13 Ways of Looking at Climate Change: Runner-Up Story
This summer, EVENT Magazine partnered with the Faculty of Language, Literature, and Performing Arts at Douglas College in 13 Ways of Looking at Climate Change—a showcase of student-driven interdisciplinary art and discourse as a response to climate change. One aspect of the showcase was a writing contest open to all students at Douglas College.
Congratulations to Emma Schulmeister on her runner-up story, “A Hole in the Wall.”
A Hole in the Wall
“Megan,” whispered Brook, into the darkness of his sister’s room.
Megan scrambled awake, eyes narrowing as they set on him. “Why?”
“I need to talk to you.”
“Get out of my room, idiot.”
“You were out last night, so I didn’t have time to ask… Did you notice anything weird about dad yesterday?”
Megan tossed back her hair. “This is what you woke me up for?”
“Yesterday he was acting strange.” Brook took a cautionary step forward. Megan was like a cat. If he got close enough, she would pounce, and it would hurt. “He kept asking me questions.”
Megan leaned towards him. “Questions about what?”
“Like … me. My life. What I was doing.”
“He never understands what you’re doing,” said Megan, snatching her phone from the floor and turning it on. “Doesn’t sound strange to me.” Her eyes lit up at something on the screen.
“But …” Her attention was dwindling. “He never cares, you know? Not enough to ask.”
“You know who also doesn’t care?” asked Megan, her eyes dull. “Me. Get out of my room.”
His parents were at the bottom of the stairs.
The last time Brook saw that was three years ago, on Thanksgiving. The extended family had been about to visit, and Clara and David had been screaming at each other.
“What’s going on?” asked Brook, his voice as small as it always was with David. David, his father, was a big, red-bearded man. He liked meat and football and leather couches, and he liked men who also liked these things, which meant he didn’t really like Brook.
Megan was out of her room and smiling. Two more anomalies.
“We made breakfast,” said Clara, his mother. Her voice soft and unfamiliar. Brook wasn’t sure exactly how to describe Clara normally, because she was usually either at work or sleeping, but it certainly wouldn’t be like this.
They ate together, around a table. About halfway through Brook realized that all the lights in the house had been shut off, and the curtains had been pushed open, letting the spring air sink into the house’s chilly walls. David leaned into a ray of sun and closed his eyes, the hard lines etched into his face becoming smooth.
His family was possessed by trees. Brook figured it out shortly after a kind one had taken over Megan.
It happened to his friends, and his teachers, too. There was news that the construction workers doing the new power plant weren’t showing up to work, and then there wasn’t any news at all. One by one, they changed, from the people they once were to something completely different, wearing their old faces.
Yesterday, Tree Megan had decided they should start drinking rainwater, so Tree Clara, obsessed with spending time together, gathered them in the family room, and served them the water in their finest crystal. Together, they drank.
And choked. The liquid burned down Brook’s throat. The trees reacted the same way, though Tree David was by far the worst. He’d taken a big swallow of it, like how Old David would chug his beer on the couch downstairs.
The trees were sick, and not from the water, but since the moment they took over. Brook noticed it in the first few days. Their complexions were pale, their lips chapped and their eyes dull. Brook couldn’t sleep anymore, from the thundering of Tree David’s pacing.
The acid rain did not help. The next day, they had resorted back to their tap water and the family was devastated.
He was fine, Brook told himself. It didn’t matter if his family was possessed by trees. This was completely fine.
There was a thin layer of frost covering Brook’s desk in the morning. He stared at it for a moment, wondering if he was still dreaming.
Brook almost tripped on the bottom of the stairs when he found the origin. The house was flooded with light, the family basking in it, a pile on the couch. In the center of the living room wall, larger than a doorframe, was a jagged, gaping hole. On the ground was David’s toolbox and a sledgehammer.
Tree Megan gave him a sympathetic look. “It’s a bit chilly, isn’t it?”
“A bit chilly? Yes, it is a bit chilly, Megan. There’s a hole in the wall.”
“Please don’t speak to your sister that way,” said Tree David.
And that was it. “She’s not my sister! And you’re not my dad! If she was my sister, and you were my dad, you’d let me talk to her however I wanted, because that’s how she’s always talked to me, and you’ve never said a single thing!” He was crying now, crying and waiting for Old David to come back and tell him how disappointed he was that his son was a sissy.
Tree Megan approached him, wrapping him into a frail hug. Her arms felt like they would snap if he returned the gesture.
“You’re dying, aren’t you?” Brook whispered.
They didn’t answer, and after a moment Brook sighed, and sat with them.
“You did this for the sunlight?” said Brook, staring at the hole.
“Yes,” said Tree David.
“Sunlight is different than your old lights,” said Tree Clara. “Sunlight feels better.”
“And your lights will kill us,” said Tree David. “At least the electricity will.”
“Is that why you’re here?” asked Brook, snuggling closer to his mother, feeling like he was small and young again. His eyes drifted shut. “To bring us back to the light?”
“Things are getting bad, too fast,” said Megan. “We can only try.” She collapsed in a fit of coughing.
Brook hoped they had come in time.
Sometimes it felt as though all the trees did was talk. His house was a cacophony these days. Tree Clara told him that having a voice was a human’s greatest strength. But now they were silent. Before, Brook’s house was often silent, save for Old David’s lecturing and Old Megan’s voice on the phone. Brook associated silence with being alone, but it was never like this. This silence warmed Brook from the inside.
He was used to Tree David’s night pacing now, but not the entire family’s. Brooke woke up to the sound of boots hitting the floor.
He found his family moving as fast as their weakened bodies allowed. Tree Clara was tying her shoelaces, the rest of the family waiting on her with grave faces. They startled at the sight of Brook.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Go back to bed, Brook,” said Tree Clara.
He tried to keep his tone light, hoping it would bypass some of the tension in the room. “Trying to watch the sun rise without me?”
“Go back to bed,” she repeated, voice dark.
They argued back and forth, the panic in Brook’s chest rising, until Tree Megan interjected.
“We don’t have time for this,” she said.
They walked down the street of the neighborhood, a line of four. At first, they were alone. Then another family emerged from their house, then another. By the time Brook felt like he was going crazy with apprehension, there was a parade on the street.
Their destination was obvious now. Hundreds of people had gathered around a construction zone. It was the city’s half-built power plant, a mess of cones and yellow tape and cement. The foundation was finished, but little else.
Surrounding the foundation were hundreds of stumps, from the forest they had destroyed to start this monstrosity. Brook remembered the vote for the forest’s destruction two years ago, and desperately begging his family to vote against it. Old David had refused, Old Clara had been absent, and Old Megan just hadn’t cared.
Tree David shoved Brook backwards. “If you insist on staying,” he said firmly, “you must watch.”
The people made a large circle around the lot, and after everyone was in their places, they joined hands. Tree David turned his back to Brook and joined the circle, connecting to the people on his sides.
In a moment, the trees stopped speaking, and silence filled the air. There was no one left in the city to make noise. They were here, joining the circle. It was a protest.
Brook waited, his breathing loud.
The circle began to glow, its inhabitants pulsating with a light. The people stretched, their arms elongating and twisting into the sky, their torsos thickening, their feet sinking through the earth into the ground.
Brook watched his family’s face morph into brown tree bark, and leaves spring from their fingers. Knots twisted into limbs as they grew. He watched until there were no more people left. He watched until the power plant was surrounded by strong, thick trees, their branches intertwined. He watched as his family materialized once more, his old family, his old teachers, and his old friends.
They stared at the cage of timber surrounding the power plant in perplexity. They didn’t know what had happened, but they knew what it meant.
Emma Schulmeister is a writer from Port Coquitlam, forever searching for gluten free waffles.