So, this is not a book review. I tried to write this piece for the Howl of the Wild contest that Winterwolf Press is hosting and then I found out that they wanted submissions that “must be aligned with Winterwolf Press’ mission of promoting peace, joy, magic and positivity in society’s creative consciousness”. I have no issue with that. I should have read the prompts first before writing this short story, but I was very angry and upset about something that happened to me this morning and I wanted to take it out on something that wasn’t a wall. I didn’t have access to my gym since I’m a guest, not a member, so I didn’t have access to a punching bag. Microsoft Word became my punching bag and I created this piece which my husband describes as “thoroughly depressing” (hence why I can’t submit it to Winterwolf Press =( ). I have no where else to put it except for Wattpad, which I might, so enjoy a very depressing tale by me!
No one thought this day would come. A day when all the trees would be cut down, a day when there was no more life on Earth besides our own anymore, a day when Earth was to become an inhospitable wasteland. We needed more roads, more paper, more resources, more food, more firewood, more space for our thriving species… and they were the ones who suffered for our ignorance. As I lay here in my bunk, my wife and child beside me, I lay awake and listen to the sounds of their labored breathing. We’ve been underground for weeks and I can tell by how hazy everything is becoming that we have finally run out of fresh oxygen. I haven’t told my neighbors because they were gracious enough to let us steal some months off of their lives. I can’t bear to tell them the end is here. I haven’t told my wife about the situation. Her face has aged ten years in the past week alone after she discovered we were out of the little bit of food and water we hurriedly stored down here with us. I was also worried she would have another attack. We failed to grab the last of her medicine before making it into the bunker. I sure as hell won’t tell my child. I don’t want to inform him that he won’t live to see his fifth birthday or that he won’t wake up tomorrow to play ring around the rosy with me for the last time. I see my old storybook, The Lorax, tucked under his arm. In that moment I wished I had cared a whole awful lot so my child’s future would be better. I would go upstairs to breathe some fresh air and to retrieve some more food and water, but the air has become too hot to even survive in your home. We’re not even sure if the house above us still stands, the solar flares might have taken my neighbors home already. It took ours. I haven’t told my wife or child that our house is gone. I only saw because I closed the bunker doors. The house I grew up in, the house I met my wife in, the home my child was conceived in and brought home to… was gone. Nothing was left but the fire and the smoke. The dry, ashy earth did not help the flames and there would be nothing to help put it out if there was even time. Word of mouth was that while there was no water here, that there was plenty of water on the coastal regions. The heat had finally killed the polar caps. The melted mess flooded anywhere connected to the coast. We speculated Australia was gone, but we wouldn’t ever know for sure. Radio and television became non-existent when electricity and fuel became too expensive and sparse. Even if we had access to running water, the water would be too hot by now. There would be no question that the water would boil your alive. The only thing we had plenty of was each other because we were the only living things left alive on this planet… for now. I close my eyes for the final time and a thought crosses my mind: I never got to go back to the Grand Canyon or see anymore of the beautiful wildness in the world before it was completely destroyed by us. And I cried as much as a dehydrated, weak person could. I was thirty-three years old.
“Sorry, no more left here,” Said a skinny teen sweating profusely in his fatigues. I assumed he was fresh to the National Guard. What a shitty time to have joined. The kid was in charge of rationing out food today. I felt sorry for him. I could tell the rations were becoming less and less as each day proceeded. There hadn’t been fruit or chocolate for months now. Vegetables were also becoming fewer and fewer each day. We’re only allowed one veggie per week now. We’re only allowed freeze-dried food, like the kinds the astronauts used to receive when we still did space explorations. If you were lucky, you thought ahead to store some food when grocery stores were still in business. We still have some canned food at home, but the electricity shortage was worse than ever. We’re only allowed an hour per day, and we use that to warm our child’s formula, something we also managed to stockpile before the stores closed, and to take showers. We’re considered privileged because we still have electricity still. Some places are completely tapped out. They warm their food and water over the open flames of candles. If Charlotte and I had seen what would happen to our world, we would have never had Jacob. I doubt we would have even married, but we don’t discuss things like that. We’re all we have left in the world. Our parents volunteered for The Reckoning, to ensure we did not have to split our meager rations with them. “I’m sorry, but there is no more food here today” the poor man reiterated to the man in front of me. Behind me, a rumble started growing through the crowd. The man in front of me began to yell. Others joined in. We used to be a civil group, our community saw now violence and we had relatively little crime. Hunger will change a man though. I was too slow to move out of the way, it must have been the hunger. I haven’t ate for two days, and my wife tried to supplement the formula with breastmilk. They needed the food more than I did. I was thrown forward with the crowd into the empty truck the poor man stood on. I struggled to get away from the rioters. In times past, they would have just been jailed and released the next day. In this new time, however, crime was not tolerated. If you were seen as a problem, the authorities did not see any reason to keep feeding you. If they were merciful they shot you in the head. If they felt you should be punished before death, they shot you in the non-vital areas a few times before finally ending it. That is the reason I had a warrant for my death and I had to lay low. I had broken into an old pharmacy and stolen some asthma medicine for my wife a few months after Charlotte’s mother passed on. Normally, her mother snuck medicine for Charlotte out of her pharmacy and in the last days of her mother’s job her mother managed to smuggle several doses of medication for Charlotte. While she normally doesn’t have an attack, the stress of trying to keep Jacob fed made her have more frequent attacks. If anyone found out she was ill, she would be killed. How would I feed Jacob then, if I were still alive that is? Those were the thoughts that helped me finally break free of the crowd and push my legs to run away as fast as possible. As I ran I heard the poor man’s screams be quickly cut off. I only turned around when I felt I was a safe distance away. The truck was overturned and the rioters were standing on top of the truck, trying to incite an uprising among the others milling around. When the military showed up, I turned back around and started home. The last sound I heard from the rioters were their screams as shots rang out. I was twenty-nine years old.
The fish were dead. All of the fish. They all floated upside down in their tanks. It wasn’t like we had a ton of fish to begin with, only a few hundred of our once thousands. The fish had slowly stopped reproducing for awhile now. It wasn’t that big of a mystery as to what killed them. The water was also unbelievably hot as well. My company couldn’t afford to pay the outrageous price to keep the air conditioner running on the fish hatcheries any longer. We had to hope the water wouldn’t become too hot, a bet we lost. I wasn’t that surprised. The temperature continued to rise each and every season. We received no more snow and the rain barely fell. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw green grass. The grass refused to grow any longer. It was now just black piles of Earth that didn’t allow anything to grow in it. Summers were unbearable. We couldn’t even work last summer. The temperatures reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit most days. It seemed pointless for the weatherman to talk about “record-breaking” temperatures when every season was a record-breaking season. Word of mouth is that other areas are suffering far more than we are. The coastal areas are at least ten degrees Fahrenheit hotter than here. The beaches are abandoned because the sun blisters your skin rapidly. While skin cancer is a threat we all live with now, the sun now does far more damage than it used to. Without an ozone layer, the skin is not protected from the sunshine. Some people have reported seeing people try to sunbathe like they could in the past times. They either died or had third degree burns, and in a time with lessening resources being ill meant certain death. Doctors no longer worked to perform miracles to save your life, they now performed quick painless deaths. “Well that’s it guys. It was sure good knowin’ y’all. Without the fish we’re gonna hafta close. Thanks for standin’ by me all these years,” Joe, my now former boss, said. I left the hatchery and headed to Charlotte’s home, hoping that seeing my fiancée’s face would cheer me up on this horrible day. As I walked to her home, I noticed the sky. It was blue and cloudless. The sun was high in the sky. The clouds rarely, if ever, appeared. I did not notice until later in my walk to Charlotte’s home that the fish were the last animals I had seen in years. I was twenty-six years old.
Charlotte had eyes as blue as the sky. They were that deep blue color that seemed to be endless. However, her eyes were very sad. My best friend, my secret crush, was upset today. Her father lost his position at the police station, as did all the other police. The increased rioting around the country and the increased tensions among different countries made the government scared they’d lose the country to the chaos that threatens to destroy us all. Every city in the country was to be governed by the military now, and since the police were ingrained in the community they were to be forced out of their positions. We are now under military rule. While normally the government would not have the resources to fund this expenditure, a mandatory draft was put in place and all able bodied men and women were forced to sign up or face death. Charlotte and I were excused from the draft. I had a rod in my leg from where I broke my leg with I was young and Charlotte was asthmatic. When Charlotte texted me I offered to take her to do her favorite activity, cloud watching. As we laid down on the dry, yellow grass we began our childhood game. The game went like this: we would spot a cloud and tell the other what we think the cloud resembled. It was childish, but it wasn’t like I could take her into town to watch a movie. We lived in a rural area and my parents had long ago sold the car. We never used it anymore and we could used the money for other things. Unless we wanted to go grocery shopping, this was the most entertaining thing we could do at the moment. We never noticed, until we were laying on that ground, that all the clouds seemed to have disappeared. We occasionally saw a few, but they lacked the fluffiness they used to. When had the clouds disappeared? I had a feeling I would never find out. While we laid there, looking in vain for the clouds we once loved to watch when we were children, I noticed the birds flying south for the winter. There were only two in the group. I watched for more, but there were no more. Unlike the clouds, I had noticed the birds. I loved to watch them fly and always looked forward to their flight south in the winter and their return in the spring. The birds, once numerous and plentiful, were now sparse. They shrunk in population each and every year. I wondered if I would see their return in the spring. Surely, they would be hunted like the other animals. Since hunting licenses were no longer required to kill any animals, I doubt someone would pass the opportunity for fresh meat. Meat had become sparse recently and the grocery stores did not have the stock they used to, and rumor had it that some of the meat that was stocked was not cow or pig, but dog and cat. Sometimes I wondered if Sparky was among those slaughtered for meat. I pushed those thoughts out of my mind as I tried to concentrate on our game. I looked over at Charlotte and noticed her beautiful face had a smile on it. At least she was happy. That’s all that mattered to me. I was twenty-two years old.
“The early efforts of the conservation movement can be traced back to John Evelyn and his work titled Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty’s Dominions. The work was presented in 1662 and published as a book two years later. Timber resources in England during the time…” my history teacher, Ms. Isbell, droned on. She was teaching us about the conservation movement in light of the most recent repeal. The government passed a law that would allow anyone to hunt any animals they wanted without penalty or regulations. Zoos also lost their funding and were to either release the animals or send them back to be placed into their natural environments. This was something other countries were doing around the world. Rumors had it that some zoos, like San Diego and Cincinnati, were giving their animals a painless alternative. Most of the animals had lived in captivity all their life and wouldn’t survive in the wild if the hunters didn’t get to them first. While normally these zookeepers would have been arrested for harming the animals, it was no longer a crime to do so. No animals were safe with humans any longer. The reason for this act was because of the pigs, cows, turkeys, and chickens. While there used to be farms that harvested the animals for their meat, the supply could not keep up with the demand as our population continued to grow. The plan seemed to be to let people hunt whatever they could so maybe that would relieve some of the strain the farmers faced. When school was over that day Charlotte and I walked home together. We went to my home so we could do our homework together. While we were working on our work and talking about stupid school stuff, my mother came running into the dining room. She had put Sparky in our now 100 square foot backyard to do his business while she went to do gather the laundry that was drying on the tiny bit of grass that was our front lawn. We once had more land, but when the city took our trees away to build more houses. We needed more homes as our population continued to grow, so we had less land around our home. Sometimes I threw a football with the ten year old that lived beside us. We threw the ball between our windows, as we lived only 5 foot apart from one another. We once owned a washer and a dryer, but we had to sell them when my dad lost his job. When she went to check on Sparky, he was gone and our backyard fence door was open. The door was closed when she put Sparky outside. Charlotte made flyers for me while I ran outside to find Sparky. I searched for him for days, but never saw him again. I was sixteen years old.
The sound of the slamming door woke me up from my slumber. I gently pushed my army man aside and I crept out of the bed. Peaking out of the door, I could see my father standing in the hallway. Anger filled his eyes as he told my mom what happened when he went to work that day. He took our car and drove it to the national park he worked at. It was only when he arrived to work that he was informed he was fired. The government was to blame my father kept saying. They decided not to protect the national parks any longer. The land would be free for private businesses to buy and to build on. The trees would all be cut down because the fuel shortages were becoming more severe. The government was hoping to ease the shortages by allowing people to cut down trees to use instead of using our little remaining fossil fuels. My father was obviously irate. He loved the trees like I did. He did not want to watch them die. After the screaming started, I snuck out of my treehouse. I had to bribe Sparky, our family dog, to not follow me because I wanted to be alone. I also did not want to hear my father yelling any longer. I fell asleep and only woke up when I heard a loud vibrating sound. I looked outside my treehouse window to realize it was some construction men. They were chopping down the few remaining trees we had in our backyard. They were also chopping down the tree I was in. I panicked and curled up into a ball in the furthest corner of the mine and Charlotte’s home away from home. The tree shook and swayed as I listened to the sounds of our other trees fall to the ground. The same trees Charlotte and I once ran around in and played ring around the rosy with. Finally, my tree began to fall. I closed my eyes and waited for the tree to hit the ground. Later that day I would be put in surgery to get a rod placed in my leg. My leg was too badly damage to mend on its own. This would be the last time it was safe to go to a doctor’s office, my mom whispered to my father when they thought that I was asleep. They decided to get help from Charlotte’s mother when it was needed, she was a pharmacist and had some medical knowledge and access to drugs. As I laid in bed, the pain medicine taking over my body and making me sleepy, Sparky jumped up on my bed and snuggled beside me. I was ten years old.
“Can you see it, honey?” my mom whispered to me as we looked out on the Grand Canyon. “This is the beauty of the Earth. Nature and animals. They should always be protected for others to see, like your child one day.” We had went on a family vacation to visit some of the best national parks in our country. Today it was the Grand Canyon. As I looked out at it, my father walked behind my mom. “Gas is $7.45 here.” My mom gasped. “Nowhere else to fill up. The other ones are out of gas. We’ll have to cut the trip short or else we won’t make it home.” I protested to my father that I wanted to stay longer and that I wanted to go see Yosemite. My father shook his head and told me that such a thing wouldn’t be possible unless gas became cheaper. We were having to pay for gas out of our savings account. We left that day and went back to the cabin we were renting for the night. We were given candles for the night and a few tree logs. The electricity allowances had forced the cabin rental company to cut back on a lot of expenses, one of those being electricity and heat after a certain hour. As I was tucked into bed that night I asked my parents why the gas wasn’t cheaper. “We screwed up kiddo” my father said. He then proceeded to explain that when companies in the past time were allowed to mine and do as they wished with our fossil fuels. They used up all the resources way too fast and now there was no longer a lot of them around. Gas came from a fossil fuel and it was becoming more expensive because there was less of it. My father went on to say that this would be the last road trip we’d probably take until we found an alternative to our current situation. All we could do right now is either hope we find another fuel source or pray we think of ways to make alternative fuel and energy. I asked my father what we would do instead of going on family vacations and road trips, as those were our traditions. He told me that he and I would finally get around to building that treehouse I had wanted for so long and that I could still ride with him to work sometimes and go play with the big trees I loved to climb. When I still protested the loss of my beloved vacations, my father turned to look at my mom. They stared at each other and then she gave my father a small smile and a nod. “If you’re a good boy, we’ll adopt a puppy when we get home. You and Charlotte can run through the woods with him and you can teach him tricks.” I smiled at this and hugged my father around his neck. My father finished tucking me into bed, kissed my forehead, read to me my favorite story, The Lorax, and blew out the candle. Right before sleep enveloped me in its velvety haze I prayed for there to be a whole lot of people who would care a lot about our world to change our current situation. I held onto the hope I would come back out here again and I would see more of the beautiful wildness that existed in our world. I was four years old.