Chuck Wendig’s Famous “Flash Fiction Challenge”
Topic: Write a piece of flash fiction about a tree.
Length: 1,000 words
While working on the revisions to my first novel, I thought I’d finally take some time to un-muddle my brain and do some of the writing exercises proposed by a favorite author of mine: Chuck Wendig. I’ll post them here, link them back to his website, and put them up on Medium and Wattpad for extra credit. Chuck, if you’re reading, thank you. I needed this.
Samantha, right? That’s my name, Samantha. Isn’t it? Is that what they want to call me, for me to call myself? Fine, I’m Samantha. Samantha what, I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter. I pull at my cardigan, totally self-conscious in front of them. Why are they just sitting there, staring?
“Hi,” I mumble. “I’m, uh, Samantha.”
“Hello, Samantha,” they say in unison. Creepy. I wipe my palms, sweaty now (hey, I’m nervous, okay?), on my skirt. Fiddle with my gray cardigan again.
“I believe that the time I’ve spent here has been good for me.” For us, I almost say out loud. “I know I’ve learned a lot about myself and I believe that I’m ready to be set free.”
My eyes dart to each one of theirs, their faces unsmiling. One of the women is scribbling on a screen with her stylus. The little squeaks hurt my head and I wince, willing her to stop. She does. There are seven of them, all sitting there in those immaculate white suits, white gloves over hands with five fingers on each. Five fingers! Can you guys believe it? I bet they have five toes too. Their pale weird faces inside the glass bubbles staring at me make me nervous all over again.
“I believe I have achieved atonement,” I say. They all glance at one another. One of them, the Commander I’ve heard him called, reaches out to the little silver box on the table and twists a dial.
“Would you please repeat that, Samantha?” he says, smiling. I wish I could smile. I wish I knew how they did it, twisting their mouths like that. The first time I saw it I was filled with such a sense of wonder because when they did it their eyes would light up. Their whole faces would light up! Not literally glow, not like I do when I’m happy, but you get it. Happy.
But his eyes are not lit up. It’s almost as though his smile doesn’t reach his eyes today. Is that possible? Or does it mean something else? I think about when they were rounding us up and putting us into the boxes that they didn’t smile then.
“I believe I have achieved atonement,” I repeat, glancing down again at my pretty clothes. I try to smile. Fail. Look back at them. The seven of them exchange glances like they aren’t quite sure. The Commander shrugs.
“Proceed,” he says.
I start talking then, without interruption. I try to start at the beginning and move the story up to the present, but time as a linear thing is such a weird thing to try and grasp. It’s how they want me to tell my story because that’s how they understand things. But I find it almost impossible because what I’m really doing is expressing a series of emotions. The fear I felt and the panic. The terrible need to escape, to not become injured. Or worse. To have them take a part of me away. A part of us.
I can tell the seven of them have no idea what I’m talking about. A few of them have that same smile now, the one that only goes as far as the corners of their tiny mouths. Their eyes are cold and hollow. I can sense that somehow I am not going to be let go. And that is the dilemma, especially for her. Because she is such a delicate one and being sent back into the room (the cage?) will not be good for her mind. Would break it and cause the rest of us more damage than what was already done. Poor Samantha.
I squeeze my eyes shut, bringing an image of the girl into my mind. She stands there with us in her pink skirt and her gray cardigan. She is smiling. Somehow she’s figured out how to do it. Then I understand: she doesn’t want to go. She wants to try and be like them. To smile like them and to talk like them. But she doesn’t get it. She doesn’t realize what the (time?) shutting away would do to her. What they would do to her. And in my mind, I start to push. And I push as hard as I can. Pushing, pushing, shoving.
I stand there gawking for a moment, not quite believing it. The cardigan is gone now; I stare down at the ugly orange jumpsuit, frayed a little at the left lapel where I kept tugging on it, teasing out the fibers. I want to pluck a string from it, but my hands are stuck behind me somehow. The cardigan, the pink skirt. All of it is gone. And that’s it. Samantha is free. I didn’t want to let her go, honestly, I didn’t. But I had to, you know? I couldn’t let her stay in here, not with her cute pink skirt and her darling gray cardigan. And now that she’s gone, and it’s just me and the gang, it’s finally all right. I smile.
We look up at the twisted branches filtering bright starshine down on our hair and face. An impossibly warm and bright day. We breathe in the heady smell of summer. Pollen, grass, earth. The giddy sounds. Birds chirruping, a beetle buzzing its wings somewhere behind us. And bees! Flitting from flower to flower in their dance that will keep everything going even after we’re gone. This is absolutely perfect. The rest of us deserve this moment. This last piece of solitude. Our mind is lost as we gaze up at the twin stars, the warmth comforting. We don’t even notice the rope, its primitive form wrapped tightly on one end around a branch high above, draped softly over our neck on the other end. We don’t notice the stool, either, until the last moment. The moment when the man in the white suit, light sparkling on the glass bowl, kicks it.
My eyes open. I am in the constructed box with the metal walls. This time I know more. This time I can look for a different advantage so that we don’t end up all hanging under the tree. We could leave at any time, but then we wouldn’t understand them. Know what they want. I look down at myself and see that this new form is very pleasing, though I am not happy about the bright orange. I shiver, my shoulders bunching up, my head shaking the wisps out around it. There, that’s better. She would be happy: Samantha so loved the combination of pink and gray.