As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I’m a fan of the writing tips blog Terrible Minds, by the writer Chuck Wendig. One nice exercise he gives is a Flash Fiction Challenge, where he comes up with some parameters and turns his readers loose.
Today, I decided to have my first go at it. The current challenge is to hit shuffle on your music collection; the title of the first track is the title of the story. Oh, and the limit is 500 words.
Quite a challenge. And it became even more of one when I rolled the dice on my music. What I got was “Where Has My Country Gone? (Kongurei)” by Ondar (a Tuvan throat singer who’s absorbed some Western pop and country influences). So I came up with the following story.
It’s not the best thing I ever wrote, but it’s not too bad (especially for spending only two hours on it). By far the most difficult part was getting the word count down; there was quite a bit that I liked that had to be sacrificed to bring it below 500 words. But I did it.
We’ll see what people think. Thanks, Chuck, for the challenge.
Where Has My Country Gone?
by Brian Eisley
I was at home on Banks Island, in far northwestern Canada, when the Strangers first appeared. It was summer. I was out of school and spent my time hiking and swimming, as I did every year.
When I saw the news that morning, I quickly brought up the feed from Gibraltar. The ship was a lozenge of gray light, hovering over the Rock; the creatures below it were squat and six-limbed.
I checked the news archive. The craft had appeared several hours before. At the same time, a short greeting had appeared on the newsfeeds, politely inviting our leaders to come and meet. The world’s militaries had gone mad, of course, but somehow the Strangers were able to stop any armed craft from approaching.
The EU president was the first to arrive. The Chinese and US presidents came soon after. The world stayed glued to its screens until the three presidents emerged with an announcement.
The Strangers, they said, had arrived in our vicinity some 300 years before, and had been monitoring us all this time. Normally, they left primitive societies alone until spaceflight reached an advanced stage. In our case, however, they had become so alarmed at what we had done to our environment that they had chosen to intervene. Over the next few decades, they would repair the damage, and restore the climate to what it had been before the Industrial Revolution.
There was much discussion, and even some defiance. But their understanding of physics was far beyond ours, and they could engineer our environment however they wanted.
Eventually, of course, the furor died down, and we went about our lives. The Strangers made occasional announcements about their progress, but for the most part they left us alone.
Gradually, the temperature dropped. The oceans retreated. The weather stabilized; the floods and typhoons diminished. People began to recolonize the equatorial regions. And with most fossil fuels long gone, the world’s politics became a little more sane. Life became easier for most people.
For those of us living in the Arctic, though, it was a disaster.
My family had left Texas for Denendeh sixty years before the Strangers came. Banks Island was my home. But then, the animals and trees began to disappear. The ice returned.
We did our best, but eventually we accepted Ottawa’s buyout offer and abandoned our land. So did everyone we knew. I remember my last look back at our house, sitting forlorn on what had been the shore.
My family ended up in Florida. I’ve lived here ever since. And my old friends are scattered all over the world. I’ve had a good life, these last eighty years. But I miss my home.
When I look at the island now, it’s brown and barren, and usually covered in ice. I’ll never set foot there again.
I know that the world is better off since the Strangers came. We all accept that.
But where has my country gone?