Books·The First Page

The Concluder's Apprentice by Esmé Mac

The Concluder's Apprentice by Esmé Mac is a finalist for The First Page student writing challenge of 2022.

2022 finalist: Grades 7 to 9 category

Esmé Mac, 13, is a finalist in the Grades 7 to 9 category of The First Page student writing challenge 2022. (Submitted by Esmé Mac)

The Concluder's Apprentice by Esmé Mac is one of 13 stories shortlisted for The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 7 to 9 category for 2022.

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. More than 1,800 students submitted their stories.

The shortlist was selected by a team of writers across Canada. The winners will be selected by bestselling YA writer Sarah Raughley and be announced on May 31.

Mac, 13, a homeschooled student from Vancouver, writes about the fair distribution of food.


The Last Cow in the world will die in 10 minutes. Peri and I sit out of sight on the wall behind the bleachers that they built especially for today, watching. The Magnates call her The Last Cow. The newscards refer to her as TLC; Tender Loving Care. They say that's what the Magnates are giving her — massages, turnips, calming music.

I don't think so. The Magnates just want her to taste better.

Peri says that they've tried beef once, when they were little. They say it tastes a bit like portobello mushrooms, or maybe oats. They're not one for elaborate descriptions. I've heard that Kind Burgers come close, but I don't know. I do know that TLC's meat will taste different. The Magnates are paying for it to melt in your mouth. They go on and on about how the umami flavour will be heightened by the applegrass rub.

Jax, the most arrogant kid at FriendChurch, whispered to me in prayer line that his family bought shares in The Last Cow. "It's gonna taste sooo goood… have you ever had beef? Aww, too bad — I'm not gonna tell you what it tastes like." He lives in the foothills of the Rockies, and they travel 800 kilometres by helicopter to come to FriendChurch and read the Words.

According to them, they're 'concluding her living experience.' That sounds sadder to me. Less bloody, but more personal.

The Last Cow will be slaughtered in four minutes. The Magnates don't use that word though. According to them, they're 'concluding her living experience.' That sounds sadder to me. Less bloody, but more personal. One Helper is massaging her with expensive oils. They've even brought a violinist in, and he's playing softly a few feet away. Peri starts to cry.

The Last Cow looks comfortable, lying in her bed of fresh hay. Another Helper feeds her apple slices dipped in molasses. The Concluder stands behind her with the bolt tool. There's a swell in the music. I grab Peri's hand as they close their eyes. I start to cry too.

The Concluder shoots the bolt tool.

It's quieter than I expected — just a pneumatic sigh.

The music stops. The violinist's breath becomes ragged.

As Peri and I climb down the wall, I hear yelling. We look up just as the musician throws his violin down, grabs the bolt tool, and hooks his arm around the Concluder's neck with such force that they both stumble to the ground.


About The First Page student writing challenge

The First Page student writing challenge asks students in Grades 7 to 12 to write the first page of a novel from 150 years in the future. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

CBC Books asked students to give us a glimpse of the great Canadian novel of the year 2172. 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 bestselling author Sarah Raughley. 

A writer and lecturer from Southern Ontario, Raughley is the author of the YA Effigies series — which includes Fate of FlamesSiege of Shadows and Legacy of Light — and the fantasy historical novel The Bones of Ruinfor ages 14 and up.

The shortlist was selected by a team of writers across Canada:

The winner will be announced on CBC Books on May 31, 2022.

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. Special thanks to Penguin Random House, Raincoast Books, Scholastic Canada, Annick Press, KidsCan Press, Groundwood Books, Orca Books and Simon & Schuster for donating books for the prize.

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