If Only

Sixth form stories

by Eleanor Cottrill.

‘If only’ is a fictional dystopian piece about the possible close future and the ‘end of the world’, however it is based off both climate change and the seemingly insignificant problem of bees going into decline, a brief overview of what would happen if they were allowed to go extinct from the point of view of a teenager who loses the future that the adults around her promised her from a young age. Focuses on the issues of ordinary people in a crisis.

I remember the year 2019. I was in college—average. I sat in my designated study period, and I dreamt of all the things I could’ve been doing in the blazing July sunshine. The stifling room made everyone sleepy and so I was free to daydream and procrastinate unhindered.

                         I was remembering the crisp winter morning, emerald green grass thundering under my chestnut mare’s iron shod feet, leaping huge fences—I can see it now. It was Christmas Eve and we’d been to the meet. We were going fox hunting. We met outside a pub and people walked round us, weaving amongst the gleaming flanks and steam rising from the horses in the frost of the day. I had a large glass of port in one hand and a sausage roll and my reins in the other.

                       We started off at the sound of the hunt horn, the clatter of hooves and snorting of wild, excited beasts. The adrenaline was up and the dogs were baying for blood.

                         A holloa to the right and we turned as one leaping the fence and thundering across the crisp frost, following a red streak disappearing into the undergrowth. We stood for a time waiting for the hounds to catch the scent. I got out my hip flask and took a long swig. I remember thinking what a wonderful way to spend your days, riding across the countryside free and wild.

                         I remember coming out of my dream for a brief few minutes to actually do a small amount of work. I was doing an EPQ (an extended project that then I thought would help my future). I was studying the chemical future of plastic, I had in fact wanted to be a chemist and change the world- it is funny how things turn out. I was reading about the effect of plastic on our planet. Plastic in my opinion had been just as important as climate change hence the EPQ.

                       When the government had declared a climate crisis in April, 2019 I had been thrilled – I thought that would sort everything out.

                         At this point I had lapsed back into my memories. There was one fence that never failed to raise my heart rate. I remember riding up to it—a huge hedge with a deep ditch in front. I sat back and kicked hard and she twisted up and over it felt like riding some mythical beast, it’s all I wanted to do- all day, every day . I remember wishing I could actually do that, but I was busy and the worries in my life were exams, boyfriends, horses and money.

                       Everyone was too busy.

                         I was working two jobs, fueling a car, exercising a horse, studying for A-levels and spending every other moment with my friends or boyfriend so I didn’t notice any change as the summer progressed and neither did anyone else.

                       I remember college finishing that year, I’d had a fabulous work experience placement and was pretty prepared for my shining future. We hadn’t realized things were just starting to change. I’d spent the summer in the gleaming sunshine, drinking, partying, bronzing in the light, earning as much money as possible to fund everything else.

Across the globe there were funny things happening, monsoons, hurricanes, floods and draughts- we all thought maybe it was just a bad year, but the sea started coming up, it’s alright they said still plenty of land to go around.

                   In September, Mexico had an ice storm in some places the ice up to 2 metres deep, burying cars and homes, but it was still 30 degree heat, leading to flooding, ramshackle houses swept away, crops, people, livestock gone.

                     In January 2020 South Africa had wildfires so terrible that thousands of people died and millions were displaced, homeless, hungry, thirsty.

                   In May France, Spain and Italy had the highest temperatures on record over 40 degrees, the children and the elderly fell like flies, the crops failed, the animals died of dehydration, but in America it was so cold if you stepped outside in less than 4 layers you froze where you stood in 15 minutes.

                   Population was still growing rapidly, and we had a huge aging population. Yet we still liked to think we’d live to a ripe old age and the geniuses amongst the children would find new innovative ways to feed, water and cloth us.

                   I remember going to Wales, we had a cottage on the coast. It was all the same, how could anyone complain about climate change? We had the same fresh, cool air, the same tall green mountains and fish in the sea. The only difference was the beach was shorter than before, there was a bit more rubbish on the sand, surely due to there being less space, and we saw much fewer wild animals. Hundreds of sheep and cattle and chickens and goats and horses, but no deer or eagles. Not even hedgehogs. It happened so quietly we hardly noticed when giraffes and elephants and lions became dangerously close to extinction. We only noticed when they were gone, but we didn’t worry. We had them in zoos and we could fix our mistakes. Next time we would stop people driving them to extinction. We would save them,. How kind of us. If only we were as good as we thought, we were.

                   When I was still young and naïve, I insisted on little things, made my mum try to buy less plastic, get a compost bin, and grow bee friendly flowers. We thought ourselves environmental saviors—too little too late. But the huge corporations that dumped tons of waste and pumped out thousands of gallons of pollution were the problem and we didn’t stop them.

The biggest blow wasn’t, in fact, the freak weather that killed and destroyed and rampaged our cities and societies it was the loss of the bees.

               They’re tiny, insignificant things bees. Vibrant yellow and black strips marking their tiny fuzzy bodies, bumblebees that have earned their title, bumbling around bouncing off windows and doors and people.

               Artificially pollinating was a thousand times harder than we could ever anticipate, and so the world began to starve. Third world countries didn’t have the technology or the money and 1st world countries simply didn’t have anything to spare, and so they went first. Most of the animals were fine, because grass is wind pollinated, only fruit trees need pollinating. They thrived without poachers and people on their land. Travel was too expensive, economies falling apart. Lower class families couldn’t keep up with the rising costs, and governments couldn’t afford to help them.

                 Our final hope they said were rainforests where the bees still hid, they hadn’t been driven to extinction by manicured lawns and great swathes of farm land and over use of pesticides and herbicides. But as rainforests were often in third world countries, the wastelands around them had prevented the pollinators leaving, the people had died and then the forests had grown wild, unhindered. Nobody knew the secrets of them anymore. We went in blind, unguided. I remember seeing images of the research crews surrounded by too many shades of green to count, deep mottled sunlight on their faces dripping with moisture. Yhey were eating huge, soft, purple fruits the juice dripping down their chins, smiling with childish glee. They found what we needed but it had taken them months to instate proper routes into the forest and over two years to establish suitable numbers to distribute to the countries that were clinging on. Too long.

             We had been living off meat, that’s all we had left, they ate grass. Milk, Cheese, Meat. Many people couldn’t cope with such a diet. We managed to buy canned veg and we survived. By the time they got the bees back it was too late, they flourished in a dead society.

               Chaos rules as people split off in some desperate attempt to save themselves. Which almost brings us to now.

             I can see my chestnut mare’s iron shod hooves thundering across emerald green grass pursued by a gang of marauders. There are so many around.

             My family and I escaped by riding a jumble of horses to the Welsh mountains, it seems odd, but no one is mining oil anymore. We live in a large stone barn deep in the mountains. Once there for the animals in the deep dark months of winter, we are forced to live with our animals underneath and us in the loft. Some of my family didn’t make it.

             My dad lives nearby with some friends, it’s a half an hour ride. I live with my mum and my young brother and my boyfriend and all his close family (they had savings that stopped them from starving). We have no dreams anymore. We just need to survive.

             We gallop along a huge open field approaching a large wall. I sit back and kick, I don’t get to drink or laugh. I’m no longer the hunter but the hunted and I would do anything to not have to do this all day, every day.

             I will get my life, if I’m lucky.

             We fly over the wall which momentarily stops the huge 4×4’s in their tracks, but they just drive through, they’re wasting petrol. I direct my course up a very steep rocky hill, slowing down to allow the mare to carefully pick her way through. I hope they haven’t got any guns but they’re a rarity, no one makes bullets or anything else for that matter, they are only owned by the very rich. And this group are savages, vultures feeding off the dead.

           At the top we pause to survey the scene, the men have begun fighting one another, I can only imagine the distaste. Not only have they lost so much of the precious liquid gold but they have lost their kill. Hounds begin fighting each other when they don’t catch the fox, the adrenaline is up, the blood is pumping, they want to kill, in the last eight years humanity has descended decades, into primal uncivilized animals, dogs.

           I almost smile but I am overcome by a wave of revulsion as one of them comes to a bloody end at the end of a vicious-looking rusty, serrated, knife.

           It takes me four hours to get home. Five of us go scouting every day. I get back to looks of quietened relief and as I slide from the poor exhausted mare’s back I fall into Noah’s arms; we wonder every morning if it is the last goodbye. One thing this terrible life has shown me is that love, pure infinite love, only occurs when you can fully appreciate the other person. When every hug could be the last. If my horse had slipped or hit a rabbit hole, this morning would have been the last for me. I’m twenty five years old, I will never be a chemist, or have a nice car, or a big house, I won’t go drinking with my friends, or even ever see them again, if I cut myself I could die from sepsis. Is this love enough? This undying hope to see him again, to see my mother, my brother, my dog. Getting home feeling like I’ve won the lottery, waking up freezing cold, stiff, achy but a feeling of warm unfaltering joy because I’m alive, he’s alive, they’re alive and I’ve been allowed one more morning.

           I wonder if everyone had loved like everyone does now, if our present would be different. Questions plague me. If only …