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The Branford Boase Award for

Henrietta Branford Writing Competition 2016 - winning stories


Trajectory

by Jessica Wood, aged 16 years, Wakefield

 

I was twelve when the final vision hit. I knew by then that they weren’t normal -none of the other kids knew they’d get their glasses broken a month before it actually happened, or what the answers to the maths test would be before the test was even written- but up until then, the visions were harmless. Eggs for tea tomorrow. The bus will be late. Miss Cross will be in a foul mood on Tuesday, don’t forget your geography homework. That sort of thing.

The end of the world was not a harmless vision.

Armageddon, Ragnarok, whatever you wanted to call it. It would happen, and soon. Before I was dead and gone, anyhow. Which was not something I was comfortable with; none of those post-apocalyptic movies looked like much fun to me, even if I did survive the space rock that was hurtling towards the planet at that very moment.

Rough and pockmarked, like a teenager’s acne-scarred skin. Apathetic like one too -teenagers don’t care if they destroy their lives, and this asteroid didn’t care if it destroyed the little green and blue planet we call home. It was hard to estimate its size -there’s nothing to compare sizes with in the vast emptiness of space- but as a twelve year old, I simply knew -or assumed- that this hunk of space junk would destroy planet earth.

The scene changed, then. A man sat amongst a cheering, crying crowd of people, the calm in the eye of the emotional storm despite the back claps and handshakes being thrown his way. He accepted them with an air of cultivated smugness, but the bruises under his eyes and his bed-ruffled black hair spoke of earlier stress, and the relief hiding in his eyes was a clear crack in his mask of cool calm.

His relieved eyes, ringed by round as Rolo glasses.

My glasses.

That man was me.

And, judging by the NASA symbol painted larger than life on the wall, the near-hysterical congratulations he was receiving and the slow motion replay of my asteroid disappearing in an explosion of white light, I had just saved the world.

To my twelve year old self, sat in the back of an art lesson with a comic book on my knee and a vision dancing in my eyes, that was the most amazing thing that had happened in my short life. I was well-practiced at slipping in and out of visions without anyone knowing something was wrong, but I couldn’t still my racing heart or stop the shaking of my hands no matter how I hard I tried.

I still remember this moment with perfect clarity, even now. Because that was the moment that shaped my life.

(*I*I*I*)

When I was thirteen, I began making my plans to get a job at NASA. Taking STEM subjects, studying for exams like a man possessed and getting a first from MIT in engineering eventually meant that I succeeded in my aims: I was offered, and gladly took, a prestigious job at NASA.

I won’t bore you with the details of the stand off approach of using a nuclear explosive device as a method of asteroid impact avoidance strategy. Suffice to say, you fire a dirty great big nuclear bomb into space, detonate it next to an asteroid, thereby knocking it off its previous trajectory and away from planet earth. Boom, world saved.

Except ‘boom, world saved’ is not exactly what happened.

The day of my original vision hit. I knew that that was the day because when I looked in the mirror, I saw that man: the pale, sleep-deprived face, hedgehog spiked hair from stressed hands constantly running through it and the same round as Rolo glasses I'd had since I was twelve years old.

I also knew today was the day because we were about to fire the nuclear warhead at the apocalypse-causing, planet-squashing, human race-ending asteroid. Using calculations drawn up by me and my team. No pressure then.

(*I*I*I*)

It didn't work.

(*I*I*I*)

There was a faultline in the asteroid, a hidden, lurking hairline crack that wrenched the asteroid in two new seconds after the bomb detonated. The cheers turned to deathly, oh-God-what-do-we-do-now silence almost faster than the transmission itself. The only sound was the frantic click of keyboard keys and the scrapes of pencils sprinting across paper as the NASA agents around me ran desperate calculations. There was a relieved shout as someone on the left side of the room calculated that one half of the rock would miss the earth by a few thousand miles.

One of my team members tapped me on the shoulder, face pinched and drawn, lip bitten until it bled a crimson patchwork across the chapped pink flesh, and handed me a sheet of hastily sketched calculations. They matched mine.

If we factored in the rock’s trajectory, the earth's orbit and its tilt, the second rock -a mile wide and big enough to destroy an entire state- would hit Washington DC in circa six hours. Washington DC, the home of the NASA. The place I was sitting right then.

I stood up slowly, all eyes in the room gravitating towards me, and nervously slotted my glasses behind my ears. That's what I remember most about that moment: the cold pinch of metal against the bridge of my nose. Not the deathly silence after my announcement, or the few hysterical sobs, or the beginnings of the evacuation of the whole city. Just my glasses, framing my view of the world; a normal sensation in the most abnormal of times.

(*I*I*I*)

My mother was right, of course, as mothers always are. I had always seen things differently to other people, from the visions that stopped after the one that changed my life to the maths questions I instinctively knew the answers to. But there was one thing I saw no differently from any other person in the evacuation convoy: the quasi blinding image of the asteroid -glowing whiter than any magnesium flame, it's dark centre splintering as it fell through the atmosphere- shattering against the great city of Washington DC and levelling the land around it for hundreds of kilometres.

Josie Davies  |  Devon Davies |  Elsie Leiper  |  Isabelle Mills  |  Jessica Wood  |  David Wright

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