Amplitude

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


It’s hard to stay mad at Suze for long. When she comes splashing through the small waves carrying shopping bags to the bottom of the steps, late, as ever, I can’t help but smile. It’s more than her beauty that draws me in, every time; it’s her way of being, the light she seems to carry with her and her constant, sometimes infuriating, optimism.

I’m sitting at the top of the first flight of steps, and we fall into the hug that makes me feel whole again. Suze and I were best friends long before we became lovers. We were born within weeks of each other, to two equally unlucky families who ended up on low-lying land.

‘You almost didn’t make it,’ I say, into her hair.

‘I’ll always make it. Even when I have to swim,’ she says, pulling back.

I don’t remind her that the time she did have to swim she almost drowned; nearly got sucked into the strange currents that swirl below Gowan Estuaries’ grey towers. I’ve never swum it. If I miss the tides, I stay on land, in the damp swampy hut that was put there by the developers. They call it a Stayover, which makes us laugh. They make it sound like a place you’d choose to be, not a rotting hut for emergencies.

‘So what did you get?’ I peer into Suze’s bags.

‘Not a lot,’ she grins back. ‘But don’t worry; I’ve already a recipe in mind. I’m cooking you macaroni cheese, without the cheese. Or proper macaroni. And using dried milk…’

‘Sounds great,’ I say, pulling a face. ‘I’ve asked the families over for the Lotto results.’

‘I had some tokens left over so I bought an extra ticket,’ Suze said.

I nod. ‘Good. Because I gave ours to the Robinsons again.’

Suze mock punches me. ‘Seriously, Lou? You’re impossible. But funnily enough, I was going to do the same when I bought this one…’

I kiss her. ‘That’s why I love you,’ I say. ‘We’re as crazy as each other.’

She sits and produces some stale biscuits. We eat and watch the water climb the steps below us; greedy, surging water that looks like it wants to drink us in.

‘If you could go back, what would you do first?’ she asks me.

I hate this game and it always puts me in a bad mood. I sigh.

‘Go on,’ she says. ‘Humour me.’

‘I’d give our grandparents a bollocking for doing nothing to stop all this,’ I say, as I always do, gesturing at the water. ‘But then… then I think I’d take you for a drive, just because I could, to one of the old beaches somewhere, and we’d sit and watch the sunset. When we got back we’d go and surf the internet and order some stuff that would magically arrive in the post the next day, bought with real money. And then I’d open the front door and watch the stars and think how lucky I was to be alive in such an easy world.’

‘I’d buy you a proper ring and propose under a rainbow flag on a mountain, one that wasn’t off-limits to us, lower echelons of society, and-’

I cut her off. ‘Can we stop? I’m not in the mood for this game today.’ I never am, but the If game is her favourite. As an optimist, she’s a total dreamer; still believes there’s a happy ending to the crappy way of life we’re forced to live. I don’t. All of those dreams belonged to a different generation, the ones who sit, staring at the water, still in shock at what’s unfolded. At the fact that the warnings were right, all along. Unless they’re lucky enough to live in the Hill Communities.

‘Come on,’ Suze says, pulling me up. ‘Let’s go and cook and get ready for the Lotto.’

At eight, our families arrive. We sit around the Screen and watch the presenters dangle dreams in front of us, tempting us to buy into this façade every week. This week there are two houses up for grabs, two beautiful, enormous dry houses in Beacon Hill Community, worth who knows what.

‘I hope the Robinsons get it,’ I say, letting my bad mood out. Irritation has been gathering in me for the last couple of hours, as the sea has risen; the sound of the waves constant and threatening.

Suze’s mother, Anne, groans. ‘You didn’t give your ticket away again?’ she says.

‘Old Fiona Robinson isn’t going to survive much longer, here. You know that as well as me,’ I snap.

‘We’ve got an extra, this week,’ Suze says, giving me a Look.

‘Sorry, Anne,’ I mutter, staring at the screen, at the hyper-happy presenters, showing off the houses. ‘Just get on with it,’ I say, and they do.

There’s a silence as we all check our numbers.

‘Oh well,’ Suze says. ‘There’s always next week. And remember, when we win we take you all with us – those houses are big enough.’

‘Of course,’ I say. ‘Next week it’ll all change. We can leave this swamp and move to a place we won’t ever fit in because we’ll always be Lotto Residents, everyone knowing where we came from…’ I stomp through to our bedroom.

Much later, Suze climbs in next to me. We hold each other and listen to the sea and the hungry, never-ending water.

There’s a knock at our door. Suze gets up and I follow. She opens the door.

On the landing are the Robinsons. Fiona is in tears, shaking, as she hands Suze a Lotto ticket. Her husband nods at us. ‘She wants you to have it back,’ he says. ‘She told me to say it’s your future, not ours. It never was ours.’

For a second, there is silence, whilst we read the numbers. And then we are yelling, jumping up and down, hugging. The noise we make drowns out everything else, even the roaring water below us.


Emma J Myatt (@EmmaJMyatt) lives in NE Scotland, very close to the sea. She writes fiction of all kinds and thinks that using stories to make people think about their impact on the world and their lives is essential. She lives with her young family and they share with various cats, chickens and fish, all of whom have been ‘interestingly’ named by creative children. After spending time with her family, writing is her favourite thing to do and her stories are often about the sea, which provides the soundtrack to her everyday life. She hopes this story is not a prediction.

The moon under water

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


‘Our parents didn’t work all their lives to leave us with a shrinking landmass, rampant inflation, no job prospects and utter inequality.’ George slammed his china jug down on the table, forcing the brown liquid to leap for freedom. ‘Something has to change and I can’t do it from here.’

I frowned. It had taken me days to source strawberry-pink china beer mugs and George’s revolutionary zeal was putting them at risk already. He was talking nonsense anyway. ‘Our parents didn’t work all their lives. They had nice long retirements. We’re the ones who have to work until we’re seventy-five.’

George tutted at me. ‘At least your folks left you something.’ He gestured at the Victorian bar. ‘You’ve got a pub on a hill with a large garden. You’ve got a job for life now there are so few pubs left and no more licences. You’re sitting pretty, you are.’

‘Look around you, George. I’ve got an empty pub it took a small fortune to make habitable. I’m only three miles from the sea and it’s getting closer by the hour. The Moon Under Water’s not the only water-logged thing. The village where my customers used to live is submerged. There’s no one left round here. The whole thing is doomed.’

He bent his head to one side and his huge brown eyes reminded me of my childhood Labrador, who used to sit exactly where George was now. ‘So why did you do it Elaine? Why have you given up a city career to come to the back of beyond. What’s all this fantasy George Orwell pub stuff? No music, no live sports, liver-sausage sandwiches for god’s sake. ‘

‘It’s not the back of beyond. We’re only thirty-five miles from London. We’re in the London area.’

‘I know that was one of Orwell’s bizarre criteria but you’ve stretched it a bit too far. We’re not in the London area. We’re not even in the Southend area now it’s gone under. It may have escaped your notice but there’s no large town left here now Leigh’s drowned too.’

The expression on George’s face when he knows he’s right is just so unattractive. He must know I’m worried I’ve made a terrible choice. Why is he rubbing it in? I want him gone. I had imagined us getting stuck in together, making a little utopia on what’s now the end of the earth, building something solid together. Sadly what George is good at is picking holes in what’s been done rather than doing anything himself. What George is good at is making himself feel better by trashing me.

‘Fine.’ I pick his jug up and pour it down the sink behind the bar. It’s a waste but such a little thing in comparison with a desolated country, a planet with a precarious future. ‘I think you should go back to London.’

‘Fine.’ He slides off the bar stool so quickly I know that was what he hoped I’d say. He’s been prodding me to push him away. Five minutes later he’s back downstairs with his bags. ‘Could you give me a lift to the station?’

I hesitate. It’s lunch-time there could be customers. A guy came through yesterday. He seemed to like it here. I can’t really leave the pub but I know it isn’t safe to be out there on your own. Certainly not on foot when you can’t get away from whatever’s roaming near you. Can I really care so little for someone I’ve spent five years with? ‘OK but let’s be quick.’ I find an old chalkboard and write back in twenty minutes before propping it against the door.

George looks relieved. We get in the van in silence but he’s watching me as I drive. ‘Tell me why you really came here, Elaine.’

It can’t hurt now. I don’t have to protect myself against his scorn anymore. ‘I thought I could save a bit of the old world, you know, the one where people looked out for each other. I mean I know any property near water is a nightmare now but I can’t shake off how looking at water makes me feel better.’

He snorts and shakes his head. ‘And the Moon Under Water was your childhood home.’

I nod. ‘Yes but I don’t have a romantic notion of it. I know only too well how hard it was running a pub even back when they were profitable. You had to put up with other people’s vices as much as their warmth. Mum and Dad ran it like a club, they had their rules and it didn’t matter what you did or were outside. You stuck to the rules you were part of the place.’

‘Vices yes. Remember the smoking? But why all this George Orwell stuff?’

‘The Moon Under Water was his vision of the perfect pub. Old-fashioned yes but there was something about his set of rules made me feel I could create that kind of place. I had this silly idea that people would come on daytrips for the charm of it.’

‘But we only get five litres of petrol a week. It’s not like the blokes could come on their own now it’s one car between two families.’

That rule is very precious to George. His job is coordinating the car shares. So many people had to be rehomed that he was forever recalculating who could be matched. He was right though, I hadn’t factored that in. I was running at a breath-taking loss forever coming up with silly promotions that were as much good as Canute raving at the tide. The freezer was packed with the meals I’d made but hadn’t sold.

I stop the car in the station car park. It’s almost empty. ‘Bye then. I guess you won’t be coming down for the weekend again’ I get out of the car as he does and hold out my hand. He clutches me to him, his bag swinging into my leg. We stand there, wavering in each other’s arms. I’m tempted to hold on, to undo the last hour, maybe even the last six months. He kisses the top of my head and lets me go.

‘Good luck to you Elaine. You’re an idiot but I admire you, I really do. I just can’t make myself believe it’s going to be OK.’

It isn’t going to be OK. I know that. I drive back to the pub trying to accept that nothing I do – wasting beer or trying to make a sanctuary – will make the slightest difference. There’s something bigger than us we’ve tormented too long. Now it wants to get rid of us irritants, it wants its world back.

I’m going to keep on fighting back, plant vegetables and get chickens. I can’t go back to my old lifestyle, head buried in the sand of submerged beaches. I pull into the stupidly large car park scattering a group of people huddled around the door. I tense until I recognise my only customer yesterday.

‘Are you open? Are you doing food? I brought my friends.’


As penance for her marketing career, Jacquie Wyatt now writes flash fiction and novels in deepest, darkest Kent, UK. Her poems have been published in Poetry South, Sentinel and Clear amongst many others and nominated for the Forward Prize by Structo. She is an enthusiastic contributor to Hour of Writes, always grateful for a prompt.

UnSETTled

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


“Where can all this water be coming from?”

Bella Badger scrubbed desperately at the cloying, evil-smelling mud between her long, beautifully-manicured claws. They were long, strong, and flawless, without a single chip or rough edge to them, but several hours of strenuous digging and repairing of one of the deeper runs of the family’s sett had left their mark. As she inspected them closely, checking for damage, she wondered if she’d ever manage to get them properly clean, ever again.

An untidy hump of soil quivered and collapsed as her partner backed awkwardly out of his latest excavation. He shook himself, muttering and cursing as soil and rubble flew in every direction. Within seconds, Bruin’s fur was as clean as if he’d spent the last hour or more grooming himself for the annual Woodlands Ball.

“How bad is it?”

“Most of the tunnel I dug last season has fallen in. Just as well we didn’t have anything stored there yet: we’d have lost it, for certain! We won’t be able to dig in that direction for some time. We’ll have to tunnel off on the other end of the sett next time we need more living space, the ground out that way needs time to settle.”

This with a lazy flap of his tail in the direction of the collapsed passage.

“Best we go tell the cubs, sweetheart. They’ll soon be old enough to help me dig — and we’ll need an extra bedroom before long!” he added with an exaggerated wink. Bella’s pot belly was rounded with the promise of twins expected in the not-very-distant future.

***

“Where’s all this water coming from, Dad? And why does it stink so much?”

Billy hero-worshipped his father, and believed without question that Bruin knew all that could possibly be known about everything Above and Below the entrance to the complex maze of tunnels he’d carved to build the growing family’s needs.

Bruin sipped thoughtfully at his dandelion tea. Billy’s younger sister Blue put aside her favourite doll, begging her father for a solution.

“The Tall Ones are building more of their Caves not far from here,” Bruin sighed.

“We know — that is your mother and I know!” he corrected himself “… that they don’t know how to deal with their waste properly, in a way Nature intended…”

“Like we do!” Billy chirped. Bruin nodded and smiled, but it was a tired smile of resignation and reluctant agreement.

“That’s right, little one! We take what we need (and no more) from Nature, we recycle what can be recycled, and we bury our waste. Much of what we bury will break down and fertilise the soil to grow more plants for your children and theirs in the future.”

“They use untold amounts of water as if it were worth little or nothing at all, use it to send their waste Somewhere Else, for others to deal with — at least, that’s what I think is the reason they send it.” Bruin said. He was on unsteady ground here: he didn’t have any proof this was what happened to the waste products flushed away from the ugly Caves the Tall Ones preferred to live in.

“You mean, the Tall Ones don’t even know how to shit in the woods?” Billy asked, his eyes showing his horror at the thought.

“You mind your language, Billy Badger!” his mother warned him. A half-smile hovered on her lips, suggesting she wasn’t too offended by her son’s choice of phrase.

“All the same, he’s right!” Bruin said. Billy took this as a sign of his superhero’s approval: the highest compliment his young mind could envisage. His heart swelled with pride. He raised himself to sit on his haunches.

“What can we do about it, Dad? I’m big enough, I can help you dig — even if we have to move and start building a whole new sett…!”

Bruin shook his head and set down his empty mug.

“For the moment, son, all we can do what we’ve always done. We adapt ourselves and our comfortable, warm home, and carry on. In a few years from now, we may be able to work once again in tunnels and passages in that direction, but for now we change our plans, build in other directions. And yes, I believe you’re both old enough to help me build a new bedroom…”

This with a loving glance at Bella, who suddenly decided to award herself a totally unnecessary claw inspection and manicure.

“Let the Tall Ones carry on with their wasteful, inefficient ways of dealing with their stinking, polluted water and their foul-smelling wastes.” he declared.

“Our paths seldom cross, and when they do the Tall Ones always seem to come out on top — literally! For they live Above ground, in the full glare of daylight. They spend their days (and perhaps their nights?) fighting against Nature.”

“We will continue as we have always done, by Adapting to our safe, secure homes Below ground, at one with Nature and at peace with ourselves.”


Born in the Year of the Tiger, Paul McDermott’s natural curiosity combined with the deep-seated feline need to roam has meant that over the years he’s never been able to call any one place home. His wanderlust has led him from one town to another, and even from one country to another. He has always followed his instincts without question or complaint, and in true cat fashion it seems he has always landed on his feet. Paul’s debut novel, The Chapel of Her Dreams is the first volume of a planned trilogy. Other works currently seeking an outlet include a couple of plays and a WWII sub-hunt thriller… and a rock musical intended for children.

Seventy metres

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


A honeybee’s sting
smells of banana,
a sweet call
to swarm.
Fear made us gather
in those slowing years, hordes
that fled to high places
‘til they turned to coast,
‘til hills plunged to oceans
and grass became
sand.


Jack Cooper is a neuroscience graduate who tries to impress his arty friends with his science, and his sciency friends with his poems. He finds inspiration in unusual prompts, British mythology, and Japanese video games.

The grass is pale on the other side

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


Krishna and his three siblings are enjoying the dimming sunlight playing in the courtyard of their dilapidated mud hut. They have skipped lunch and will hate to be called inside for dinner. Devki, mother of the four children, looks out of the window gazing through spider webs and decides against calling them inside. She smiles at her youngest daughter, Imly, who is playing in shade of the giant Babul tree. Devki’s smile quickly wanes, giving way to tears of pain and anguish. Her husband Balraam had committed suicide by hanging from that tree a few months ago. Ever since, Devki is managing herself and the children on her own. Several days in a week go by with a single meal and she has less to explain if the four children keep themselves busy in the courtyard.

Balraam owned a small farmland in Vidarbha village in Maharashtra, India. Vidarbha has suffered from water shortage for several decades. However, the situation has changed– only for the worse. The village is now among the several severely drought-affected villages across the state of Maharashtra. Balraam took a farm loan to buy seeds, fertilizers and used a small part of it to celebrate with his family the occasional few days he had some extra cash. A local weather guru Hirana had predicted a heavy monsoon and received a token of appreciation from the farmers for his promise of healthy produce. The farm was ploughed and seeds were sown. But instead of abundant rain, it barely rained at all. Balraam’s crops failed. Drenched in debt, Balraam could not bear the pain of not being able to provide for his family anymore. He followed other farmers from the neighboring villages in ending his life.

A postman, meanwhile, stops by the mud hut and hands over a letter to little Imly who quickly brings it over to her mother. Tears trickle down Devki’s face as she looks down at Imly holding the letter from her aunt Sujata – Devki’s sister. Sujata writes in the letter that she is coming to

visit them with her family and that they could stay for several days. Sujata lives far East in the state of Bihar boasting vast stretches of fertile land. Ganges – the holy Indian River and its tributaries flow through Bihar and keep the land wet.

Devki has always found happiness in Sujata’s prosperity, but for the first time she experiences a hint of jealousy. Devki writes back explaining Sujata that she is barely feeding her children and it will be impossible for her to honor the guests. Devki almost wants to ask her sister for help but stops short for the respect of her deceased husband. The children, dehydrated after playing for long return inside and sleep shortly after. Devki looks upon as another day goes by and eventually sobs herself to sleep.

Next morning, she is woken up by a knock on the door. It is Sujata and her children. Imly quickly brags to her aunt that she was the one to receive her letter from the postman. The sisters feel a little differently about the Indian Postal Service. Devki invites Sujata and children inside and offers water. Sujata looks at the brimming glass of water and starts crying. Confused, Devki asks the children to go outside and play, and holds Sujata in her arms.

Sujata informs Devki that there was a flood in Bihar from heavy rain resulting in increased discharge from the rivers. Her husband, Ranjan was swept away in the flood and their farm is inundated. The stagnant water is making people sick and several children have died of diarrhea. The only drinking water they had was floodwater and they were running out of the food rations she picked up before leaving the house. She had no option but to come to Devki to avoid the death trap. Sujata reminisces that Ranjan had once proposed to settle elsewhere during a previous “near-flood” situation but she had decided against it.

Sujata offers to work in Devki’s farm and raise their children together. Devki informs her that she sold the land to repay Balraam’s farm debt and now works in the local government office. Devki promises to talk to the babus for Sujata’s employment.

Next morning, Devki goes to work and sees a large gathering outside office. She hears people discussing adaptation strategies to deal with the simultaneous drought and flood in different parts of the country. She remembers how each year there are similar meetings but nothing ever gets done. Agitated, she returns home and along with Sujata starts making some dinner for the children. Later in the evening, the village panchayat announces that the central government has promised green light for the river-linking project. This, according to the government, will allow the surplus water in Ganges to flow through one of the rivers in Maharashtra. Devki recalls reading about this project when she was young. She, along with Sujata go to the local officer to understand how long it will take to complete the task. Rama, the officer, tired after a long day of work is not interested in taking any questions. After several minutes of trying to get away, he responds to them “Not in your lifetime, and may be in your children’s”. Sujata and Devki look at each other with welled eyes.


Nishita Sinha has a Master’s degree in Economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. Currently, she is a doctoral student in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University. Her research interest lies in studying resource policy implications – primarily water resources. Currently, she is involved in a project developing a market solution to deal with water shortage during extensive drought periods in South Texas. She believes the role of “invisible hand” is critical to policy issues in natural resources and should be employed more often. She can be reached at nishitasinha9@gmail.com.