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Whiteout

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It’s always cold here. It’s always cold and icy, never green like in the pictures my father shows me of the rest of the world. I wonder sometimes what it would be like to live up there, where the world is green, not like our city in Antarctica.
But we’ve figured out ways to live in this harsh environment. We have ways to make the cold seem warmer, ways to make what little sunlight we have seem brighter, but sometimes I want to see more than white, white, white all day. White snow, white ice, even white on the penguins.
It wasn’t an abnormally freezing day, just mildly cold as I walked home from school that day. I walked briskly and purposefully down the street and stopped at the third house on the left, like I always do. Stomping my boots to get rid of the ice, I let myself in the side door.
My father was sitting at the table, tapping his fingers on the chair, something he does only when he’s arguing. Isaac, my older brother, was pacing back and forth. I had to dodge past him to get through.
“Why can’t you leave well enough alone, like the rest of us?” my father asked him. He’d asked the question many times before, but was never satisfied with the answer.
“Simple,” Isaac answered, “I want to see the rest of the world. I want to see with my own eyes what I’ve only seen pictures of. And I don’t understand why we can’t.”
“Because you almost went to jail the last time you tried to do your ‘exploring’.”

Isaac’s eyes had a strange glint in them, something that I noticed only happened when he thought of the world he wanted to see. “Then why doesn’t anyone tell us why we can’t leave if we want to?”
He had something planned. My father couldn’t tell, but I could.
Feeling he had won the argument, Isaac went upstairs to his room. I followed him.

“Are you planning something?” I asked plainly.
In response, he shut the door. He didn’t even ask if I would tell anyone, if I would give him away. I had never told anyone before and I wasn’t about to start. “I’m leaving.”
“You’re leaving, just to find out why we can’t leave?”
Isaac started pacing. My mother always teased him about, saying that he was going to pace a hole in the floor. “I’m tired of ice.”
“Now you’re really going to get in trouble,” I muttered.
“No,” he said. “I’m going to see the world. The green world. I’m taking a few people with me, but not many.”

I stared wistfully out the window. “You’re really going this time,” I whispered, mostly to myself.

“What?”
We both fell silent as we heard footsteps coming up the stairs. It was essential that nobody else heard us. When I was sure the coast was clear, I asked, “When are you leaving?”
“Tomorrow.”
That soon? I thought. In that moment, I made a decision. I’ve always longed to see the world outside of our city. Here was my chance, staring me right in the face. There was no way I could not go.
“I’m coming with you,” I declared.
Isaac stopped pacing and brushed his light hair back from his face. He sighed. “Well, I would say no, but—”
I cut him off. “It won’t make any difference.”
He nodded, almost as if he had been expecting me to come along. “That’s what I thought.”
“Isaac,” I began thoughtfully, “The teachers, and our parents, show us pictures over and over of all the beautiful things that aren’t in Antarctica. Yet when we try to go there, the police stop us. Why is that?”
“I don’t know.” But when I looked him straight in the eyes, I could tell he was lying. I decided to wait until later to ask him why.
Over the next few hours Isaac filled me in on his plan. I listened carefully the whole time, not wanting to forget a single word. I only interrupted twice: one to ask a question and another to point out a minor flaw in his plan.
I couldn’t sleep that night. It wasn’t that I was scared; Isaac’s plan was solid. I’m probably just excited, I thought, for good reason. Tomorrow would be the adventure of a lifetime. Any doubts I had were pushed away by an overpowering thrill and my always-persistent curiosity. Goodbye, white world.

*
*
*

It was still dark when I woke up to the sound of the wind breaking the icicles off our roof. One by one, they broke with a snap and fell to the ground, shattering with a noise that was nearly musical. It was the last windy morning I would ever wake up to. Well, maybe not. Maybe we’ll go exploring and see the world, then come back and tell everyone about it. Yes, that’s what I’ll do...
Isaac peeked in on me. “Amber?”
“Coming.” I picked up the backpack that I had hastily packed late last night. Slowly, silently, we crept out of the house, making sure to avoid the creaky spots in the floor. Once we were outside, I decided to ask Isaac about something that I had been wondering about. “Isaac, you know the truth, don’t you? Don’t tell me otherwise; I know you’ve been lying.”
He was silent for a long moment, thoughtfully kicking shards of ice as he walked. “I do. I’ve known for a while. If anyone knew I that I knew, I’d be in trouble. To be honest, there’s no good reason why we can’t leave the city. It’s just that we have more advanced technology than the rest of the world does, and the mayor and his buddies want to keep it for themselves. People are starving up there, while we have more than enough food for everyone.
“Amber, the rest of the world doesn’t know we exist. If they did, they would want things from us, things that some people are too selfish to give them. If we’re allowed to leave, the world will find out we’re here.”
“That’s stupid.” The understatement of the century. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I didn’t want to think that the people you’ve grown up with, people you trusted, are really selfish liars.”
I tried not to be mad at him. It was harder than I would have expected.

Suddenly, Isaac stopped and muttered something unrepeatable.
“What?” I asked.

“The wind is picking up. We’re going to have a whiteout soon.”
It was getting windy, I noticed. During a whiteout, the wind blew the ice and snow around so hard you couldn’t see anything but white wherever you looked, and they came very fast. Not a good sign.
We met Isaac’s three friends who would be going with us right in front of the police station. They looked at me curiously, to which Isaac simply shrugged. Some other friends were also there. They had the important job of distracting the police while the others made a mad dash for the wall.
Immediately, we went into action. Isaac, his friends, and I dove behind a pile of garbage cans near the back corner of the building. My heart was beating furiously. We hid there, hardly daring to breathe, as Isaac’s helpers went into the station faking an argument. They were inside for a few minutes that seemed like hours. By now, the wind was blowing my hair wildly around and I could hardly see five feet in front of me.
Finally, they came out of the building with the police following. Suddenly, one of them dove for the police car and started driving away. I wondered where he got the keys. With a lot of shouting, the policemen got into another car and chased after them. It was hard to see what happened next, but it sounded like the cars were speeding and swerving down the road, banging a few things along the way.
We waited until they were well out of earshot. Then, Isaac whispered, “Let’s go!” He took my hand so we wouldn’t loose each other; now I couldn’t even see his face when he stood two feet away from me. The wind was bitterly cold and the tiny ice pellets stung my face. Now that the police were far away, we ran.
We sprinted faster than ever before toward the city wall. I slipped once, and thought the group had gone on without me. But then I heard someone call my name and hold out a hand. Gratefully, I took it and began running again. I wasn’t sure, but I think it was the blonde girl (Isaac’s former girlfriend, I think). I had always liked her, and she was a calm, strong person who would be very helpful when we got out of the city.
Just when I thought I couldn’t run any more, I skidded to a stop, sliding on the ice. I had nearly run into a big, grey brick wall. It was our city’s main protection. There was a gate, but it was never used. Isaac hadn’t told me how we would get through.
I was about to ask, but then I saw him triumphantly wave something around in the air. It was the key to the gate, I think; it was hard to see because of the whiteout and the fact that he was waving it around so fast it looked blurry. Where do they get all these keys? He stuck it in the rusty keyhole, gave it a turn, and stepped back. There was a barely audible click, and then the gates swung slowly open. I felt as if they had been waiting for me all along, welcoming me out into the world for the very first time. I paused, still breathing hard, suddenly reluctant to leave the only home I had ever known. The whiteout was still blowing around us, though it was already calming down. Would I ever see this place again?
I didn’t know. But, seeing my world stretched out before me beyond the gate, a vast, empty sheet of white, I realized that this chance was what I had wanted for years. A chance to see the world. I had never wished harder for a hot chocolate and a blanket, but I couldn’t turn back, not now. Soon I would lay eyes upon a world that was green.
It was new, it was exciting, and it was the chance of a lifetime. There was nothing that could stop us now. We could blaze ahead to the world like a whiteout, stopping at nothing.
“Goodbye, white world,” I whispered. “Hello to green and flowers and endless oceans of trees. Ready or not, here I come.”





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