Books·The First Page

Running to Mars by Sumayya Taher

Sumayya Taher, 14, is one of 10 finalists in the Grades 10 to 12 category of The First Page student writing challenge.

2019 finalist: Grades 10 to 12 category

Sumayya Taher, 14, is a 2019 finalist in the Grades 10 to 12 category for The First Page student writing challenge. (Submitted by Sumayya Taher)

Running to Mars by Sumayya Taher is one of 10 stories shortlisted for the The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 10 to 12 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.

Taher, a student at Tempo School in Edmonton, writes about class wars as humans flee to Mars in hopes of escaping their dying planet. 


To Mars.

I feel my feet pound the ground, my heart pump rapidly, the tears spring to my eyes. The voice of my mother echoes through my mind: "The Nonpareil will catch you. Don't go." Yet I went, leaving her behind to eventually drown in Earth's rising sea. Or to be enslaved by a Nonpareil first. Maybe I should have stayed with her, to protect her. But then I saw the silver spaceship standing erect in the face of the dying sun, the word "Deliverance" plastered across it, and I couldn't help but run.

Visions of freedom dance through my mind like broken fragments of a dream. My wet feet sloshing through the flooded streets and my tattered garments blowing in the wind convert in my mind to regal dress and a warm home. Yet it is a home without my mother...

The Destitute whisper about what luxuries must be on Mars, unable to imagine what could possibly be better than the city in the sky.

As I run, I gaze up above me, at the network of bridges and structures built in the sky for the Nonpareil. Though their feet are dry, their clothes whole, they all wait for their turn when they may board a spacecraft and sail off to the greater luxuries that await them on Mars. The Destitute whisper about what luxuries must be on Mars, unable to imagine what could possibly be better than the city in the sky. Thousands of Destitute have attempted to find a way up into the sky, desperate to escape the mess hidden beneath the bridges. Yet no word comes of a successful attempt, except the slaves that end up there.

We don't know what happens to them.

Shifting my gaze ahead, I try to only think of a future as a Nonpareil on Mars, ignoring the Destitute around me that narrow their eyes at me. My expression is plain: wild, desperate, they know what I plan to attempt. I cannot help but run over doubts of my success, doubts of the intricate plan I have secretly constructed for my escape over the course of four years.

You see, no Destitute has ever made it to Mars.

Yet I keep on.

Running. Running. Running.

To Mars.


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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