girls Soccer Team there accepts all students who sign up, so there aren’t tryouts. When conditioning starts in November, they have no idea how good the other players are.
They love to play music as much as possible, even if it’s only to keep them awake. When the music plays, it drowns out the noise of the ocean, as well as other surroundings

Everyday, they focus on homework and their games.
Sporadically they stay up after their parents go to sleep to around midnight and wake up at seven.
…counting in flashback: “1,2,3,4,5,6,7, 8, 9”
but they don’t see any meaning in doing that anymore.
…counting on another day “1,2,3,4,5,6,7…”
“It doesn’t matter.”

They want to be the good student and good daughter their parents want them to be, so they learned to avoid things.
Avery doesn’t tell their friends completely about things like not getting enough sleep and struggling to cope, because Avery is scared their friends won’t see them the same way.
[Conversation] “You okay?”
“I thought I always was?” [smiles]
[Both laugh]

Until one day, Avery loses consciousness.
Avery did not have enough money for the bus.
They had a bad day and panic, causing them to unexpectedly have a seizure.

Because of that, Avery wakes up in a world built by their mind, where thoughts and creations they usually ignore or hide away are channeled into a beautiful city.
At the center of the city is a crystal building that glows. When they walk into the center, they levitate for a moment, but are left breathless.
They are dropped to the ground. They quickly leave that building.
Exhausted, they fall asleep outside under the stars, with the constellations shining brightly, like they always wanted to.

Because of that, Avery explores the city and comes face to face with who they are.

They wake up to a dark sky, but the city glows, from the stars, crystal, and lanterns. They discover the ground under their feet is a soccer field, and trace the edges in their walking path, which are colored rainbow.
They stumble into a large bubble, and laugh expecting it to pop as they touch it. Instead, they fall in. They are surrounded by their friends rushing by them. Avery tries to reach for them, but rather accidently leaves the bubble.
They walk effortlessly to the sound of water, and come to “remembrance”. They climb over the brick wall covered in snaking ivy. The water soaks through their clothes and rises to their knees. Floating through the water are plants like lotus flowers, but with leaves studded with different shapes and colorless flowers.
Avery holds one leaf up to the light, then when realizing there isn’t enough light, holds the leaf in their hand. In the leaf are a heart and stars. They drop the leaf and gaze at the plants, which all have different patterns, and continue walking. There are circles with concrete statues that they pass by. One says, “Gwendolyn Brooks”, and another “Judit Polgar”. In the middle is a circle, and as they walk to the center they realize that there is no statue. When they leave, they climb over the wall and on the way down, the ivy softens their fall.
They sit down under the tree they see, which is covered in silver leaves, letting their clothes dry off. They kick the leaves on the ground, and find one falling into their hand. Written on it is “drowning”. They flip it over, confused, and it says, “is how I learned to swim.” They pick up the leaves slowly. “I am quiet.” “I am loud.” “I am proud of myself.” “I will never be good enough.” Avery has flashbacks if they touch the leaves. “I am not here.”
Avery goes to the last building they see. They walk through one of the walls to enter. They see themselves look back at them, and when they talk, the mirrors respond.

1: Hello?
2: Hello Avery.
1: Who are you– do I know you… Hello?
2: I can’t talk for long, Avery.
1: why not?
2: I just can’t.
1: Why am I here?
2: Are you here? You don’t belong here.
1: I need to leave.
2: You do need to leave.
1: How do I?
2: I don’t know, Avery–
1: But you said I don’t belong here. In the… …bubble, I saw the real world.
2: I don’t know where you belong. Don’t believe just what you see in the bubble, it distorts reality.
1: what am I supposed to do?
2: The silver tree has your thoughts and secrets. Everything you need to know.
2: I have to go. I’m sorry.

Avery stumbles backward and they get outside the building. They look back and press their hand against the surface of the glass to steady themself. They try to take a deep breath but feel their heartbeat slowing. They take a few steps backward, then they faint before they can get any further away.
Just before they faint, they say, “I did know them. They’re me.”

Because of that, they remain alone in that world, because they just want to return to normalcy with no way out.
Avery realizes that the mirror is themselves. They run through the grass to try to escape, until they realize it doesn’t end.

When Avery calms down, they walk back to the city following the dented trail in the grass they made.
They head towards the silver tree, when they fall underground. Ivy curls over the spot they fell through and cuts out the stars. Avery grabs an old lantern near them. They pace through the tunnels, walking by piles of books, occasional drawings, and photos on the walls, but it’s not their style and looks like something someone else made, like their mantle at home. The ivy thrives and curls around the tunnel.
Avery walks on for a while, then begins to run when they see more light. Eventually, Avery runs there, and finds themselves in the center of the crystal. “No,” they say in surprise.
Avery pulls open the trapdoor they didn’t previously notice and enters. The moment they get inside, gravity loses meaning. They close their eyes and concentrate.
When they open their eyes, they are in front of one of the small doors relatively near the ground. Through the door is a smaller crystal levitating, and they step inside.
They go through the bottles carefully and read them. “Be happy.” “Be a good daughter.” “Be a good student.” “Have a straight As all middle school.” [smirks] “Be pretty.”
“I can’t believe I wrote this.”

Until finally, Avery discovers their identity. They realize that the city is not completely true to who they are.
Avery goes to another door, and finds their old room.
They go to the highest door, and inside is filled with books. The books are filled with notes and drawings, and they find hidden objects among the books, like crumpled bills and a letter. They crumple the letter, and are ready to toss it over the edge. Then, they find a lighter. They are filled with shame and remember finding the lighter under their kitchen table, though they’re not surprised.
They look out over the city, taking in everything. They hold up the lighter and watch the flame ignite, then they touch it to the letter. Avery drops the burning letter and watches it fall, making a sacrifice.
“The buildings shouldn’t burn. The buildings shouldn’t burn.” Avery tells themself.
They turn their back and float back to the ground, but fall at the last second and hit the ground hard.
The grass surrounding the city burns, turning from green to red and then silver. The air engulfs them in warmth. The mirror building, crystal, and bubble are among the flames, but don’t burn. The silver tree catches alight and it curls against the fire. They run towards the tree.
Avery stands on a scarce patch of grass near the silver tree. They worry that the ground might fall again. The city chokes with smoke and the flames dance in the reflections of the buildings. The sky begins to blaze red like a sunset. A leaf falls nearby them. They catch it and read it. “I am weak.” “I am strong.”

“the sunset falls
& I’m still here.
Waiting under the starlight sky
Empty horizon
But I can’t seem to open my eyes

the sunset falls
& it's still real.
Ocean waves drown out
empty shores

the sunset falls
& I’m still here.
I just can’t seem to open my eyes.”

And ever since then, they wake up in the real world.
They wake up earlier than they normally wake, at dawn.
As light enters the room, they see their fingernails having grown out in the dim light and the polish warped. They chip away the paint as they watch the sun rise in the safety of their home.
They write a song about what happened.

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