by Will Dobson. Shortlistee of the Best Short Story for Children or Young Adults competition 2021

Farmers young and old picked apples under floodlights. Pelting rain, like a thousand needles, cut across the blazing pathways of light, hurled by an unruly wind. After the May frost had ruined the crop by a third, unknown in living memory – and there were twelve centenarians in the village – not a single apple could be wasted. The weatherman on the Kei truck’s radio, solemn and alert, continued his emergency broadcast.

At home, Yuki was awake, annoyed he couldn’t help his parents in the orchard. What a time to be ill; tomorrow was his eleventh birthday! The rain hammered against the shutters, attacking in whistling waves. The weather he could tolerate, but not his sister’s voice yakking in the next room – he was tempted to throw the unused sick bowl at the wall but didn’t want to rip the poster of his soccer team, AC Nagano Parceiro. At five to midnight, what in the world was there to talk about? She should be in the orchard, rain wrecking her precious hair.

Yuki had lazed the day away, seesawing between feeling sorry for himself and worrying. The news forecasted heavy rainfall, enough to cancel the New Zealand v Italy Rugby World Cup match. By mid-afternoon, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued severe weather warnings across seven prefectures; his parents stepped up their harvesting efforts, eating instant noodles for supper in their truck. ‘Don’t worry, it won’t be as bad as they’re saying,’ his father had said over the phone. Their house was the only property in the village built on concrete stilts. Still, Yuki had followed his mother’s advice of preparing an emergency evac bag. There was always a flood risk when you lived near a river. But what to pack?