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Sand was slowly burying the ruins of old New York. Dunes crept up the stairs of the public library. The Bronx courthouse was so deep you could easily get on the roof. And yet, some buildings were still inhabited. They'd reinforce the walls and add new exits on the ceiling. Some people simply could not give up on the surface city and move to the great caverns. At night you could see sand-dunes glow softly from internal lights.

Surface dwellers were stubborn, so Jamie tried to emulate them. She tried to embrace the desert aesthetic. She'd gotten a very fine robotic camel, indistinguishable from a real camel (were there still real camels?) She'd started dressing in flowing robes with long gloves that came to her elbows to protect from the UV rays. As the camel picked its way on wide soft silent hooves over the rolling endless dunes she scanned the reddening evening horizon. As an archeologist the shape of the dunes, the texture of the sand, to her eyes, told a story. She was on what had once been Broadway in the center of the street heading uptown into what had once been Harlem. 

The sand was capricious. But, it had accomplished what generations of engineers and city planners could not: It had made NYC, for miles, perfectly level. Low lying regions were buried. Only the tallest buildings and those built at elevation poked above ground.With the exception of the domes and the valleys of old river beds, New York was … equalized. The dynamism of the city, the tall buildings cliffs and contrasts had vanished from the surface. Only to be replicated below, but at a grotesque scale. All of those subsurface caverns, where the many billions of people who never saw the real sun lived their lives. New York stretched out over miles of stoney mantel. New York more levels deep than you could count and not a star in the artificial skies. Jamie shuddered. She could hardly afford to live on the surface, even with the help of the university, but the struggle, the dangerous conditions were worth it to be … free of the caverns. 

Jamie was on her way home and she hoped she wouldn't have to shovel any sand to get in the front door of her reinforced brownstone. There was a huge dune up the back of their building, nearly to the roof. It’s made the price just barely in their range. Lately sand had started spilling over the top, first covering the stoop, then burying the front windows. Most of the building was uninhabitable. The desirable upper stories weren’t structurally sound. But the first floor and basement were sound enough to take casing of active support. A kind of sarcophagus that could be integrated in to the walls of a building preventing the sand from crushing it. Through the sand that had filled up the front stair well she could see the faint glow of the front kitchen windows. Kevin was home. And Kevin had cleared a path to the door for her. 

Lucky day. 

Once in the front hall she removed her bags from the ecamel.  Obediently the camel walked to its induction pad under the stairs of the front hall, folded its legs under it, and closed it’s big dopey eyes to recharge. Jamie wished it were that simple for her. 

The front hall was one of the oldest parts of the building. Cracked black checkered tile and windows that once looked out on a postage stamp of a back yard, the brass railings and painted over tin ceiling were right out of the 1900s, back when the building was surrounded by other brownstones. Back when there was a neighborhood not just dotted… installations of the very wealthy and often insane sort of person who insisted that this… valley of tombs was the real New York. The building stood alone, the last to survive on the block and the windows in the hall were completely blocked by sand. They had been sprayed with an adhesive, a fine mesh net that was supposed to make them resistant to breaking. But whenever she was in the hall she thought she could hear, just below the near constant sound of howling desert wind, the building groaning ...the windows cracking, the sound of the old spaces she excavated.
Perhaps it was time to get the sand around their home "hardened" Targeted lasers and a liquid slurry with plastic micro particles could turn the sand dune into a solid structure, effectively making the dune permanent and static and resistant to caveins forever. 

But, it meant you could never (ever) dig back out again. You'd never see light through those windows again...It seemed like an easy choice to make but for Jamie it wasn't.

She stepped into a small console that tried (ineffectively) to remove the sand from her clothes with a vacuum, then she went downstairs, invited by the savory smells of Kevin cooking dinner. 




Submitted: October 17, 2020

© Copyright 2023 Susan Donovan. All rights reserved.


Add Your Comments:


Jake J. Harrison

Hi Susan,

You present a grim dystopic version of New York City buried in sand. The first paragraph really pulled me into the story. Why is the city covered in sand? Who is this girl. The visual of the whole city buried is a striking one.

When I read or write, I try to immerse the reader in a story and make them forget it is type on page. To do this, the text and flow has to be perfect. This is what makes a book professional. There were a couple of elements that pulled me out of your story.

1. Check your comma usage. I highlighted some areas where the next required commas. You might want to Google commas and just review when they should be used. I think that will be helpful.
2. Vary sentence structure. Many of your sentences are short. Some short sentences are fine but readers often grow tired of one length sentence. Try combining some of the shorter ones into longer, more complex ideas to keep the structure interesting.
3. Keep the story moving. You introduce some striking ideas and elements but the chapter doesn't really move beyond that. The entire chapter describes the sand. At some point, we get it as a reader and are waiting to learn more about the main character. Characters drive a story and so far all we have learned is that Jamie lives in a brownstone in a buried NYC. There hasn't been any dialogue, which is okay, but I think something has to happen to begin to propel the story. First chapters are key because a reader will decide in the first few paragraphs or pages if they want to continue on.

As I said, you have a very intriguing idea, and with a few tweaks, you can make this story grab us by the lapels, and compel us to read.

I look forward to moving onto the next chapters.
- Jake

Tue, November 10th, 2020 1:15am


This seems like it's going to be a very intersting story. The first chapter doesn't give a lot away but it seems like it's going to have a bit of adventure and be really gripping. I'm very curious to know more about how the sand came about and what the caverns are like. I imagine this story will delve into the caverns at some point and I like that that mystery of it right now is something to look foward to.
I really liked the idea of a city being buried by sand and people continuing on beneath the surface, though I did struggle a little get a clear picture of this. It felt like the descriptions of each thing didn't match up with each other. You describe the sand as creeping up the sairs of the library but also that only the tallest buildings are visible. Also, dunes are covering everything, up all the tall buildings in New York, but she has an old-styled house on the surface. Was the house always there and if so how is it not completely covered in sand, or was it built after the sand came and why was it built in such an old fashion? It almost seems like it's trying to mesh a new dystopian world with old features, which is hard because they don't naturally go together but can be really effective when done well. I think if some of the small inconsistences were a little clearer it would make a huge difference and this interesting futuristic world you've created would really have a lot of impact.
I think this idea is really exciting and engaging. What was once a busy, bustling city now covered in sand and surviving underground is a very distinctive idea. I like that there's also this little bit of tension created with the sand still being a continuing concern. It gives it a sense of urgency almost, that something big is about to happen, and I really like that. There's definitely a lot of strong points to this and it's really set up for an exciting and gripping novel.

Tue, November 17th, 2020 9:37am

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