Children of Truth
Fort Collins, Colorado
2017, Middle School, Prose
The bus grumbled and growled as it bumped its way off the black pavement onto a black muck under a black sky.
“Nice day today,” said the bus driver with a buck-toothed grin. “You can see the sun.” It was true, but only just. The sun was a shadow in the inky sky. But it was better than yesterday.
“I suppose so,” replied the woman quietly, wringing her hands nervously on her lap. Her wrinkles were traced with worry. She sent frantic glances towards the back of the bus over her bifocals. All of the children were sitting silent and still just as they had been instructed, until one, upon meeting her gaze, raised his hand. “Yes, Walter?” she asked in a soft voice, attempting to fake a smile.
“I -” he began before pausing as his teacher gently raised a thin finger to her lips. He continued in a whisper, “I was just wondering why we weren’t allowed to tell our parents where we were going on this field trip. I mean, this isn’t really a three-day historic tour of Denver, you know?” He gestured to the sinister landscape lurking beyond the window.
The woman took a deep, worried breath, and leaned forward. “Because I wanted you to see the truth.”
The boy stared at her for a second, then nodded, not sure how else to respond. He looked back down at the small, wrinkled paper rocking with the movements of the bus on his worn blue jeans. In faded color, like a painted sign left out in the rain, the paper depicted blue water, a shade he had never seen before, stretched infinitely beyond a beautiful stretch of a tan substance the woman had told him was “beach sand.”
“Ahem.” The bus driver cleared his throat as the bus came lurching to a stop next to a gallery of red signs boasting of federal property and illegal trespassing. The woman turned to see his calloused hand outstretched, palm up. She met his expectant gaze and sighed as she pulled 30 of the 50 dollars she had left out of the back pocket of her shorts and pressed them, wincing, into his sweaty palm. “Thank you, Judith,” he said sarcastically, placing his foot back on the rusty pedal. He was ultimately satisfied with his decision to smuggle a bus of middle school students onto a coast of toxic sludge for the sake of one miserable 70-year-old teacher.
“I hope they finish the preparations for the Mars evacuation soon,” one girl said to another sitting next to her. “We’re lucky our population doesn’t depend as heavily on seafood as some of the others. I heard the algal bloom last month was so severe from the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that the majority of marine food sources were wiped out” (“Algal Bloom”).
A single tear bounced down the wrinkles of the woman’s worn face. She hastily wiped it away. What the girl had said was right. The algal bloom a month ago–the largest in history–had hit the marine species’ populations hard. One billion people had been left without their main protein source (“One billion people depend on seafood as their primary protein source”), and added with the increase in toxic gases produced by marine organisms thriving with the loss of oxygen (Peter Ward: A theory of Earth’s mass extinctions), it was reason enough for the UN to decide that every single major coastal city across the globe had to be evacuated inland–Dubai, Istanbul, Chicago, Barcelona, Hong Kong, Tokyo (“The 25 Best Coastal Cities in the World”)–every last one. The overpopulation problem had reached an unprecedented landmark in humankind’s history. She wasn’t sure how much longer they could last.
The un-oiled brakes screeched in protest as the bus threw itself backward to a resting position. The children hesitated to get up, even after a 24-hour bus ride.
“Oxygen packs on, please. Safety first,” the woman commanded half-heartedly. Not a single part of this operation was safe. And they all knew it, every single one of them. Yet they silently obeyed her request, slipping on their flimsy plastic masks over their mouths and the straps of their kid-sized oxygen tanks over their frail shoulders. If the air was a health hazard back in Colorado, a single breath without a tank was a suicide mission by the coast.
The woman surveyed the crowd of children. When each and every child had finished properly securing their oxygen tanks and breathers onto their small bodies, she fastened her own. The bus driver didn’t hesitate to do the same.
“You may exit the bus,” she said as the doors swung open. “But don’t go too far. And no matter what you do, do not even think about going in the water.” The children began nervous chatter in anticipation as they started out into the treacherous world they had been forbidden to see.
The bus driver flashed his poor dental upkeep at the woman once again. She rolled her eyes in disgust and shoved her hand back into her pocket, searching for the last of her spare change. She noticed that Walter trudged off the bus in solemn silence, followed by the same two girls as before.
“It’s hot,” said one girl, cranking up all five Superfans™ built into her oxygen tank to their highest setting.
“Oh, don’t complain, Kristin. It’s only 120 today. That’s the best it’s been in weeks.”
The words stung in the woman’s ears.
“Well at least we’ll already be used to wearing oxygen tanks every time we go outside. The pollution is already wiping out the phytoplankton population. There won’t be as many algal blooms, but there certainly won’t be much atmospheric oxygen left either (“Phytoplankton”). Mars won’t be that hard of a transition.”
“I hope they hurry.”
The woman stared silently at the floor as the girls filed past her down the aisle. That was the human race’s greatest fatal flaw, if it was possible to single out just one. Ignorance. Leave behind the old, start anew. Start the same process all over again without acknowledging there was ever a problem. “No one ever understands,” she mumbled to herself. “No one.”
The bus driver impatiently cleared his throat. The woman’s suddenly trembling fingers struggled to withdraw the remaining 20 dollars from her pocket. As she reached to hand the money to him, it slipped from her fragile grip and drifted to the floor like feathers on the wind. She rushed off the bus in a state of panic as the bus driver groaned in ungrateful annoyance.
The children certainly hadn’t gone far. No, they were frozen in place like ice, Converse and Vans alike sinking into the black mush that had once been a beach, staring out at the water. Or what had been water.
The woman stared out at the desolate landscape. Where the ocean had been–for she wasn’t sure she could call it the ocean anymore–looked to be crashing waves of ink. It was, in fact, oil–swirling in a malicious midnight that carried along its very own version of stars: plastics. Bottle caps, straws, plastic grocery bags, balloons. Fishing line connected those stars into their own, man-made constellations–ones that stood only for destruction and despair. You could hardly see the sky most nights anyway, either because of the light pollution that had dragged hundreds of sea turtles to their deaths (“Information About Sea Turtles: Threats from Artificial Lighting”), or because of the dark clouds of air pollution looming across the planet. Tears welled in the woman’s eyes. These would be the only stars these children–her students–would ever see on this miserable planet, robbed of its once glorious beauty by a single race.
The woman tore her eyes away from the heartbreaking scene only to set her sights on another–the boy she had given the picture to, Walter. He looked from the picture of the pristine shoreline of her childhood to the wasteland of his own. A wasteland he had hardly contributed to yet was his to claim to his memories. Tears raced down his pale cheeks. It was obvious that his heart was crushed.
The woman began to cry.
She cried for the children who reminded her of her childhood self, for the beginning of the human race, the destruction it caused, and for the end. She cried for today, tomorrow, the present, the future. But most of all, she cried for the past. How she had known the truth but never spread it, never until now.
The woman walked over to Walter and placed a shaking hand on his shoulder. He looked up into her sad eyes, his face stricken with worry and sorrow.
“Truth comes with a price,” she whispered, melancholy leaking through her soft words. “But ignorance comes with a bigger one.” She watched as the despair on the boy’s face hardened into determination, as his lost hope boiled into anger. And through the torrent of tears, she smiled. “All you have to do is spread the truth.”
The boy looked straight into the woman’s eyes, so deep it almost scared her. He said, “I will.”
“Algal Bloom.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 26 May 2017. Web. 19 June 2017.
“Information About Sea Turtles: Threats from Artificial Lighting.” Sea Turtle Conservancy. Sea Turtle Conservancy, n.d. Web. 19 June 2017.
LaGrave, Katherine. “The 25 Best Coastal Cities in the World.” Condé Nast Traveler. Condé Nast Traveler, 24 June 2016. Web. 19 June 2017.
“One billion people depend on seafood as their primary protein source.” Small Planet Institute. Small Planet Institute, 27 May 2015*. Web. 19 June 2017.
“Phytoplankton.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 14 June 2017. Web. 19 June 2017.
Ward, Peter. Peter Ward: A theory of Earth’s mass extinctions | TED Talk | TED.com. TED, Feb. Web. 19 June 2017.
One of the largest issues I addressed in my entry is how many people are simply unaware of the consequences of our actions regarding ocean pollution. If we are to fix the problems we have created and “heal” the oceans, so to speak, each person who knows the circumstances the oceans are faced with has the responsibility to spread the word and educate those who are unaware. In addition, many people do not fully realize that if the ocean dies, the human race–along with the rest of the planet–also dies. The human race has the opportunity to make a positive difference for the oceans and the planet. No matter what age we are or who we are, each person has the capability to make a difference.