1st Prize Winner - Grades 9-12
Judges’ comments: An ingenious and creative story that imagines Unley’s future as well as the past. We were hooked right from the beginning, launching right into the action. We particularly appreciated the humour and the historical detail about Goodwood.
Stuck in Time
by Hari Nadar
My eyes jolt open to the sound of the alarm. My right arm instinctively goes over and smashes the snooze button. Ugh, I think, stretching my arms to the max. Another boring excursion today. I drag myself out of bed, my eyes fluttering shut every now and then. I walk over to the kitchen, pull out my favourite cereal box, pour some milk into a bowl and start eating. My eyes struggle to stay open. My whole body feels unfunctional.
‘Bye Axel!’ My older sister, Jessica, is the last one to leave the house. The door shuts with a loud BANG!
My mum, dad, and younger brother all left half an hour before I woke up – around 7:30am. I sit there, eating my cereal for what feels like hours and hours. Before I know it, I have my uniform on, teeth brushed, watch on my wrist, ready to go to school.
The usual walk to school is 10 minutes long, but I take longer. Also, when I don’t walk, which is most of the time, I take my hoverboard with me. But today I don’t have the energy to use my hoverboard – it requires too much concentration and alertness. DRRIING! DRRIING! It’s Oliver and his gang. The most feared group at Goodwood High School. They ride their expensive, turbo hoverboards up the street, shouting at students one after the other, who all just want to peacefully walk to school. Oliver is the thinnest and shortest in his gang, but he is also the leader. The other four people are buffed, six-foot giants, with bodies built like Hulk’s. It’s always Oliver talking and his henchmen standing behind him, flexing their body and intimidating their prey. I shake my head, at both Oliver’s havoc and the fact that I have a boring excursion in History.
I put my bag in my locker, make sure I have my history book and hologram-tab with me, and walk to class. We never use our hologram-tab in History. For all the other subjects, it’s a necessity – I’ve gotten detention so many times for an uncharged hologram-tab. However, in History, Mrs Gramlich forces us to use a book. Yes, the one people used back in the 20th century. Our school doesn’t even have a library with books – it’s all electronic and mailed to our hologram-tabs.
As I rock up to class, many people are settling down on seats, most looking bored. In other classes, like P.E. or Drama, time-excursions were always fun. Once in P.E., we went to see how cricket was played in England when it was first invented. And in Drama, our class got to watch an entire Shakespeare play called Hamlet which was first performed in 1609. The best thing about time-excursions in other classes is that at the end, we don’t have to write a 2000 word essay on it. But in History, we do.
Oliver is also in my class. At the back, he appears to be muttering to his friends while showing off new accessories. It’s probably for his hoverboard, I think. He is so rich. He can get anything that he wants.
‘As many of you already know,’ Mrs Gramlich announces, ‘We are going to a time-excursion back to 1950 – 240 years back. It’s going to be fun; don’t you think?’
‘Where exactly are we going?’ Joe calls out half-heartedly. He never cares about anything and spends most of his time in class sleeping. He woke up as soon as he heard the word “1950”.
‘Well, I’m glad to be announcing that we are going to…” Mrs Gramlich waits for the class to build up excitement.
All of us stare back at her with blank faces, not bothering to do drum-rolls like we do in other classes.
The whole class groans, even Joe, who’s awake from his 30 second nap.
‘Come on guys. It won’t be that bad.’ Mrs Gramlich looks around, but all she sees are bored faces. ‘Alright then, let’s put on our observation suits.’
‘Miss, can we wear interaction suits?’ Oliver calls out. His group starts snickering at the back of the class.
When Oliver and his gang wore interaction suits to a time excursion in Science, things went really wrong. Oliver had the ability to talk to and change history when we went to observe Isaac Newton, one of the greatest scientists ever. He nearly stopped the apple falling onto Isaac Newton’s head. Fortunately, Mr. Yearling intervened and pulled him back. Only later did he discover that Oliver had been wearing an interaction suit. Observation suits can never damage or change history – everything we touch fades away and reveals itself as the hand passes the object. Our school had to introduce new policies to make sure the significant incident never happened again.
‘No, Oliver, we definitely cannot,’ Mrs Gramlich replies, shaking her head. ‘Class, go to Mr Zettel’s lab to get changed. I will meet you here in 10 minutes.’
The new school policy that was introduced is a supervisor. Whenever a class goes on a time-excursion and needs suits, Mr Zettel makes sure they’ve got the right one. We all pull ourselves out of our seats and head over to the opposite classroom – Mr Zettel’s lab. We stand outside as Mr Zettel calls us in one by one. Time-excursions are a lot stricter now.
She walks in, hanging her head low. No one is interested in this time-excursion. Anne walks out wearing a bright orange spacesuit. It is big and puffy, with air-conditioning which you can control through a pad on your right forearm. Big pockets cover the legs along with white reflective lines running down to the ankle. A microphone is situated near the neck hole of the suit, allowing communication with others throughout the trip. I become so intrigued with this suit that I jolt when he calls my name.
Walking into the lab, I notice a big difference. Time-excursion suits cover every inch of space available, leaving only a thin walking space towards Mr Zettel’s table. Orange suits cover the front of the lab, while blue suits are hung behind Mr Zettel. Other coloured suits also lie in one corner of the lab, which I had no idea about.
‘Aha, Mr Axel. Good to see you,’ Mr Zettel says, smiling. He has always been one of the best teachers at Goodwood High School.
‘Hey Mr Zettel.’ I give him a positive smile too.
‘Now, remind me again – what size are you?’
He gets up from his chair and walks over to the orange suits near the front of the room. Mr Zettel grabs one which he thinks is suitable and hands it to me.
‘There you go. Also, just reminding you – everything you do throughout the trip is recorded and stored in our school cloud data bank. Enjoy your trip.’
‘Thanks.’ With that reminder, I walk out of the room.
Oliver brushes past me as his name gets called out. He has a sneaky smile on his face. Walking back to Mrs Gramlich’s class, I wonder what all of that was about. Whenever he walks past someone, he never misses the opportunity to shoulder them. But just then, he had only grazed past me.
With that intriguing thought, I drag myself to the change rooms. All of the boys couldn’t be bothered going on a history time-excursion. They all had the same old orange observation suit with multiple buttons and cameras situated on the chest, arms and legs. All of them were digitally locked by Mr Zettel, except a few which allows us to record information later for the essay Mrs Gramlich assigns. One thing different on my observation suit is an extra accessory dangling from my right thigh. Wires are keeping the chip attached to the suit’s cloth, making it swing around every time I walk.
I enter the classroom and sit back on my seat. I try to snuggle up in the disgustingly uncomfortable outfit but fail in two seconds.
‘Ah, I see you have the newer model of the observation suit,’ Mrs Gramlich says, nodding her head towards where the device dangles down to my knee. Her husband works at the suit factory assisting robots, but Mrs Gramlich herself doesn’t know much about technology, so I start to doubt her. No one else is wearing this so-called model. I might just be wearing an older model.
As the last of the boys including Oliver come back from the change rooms, Mrs Gramlich orders us alphabetically, ready to go to the portal inside Mr Zettel’s laboratory.
‘Hello again, class 12C,’ Mr Zettel welcomes. All suits had been cleared from the lab. Behind Mr Zettel’s desk lay a portal, with vibrant, amber shades swishing around inside the aluminium frame. ‘Step into this portal one-by-one and wait on the other side. A private, library room in Goodwood waits for you on the other side.’
Anne Bellfleur, the first person in line, walks up the steps and fades through the portal. By the time my name gets called out and I step into the portal, I’m surprised to be entering a fully transparent cylindrical pod. A weird aura with curling grey streaks makes up the pod’s structure, keeping everyone in. The structure itself is very thin. The width of the pod is only around one metre, not giving much room to stretch around.
Mrs Gramlich is casually telling the students lining alphabetically again that this is just a precautionary measure. Wow, I think to myself. The school is really taking Oliver’s incident very seriously.
The observation pod is what classes will now use to go on time-excursions to ensure that students without the correct suits are still safe and sound, as explained by Mrs Gramlich. The library room is just big enough for the bus-sized pod. Two armchairs sit facing each other with a tiny, timber coffee table in between. Plants are located at all corners of the room, along with bookshelves lining all four walls. I zone out of other instructions being said by my History teacher and realise how bad this situation is. A history time-excursion with a new observing-only pod with Oliver right behind me. Suddenly the pod jerks forward as Mrs Gramlich drives the pod out of the library by going straight through the room’s wall and onto Goodwood Road. All jaws drop as everyone takes in the landscape.
Two trams go buzzing by each other on two different tracks. Double fronted, single-storey bluestone cottages are the only types of residential homes I could see. A two-storey business lay across the road, opposite to the library.
‘Class, the Sushi Q Restaurant and Roll In Saigon used to be a butcher’s shop back in 1950!’ Mrs Gramlich exclaims.
We all “ooh” and “aah” as we head south, down the road. The roads look like it’s just gravel and sand, nothing like the smooth, concrete roads we have today. No footpaths provided protection for the pedestrians. Men were wearing black or brown suits and were carrying briefcases. A lot of them had hats on too. On the other hand, women were wearing long flowing dresses. Power lines were swaying because of the gentle breeze above. This experience is much different to what I thought it would be when looking at the boring black and white photos of Goodwood we had to inspect before the time-excursion. The pod comes to a stop near the Capri cinema.
‘Did you know that the Capri cinema we have in 2190 was actually called the Goodwood Star Theatre?’ Mrs Gramlich asks. Some students nod their heads as they look up at the massive, yellow star above shining bright even in daylight. ‘And inside the theatre, people could actually only watch plays or musical performances.’
Mrs Gramlich points to a tram going past us towards where we had just come from. ‘These trams are very different to what we have today, aren’t they? That tram was actually the model MTT 1926 F1-Type No. 264 and before 1909, all of these trams used to be horse-drawn. But here’s the thing – every tramline except the Glenelg tramway got replaced with buses in 1958. That’s in eight years’ time from now.’
With that fascinating fact which left everyone including myself stunned, she drove the pod further south. We reached Tabor College, but there were kids running around everywhere in the parklands and near the buildings. Aren’t adults meant to be here? I question to myself. Wasn’t this a university back in 1950?
Mrs Gramlich answers my question as if she had read my mind. ‘Tabor College was, in fact, an orphanage in 1950. Also, milkmen used to deliver milk in glass bottles every morning. Families had to wash the milk bottles clean and leave it out near their mailbox so that the milkman could reuse that for another morning.’
Even though Mrs Gramlich was keeping us all entertained, I couldn’t keep standing anymore. I really just want to sit down somewhere and rest my feet up. Having Oliver behind me didn’t help either – he keeps fiddling with something in his hand. The pod also feels overwhelmingly humid – I couldn’t believe it didn’t have an air-conditioning system. All the kids were occasionally shuffling their feet, obviously tired from this long time-excursion. However, I didn’t expect this time-excursion journey to be so enthralling. I actually enjoyed hearing all of Mrs Gramlich’s facts about 1950 Goodwood compared to 2190 Goodwood. This overall experience is turning out to be really fun.
Just as I was starting to enjoy this trip, a low buzzing sound came from behind me. It was Oliver, using the device he was holding in his hand to cut through the aura of the pod. He made a window-sized hole above waist height and jumped out, rolling safely onto Goodwood Road, barely dodging a tram. No one else seemed to notice except me, as Oliver and I were both at the back of the pod. Alarmed, I remembered the times when Oliver had been suspicious throughout the day. He might be wearing another interactive suit, however that was highly unlikely due to Mr Zettel’s careful supervision. I jumped out of the pod sneakily without anyone seeing me, determined to catch Oliver red-handed. I wouldn’t be changing history by doing this anyway because I’m wearing an observation suit.
I see Oliver’s head bobbing up and down among the crowd. I sprint past people staring right at me, which nearly made me jump out of this suit. How can they see me? I quickly thought. Instead of worrying about it, I focus on catching up to Oliver because there is no way of catching up to the pod.
Finally, I run up to him and tap him on the shoulder. ‘Gotcha, Oliver.’
‘What are you doing!?’ Oliver shouts.
‘What are you doing!?’
The crowd of people walking part around us, leaving a circle of space around the two of us.
‘Get lost, Axel.’
We start pushing and shoving, but before we could throw fists at each other, a police officer walks up to us and grabs the shoulder piece of our suits. I instantly jump, realising that I could not be wearing an observation suit at all. Gulping down a big lump of fear, I stare right into Oliver’s eyes, knowing that we both are in big trouble.
‘What do you boys think you’re doing?’ he booms, aggressively pulling us across the road. ‘Where are your parents?’
Oliver and I remain silent till we get thrown into a blank, grey prison cell.
Oliver spills it all out in the next two minutes. ‘My plan is ruined because of you, Axel. You don’t understand. I’m not from the future. I wasn’t born in the future. I was born in 1935, here in Goodwood. I was about to go visit my Mum and Dad but of course you had to come and stick your nose here – like you do everywhere.’ His eyes are red-hot flames, and he spits out every word. ‘Yes, I used a hologram to disguise an interactive suit as an observation suit. How in the world are you wearing an interactive suit?’
Questions start to rapidly form in my mind – How did Oliver come to the future? Why did he come to the future? Who does he live with in 2190? It takes me ten seconds to reply to his question. I just felt as if I had been hit by a brick wall with all the information Oliver just spilt out. ‘I don’t know. I thought I was wearing an observation suit,’ I say.
Oliver glances down at my knee and sees the dangling device. He slaps his forehead with his palm really hard. ‘No way.’
Just as I’m about to ask why, a posh man walks into the police station, suitcase in one arm, and an Argus C3 camera in the other. He glances at the two of us and immediately drops everything he’s holding.
‘Dad!’ Oliver screams with joy.
The posh man rushes up to the bars and tries to hug Oliver. Tears of joy fall down both their faces as they embrace each other.
‘Sorry, mayor. Didn’t know he was your son,’ a deputy officer says ashamedly.
Oliver gives me a sarcastic wave as he exits the police station. I lie down onto the metal prison bed, wishing this was all a dream. The whole time-excursion, the exciting pod journey, and Oliver’s actual past. I close my eyes, with one thought in my head. I am stuck in 1950.