Now or Never by Pippa tomita
When she was still around, Grandma would tell me stories of before the end. Before the drought, before the storms, before humanity dug its grave. She was the one to tell me, “The rain wasn’t always harsh and cruel; it would come gracefully drizzling over grateful plants.” I would sit attentively at the end of my bed begging for my favourite story until she finally gave in. She would start: “In the winter, we would all gather around the warm crackling fire. We’d admire the angry orange sparks that popped and flew up when it got upset. Suddenly, someone would point outside and we all darted to the window. Faces pressed to the freezing glass, all was silent. Then, teeny, tiny white flecks, each with intricately beautiful patterns would softly float to the ground.”
Those nights, I would dream of snow.
Remembering her words now, I think how strange it must have been. Imagine, looking at the mountains and seeing sunlight reflecting off the sparkling snow. It hadn’t snowed in over half a century. Nowadays, the dust circling the mountains makes it impossible to see the tops. I missed Grandma. She was the only one who would tell me such wonderful stories. Everyone else thought it was foolish to dwell on the past. I think it was just too painful for them to remember. At school, we learned about the mistakes that lead to our barren version of living. Everyone thought they knew better. No one listened to Mother Nature’s frequent warnings. Then,
one day, the chaos started.
The rain thudded furiously against the metal ceiling. I wasn’t worried, this
was routine. Besides, the heavy metal panels covering the underground were as strong as an elephant (though I’d never seen one of those, either). However, even the scientifically designed roof had its flaws. Having roofs so low to the ground may have prevented us from flying away like Dorothy, but it captured unwanted contents. For example, this being the first clean up day in 4 weeks, the gunk and debris from months of harsh storms were sure to have brought in a horrific mass of fallen plants and animals. On the first day of each month, the youth of our unit emerged from the underground. I currently sit hands folded, waiting patiently with the rest of the group, ready for instructions. As the little hand on my treasured watch slowly ticks by, my foot begins to tap up and down echoing in the small space.
“Ah-hem!” a sharp voice calls for our attention. “Youth of Unit Eighty-Six, your
community service is no longer needed.”
Annoyed murmuring bounces off the walls as I see someone next to me roll their eyes in frustration.
“There has been an emergency concerning the detector. You are all to report back
to your respective dorms and await further instructions.”
The hammering of my heartbeat blocked out the panic erupting around me. If something has happened to the detector, we’re all doomed. Our detector was probably one of the most advanced compared to other units; it can predict extreme weather changes, radiation levels, trace animal predators, incoming missiles, you
name it. Its hard drive carries the history of our entire unit. I wonder if the girl beside me, with a big smile cheering gleefully, understood the gravity of this situation. Or, maybe she was just celebrating the chance to get out of cleaning. I understood. Without knowing what mood swings Mother Nature will hurl at us, it might be impossible to not only clean the roof, but to gather supplies. We could be sitting ducks, trapped in a large cage waiting for our supplies to run out. The community we have built down here could be lost. One device is responsible for the downfall of our precious home.
“FINAL WARNING! Anyone left in the docking area in the next five minutes will be
Snapping out of my trance, I realize everyone has left. Trembling, I stood. “I can’t be
here when all hope is lost,” I whisper to myself with determination. Instead of walking out of the loading dock, I sprint for a corner I know is out of eyeshot from the hidden cameras. Feeling a bolt of adrenaline, I attempt to steady my breath. I calm my racing heart. I know what I want to do. What I need to do. It’s now or never.
In the dank corner, I look at the ceiling, thinking over my plan in my head. I must not get caught. The punishment for something like this will be lurid.
POP! The lights flicker off. Pitch black. I turn on the flashlight. The small circle of light illuminates the dreary room. Creeping towards the wall of suits, I place each foot softly on the ground, careful to not make a sound. I grab the stiff collar of a medium-sized suit and swiftly pull it off its hook.
“BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!”
The warning system starts up.
“CODE YELLOW, CODE YELLOW” a mechanical voice states.
I sprint for the yellow helmets.
“RESIDENT 134 UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS” the voice rings out, echoing.
How could I be so careless? I was so focused on getting to the suits unheard, I forgot about the cameras!
“ALL SECURITY PERSONAL REPORT TO THE LOADING DOCK!”
I quickly secure the helmet on my head and turn my flashlight off. I’m not going to make this easy for them. Hurtling towards the glowing EXIT sign I smash into the door and swing my flashlight in the direction of the controller. It took what felt like a decade, but I finally found the shiny silver box. Whipping it open, I hit the ‘Open’ button with a shaking hand. A gust of air and rain push me off-balanced. The weather is not irate, just hailing with occasional spots of ferocious rain. As I steady myself, I bolt through a hole in a rusted old fence ten feet away. Down a hill lies a large grey storm-wrecked building. One wall was completely torn away. It stood there like a ghost. A desolate framework. A constant reminder of what once was. We learned about this building in school underground. It was once a school, too. Closer to the end, people used the rectangular building as a shelter.
As I rush past a sign I glimpse the words, West Point Grey Academy . Almost tripping
over a massive gap in the ground, I tumble to a stop. The opening is black with ash and is so deep it must go to the core of the earth. Through the wind, I heard the faint sound of the automatic voice calling for my arrest.
“CODE YELLOW. CODE YELLOW,” it repeats unemotionally.
With rapid breathing, I try to look for a place to hide. I examine my surroundings. A
recently flooded field. Grubby water flows in between a few strands of dry grass.
“RESIDENT 134, you are under arrest,” a voice behind me bellows.
It’s over. My one chance to escape the trapped world I live in. My one chance to make
my own decisions. My one chance to be set free. But I blew it. Two figures seize my arms and lock them behind my back. Exhausted, I feel the adrenaline turn to dread. All the fight draining out of me, I don’t protest. Instead, I raise my head up to the sky, saying a final goodbye to Grandma.
I hear a sudden gasp behind me. “Would you look at that,” one of the silhouettes says in awe. Tears fill my eyes. No matter the consequences, now, it was all worth it. High above our heads, descending delicately downwards. Snow.
This piece was published in our Summer 2020 Issue.
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