Palo Alto Weekly 34th Annual Short Story Contest
Young Adult Honorable Mention

Someone Else

by Juliette Kilgore

Author Bio

An incoming senior at Gunn High School, Juliette Kilgore spends a lot of her time procrastinating on school assignments and struggling to parallel park. However, she always has time for a good book, and she has loved literature from a young age.

Inspiration

I was trying to figure out how I could make readers think about the global issues of climate change and the increasing wealth gap when I came up with my opening sentence: It was day 18,251 without sunlight, and Thomas was late for school. It combined a dystopian idea with a mundane moment, and I tried to continue that through the rest of the story.

It was day 18,251 without sunlight, and Thomas was late for school. It wasn't his fault: his mother had lost the morning ration of oats and he'd had to wait impatiently while she found a new one while muttering about the stupidity of the enforcement officers. Thomas always got bored when his mother started talking about adult things like the delayed rations and the thickening of the smog. He'd much rather talk about the new action toy Liam's dad had bought him or how boring nap time was (really, nine year olds were too old for nap time. It was rather insulting).

But none of that mattered now. He had to hurry if he wanted to get to school on time. Rushing along the sidewalk, his footsteps were illuminated in the warm glow of his flashlight. Normally he would have played ancient explorer discovering treasure with the beam of the flashlight, but today he was focused. The only sounds of his hurried commute was the scuffling of his feet against the pavement and the distant roar of the air purifying machines from Uptown where Liam lived.

After 15 minutes, Thomas finally arrived in the schoolyard. His mother had said that the school had been built in the early 21st century, which meant it had to be super old. She was probably right too — the schoolyard had antique planter boxes that had once been used to grow plants. Thomas remembered learning about farming in History. Apparently the "farmers" as they were called had been able to grow food straight out of the earth, not by manipulating chemicals in the government laboratories. It all sounded pretty crazy to Thomas.

He breathed a sigh of relief as he entered the classroom and took off the gas mask. It had been scratching his cheeks the entire way to school. Everyone was supposed to wear them even inside, but like all rules in the city it was rarely followed. Maybe if he was as rich as Liam and his other Uptown classmates he wouldn't have to follow any rules at all. Liam had told him yesterday that because his Dad was a council member he could use a gas stove to cook their meals. Thomas had been jealous. His family ate canned rations every meal because using a stove was prohibited: it would release more pollutants into the air. But Liam's family could do whatever they wanted.

His thoughts were interrupted when Ms. Glasser raised her voice over the murmur of conversation in the classroom.

"Alright class," she said. Thomas thought she sounded rather sad. "Who wants to see the new maps this year?"

"I wonder how much smaller the country will be this year," said Alicia, who was sitting next to him. "Remember last year when the water went all the way across Alabama? I wonder If Kansas has gone under yet."

Thomas nodded, but didn't say anything. He detested map day. He hated seeing the water lines across the continent, watching his city become slowly surrounded by water. Sometimes at night he would have nightmares where he was drowning in a black sea under a black sky, alone on the remnants of the destroyed planet.

His house would sink beneath the waves long before the marble mansions of Uptown.

In the front of the classroom, Ms Glasser unfurled the map. Thomas anxiously scanned the familiar outline of the United States as it appeared before him. The blue line indicating the water level had advanced across Oklahoma and Illinois as expected, but now Nebraska, Mississippi, and Wisconsin were almost swallowed by the growing ocean.

"What?" cried Thomas. "Five more states gone? What's going on?"

All his classmates turned to look at him.

Liam turned around. "Don't worry Thomas. My dad said that we're on high ground. It won't get close to us for years!"

"That's true for you," said Thomas, "but my house isn't on top of the hill. It's only 500 feet above old sea level!"

"Oh, calm down. Don't you know that the government will take care of it?" Bill, the boy sitting in front of him sounded bored.

"But, we have to do something! The water level has been rising faster! Don't you see—" Thomas was cut off by Ms Grasser.

"Thomas, that's enough!" scolded Ms Glasser. "Don't scare your classmates. Remember, the government will take care of it."

"But the water is getting closer!" said Thomas desperately, remembering what his mother had told him last night.

She gave him a look. "The government will fix it, Thomas."

She turned back to board, and removed the map.

Thomas sat down defeated, and the class continued. Someone else would fix it.

Somewhere outside of the city, the water continued to rise.