Writing Competition 2nd Place: Rixt van der Giessen

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

We present the second place submission to the Writing Competition: a creative yet sombre piece with the future in mind by Rixt van der Giessen...


Living Above the Clouds

The sudden slam of my bedroom door travels over me in waves. My body wakes up, but my mind falls behind the threshold of consciousness; trying to hold on to the tranquil warmth and silence my bed had provided me. My mother begins to yap my head off, I pick up a few fragments: “Mornin’ Lia… you’ve got to…busy…. come on.” The comforting hug that my duvet had given me is lifted off. Goosebumps spring up as the cold crisp air wraps around my body, and pierces through my pajamas.

“Today is lift off day!” The bolded title of today’s cover page story, projected on my eye lens, confronts me the moment my eyelids flicker open. The first sun rays have started to bend around my curtain, creating a halo of light and giving my bedroom a soft glow. Through the haze of my eyes, I see my mum disappear around the corner into the hallway. My bed creaks as I roll over onto my other side, pulling the blanket up to surround my body again, trying to savour the last peaceful moments in bed. There is always a fleeting moment after waking up when I am content, but it evaporates faster than my sweat while exposed to the aching sun. The global house arrest is one of those concepts you forget but then it boomerangs back into your awareness faster than it left. Implemented after the air became so polluted that it was leading to premature deaths for a quarter of the population and making outside a death zone. We have ourselves to thank though, the consumerism of society became so hyper and our greed for wealth so inane that we allowed ourselves to trash the air and exploit the earth past our own health tolerance. Although my head feels heavy with thought, I roll out of bed and scramble to the window to open the curtains. Blinded by the intense light, I spin around and shuffle off to make a start to the day that will change my life forever.

Clean and clothed, I make my way downstairs into the kitchen. Over the kitchen counter, I watch my mother is busy placing the last few bottles of pills in the boxes, ready to be moved. I grab a glass off the counter, fill it to the top with water and watch my breakfast pill fizz up and dissolve. All the minerals, vitamins, and nutrients needed in a day, bundled in a small capsule. I hear that my brother is also up and tramping down the stairs. We have half an hour before everything we want to take with us has to be packed up and downstairs. ‘Lift off day’ came faster than I anticipated, it always seemed like an idea just out of grasp, not fully comprehensible either. The idea behind these helicopter houses is for us to start a new life above the clouds. One in which we understand all the reactions of our actions. It is supposedly an increase in our living standards, yet I find myself questioning this claim. Moving from a naturally created sphere, which is perfectly distanced from the sun with a neat protective layer that allows for life, to a human developed cage in the middle of the sky. Just the thought of it gives me claustrophobic tendencies. Even so, it is a necessary measure, considering that the climate conditions were becoming and are continuing to become more and more extreme. Natural disasters such as droughts, floods and heatwaves have the potential to destroy our cities and towns and can create unimaginably harsh living conditions. Living above the weather zone seemed to be the only viable option left.

Ready with our bags and the boxes at the door, I see the bus roll onto our front door step through the kitchen window. The air sealed suit is tight around my arms and standing up from the depth of the soft couch makes me feel like an old lady. While walking towards my helmet, the soles of my unworn boots makes a high-pitched squeak when rubbed against the floor tiles. Once my helmet is on, I am fully protected for all the micro-bugs and fungi spores that are attached to air particles in the atmosphere. The bus looked new, yet with every bounce of the bus’s suspension, a sharp pain lanced through my sit bones. Everyone around me feels on edge, all itching for the destination that will eventually come. The bus runs over the tarmac road so fast that the passing buildings are a blur. I try to implant the image into my memory, so I can look back. This will be the last time I ride through the deteriorating industrialized landscape. The State could have avoided this nightmare. Instead of viewing climate policies as rough guidelines, the politicians should have foregrounded the importance and seriousness of the policies. Now, we live in the consequences: a world so on the edge of tipping to the ultimate destruction that the subtlest action could create extreme droughts and yet flooding elsewhere. We have learned by now that the world is connected through intricate, tentacular networks and we are not knowledgeable enough to decipher this web. We saw this when trying to fertilise the oceans with iron. Thinking that the ocean would simply start absorbing more carbon without change was new level of naivety and optimism this world had experienced. The iron turning the oceans greener, led to more absorption of heat, increasing the pace that the ice caps melted. Flooding a lot of pacific islands and later on also, creating a major refugee problem. It was theorised that it wouldn’t lead to this as the plankton would release chemicals that would create an albedo effect, but it seemed that didn’t work as effectively as hoped. An attempt of geo-engineers trying to play God with the climate gone to shit. I wonder at what moment in time this mind-set of separation between humans and nature emerged. The moments are egos became so inflated we felt influential enough to ignore all warnings and think that our societal systems would eventually make the hype around climate change a witty memory.

Hopping of the bus, inside the terminal, I could see it was overflowing with people. It was like a stream of heads moving in an unseen current, flowing like a river to its ultimate destination: the ocean. Small riptides forming in the middle when small groups would suddenly stop, but everyone ended up flowing around the sides. Some have their heads up high, while others look down, encompassed by their own thoughts. Each of them viewing this same place, this same day, from a unique perspective. I’m wadding through the crowd of people following my dad as he directs us to our gate. As soon as we arrive at the gate, our name is called to come forward. The woman who called us is dressed in a light grey dress suit with her long blonde hair tied in a high pony tail, she greets us and then directs us past the desk, into the long, empty hallway. Our fast footsteps echo between the walls of the boarding bridge. My legs are having a hard time to keep up. I am tempted to walk slower as I am in no rush to get to the end of the tunnel. But even if I would’ve wanted to go through with it, it is already too late because I see the lady in front of us slow down. I watch her turn around next to a door that has our last name elegantly written on it.

Walking through the doors of my new home I feel a thin veil of tears glaze my eyes. The muscles of my chin tremble like a small child and I close my eyes, as if the darkness could soothe me. But, all of the memories are already balled up in my chest,the weight of them pushing down on me, sinking my feet further into the ground. The feeling I have tried so desperately to supress has bubbled its way to the surface. It is a heaving wave of a disturbing reality that has arrived uninvited; we are leaving the earth. I collapsed to my knees and the tears start rolling down my cheeks and through my fingers. It is the kind of sobbing that only comes from a person drained of all hope, which I am. It is unbelievable to imagine that a species can be so greedy that it leads to the destruction of the environment that allowed us to evolve and thrive. The saying would be: a sequence of events so ‘out of this world’, ironically it is perhaps a sequence of events very qualified for this world when a species like humans overpower it. I feel my mums hand slide around my waist and embrace my shaking body. She nestles her chin on my shoulder and holds me tight. I softly hear her whisper, “Think about the excitement of what is about to come instead of crying for the loss darling, life is for the living, not for remembering.” I know the words are supposed to comfort me, but instead they light a flame of rage inside me. How dare she think that forgetting is an option. We have to remember in order to learn and accept the true disgrace of ourselves. I suddenly have the need to be alone.

Respect; a word that has lost its meaning to our society. Perhaps not its meaning, but definitely its importance. When I was still young, I was so naïve to how vile humans could be. Blinded by my own importance to realise the world around me. You may think that is a trait of a child, but as I learn more about our species’ history, the more I recognize this ignorance in every individual of any age of any time period. The capitalists of the world couldn’t resist continuing to exploit the earth for their own capital gain and consumers couldn’t find another way to create their own happiness. I’ve read fiction books about the adventures of lemurs swinging on vines in Madagascar’s rainforest, stories about stormy nights at sea and tales about exploring the cultures of the world. Yet, here I sit, ascending to my new, floating, metallic helicopter house, viewing through the window, the familiar natural wonder tens of kilometres below, knowing that I will never know the Earth in its natural state, except from the tales that are told. One thing I am sure of is that I will always continue to hold on to the few memories I still have to keep the lifeless earth alive in my mind.