Few things are as exciting as witnessing young people pursue their talents and dreams. And while we still live in a society that is often not supportive of artists, supporters of the arts continue to double down their efforts to change this — and to create opportunities to nurture artistic development in children and teens.
One such opportunity is The Tomorrow Prize, founded by The Lightbringer Project and Omega Sci-Fi Awards. The short science fiction story prize is open to Los Angeles County high school students, and this year’s first-place winner is Angel Bran, a senior at Hollywood High School, whose story “House on Sand,” captivated judges with its narrative power, chilling theme and reminder that in order to save our planet we need to be vigilant now.
In “House on Sand,” Bran combines his long-time passion for creative writing with his more recent fascination with environmental science. His short story attempts to bring to light all the untold elements of climate change and the dangers of ignoring or denying what our planet needs. He hopes to grow his knowledge and join others in becoming an environmental activist. “You build a house on sand and sooner or later it will come tumbling down,” Bran says.
The other finalists for the prize were Amy Cervantes (Port of Los Angeles High School), Tais Cortez (Port of Los Angeles High School), Madison Kay (John Marshall High School) and Luna Prieto (John Marshall High School). On May 22, professional actors performed the students’ stories during an awards ceremony at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena.
L.A. Parent is a proud partner of The Tomorrow Prize, and we are honored to publish the winning story here, as well as an excerpt in our forthcoming print magazine.
HOUSE ON SAND
By Angel Bran
You don’t know this at first, or at least you don’t bother to think about it. You’ve just turned 30, an age not many get to reach — not with the white sun that never leaves, its heat brutal and terrorizing; not with the fires and the brown-spotted plants and dried rivers — and you figure you owe it to yourself to take advantage of the wealth you’ve inherited and finally retire.
You’ve lived a tiring life, after all. You’ve lived with only second best for so long. You’ve forced water-draining and methane-producing beef out of your diet and settled for fish. Your wardrobe of wool, silk and velvet has been mixed with cheap polyester because no one will sell you anything else. And really, you think, it’s only fair that you get to live now with the luxury you deserve.
Your great-grandfather bought an island decades ago, back when there were more islands than could be counted on two hands. It’s one of the few places left above water, and somehow, it’s still buzzing with fauna and flora that have all been signed to your name. It takes developers a few years to build your home. They keep coming back to talk you out of the floor plan you gave them — too many lights, too many bathrooms, too many flat screen TVs — but you’ve never been the kind of man who takes no for an answer. Your home gets built and you can move in, so you do, warnings and complaints from others be damned.
You hire a crew of people to collect, kill and cook your meals from the exotic life the island has to offer. The fruit here is still sweet, the fish still fat, and it takes you no time at all to get used to this life. You spend days tanning in the mild sun and swimming in waters that are brighter than you’ve seen before. Good like this is owed to people like you, men who are brave enough to take what the world declines to give to so many. So you take and keep taking and when you finally notice that the days fit for tanning come few and far between, well, you still have all those TVs.
The weather becomes less amiable, so you stay indoors. You avoid the news — about the earthquake that took out Southern California, the death of the last dolphin, the diseases Arctic ice is returning to humanity — and watch reruns of your favorite movies because all the new releases are hardly any good.
The cooks will whisper forlornly about todays, tomorrows and all of the wasted yesterdays. They wipe their eyes at the words “history” and “humanity,” and you notice the way they look at you but pretend not to. They still do the job you pay them for. That’s all that really matters.
By the time the wet seasons bring storms big enough to blow the electricity, you still haven’t grown any white hairs, which really only means you haven’t been retired long enough. You ask your crew to find a backup generator, which they do. You ask them if they know how to steer a boat, which they also do. They pack food and water for their trip and leave the next day. You watch them ride onto the unkind waters with the promise to return with men you’ll pay to reinstall your comfort, and you ignore the feeling in your stomach that tells you they won’t.
Except they don’t. Two weeks past the date, and you’ve entertained the idea that maybe there are certain things in your life that cost you more than you can afford if you ignore them. The generator has saved the food in your kitchen and your body from the cold, but even you can’t deny that it will only last for so long. The skies have withheld their mercy, and rain continues to pour over the island. The other day, you heard the thunderous crash of ocean waves and falling trees and felt the impact someplace inside yourself. You hid inside the entertainment room, playing music loud enough to hurt and cowardly hoping for the white sun to reach you.
You make it through the wet seasons with shorter showers, shorter meals and shorter hours spent asleep. You’ve lost weight because the shores are murky, the fruit is bland and you never really did learn to cook. But the days soon warm and the skies lighten to a clearer gray, and even if that picturesque blue never does return, there’s nothing to be done about it now.
When you’re brave enough, you venture down to the shores that are closer than you remember and find broken life all along the sand. Weak and colorless shells, thin seaweed and the stinking carcasses of whatever fish hadn’t left with the storms. You avoid the shores after that, but you can’t help but feel every breath you take is somehow contaminated. Your lungs feel shrunken inside your chest, and your body hurts from all your coughing.
The illness overcomes you in the summer. The white sun has finally reached your crumbling Eden, and it burns the little green left until everything is the color of sand, a lifeless beige. You mark your days by the hours you spend awake and the sweat-soaked sheets you’re too weak to change. The haze of your mind tumbles through everything you’d rather not think of. The heat-exhausted countries in North Africa, the drowning cities in Thailand, the suffocating inhabitants of India and, above all, the warnings to which you paid no mind.
By the end of it, you think maybe you’d been wrong. Then you think nothing at all.