[This fall, Capital High School’s Climate Club proposed a “climate fiction” challenge for local students. Club VP Karina Greenlee said they had invited students to paint their vision of the world in the context of climate change. These are two of many Cli-Fi stories submitted.]
I’m eight years old. The US has just declared victory over COVID and everyone is celebrating. My parents take me and my sister to see the Nutcracker in Seattle. I sit enthralled the whole time. I know that’s what I want to do. When the show ends it’s late, my sister has fallen asleep but I talk the whole way home to Olympia. My parents finally sign me up for a ballet class starting next month.
I’m 13 years old. I arrive 30 minutes early to my dance studio for our nutcracker auditions. This is my first Nutcracker with pointe shoes. I hope I get a snowflake, or maybe a flower. There is lots of chatter as me and my friends stretch and warm up. “Did you hear what Emma said to me?” “I think she’s going to be Clara this year” “He got a girlfriend?” “Oh my God, did you see her feet?” “I know! They looked so good.” “I wish I was that flexible.” Then “…fires are really bad this year.” “What?” I ask. “The California fires are really bad this year. Almost 4 million acres burned. My cousins had to evacuate their town.” Oh no, I think. Shouldn’t they be doing something about that? But that’s over there and I am over here. And pretty soon the audition starts and the thoughts leave my mind.
I’m 18 years old. About to graduate. My friends and I are driving to Starbucks to celebrate finishing our last round of finals. I’m going to Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle and I’m going to become a ballerina. I’ve worked as hard as I could since I was eight, I go to the studio six days a week, I stretch for half an hour every night and when I’m not dancing, I’m watching other people dance. But it’ll all pay off because I’m going to be a ballerina.
We order drinks. Sitting with my friends I get a notification on my phone: Level 3 Hurricane to hit California for the first time since 1858. I show it to my friends. We know there have been more natural disasters and they will probably keep increasing but again, that’s California. This is Washington. As we leave I see a sign over the trash can: Keep plastic out of the ocean, Use reusable cups. Oh well, I think as I throw my cup away. I mean, it’s only one cup. It’s not like it’ll make a big difference.
I’m 21 years old. It’s wildfire season again and they are raging more than ever. My college sent us all home on account of the smoke but Olympia is actually closer to the fires so my parents are driving here and we are taking a plane to my grandparent’s house in California. They live in the desert so the wild fires won’t get us. Sure, it might be crowded and we won’t be able to go outside on account of the heat, but the fire smoke is damaging even when we’re inside. I can’t get lung damage. I already get winded in ballet classes too easily, my teachers have made that very clear. If it gets any worse, I might as well drop out. But, I remind myself, I’m not going to get lung damage and I’m trying a new workout routine and diet so I’ll get better at cardio. Then Elaine won’t look so smug everytime the teachers tell me not to breathe so loud. We have a month, I can definitely get better.
I’m 25 years old. After college I was offered an apprenticeship at Pacific Northwest Ballet. When I found out, I called everyone I knew and told them, I was going to be a ballerina! I didn’t even care that most apprentices came straight from high school so I would be four years older than everyone else. I stayed in the program a year too long, but I eventually got promoted to the corps de ballet. I’ll get to be onstage. I’m driving home to Olympia for the holidays. I haven’t been back for at least a year.
As I crest a barren hill I get my first look at Olympia. It’s less green than I remember, Almost all the forests around have been reduced to fields of stumps. Driving through downtown, I see more tin sheds lining the streets than ever. The equator has become practically uninhabitable. That means more immigrants from places like Brazil and Ecuador. Most of them aren’t legal but it’s not like we would have enough housing anyway.
At the beginning, the police tried to stop them, but there were just too many people, and they didn’t have anywhere else to go. As I go up the bridge, I look down at Puget Sound. It’s almost red in the daylight. There’s a poisonous algae bloom in season. It’s such a pity. I remember when I was young, I loved looking at the water. It was already too polluted to go in by that time, but I liked seeing if I could spot a seal, or maybe I would get lost in thought, trying to fathom how much water and life it held. But life goes on, and soon the excitement of seeing my family crowds out my mourning.
I am 30 years old. By now, we have to evacuate from the smoke every year. Seattle and Olympia are still standing, but how many lives has it taken to keep it that way? I’m driving down to Olympia again to get my parents so we can evacuate to Maine, we can’t go to California anymore. Downtown has flood walls at least 5 feet tall, but the pier has been abandoned anyways. And the water is almost acidic to the touch, we haven’t had salmon through here for years.
At 36 I fell and broke my ankle, the doctor said it would take years to build my strength back up and by that time, I would be too old anyway. No one wants to hire an old dancer. I was never Sugar Plum Fairy or Odette, I just stayed in the corps, I was treated like a human backdrop for 10 years and now I can’t even do that. I move to Olympia and start working at Bayview. Their new location of course, the old one has long since become housing for those who don’t have anywhere else to go. My parent’s house went up in flames a few years ago so I moved into an apartment with them.
And now I’m 52. I’m in my R.V. watching T.V. The announcer says And now a startling new prediction made by top scientists at Yale University, according to a new study, the world will become nearly uninhabitable for human life in the next 200 years due to man-made climate change. I shut the T.V. off. It’s just a bunch of stuck up prudes acting like chicken little, pretending the world is crashing down around us. They’ve been doing this for decades, and we’re still here. I mean, sure, a few species have gone extinct but that’s just what happens, the world changes.
My phone dings. Great, fire season is starting in April this year and we’ll have to flee to the east coast in five days. A memory tugs at the back of my mind. I remember talking to my friends back at dance about the California fires. It seems so weird that we were worried about that, those seem like candle flames compared to the fires now. And then I remember hearing that fires would worsen by those same cuckoo scientists. But that did happen.
Now I’m unearthing memories that I don’t remember having. Running through the woods, swimming in lakes, watching a whale jumping in the ocean. I remember every year we would go to our grandparents cabin in the mountains. I would find this grove of trees and pretend I was onstage and all the trees were watching me perform. Now the wilderness is hard to come by, and it’s even harder to find old growth like that, with the trees reaching up into the sky for what seems like forever. I didn’t realize that I missed them.
And I remember snow. I used to open the blinds every day from November to February expecting it to be there. Of course it almost never happened, but when it did, I would immediately call all of my friends. We would get all dressed up in our winter gear and play all day. Then troop inside cold, wet, and utterly exhausted but happier than I’ve been in a long time. I remember not having climate refugees, downtown wasn’t choked with them.
I hadn’t realized the change because of how slowly it had happened, but looking back I don’t see how I could have missed it. Was I so wrapped up in my own life that I didn’t even notice what was being taken from me?
Elsie Sabel is 15 and this story is what she fears will happen in her lifetime
A breath out for a breath in
“Your first breath took mine away.”
Islo read the last sentence on the wrinkled letter. His mom wrote it about ten years ago, with no inkling of what was to come. Since then, Islo was always sensitive around the topic. He didn’t know her very well, but his heart hurt as he read the letter. He sat in silence waiting for a miracle.
Maybe the snow would somehow cancel school, though it was online now so there was no way that would happen. Maybe the internet would go out and he could do the things he loved, the things she loved. But that was only his hopes and his watch would beep any minute now—Meep! Meep! Meeep!
*hugh..* Islo takes his time climbing down the attic ladder, and makes his way to the laptop. He begins his classes, bored all the way through and focused on something entirely different. School in person was always his better fit, but he had no choice this time, just like all of the other kids. He would much rather face important problems in school instead of learning geometry. His friend Anfa was a nice girl who had been by his side through school. Online school would have all but separated them if they hadn’t lived in close neighborhoods. He could see her on the other side of the screen, and he planned to go straight to her house after school.
His classes dragged on from 9:00 till 2:00, but when they finally ended, he could run over to Anfa’s house. He grabbed a bag of gluten free pretzels and rushed out the door. He had never felt disconnected from his mother, and had always mourned for her instead of acting. So on this new day, he had an idea. He didn’t have a way to contact Anfa beforehand, yet she was already waiting for him at the window! They met in the yard and he excitedly filled her in.
“Wow.” She replied. “Islo, that’s great! You really are connected to your mom, aren’t you?”
He grinned, “I didn’t want to have to wait, when I can start on my own!”
They started to contact their few friends and painted signs with real issues on them, masks as well. Their friends spread the word. Soon they had a large group, and even Islo’s father joined, and he was mostly working hard for them both. This big group stood in the downtown square and fought for their world, just as Islo’s mother had done.
“Islo, your mom is really proud of you.” Anfa smiled.
“Yeah, I guess she is.” He replied softly. “It’s what she would have wanted.”
“I’m proud of me too.”
“If you can’t reuse it, refuse it!”
“One crying baby keeps a family awake. A mass of a Gypsy children will wake up the entire world!”
“We are skipping our lessons to teach you one!”
“There is no planet B!”