The Sunbelt by Arden Pala

He woke up to a sunny day. The man stepped onto his roof and saw beams of light reflecting off the greenhouse. He stepped into the glass garden, bent down, and picked up his rusted can, pouring water onto the tomatoes, beans, and lettuce. When the vegetables were dripping with clear water, the man poured the liquid between the plants onto the flowers tucked between the vegetables, hidden from the world. He quickly watered the roses, the last of their kind. The flowers were magnificent. The corners of his mouth curved up. He wanted his kids to see the flowers' beauty one day, even if it was dangerous. After he finished watering, he tucked the roses back to their hiding spot, the red of their petals blending in with the red of the tomatoes. He locked up the greenhouse and hurried back into his home.

He walked into his kitchen, kissing his wife. Then he went to the living room to find his kids studying for an exam that day. "Dad, what was it like before the world stopped rotating?" his son asked. The father looked at his son and laughed. "Rotating? It still rotates, son, thank goodness. You mean, 'what was it like when our axis was tilted?' And that, I'm afraid, I can't answer for you. It was before my time."

"Dad, what is it like for the people not living in the sunbelt?" his older daughter asked.

"To the north, the world is bright, but scorched, and to the south, the world is dark and freezing."

He wished his kids good luck on their tests and left for work.

The man walked along the dry city streets, filled with a maze of greenhouses, every inch of sunlight harvested to grow the plants, making them alive. Every ray of golden light was beaming a refreshing sense of energy, so precious. When he arrived at his work, he walked into the courthouse, opened the old wooden doors going straight to the courtroom. Taking his seat in the back, he listened to the cases for the day. The first two cases were about air pollution. But the last case caught his eye. A woman had been caught growing flowers and selling them on the black market. The man knew how all the issues would end. Misusing light or water were significant crimes. She would be exiled from the sunbelt. On the way out, his coworker commented, "How could somebody be so stupid to waste light on a flower?"

The man walked back to his house, reflecting on what had happened in court. As he turned the corner, he heard sirens and saw red and blue lights. Stopping where he was, he thought about running but saw his family, kids and knew that he couldn't. He saw the resource enforcement officers in their black uniforms surrounding his house. One of the officers was carrying the roses from the greenhouse. The officer's mistreatment had already destroyed their petals. They were torn off and flying down the street. The man immediately knew what would happen to him. He knew he would be exiled from the sunbelt and forever forced to live in the harsh extremes of the world.

The next day the man opened the wooden doors of the courtroom again, but this time he wasn't a reporter. He was a criminal.

The trial was quick. With so little usable sunlight, growing anything but the food was an undeniable crime against society in the only inhabitable place left on Earth. He looked up to see a familiar face testifying. It was his neighbor who had betrayed him. A single petal had fallen from a rose and stuck to the bottom of his shoe that morning.

The judge looked down and said, "For the crime of misuse of resources, you are banished. As in all cases, you have a choice: north or south. Which side do you choose?"

"I choose north," the man said. At least in the north, there was light.

Arden Pala is a pianist, guitarist, writer, actor, traveler, and budding inventor. He started acting when he was 6 years old. He published his first book at age 10.

Arden was most recently seen in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by the Old Globe. Other notable credits include Zalmai Thousand Splendid Sun’s at the Old Globe; and Fletcher in Freaky Friday (Moonlight Youth Production). Arden was the recipient of Outstanding Supporting Performance by the National Youth Theater for his role as Fetcher.

In 2020, Arden starred in the role of Tahz in the movie Tahz where he earned the Best Child Actor Award from the Los Angeles Film Association.

Arden Pala is the author of the “Adventures of Noah’s Flying Car” book series (3 books published), available on Amazon and Kindle. All proceeds benefiting low-income youth.