Books·The First Page

Breathe by Sapphira Skuter

Sapphira Skuter, 13, is one of 10 finalists in the Grades 7 to 9 category of The First Page student writing challenge.

2019 finalist: Grades 7 to 9 category

Sapphira Skuter, is a 2019 finalist in the Grades 7 to 9 category for The First Page student writing challenge. (Submitted by Sapphira Skuter)

Breathe by Sapphira Skuter is one of 10 stories shortlisted for the The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 7 to 9 category. Students across Canada wrote the first page of a novel set 150 years in the future, imagining how a current-day trend or issue has played out. Nearly 2,000 students submitted their stories.

Skuter, a student at Arbutus Global Middle School in Victoria, writes about air pollution.


I am always late. Always.

Whether it's because I overslept, forgot to change the mask on my air filter, or just got lost in the smog, I haven't been on time a day in my life.

But today, tardiness is not an option.

Leaving the abandoned city behind me, I race through the darkness, shivering from the cold despite my insulated suit. I silently curse myself for not refilling my oxygen tank. If I keep running at this pace, I might not have enough to get to the launch station. At least I don't have to worry about dodging artificial life forms. Most of the ALFs were recalled after one of them downloaded an out-of-date history program and tried to fly through the smog to see the sun.

Ha! As if anything so small could penetrate the thick, black layer of pollution that has suffocated the Earth.

I silently curse myself for not refilling my oxygen tank. If I keep running at this pace, I might not have enough to get to the launch station.

My gaze drifts over the desolate wasteland. Where is everyone? Evadere is the last public shuttle leaving the planet. I thought I would be fighting my way through hordes of desperate people trying to get to the last few seats, but I don't see anyone at all.

Wait...what time is it?

"T-minus ten..." A robotic voice rings through the air.

My steps falter and my blood runs cold. That's not...It can't be...

"Nine..."

No!

"Eight...seven..."

Heart pounding, I scramble up the rocky hill towards the launch pad. One hundred metres square, the ancient concrete platform was last used to send shuttles to colonize Mars. Yet another failed attempt to escape this toxic planet.

"Six...five...four..."

There it is! Evadere. My last chance of survival. Barely space worthy, the repurposed moon freighter was left behind to collect the outcasts and nobodies. Genetically inferior, and prohibited from ever removing our air filters outdoors, we are the afterthoughts.

"Three...two...one..."

"Wait!" A scream rips from my throat, every fibre of my body reaching toward the shuttle even as the wave of heat from the rockets knocks me to my knees.

"Liftoff!"

Blinded by tears, I watch Evadere pierce the smog, punching a hole to freedom. I catch the barest glimpse of light before the shuttle disappears. Maybe that ALF wasn't crazy after all.

An unmasked face blocks my view. Blue eyes study me intently.

Without any warning, the stranger tears my air filter off my face.

"Don't hold your breath."


About The First Page student writing challenge

CBC Books asked students to give us a glimpse of the great Canadian novel of the year 2168. They wrote the first page of a book set 150 years in the future, with the protagonist facing an issue that's topical today and set the scene for how it's all playing out in a century and a half.

Kelley Armstrong is the bestselling author of more than 40 books. (Kathryn Hollinrake)

Two winning entries — one from the Grades 7 to 9 category and one from the Grades 10 to 12 category — will be chosen by bestselling YA author Kelley Armstrong, most known for her Darkest Powers and Darkness Rising series. The winner will be announced on CBC Books on March 11, 2020.

Both winners will receive a one-year subscription to OwlCrate, which sends fresh boxes of books to young readers across Canada on a monthly basis. In addition, each of the winners' schools will receive 50 free YA books.

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