Books·The First Page

Canada 300 by Anik Babul

Read the first page of Anik Babul's novel imagining the world in 150 years.

2017 finalist: Grades 10 to 12 category

Canada 300 by Anik Babul is one of 10 stories shortlisted for CBC Books' The First Page student writing competition. 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. Over 2,400 students submitted their stories.

Babul, a student at TMS School in Richmond Hill, Ont., tackles climate change, mass surveillance, warfare/diplomacy, natural resource scarcity and pollution in his piece.

Mornings never cease to be cold. Climate change may have warmed the mainland, but 5 a.m. winds still chill every bone in my body. 

I'm not a morning person either, but I'm the only one fast enough to get our water. The only filtering well, soon to be emptied by all local settlements, is 10 miles away.

As I leave the quarters, I don our shared hoodie, goggles, headlamp and my oxygen mask. Wading into the frigid outdoors, I carefully close both airlocks. For good luck and a bit of protection, I bring an old Sherwood hockey stick, one that apparently belonged to my father. Stick in one hand and pail in the other, I begin my jog towards the well.

Camp, a rundown, abandoned farm converted to living quarters, disappears behind me. Decades before hydroponics, the landscape would've been filled with endless wheat fields. Today, though hidden by greenish fog, not even grass grows in these parts.

We live off the grid, in the northernmost reaches of the Upper Alberta district. All 21 of us orphans — most never met our parents, roamed nomadically until we came upon Camp. I was born in the Calgary MetroHub, and my wealthy parents travelled to Outer Toronto to visit family, only to be vaporized by the Southern Ontario Nuclear Attacks.

As registered citizens, all campers were born with tracking chips, but we had to extract them to avoid being found by the government. We didn't have medical equipment, so a pocket knife and tweezers would have to do. Hundreds of miles from the Trans-Canada, in the eyes of the rest of the world, we did not exist.

My watch reads 7:14 as I reach the nearly empty well. I fill and seal the pail, catch my breath with the little oxygen I have and begin the long run back.

As I open the airlock, Andrew, our oldest camper, yells, "Jet's here with the water! Rise and shine!"

They call me Jet for my speed, and it's the only name I've ever known. Ironically, I've never seen a jet — not even in pictures. Andrew, three years older than me at 19, had once glimpsed one as an infant. 

I take a look at the wall calendar to see today's date, July 1, 2167, marked in red.

I jokingly mumble, "Happy Canada Day, Andrew."

I knew full well there was no happiness at Camp.

About The First Page student writing challenge

CBC Books asked students to give us a glimpse of the great Canadian novel of the year 2167. 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.

Two winning entries — one from the Grades 7 to 9 category and one from the Grades 10 to 12 category — will be chosen by award-winning YA writer Erin Bow, author of The Scorpion Rules. The winner will be announced on CBC Radio's q on Jan. 24, 2018.

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 YA books.

CBC Books' next student writing competition is the Shakespeare Selfie Student Writing Challenge, which will open in April 2018.