This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a short story I wrote for Lauren Oliver‘s (Don’t) Panic Contest, in honor of her new YA contemporary thriller Panic. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize until after I’d written it that I missed the contest deadline by a day, because I’m super intelligent like that (blame it on the summer vacation), but oh well. It was fun to write, anyway.
You can read the winning entries from her contest HERE (and I highly suggest you do, because they are brilliant).
(By the way, I don’t really know what that title means, but it was the random thing I saved the document under. And since at the moment I’m not really feeling figuring out a proper title, it’s staying.) (Boom. Look at them writing skillz.)
You are small. You are the teeniest, tiniest little ball in the grass. No one can see you. No one. I swear.
Open your eyes. Slowly. That’s it. Sloooowly. Slow is okay. This isn’t like ripping off a Band-Aid. Slow won’t hurt more. Slow is cautious. Safe. Good.
Look up. It’s a blue sky. Endless blue. It’s the shade of an Easter egg pulled too quickly from dye.
The grass is just tall enough to tickle my chin when I raise my eyes to the sky, still huddled in the fetal position.
That’s it. That’s good. Keep looking. The sky is safe. Blue, so blue, so light, like I’m up in the mountains and there’s not enough air.
The sky is safe. There you go. Not so quickly now. Don’t look too deeply. Don’t think.
Stop it! Breathe. Slowly, now. One… two… three… Tell your heart to beat with your breaths. My lungs could collapse, they can’t suck the air. One… two… three. Slowly. Easy, now. Gentle. Don’t close your eyes. I’m fighting not to close my eyes.
Now peel yourself from the ground. Sit up. You can do it. What did I say? Don’t close your eyes. The air, my throat, my eyes are too dry. Careful—careful. You’re doing so well.
Hands in the grass. Fingers, palms, thumbs against the soil with green-brown blades wrapping around you like chains, but they are easy to break. Push yourself up until you stand.
Standing. I’m standing now.
The trees are too far, the sky is too close, the air is thin and thick and spinning all aroun—Stop it. You’re okay. Stop it.
Breathe. One, two, three. Slowly, now. Breathe.
I can do this.
It’s just a field. It’s just a cloudless sky. They’re just cameras. The cameras are focused on me, lenses as big as plates zoomed all the way in to see the expression on my face.
Don’t lick your lips, that’s a tell that you’re nervous. Keep your eyes open. Wide. Open.
A breeze sweeps across the field, makes the grass sing, whips the ponytail off my shoulder. It is shards of glass against my arms, my legs. It is acid licking my face. It is fear, a knife through my stomach. I am afraid, I am afraid, no you’re not. You aren’t allowed to be.
You’re okay. Shut up. Focus. You can do this. Just focus.
You just have to make it across the field. You just have to reach the cameras in the trees and press the red button. It’s easy. Easy. You can do this. I have to do this.
You knew what you were getting into when you signed up for this. It’s too late to back out now. The only way out is through. You can do this. I was so stupid to sign up for this.
You just have to get to your feet. Walk across the field, one step after the other, and press the button. That’s all. This would be easy for anyone else. It’s not spiders. It’s not bees.
It’s just a field. Just a blue sky. Look—there are even flowers around your feet.
Dandelions, turned to white cotton that dances in the air around me as the breeze swoops past, rushes through, brings with it the grass’s song.
I can hear their voices. “She’s been standing there for three minutes.” “Are you serious, this is what that girl’s afraid of?” “This is going to make for pretty crappy television if she doesn’t get a move on soon.”
They’re right. They’re right. This is stupid to be afraid of. You’ve been standing here for long enough. You need to move.
Come on. Just take one step. One step. Let the breeze swirl around you, it’s just a breeze, you can do this.
I can do this.
It could have been the top of the Empire State Building. It could have been zip lining through a rainforest. But instead they gave you a field. A nice, easy field. This isn’t bad. The sun is overhead, warm on your back like Lipton down your throat, and it smells like dandelions, grass, sunshine. I want to smell laundry detergent and mint gum and—Stop that.
Focus on the details. The here-and-now ones. The little, teeny, tiny parts. Focus.
The tips of the grass blades are gold in the sun. The birds are chirping from the trees. The dandelion petals are a thousand million wishes floating free in the air.
You’re not alone. You’re not alone in this field. Just take one step. One. Show them that you’re strong. Show them that you aren’t dizzy with too much space; you’re not suffocating from too much air.
I take a step.
Breathe, now. Breathe.
The breeze is growing, growing stronger—wind, a gust like a slap to my cheek and I’m running.
I’m running now. It could knock me over.
It’s just wind.
It could steal my breath, my heartbeat, my thoughts.
Don’t show them that you’re afraid.
It’s too late.
You’re not afraid.
I’m terrified. My heart must be a hundred pieces all beating simultaneously, fast, fast, fast, for how quickly it’s racing.
Fine. Give up then. You’re almost there.
The red button the red button the red button. It’s only twenty feet; ten, five, I’m there.
My skin is sticky with sweat or tears or blood I cannot tell.
It’s not blood. Press the button. I can’t believe you’re afraid of a field.
My fingers are shaking.
Press the button.
I can’t breathe.
Press the button and this will all be over.
Everything’s spinning in five different directions and I can’t feel my feet and I can’t tell which way is up, which way is down.
Press the button. Easy, now. Just press it. They’ve stopped laughing. They’re concerned, now.
Red plastic under white skin. Press down.
There. It turned green. You’re done.
PS. I’m sorry I haven’t been posting as much the past couple weeks. I’ve been busy with other stuff (*cough* watching Once Upon a Time), but don’t worry! I haven’t forgotten about you. Things should slow down soon (I hope), and I should be getting back onto a schedule of posting more often. (You know. Just in time for fall semester to start. Oops.)