I’ll be taking the flight from Canaveral next August.
I’ll be the youngest astronaut in space. Well, except for Titov.
It only took me ten years.
Three perfect holes in the windowpane let rain sputter through. They matched three dark spots in my vision. I tried to blink them away, but those three had been so bright. The memory of light still swam in my eyes as I fought to sleep. They were gone by the light and alarm of morning, and the window was whole again. My socks might have dried overnight, but I could feel the dampness under the sill where the water had dripped out of sight.
“Aliens?” my best friend said. She was sipping a coffee through a straw and looking up videos about ‘ball lightning’ on her phone. “No, it’s just what happens when lightning strikes near glass. Look, somebody in China got one on video.”
“You’re not listening to me. They were like little people dancing in front of me. One of them kinda’, like, zapped me or something.”
“Maybe you got struck,” she said. Slumped against the bus seat, she shook her head and thumbed away from the video. “Ah, just another hoax.”
The school nurse said she’d check me out. Just to calm my nerves, she said. A few boys got struck by lightning when they were camping back in the 90s, so she knew lightning strokes. They didn’t get struck exactly, precisely, but it hit a tree near them, otherwise they’d be dead, probably.
“Those boys” were fine, if a little jittery. I was more than a little jittery. I felt electric, like, full of electricity.
“You’re fine, sugar,” she said. “You sound like a fairy tale. Ever heard of a will o’ wisp?”
My mouth and my ears stayed shut the rest of the day. My thumb dragged across a pencil’s metal ferrule, the thumbnail clicking over the stamped-in ruts. Once, in Biology, when the lights were low and everyone else was watching a movie about DNA mutants or something, I thought I caught a little arc jumping from the metal to my thumb.
Three perfect holes in the windowpane let rain sputter through. They matched three bright spots in my vision. I tried to blink them away, but the three of them were so bright. Four of them. A fourth light drifted down my arm, lighting growth lines in my thumbnail before popping into the air over my bed. It danced with the others, swirling like a school of fish, and then they were gone without saying goodbye. They slipped into a lightning bolt waiting in the backyard, and as it pulled back into the clouds it took a part of me with it.
Ten years is a long time.
My ionosphere experiments will be interesting no matter what, sure. But ten years is a long time.
I just have to see what’s waiting for me up there.
As the first-place contestant of our summer flash fiction contest, we asked Zach Chessman some questions about himself and his creative process.
What is your typical writing process? Is it routine and “scheduled,” or are there factors that compel change in how you approach your work?
“A routine would be great. Occasionally, I can string together a few days or even a month of sitting down in front of a keyboard or a legal pad after work. But eventually, the routine breaks down, and I have to take what I can get.
“My active projects stay in the cloud so I can peck at them wherever I am. Most of them started from a few lines tapped out from my phone keyboard.”
What are the primary genres and mediums that inspire you and your writing? Do you enjoy any that are on the fringe?
“My first love was Douglas Adams. He’s not exactly fringe, but I still miss the way he looks at the world and his brand of head-shakingly beautiful comedy.
“If I’m being honest, I struggle to read much these days, but I’ve found a lot of incredible creators in podcasting, especially non-fiction podcasts. Shows like ‘Sawbones,’ ‘Oh No Ross & Carrie,’ and recently a show called ‘Reply All,’ which I can only describe as a group of holistic tech support detectives. Nothing is more inspiring for me as a writer of fiction than to discover how weird reality is and to hear stories told by the brave and brilliant people who devote themselves to pursuing truth.”
What other interests do you have? Do they influence your creative process?
“I also record and edit a podcast called ‘Thirty Minute Worlds’ with three of my friends, where we brainstorm a new setting every week. We end up with a lot of ideas we don’t have time to explore and we’ve had a handful (maybe) of good settings, both of which I regularly steal. Also, I have a cat. He doesn’t inspire me, but he does influence my creative process by screaming and clawing my back while I’m trying to write.”
You can check out Zach and his associates’ podcast, “Thirty Minute Worlds,” here.