Message in a Bottle

This “vision” is one of the 30+ that we’ll publish here in the next months. Most of them will go into Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2 (expected publication: Dec 2017). We hope that you will comment on the message, suggest ways to sharpen the narrative, and tell us how the story affects your understanding of adapting to climate change.

Most importantly, we hope that you enjoy reading these stories and share them with your friends and family. —David Zetland (editor) and the authors


After saying their farewells to our chief, my tribe left the pyre, their heads bowed. But I have remained, waiting to be left alone, because Chief Tyson was more than a chief to me, he was my grandfather.

Standing on the headland, I look out across the expanse of sea, a sea dotted with islands much like our own. Islands inhabited by our enemies, who legend would have it, had once been our kith and kin. That had been just one of the stories my grandfather had told his people. And yet it was hard to believe, given the great battles and skirmishes that had taken place between their tribe and ours, in an attempt to control the seas between us.

I could barely comprehend that my grandfather was dead. Only the stench of burning flesh and the curl of smoke, rising to the sky, confirmed I was not in dream time. And with him gone, I worried for the future. Would I be able to earn the respect of the people, like he had? He’d been as wise as the spirits that protected us. His knowledge of our people and our past, had, he assured us, been passed down from his grandfather and his grandfather before that – and so on and so on. But his tales were so fantastical, that without respect for him, I was sure many of the islanders doubted their truth. But isn’t that the place of myth and legend?

The sun was beginning to set behind the island of Skiddaw now — a full orange sun, burnishing on the sea and not for the first time, I wondered what was beyond. Once, thousands of years ago, our island of Helvellyn had been a mountain and Skiddaw the same. And where the sea was now, had been dotted with beautiful, fresh-water lakes. It had been a place of peace and beauty, an escape from that other place they’d known as tar and cement.

But legend would have it, that our ancestors had conjured up a storm. A storm so otherworldly, that it had ended life as they had known it. Hungry bellies and selfish desires had harnessed what they could, no matter the outcome. They’d robbed from the land, thirsty for more and more. They didn’t understand they were mere caretakers and some say, they did not care. They had lost sight of what was important.

The more unusual stories, told tales of people being able to speak to each other across the seas, see each other on the other side of vast landscapes. Others whispered that they’d climbed up to the moon, to find the man and then flown, like birds, around the stars. Those same stars, that were just becoming visible now.

Apparently, they had been a blasé people and despite the warnings written across the skies and in the rising of the seas, they had been persuaded by the money Gods that they could have it all, so they took it. And they kept taking. The more they had, the more they wanted. A given, a truth, a right. They guzzled and consumed until it was too late.

My grandfather described storms that had rumbled until the skies had cracked, crimson with fire -– the air had gotten hotter and hotter, until our ancestors had choked for breathe. Even the wildlife had suffered. The winged life began to fall limp, plummeting to earth. Flies swarmed — flesh eating. Rank, putrid smells hung in the air and invaded nostrils. And out at sea, great tidal surges had thundered towards the land, bringing with it, the finned and swollen — their bodies diseased and left to perish on the beaches. Corals, once orange, green and brown, sea lettuce and grape, smothered, choked and bleached, as their sun faded. There was no breakers — no end to push the tide back. Great civilisations were destroyed and drowned. The world had imploded and the people with it.

The people had grown weaker, disillusioned as their bodies failed. They prepared to die and did. Only the fittest made it, taking refuge on the peaks, whilst the troughs rose higher and higher. Only a few survived long enough to populate the mountains and eek out an existence, foraging on a land that had nothing to give.

Of course, these were just stories; ancient folklore based on witchcraft and daemons and couldn’t possibly be true. Could they? I’d often asked my grandfather this very question and once, he’d taken me down to the water’s edge and made me fish one of the clear and battered containers out of the sea. ‘Where do these come from?’ He had asked, holding up the container towards the light.

We knew them as bottles and we collected and drank from them, we buried them in the ground to collect bugs for our food and we built totems with them. Where they’d come from, I hadn’t rightly cared. I’d shrugged my shoulders, ‘well they’re a gift from the sea.’

‘A gift you say.’ My grandfather had looked thoughtful, as he combed his greying beard with his fingers. ‘Well they are a gift of sorts. Look at them, littering the beaches,’ he’d motioned with his arms. ‘But their gift, is not their usefulness. Their gift is the message they bring from our forbearers.’

‘Message?’ I’d looked at him, dumbfounded. The vessel was empty, save for a mouthful of dirty water and sand.‘But there is no message’, I’d said, ‘and how could something so old, last so long anyway?’

‘Well that my son, I can’t tell you, but I do know you must guard its message, always. Guard it and pass it on to your children and beyond.’

Bending down now, I fish a similar bottle from the beach, remembering how he’d leaned over his staff that day and whispered conspiratorially, into my ear. ‘Our ancestors reaped what they had sown, so learn from it’ he’d warned. ‘Be neither blind nor deaf. Never get complacent, son, never get greedy, never go after riches and convenience and most of all, remember that we are mere caretakers of this land. When we forget that,’ he’d continued ‘it will be the beginning of our own destruction.’

Just like then, I looked at the bottle now, bemused, searching for these hidden messages and could see none. And just like then, I brought it to my ear, listening, but heard nothing. Frustrated, I kicked the dust over the last, burning embers of my grandfather and decided his warnings, were just the ramblings of an old man. Times were different now and we must adapt and change, in order to survive. We must survive, whatever the cost might be.


Karen Rollason is a qualified Solution Focused Hypnotherapist, working with clients to find solutions to their problems. She is a Lakeland lass and lover of the countryside, but lives in the South of England where the pace of life is much faster. She is chair of a writers’ circle in Kent and loves to run writing workshops, particularly in Flash Fiction. Karen is a journal writer and believes in the Healing power of writing for well being. She is the proud mother of two grown up boys.

2 thoughts on “Message in a Bottle”

  1. I really like this story but I think if you commit to the shift in tense the narrative flows much more smoothly and the ending becomes really powerful (times ARE different now). So just change the tense to the present in the last paragraph.

    Thanks for this story!

  2. I very much agree with Laura that the change to past tense in the final paragraph isn’t necessary. It’s a fascinating story, with some great detail.

    I would however remove the entire paragraph ‘Apparently, they had been a blasé people…’ because it adds nothing and takes my focus out of the world of the story. We know this already, and the rest of the story shows this to be true.

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