Books·The First Page

Neptune by Manuel Quiambao

Manuel Quiambao, 15, is one of 10 finalists in the Grades 7 to 9 category of The First Page student writing challenge.

2018 finalist: Grades 7 to 9 category

Manuel Quiambao, 15, is a 2018 finalist in the Grades 7 to 9 category for The First Page student writing challenge. (Submitted by Manuel Quiambao)

Neptune by Manuel Quiambao is one of 10 stories shortlisted for 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 2,400 students submitted their stories.

Quiambao, a student at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont., tackles climate change in Neptune.

I wake up seeing the black sea touching the dreary sky. The rain is heavy and black, as per usual. The same scene as when I was born, when I hunted, when I slept, when I ate. The same scene of almost every place I go.

It's like the book has said. The man who built an ark, and the flood he courses through, and the heavy rain. The book told me that God promised that he wouldn't end the world with such chaos.

Where is God, then? Why did He not keep his promise?

No land is in sight. The buildings are the only structures visible. But they're no longer the buildings I see in the antique books I've collected; they're just hollow, abandoned, in the midst of collapse. Rafts with solitary individuals are scattered about. Fish swim along in this "atlantis," waiting to be prey for either predators, and even more so, humans. Just as the sea swallows a raft or two once a storm brews up.

No wonder our place is called Nalubog. The islands that sank.

I just row my raft aimlessly. I have almost no energy left in me. I haven't caught edible fish these days. Some I caught were dead; some were mutated, horrid. Even my liquid filter doesn't work; whatever I pour from that darned thing is still the same liquid: blackish-blue water smudged with tons of choking oil. But no one cares about their life nowadays. Life is nothing — just a waste of space in this inhabitable ocean world. I look at the photographs in the books I've accumulated. The people in them smile, but for me, these are facades — empty grins. I sigh, just knowing my life will end soon.

"Fish surrounds me, and yet I do not eat;
Water surrounds me, and yet I do not drink;
The sky awaits for my utter demise;
The sea awaits the day I will sink."

I sing this psalm of hopelessness to myself when I saw a glimpse of hope. It's a ship, a vessel with many men, with plenty of food. Is this my utopia? Is this where I can reside now? I guess there's only one way to find out.

I row my raft with all my strength to the ship with the last bit of vigour I have to this floating haven.

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.

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 Cherie Dimaline, author of The Marrow Thieves. The winner will be announced on CBC Books on Feb. 22, 2019.

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's next writing competition for students is the Shakespeare Selfie student writing challenge, which will open in April 2019.