Chapter One

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I knew we were going to die.

The looks on the teacher's faces. The hot sun on my bare shoulders as I walked in through the school doors that morning. How it seemed like there wasn't enough air to breathe as I was barely able to even mount the stairs to get to class.

The world was dying.

I could see it in every single face I passed, too.

It'd been this way for a while already, with the oxygen running out as plants died, global warming reaching a new scale. Overpopulation had set off the chain reaction leading us all to our inevitable death. There hadn't been enough room left for everyone and the only solution was to destroy more wildlife. That's exactly what we did.

And in the end, we had too much room.

But now, sitting in a sweltering classroom trying to suck in another breath, then another, and another...all I could focus on was the air. All I could see was  the scorched ground outside the window as the sun beat down through the glass and onto my hair.

I focused my attention back on the teacher.

She was talking about something of great importance...our future? What job we were going to have? I couldn't tell. My mind was finding it difficult to concentrate on her words and put them together to understand her sentences. I just wanted to close my eyes and sleep. 

It was so hot and my stomach rumbled...it would be so nice to fall asleep right now.

Except I couldn't. I recognized this feeling so well after all of the years I'd already been living in this broken world. My parents had only ever survived in their deteriorating environment by always pushing through and fighting whenever things seemed to get too difficult. They nailed their beliefs into my head. When things get hard, you keep going. There's no surrender. And as the world outside became harder and harder to deal with, that phrase was spoken more often.

But now, it was just my mom and I. It used to be my dad too, a strong family of three, ready to take on the world and its attempts to destroy the human race. He didn't die - he actually left to see what he could do to help. The government had put out a notice to everyone, asking for volunteers. They needed people to work on producing new plants that could withstand the harsh environment of our world. My parents had disputed it for a while, which one of them should leave. They both wanted to. They wanted to do anything they could to help, but they knew that one of them would have to stay behind for me, their small daughter of just ten years who still was being force fed hope that her education would end up meaning something. But even back then, six years ago, I knew that I probably wouldn't make it past twenty.

My mom was a teacher at the local preschool, and that was what ended up settling the argument. They needed her here. My dad packed up his things and, late at night, he left. That was the last time I'd seen him.

Since then, not much had changed -- things had only gotten worse. The heat had become nearly unbearable that most people just didn't bother anymore. There was little water, little food, and little of anything to keep us living very long.

Sometimes, I felt like an animal in a zoo where the zoo keeper had given up on caring for our exhibit.

"Hey, Tara. Psst....," a voice whispered directly into my ear. The person was so close I could feel every hot, difficult breath against my neck.

I turned my head around to face the boy that was sitting behind me. It was Harris, pretty much the only friend I had in our grade. "Yea...?" I mouthed back in his direction, wondering what he would say next. He was the type of person to make stupid jokes in bad situations just to try and cheer people up. I was more anxious today than usual because of the atmosphere, and especially glad that he sat behind me. 

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