A Creative Vision of the Future Beyond 2050: ‘Through the Looking-Glass’

Sliding my hands across the cool glass windows, I stared out into turquoise waves that crashed against the rocks like a silent explosion. The same blinding sunlight that made the ocean glitter poured through the windows and warmed my bare shoulders. I closed my eyes for a second, imagining what it would be like to be on the ground; dipping my toes in the cold sea, tangling my hair in the same salty air that would fill my lungs, hearing the calls of the sea gulls that circled the ocean, and, at last, the sound of the explosion when the waves collided with the rocks.

I carried these smells and sounds with me as I turned my back on the window and faced reality. The only smell here was of chlorine and plastic, and the room was silent except for the tapping on keyboards as people stared soullessly at the screens in front of them. The walls were a bright, clean white with no paintings or decorations to adorn them, just large, glass windows that looked over a world we could never enter. It seemed that I was alone in feeling trapped here, in this enormous glass city, where everything and everyone looked the same. History class taught us of a world with different cultures and tribes, clashing personalities and unique styles. Fashion magazines from hundreds of years in the past spoke of dazzling colour and daring statements. Old photographs showed careless laughter and unashamed romance. It was all such a far cry from the world we had built for ourselves, The Looking-Glass, the whole world in a city. They said we were lucky to be here, we were chosen, we were the survivors. But, it would appear that survival had cost us our freedom and our individuality.

It was said to be paradise on earth. The whole world united in one place where race, sex, orientation, age or ability did not matter. Those things seemed unimportant after all, when you were the few remaining survivors of a world-wide nuclear war. The air outside was poisoned with radiation causing death, disease and deformation and they needed to stick together to survive. And thus, The Looking-Glass was built. A glass skyscraper to house the remaining population of the world, with enough facilities that we would never need to go outside again; at least, not until it is safe. One hundred years later, I stand here at the top of the tower, staring out at an ocean, untouched for over a century, and surrounded by mindless people with no desire to test the waters, I am unable to decide whether the founders of The Looking-Glass would be proud or disappointed in what we have become.

Unable to bear the silence of this room any longer, I slipped quietly away and into the glass elevator that travelled through The Looking-Glass, carrying it inhabitants between the different facilities it offered. The elevator glided silently and effortlessly down the building, past the offices, shops, gym, pool and houses, finally falling into place at my stop: the library.

The library is the only place I can stand to be in this city. The only place that has not forgotten the beautiful things that once existed on this planet. My headaches melted as I trailed my fingers across the spine of a book and quickly tossed a glance in the direction of the librarian. Like everyone else in this city, she was distracted from reality, staring expressionless at the screen of her computer. I smiled and tip toed past her, down the spiralling staircase and into the depths of the library’s hidden treasure: the restricted section.

I had discovered it a few months ago… whilst sitting at a desk reading, a loud shout had echoed through the otherwise silent library, forcing my head out of my book. The librarian had rushed past me pulling on the arm of a boy and scolding him crossly. It was unusual to see somebody so animated, and interacting so passionately with another person, when you are used to perfect silence and the dull expressions of people glued to a screen. I recognised the boy immediately. Everyone in my class at school knew his name: James Rivers.

He was known for spending a year in prison. No one knew what he did to end up there, but since he had been released, he sat alone at the back of the classroom, scowling. I had caught his eye once or twice and seen the fire in his eyes. I knew he was not like the others. That day when I saw the librarian pulling him out of the library I was burned by his eyes once more, and I knew I had to satisfy my curiosity. Waiting until she had pulled him out of sight, I slipped away from my desk and wandered in the direction they had come from until I found what had made her so angry. The restricted section. Unlike the clean, tidy shelves and shiny covers of the books in the library, this hidden room was filled with piles and piles of torn and dusty books, newspapers, magazines, photographs, notebooks – each one an original copy rescued from the world that existed before us. The whole room was filled with secrets that burst with colour in a black and white world. Instantly, I was hooked.

And sometimes, when I would sneak down here to read, James would be sitting in the corner, his face buried in a newspaper. We would smile knowingly at each other and read together in comfortable silence, never speaking of our shared secret.

On this day, I picked a small, battered journal out of a forgotten cardboard box in the corner of the room. The handwritten print on the cover read: My Adventures in Wonderland. The Secret Diary of Alice Willows, aged 14 and a half. Intrigued by the adventures of this girl who shared my name, I settled into my favourite spot and turned the first page.

*

‘Alice?’

A husky voice jolted me cruelly back into reality. I looked up to see James standing over me, concern etched into his usually stony face. I realised then that I was crying and quickly hid my face in shame as I rubbed at my eyes.

‘Alice, are you okay?’

I opened my mouth to answer and quickly realised this was the first time we had actually spoken. My mouth became dry and I held up the diary I was reading in response. He knelt down beside me, gently taking it out of my hands and flicking through the pages.

‘The girl living in the tunnels. I love this one.’ He smiled. ‘Why did it make you cry?’

‘That girl. She’s just like me.’

‘Her name?’

‘No… her. All she wants is to escape. And she finally does and it’s not only everything she dreamed of, it’s more.

‘So you’re crying because you’re happy?’

‘No. I’m crying because that will never happen to me.’

We sat in silence for a few moments. I was painfully aware of how close he sat to me, how his long hair needed brushing, how he smelt like vanilla. I was also conscious of my red, blotchy face and rubbed at it violently.

‘I want to tell you something, Alice.’ He said, after a few minutes. ‘I wasn’t meant to tell anybody why I went to prison – it was part of the conditions for my release. But I already share my secret place with you. Why not this too?’

I stared up at him, forgetting my tear-stained face. I had longed to know why he had been sent away.

‘I went outside.’

Appalled, my mouth dropped open in shock. ‘What?! But the radiation? How?’

He laughed. ‘That’s what everyone else said when they found out, the police, my parents. Oh James, the radiation, oh James, you could have died. But I didn’t… I tried to tell them… but they wouldn’t listen. Just sent me away to make sure I would keep my mouth shut.’ The fire in his eyes that had first drawn me to him shone brightly then, brighter than ever before. A million questions swarmed my mind but when I opened my mouth, only one would spill out: ‘Will you show me?’

*

Once again, I looked out over the ocean, this time in the darkness of the night. The moon shone brightly above The Looking-Glass, reflecting in the calm sapphire waves. The room was silent, as before, but this time eerily so. Not the dull, unsociable silence of people glued to their computers or phones, but real, dead silence. I was alone. I pressed my hand against the glass and closed my eyes, dreaming of all that James had told me, how he stumbled on a tree branch, how he kicked stones into the sea. I leant my forehead against the glass. I was so close.

I jumped back, startled, as someone placed a firm hand on my shoulder. As I turned to face him, James’ face was almost blue in the moonlight that shone through the window.

‘Are you ready?’

I grinned like a fool as I nodded, and I trembled with excitement as he took my hand and lead me toward the glass elevator. Silently we flew down through the sleeping city. We were in complete darkness, but every now and again, when the light from the moon would find a way in, I would catch him staring at me, an unstoppable smile spread across his face that matched my own. Finally, we reached the ground floor.

The ground floor of The Looking-Glass was only used for maintenance and power, and there was rarely anyone there. Unlike the silence of the rest of the building, the purr of the machinery echoed through the entire ground floor, deafening us as we tiptoed past. James hurried ahead of me and knelt behind a machine, only to emerge with two large backpacks. He handed one to me and my arm dropped with the weight of it.

‘Are you okay?’

‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ I smiled, slinging it onto my shoulders. ‘Come on, let’s get out of here.’

He grinned and grabbed my hand once more, pulling me through the maze of machines. Finally, after what felt like hours, we reached a door.

‘That’s it? A door? That’s the only thing stopping us from leaving?’

‘Well you can’t just walk out.’ He pulled a metal crowbar from his own backpack and took a deep breath before forcing it into the side of the door. I saw his arms shake and he bared his teeth as he pushed down on it. With a crack, the lock on the door gave way and it swung open.

‘Do you want to go first?’ He looked at me expectantly, wiping sweat off of his forehead. I stared back, speechless. Outside the door was a stony path that lead out to the unknown. All I could see in the distance was the beautiful night sky filled with dazzling shining stars. I took a step forward… and stopped myself.

‘What is it?’

‘The radiation’, I murmured, ‘are you sure…?’ James grabbed me by the shoulders, spinning me around and looking deep into my eyes. I could feel his fiery eyes burn my skin hotter than ever before.

‘I was out here for four hours and didn’t feel a thing. They say that radiation will take effect immediately. But it’s been two years, Alice. I believe the outside is safe now. But if you don’t want to…’

‘No!’ I cut him off immediately. No, I didn’t know this boy, but I knew I could trust him. Nothing would stop me from escaping this glass prison. I turned around, pulling my backpack higher on to my shoulders and stepped out into my new home.

*

The cool night breeze on my shoulders and in my hair was everything I thought it would be and like nothing I could have imagined. The salty ocean air hit my lungs like the waves hit the rocks on the shore, with an explosion that both terrified me and left me in awe and wonder. I ran down to the ocean immediately, slipping on the rocks and seaweed, and stood at the shore, letting the cold waves hit my feet and wash away my doubts. James ran past me, up onto an enormous rock and dived straight into the ocean with an incredible splash. I laughed, the first real laugh I could remember in forever and ran up onto the rocks to join him. Before I jumped, I remembered to take a second to breathe it all in. I watched James floating in the sea on his back, a look of peace spread across his no longer stony face. I looked up at the bright, shining moon and the twinkling stars. I closed my eyes and finally heard the sound of the waves hitting the rocks like an explosion. If being outside would kill us, I thought how small a price that would be to pay to just to experience this, and decided if I should die, at least I should die free.

I opened my eyes, not wanting to miss a single second of this day, the new first day of my life; and I jumped.

How We Live Now: ‘Alice in Wonderland’

20/3/16

the walls are shaking again. the rumbling sound rumbles over us… rumble rumble. i remember being scared of the rumble when I was little. not anymore. the rumbling passes so i pull my blanket over my head until i am cloaked in darkness and then i click on my torch.

the tiny flickering light scans over the words:

a broken power window can be an expensive repair, but if you have basic auto repair tools and access to an online service manual you can fix it yourself and save big bucks.

i have read this car repair manual 118 times. it is one of 3 books that we own. the other one is a leaflet on how to quit smoking and the other other one is a dictionary. they are not good books; they have no pictures and no characters or conversations. but I like to read. and even more than that, i like to write. i hide under my blanket (i have to when i read and write, otherwise everyone will make fun of me) and i write poems and i write in my diary and most importantly, i write stories. i sometimes write about about a girl who escapes out of the tunnels and goes to the world that’s outside.

isn’t she lucky.

in my stories, she climbs out of a hole that she finds in the roof of the tunnels. it takes her such a long time – hours, maybe even days. but when she finally escapes, she is in such a magical world. there are beautiful flowers which can talk to you (sometimes they even tell you off), there are colourful cats with big cheesy grins (and the cats can even go invisible) and there are people there that have tea parties every single day, even if doing so makes them go a bit mad.

i like to live VICARIOUSLY through these stories. (VICARIOUSLY is my favourite word at the moment which i found hiding near the end of the dictionary and so it is all the range in my stories and poems right now) i live VICARIOUSLY through the stories because my dream is to be like the girl in the stories. what i want more than anything in the world… i want to go outside.

squeeeeeak

i lower the blanket very slowly so only my head can be seen poking out. sitting at the end of my bed, a rat stares at me inquisitively. i stare back and i wonder what he is thinking.

‘why alice, you are so big!’

‘well, perhaps you are just small.’ i reply to the little rat. i am a little taken aback at his rudeness. he passes me a small bottle. the label says ‘drink me’.

i suppose if the label says i should…

suddenly i feel a funny feeling. before i know it, the tunnel walls around me are growing larger and larger and larger until suddenly i am no more than the size of… a rat.

i turn to face the rat. you will not be surprised to know that i am quite furious.

‘just who exactly do you think you are, shrinking me down like that?’ i ask him. i do my best to be polite but it is quite hard.

‘well alice, i’m sorry but i do think that you were just obnoxiously big before.’

i am about to lecture the rat on his terrible manners and perhaps give him some advice on proper etiquette when suddenly:

squish

i am whirled back to reality with a gasp as i hear its final squeak and its little bones crack as lorna stomps on it with her trainers. a pool of blood creeped out slowly, slowly, slowly. she lifts her shoe to show parts of his little body stuck to the sole. i look up at her in horror.

she has a cruel and evil grin plastered across her face. she is much older than me but everyone says we look exactly the same; we both have enormous, glowing eyes. the only difference between me and my sister is that she has long brown hair and mine is blonde. she sucks on a cigarette, leaving a red lipstick ring around the end. she coughs and splutters and then flicks it on the ground, kicking it toward me along with the rat guts.

‘why did you do that?’ i ask her, but i secretly hope she doesn’t answer in case i start crying. she just laughs and walks away.

i try to get back under my blanket but now all i can think about is the dead rat lying next to my bed and so i get up and run away, rushing past the little body and making sure i don’t look at it.

‘lorna wait!’ i call out.

‘what is it, i’m busy.’ she doesn’t look very busy at all.

‘did you go outside today?’

lorna rolls her eyes at me and plops down onto a cushion on the floor. ‘so what if i did.’

‘i just want to hear about it.’

she looks at me angrily. ‘alice, you know you can’t go up there until you’re eighteen. get over it.’

‘please just tell me what it’s like.’

she sat forward, her big blue eyes staring soullessly into mine. ‘it’s full of evil people. if you go up there, people will try to lock you away or worse, try to kill you. they lie to you and steal from you. trust me, you’re better off down here.’

‘but no one has ever locked you away or tried to kill you. if it’s so dangerous, why do you always go up there?’

‘alice, you know why we have to go up there, how else are we meant to get food. and people don’t try to kill me because i’m old enough and smart enough to be safe.’

she looks me up and down. ‘you wouldn’t last two minutes.’

‘but what if i was really careful…’

‘alice if you don’t drop it then i’m going to tell dad you were asking about it again.’

upon that threat, i feel myself grow pale. i stop asking immediately and scurry back to my bed, hiding under the covers once more and squeezing my eyes shut as tight as i possibly can so i don’t have to think about the dead rat or my dad or lorna at all, not even a little tiny bit.

 

26/3/16

i have a secret!

you have three guesses.

ok ok fine i will just tell you… i’m going outside! can you believe it?

here’s what happened:

lorna and all the people who are allowed to go outside get there by climbing up a ladder through a hole in the tunnel roof. (i know what you’re thinking. if i wanted to go outside so badly, why didn’t i just sneak out through the hole? well i never could because it is locked shut with an enormous padlock, so please stop interrupting me.) so anyway, when i was looking for biscuits in the food storage the other day i accidentally overheard lorna talking with the boss. the boss is normally the one who looks after the key. he keeps it hidden away in a secret place that no one (and i mean NO ONE) knows about. but then the other day when i was hunting for biscuits i heard him tell lorna where he keeps it.

so… i stole it.

now it is the middle of the night. everyone else is fast asleep and i am packing a bag. i am bringing with me:

my diary and a pen

a jumper

socks

toothbrush

biscuits

bottle of water

i put my bag on my back and silently tiptoe past all the sleeping bodies. as i get further and further away, the tunnel becomes darker and damper. holding my torch in my hand, i shine the light in front of me so i can navigate my way around the puddles in my path ahead. i can hear the scurry of rats somewhere nearby and wonder if they are friends of the one lorna killed. maybe the dead rat’s ghost is even living VICARIOUSLY through his friends. finally, i reach the ladder.

i stare up to the roof of the tunnel. i am so excited, my heart feels like it will break my chest at any moment. i take one last look behind me, hoping to see the sleeping figures of my friends and family, but i am too far away. all i can see is darkness. so before i can talk myself out of it, i start to make my way up the ladder. when i reach the top, i put my torch between my teeth and reach into my pocket for the silver key that will unlock the enormous padlock. click. i can barely contain my excitement and let out an involuntary squeal as i push open the entrance.

it takes a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the light; even though it is night time here, it is still much brighter than i am used to in the tunnels. fearful of being seen, i quickly crawl out of the hole and replace the metal door in the ground before running to hide down the side of a building. i rub my eyes as hard as i can and look around me. slowly the light stops hurting my eyes so i take my chances and walk into the open road. the first glorious thing that catches my eye is a tree. i trail my fingers across the wood and reach up to feel the leaves. i picture it in daytime when the sun is out and imagine how beautiful it would look then. i pull a leaf off of the tree and bring it close, breathing in the bitter smell. this is when i notice the air. i take a deep breath and it feels like my lungs are getting cleaner. i have to clasp tightly onto the tree because of how dizzy it makes me.

suddenly a load roar sends me running out of the road and back into hiding down the side of the buildings. i peek out to see what could have caused the terrible noise and recognise instantly the metal monster that wizzes past me. a car! i dance with glee and rush back out into the road and begin to skip deeper into the city.

there is no one here. it is so late at night, they must all be asleep. i have the whole world to myself.

there are no smiling invisible cats and no flowers that scold me. there are no tea parties hosted by mad people or white rose bushes painted red. but there are smells and colours and flashing lights and metal monsters and there’s a sky with stars and a moon.

and i think that i would rather have the moon.

 

Obsession

Tell me you love me,
I hate you, I do.
Your speech, magniloquent,
as you tell me I’m wrong.
Say it again,
say it slow.
Maybe if you sound it out,
I’ll understand.

Hear me curse you,
helplessly,
hear me scream.
A magician of excuses,
pull them out your sleeve.
But lie there, do nothing
whilst I cry.
Do you like your tower?

Think of me,
once in a blue moon.
Condemn yourself,
just for a day or two.
Hold me tighter at 3am,
kiss me in your sleep.
Tell me you love me,
I love you too.

Alvheid

I always really liked Alvheid.
She had the prettiest hair of all the Norwegians I knew
And the sweetest voice.

Which is how I recognised it screaming one day,
When I rang up my boyfriend to say hello
And upon her muffled cries for help, he said:
‘Now’s not a good time babe, can I call you back?’

Murdering Norwegian girls just wasn’t like him
(Yet at the same time it made perfect sense),
So I decided to go to his house and sort this mess out
Once and for all.

When I walked inside there was blood everywhere.
It dripped from the walls and it went all over my new shirt
When he hugged me and kissed me hello,
‘What a nice surprise to see you here!’

Apart from the blood, which he said was paint,
(Seems legit, right?)
There was no evidence to suggest Alvheid was ever there
So we sat down to breakfast and he asked what I’d done today.

When I told him I had rang him and thought I heard him murdering Alvheid,
His expression turned menacing and his voice low and gruff.
He swapped his cereal for an axe, shouting ‘You better run babe!’

As I ran through the streets, trying to escape
I blamed myself, naturally.
‘Why didn’t I see this coming?’
‘This is so typical of him.’

 

 

Sam’s Pyjamas

The first time I saw them, they were folded neatly by the door, concealed in plastic
Thick jumpers, heavy eyelids and clouds of smoke keeping us warm.
He wore them for the first time, sliding his legs apart and staring boldly into space
They took it in turns to beat him up and he wiped the blood on his trousers

The next time I saw them they were crumpled on his floor at his grungy little flat.
The walls were mouldy and it smelt like smoke and old food.
We stubbed out cigarettes on plates of food and sat in silence
They slid tabs under their lips whilst I slid into the pyjamas

I wore them sprawled out in the mud, clutching a bottle of wine
I wore them curled up in somebody else’s bed, tears threatening me
I wore them when I clawed at your skin and told you how much I love you
I wore them, Sam’s muddy, bloody, pyjamas.

Sitting next to Casey Collins

The clinking of wine glasses echoing miserably in the air
Restaurant noises that will ring in my ears long after you’re gone
Red lipstick stained teeth gasping to be released from their chapped lip prisons
I hold on for dear life to the hand underneath my table
Although, I’m not really sure whose it is anymore.

Finally the waiter arrives, placing down plates of human flesh
Rubbery skin with pimples and pores stares up at me
The sockets and nostrils and mouth have been stuffed with basil
But the eyebrows haven’t even been removed!
The hand under the table lets go to pour sugar on his face like a pancake.

Casey turns to me and whispers, oh so gently,
‘Are you going to eat that?’