Probably the best week of my life so far was the week the world was ending.
I didn’t know it at the time. While Supernatural Academy was sounding the emergency alarms, I was plugged into my Martian techno music, furiously sketching ultra-awesome skylines and fleshing out the details of this hotel idea I’d dreamed up a few days ago. While the escape pods were heading for Mars, I was deep in a game of Interplanetary Disruption, the implied do-not-disturb sign hanging from my doorknob (not that anyone would ever come to see little ol’ me, anyway.) It wasn’t until Wednesday, when I finally decided to head to class just for kicks, that I discovered the sprawling school was empty. Except, of course, for the one student with no power to fly or super-strength to defend himself against the imminent emergency of the apocalypse.
They’d been saying on the news and on social media for weeks that this was coming, but barely anyone really believed it. My martial arts teacher Koru had even assured us, “Don’t worry. We’ll be the surviving elite if the rest of the world goes under – after all, we are superheroes.” I thought of interjecting that the word “hero” implies a duty to save the helpless normal folk. But no one wants to hear what the rich kid whose eccentric dad sent him here instead of a human stuffy private school has to say. I’ve learned to jot down my would-be objections in my sketchbook, in the space that isn’t consumed by architectural drawings.
Anyway. Now it’s Wednesday around 2:00 pm, and I’m standing in the administrative quad, watching petro-dactyls plunge into the fiery fountain for quick sips of contaminated water as smoke clouds whirl in the sky. The air smells like a gas station, only raw-er, so harsh it brings tears to my eyes.
The waterworks are in full swing when President Thunderblume decides to project his hologram to check in on me. Perfect timing. In the background, I can see other students crouching with astronaut food in their hands, shooting me odd looks. Preston levitates his cylindrical bag of edible mush and draws it across his neck, eyes rolling back into his head. Thanks for the concern, brother.
Thunderblume ignores Preston’s antics. “Good afternoon, Clarence. As you may have perceived, there has been an accident. The school was evacuated, but you failed to follow group instructions. As a result, we will need your father’s insurance information for tax reasons.”
The air quality is declining as I listen to him blabbing about financial stuff. I can barely breathe. Suddenly, I remember the forbidden 3-D printing lab in Kent Hall where the supernaturals get to create crazy weapons and gadgets. There’s no one to stop an unauthorized student from going in there now!
I leave the administrative quad, ignoring the hologram’s continued blathering. I run through the thick brown fog to Kent, swipe my card to open the door, and creep downstairs into the basement. In my satchel, as always, is my sketchbook. I flip to the next clean page.
Normally, my hands would move in straight lines, making angular windows and perpendicular mag-levs. Now I let them dance like serpents on catnip, forming organic curves, shading to show the light of the sun bathing my trees in nutrients.
Without a second thought, I tear the page out of the sketchbook and carefully cram it into the printer’s mouth. I press “Full Size,” set “Copies” to 1 million, and hit “Start.” The machine isn’t smart enough to ask me if I have a 3.0 or can lift a truck on one finger. It just starts spitting out trees. Like slow-moving sea stars, they wriggle their roots, breaking through the concrete floor to dig into the earth beneath. They start out only about as tall as my little sister, but they soon began towering over me, and finally their branches pierce the ceiling and still they keep reaching for the sun. Meanwhile, more trees are spinning out of the machine, and the boundary between basement and forest is erased.
I run upstairs to see treetops bursting through the third floor of Kent, spreading their leaves, greener than green, the greenest green I’ve seen since our biology lab with photosynthetic sea slugs. Already, the clouds of pollution are beginning to dissipate. I take in a deep breath, and for the first time in years I have no fear of choking on the air. Slowly, I turn around to take in a 360 of campus. Trees are colonizing every brick-emblazoned inch, invading the laser tennis court, breaking the windows of the cafeteria to force a leafy salad upon the kitchen full of artificial casserole mixes and microwaveable dust-cakes.
Dad’s hovercar descends upon the school. He leaves it drifting above the treetops and swings down to the earth like Tarzan in a suit to run and hug me. “I thought I’d never see you again,” he whispers.
“Isn’t that the point of sending your kid to boarding school?” I look into his amethyst eyes and see fear, pride, relief, a trace of laughter.
“I think I chose the wrong school for you. Clarence, what would you say to four years at a community art academy near my office?”
“Who’s going to be running this art academy?” I peer around me at the deserted landscape. Lots of trees. A few squirrels. No art teachers.
“You saved the world, and it’s all over social media. I predict within the hour, everyone with an intergalactic internet connection will be back on our home planet. Mars wasn’t too hospitable, anyway.”
“I’m glad I stayed,” I decide. “After all, someone needs to be the hero.”
About half an hour later, the school escape pods would land in the treetops like huge birds’ eggs. Preston would emerge from one of them, half-falling awkwardly to the ground, then standing and running up to me without bothering to wipe off his snow-white pants. “Thank you for being an idiot,” he would sing, kneeling at my feet.
For the rest of my life, I will remember the day I saved the world through art. It might not be much, but it was my fifteen minutes of fame, and I will never forget Preston’s voice reaching its highest, most delicate octave as he declared aloud, “Clarence is my hero!”