Each holding a large wooden bucket, thousands of people are waiting in line, some waiting for hours, some waiting for days. The weak ones—those who could not endure thirst, hunger, and heat— lie on the hot dry soil.
An old man begs, repeating “more, more,” and of course, no one looks. It had not taken long for thirst to drive them to their present state — only a year has passed since the drought took over.
A woman, possibly in her mid thirties, walks up to the guards with relief as her turn comes. One of the guards opens his mouth, and as soon as his words reach the woman, her delighted face disappears. The water ran out. The woman tries arguing, protesting, and even tries to climb the enormous water tank in vain. She looks around to ask for help, but she soon realizes that she is the only one protesting. The rest had either left or turned away.
Devastated, the woman walks. She prays and prays, not knowing who to pray to, as she heads home. As she walks, she thinks of tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, the day after that, and so on. She wonders what to tell her children, what to do if she can’t get water, what to do if her own children die like everyone else’s. Distracted by her thoughts, she almost trips and steps on someone. She stares at the body in front of her feet. Her eyes fix on a small glass bottle right next to it.
As if she had forgotten who she was and why she had waited for days to get a single bucket of water, the woman snatches the bottle and gulps down water. It’s only after the small bottle is empty that the woman becomes conscious again. She is satiated but only for a moment until she recognizes what she had done. The woman collapses next to the unconscious body, thinking of her children.
The woman did not give up hope like all the others did. She walked hours to get a bucket of water; she waited days; even after all the water had gone, she was determined to save her children, even at the cost of her own life. Her exhausted mind always had a spare space for hope. But a single act, in seconds, destroyed the women. She could not stand the fact that she had thought herself before her children. It was not merely a problem of moral; it was a problem of her own existence.
The woman gets back to her feet, and the only thing she sees now is the dim light of stars shining through the pitch black night.
Clutching the empty bottle, the woman looks up to the sky and imagines a world without thirst or hunger.
A woman walks to the corner and picks up a bottle of water. She examines the price which reads $1.25. She then turns to the organic produce aisle and picks up a bag of mini carrots. To the right, she picks up two juicy tomatoes. To the left, she examines the big pile of romaine and eventually picks up one head of lettuce. She remembers the leftover thousand island dressing in the fridge she got a week ago, so she checks out. As she leaves, she drinks one third of the water. Humming leisurely, she starts her car and waits for the red to turn green. She drives home, where her son is waiting.
“I’m home! I got some carrots for you.”
“Mom, can I please go to Mike’s today? We’re working on a school project.”
“Okay, but you have to come back before dinner.”
After her son leaves, the woman goes outside to turn on the sprinklers. Green grass surrounds her house and the one next door, connecting the whole town. The smell of fresh dirt and freshly cut grass hits her.
She walks toward the garden, full of liveliness: she spots a squirming small, green line on one of the leaves and looks closer, smiling as she realizes it’s a small caterpillar. She darts her eyes on to the small dandelion growing next to her garden. It is small, and the flowers are not fully bloomed. But the small white petals are enough to make the woman smile even more.
As she stands up to head back to the kitchen, she spots some small specks of dry grass, and the woman turns on the sprinklers, planning to turn them off after getting dinner ready. But because she drove her son to his friend’s and because she talked to her mother on the phone and because she felt tired and dozed off for a few minutes, it is not until late at night when she finally remembers to turn the sprinklers off.
“…and the UN has claimed that one third of the population will die of a shortage of water in 100 years…”
“Daisy, turn off the TV. You’re going to wake him.”
David hadn’t slept well for days. The sleep machine he used was creaking and it needs to be fixed.
“I knew I shouldn’t have bought that sleep machine from the cranky robot…”
“We had no choice. We can’t sleep without a sleep machine.”
“Your grandma used to live in a world with no sleep machines, and-”
“Dad, you have already told me that a hundred times. I’m going to go to the store to get VGH-283 fixed. Signal me when David wakes up.”
“Okay, be careful.”
Daisy leaves the house, wrapping her whole body with clothes to keep it from touching the air. As she sees the bare land with almost nothing on it, she searches for any sign of green. There is none. She looks back at her house made out of old container boxes. How long has it been since she saw something living other than her dad and David? Daisy can’t remember.
The war happened when she was four. The only things she recalls are the screams of people and her mother’s death.
She thinks about the news she saw that morning. She thinks the water shortage is a minor thing now, considering the vast amount of radioactivity after the war. It is not easy for her to imagine a world dying from a lack of water; it’s already dead. It is true that water supplies have gotten harder to get, but… As always, someone will come up with a solution, right?
“Hello, Daisy. H-h-how can I help you?”
“I want to fix VGH-283 and get 5 bottles of water.”
“I will s-s-send a robot to fix VGH-283. I am sorry, b-but the water ran out this m-m-morning. I will send a signal to you when it is back in stock.”
“Thanks, and make sure 283 doesn’t creak again. David couldn’t sleep well for days.”
“I will make sure of that. T-t-t-thank you for stopping b-b-by.”
Daisy leaves the shop, after the robot thanks her in an eerie falsetto. That cranky old robot, she thinks. It was very lucky for her family to find the almost-broken-down shop after wandering for weeks, escaping from the war. Whenever she visits the shop and talks with the robot, she feels several emotions stirring inside her. Mostly sympathy since they’re both trapped in a world without hope.
As she heads home, Daisy still feels irritated that she couldn’t get more water. But there is something else in her other than irritation. It is fear that the news she saw before leaving might be true. She remembers reading a book about the Big Drought that happened two centuries ago. But as usual, her detector rings, signaling that water has just been restocked, and she shakes away the thought.
Dead, hollow bodies lie here and there. The air is eerily quiet, and only the wind seems to occasionally disturb the silence. The soil is split into several chunks with dust floating on top like a veil. Ruins of houses stand with no one inside. The whole area seems to be filled with pure darkness.
No sign of laughter from little kids playing hide and seek, no sign of dogs barking at their frightened neighbors, no sign of men grumbling as their wives yell at them to come home early, no sign of old street lamps flickering with moths surrounding them, no sign of green fields of grass and dandelions. No sign of life.
The Earth is dead. Not because of war, not because of radioactivity, not because of alien invasions, not because of God’s punishment, but because of water shortage.
Seohyun Claire Yoon is a senior at Langley High School and Editor-in-Chief of Kaleidoscope: Literary Magazine. She is a Gold Key recipient of the Scholastic Art & Writing Contest, Finalist of the international Young Writers Award under the Writing For Peace Journal, and has worked as an education content writer under Moosmosis Organization. A believer in trying new things, Seohyun values delving into unique and imaginative categories of literary works including both fiction and nonfiction.