Negative ifs
by Sabrina Wilcocks
Junior Category – Runner Up 

‘If’ is the beginning to all regrets. One would assume there would be nothing to rue about celebrating at a spacious, public pool, but Dakota, a teenage boy that begrudgingly accepted the invitation, swam in his own pool of pessimism. He saw the bad in everything, and he could only watch depressingly from the lone shadows for the worst to occur. He studied the beautiful birthday girl as she socialised with her peers and looked unphased by the negative ‘ifs’ of the night.
People mingled outside the pool, swaying to the music that played classic mixes for a girl’s sweet sixteen, and others relished in the joy the water had to offer; splashing friends and dunking mates, challenging besties to wrestle on shoulders, all the while a large colourful ball flew through the air over heads.
Ensley took part in limbo outside the pool, shimmying under the stick with barely contained laughter. Her classmates cheered and hollered, each having to yell to be heard over the jovial ruckus.
The water soon couldn’t be avoided any longer, and Ensley felt drawn to take a nice swim in the coolness. She trained for swimming competitions every day, but even so, she couldn’t get enough of her H20 life. Diving in, Ensley delved deeper in the euphoric feel of the water engulfing her, cocooning her in chilly freshness. No one understood the love she felt for water except her mum.
Ensley could only imagine her mum was happily by her side in spirit form, sending her silent wishes of content.
While the lights shone on the wild party goers, and merriment radiated from each being—save for Dakota brooding in the corner, munching on Cheetos—down the road was a scene of chaos and panic.
Nicholas clutched the steering wheel to the oversized truck with sweaty, callused hands. Eyes glued to the road ahead, he swerved passed cars that looked like sardine cans in comparison to the height he was seated at. Nick could feel the heat growing from the flames licking up a storm behind him. His colleague had his upper body leaning out the passenger window, shooting at the adversaries riding up dangerously close on their motorcycles, enduring the heat with a steely glare. Spying an enemy approaching on his side, Nick glided over to the next lane as swiftly as an elephant could dance on a tightrope. With the ridiculous speed he was
pushing the truck to move at, the risk of jerking the wheel too hard in even the slightest way could flip the colossal vehicle on its burning back.
“Argh!” Roared Santiago, dropping back into his seat, holding his arm close to his chest. “We’ve got to get them off our tail!”
“I’m going as fast as this thing will let me.” Nicholas gritted. “Do you wanna’ take over?”
“I couldn’t drive a go kart for the life of me—not with my leg. The fire is spreading to the chemicals in the back, so we don’t have much time.”
“Has anything got destroyed?”
“Trust me,” exasperated Santiago. “You’ll know if something catches alight. You’ll here the biggest explosion of your life.”
“Get some agents back there to put it out, then. Only a couple more kilometres ‘till we’re in the clear of civilians.”
The plan to ruin their enemy’s destructive idea for peace was taking a rapid turn for the worst. Having the bad guys on their trail, for starters, was a big X, and with the fire they started, half the population of the city could be wiped out if the flames jumped to the lethally flammable chemicals.
“I’ve got every agent we have in the back,” Santiago snapped. “There’s only you and me left! Those fires will only go out in one case…”
“What is it? C’mon, this is no time for dramatic pauses! We need to keep those chemicals out of Hell’s reach.”
“A large amount of water will do the trick.” Said Santiago gruffly. “I’m afraid we have no time to wait until we get to the creek outside the city. The pool around the corner is our only option.”
“Then I’ll do it! I’ll drive the truck straight into the pool. It pains me to say this, but I’d rather a few casualties than a city wiped out.”
“Even if your daughter is amongst those few casualties?” Santiago questioned softly.
Nick blanched, only just remembering about his daughter’s birthday. A sword of torment jabbed at his heart. He knew the right answer to that question, but he refused to believe what had come of this mission.
“No,” he breathed.
“I’m sorry, Nick. I truly am. But think about it. At least a million people likened to thirty—”
“My daughter is worth eighty million people!” Nicholas bellowed.
There was no room for a solemn silence, and instead Santiago fought back bitterly, pulling his mind away from the pity path.
“Will you be able to forgive yourself for the death of a million real people, though?! Your daughter will die either way! I’m sorry, Nick, but you have to make the right decision. Please!”
“I agreed to stay in the secret service so I could have the opportunity to reunite my family! I can’t do it. I just can’t…!”
“Nick, the next turn is it!” Santiago pleaded desperately. “I’m begging you, make the right choice!”
Agony gyrating in his watery eyes, Nicholas felt his heart throb with grief. He had to choose who would die. This was the hardest decision in his life. Despite his unmanly sobs, his arms twisted at the last second, and he drove straight toward the pool. Fate was cruel, and his eyes locked onto his daughter’s.
“Forgive me.” Nick cried, squeezing his eyes shut painfully tight.
Dakota’s mouth dropped open at the sight of the black gate skyrocketing off its bolts. Screams penetrated the night air, promising to haunt the survivors forever. The catastrophe happened in the blink of an eye, and before he knew it, the happy surroundings turned into a bloody war scene with smoke polluting the air and debris lying at the bottom of the pool. Broken bodies floated atop the surface, and Dakota felt the air in his lungs become intoxicated.
With trembling footsteps, he tumbled to the edge of the pool and willed himself to drag Ensley’s limp body from the water. The concept of her dying embraced in what she loved was no comfort as he held her soaking body to his chest, crying loudly.
Nick felt pained that he survived the crash, although bleeding out from his leg and having trouble breathing, he wasn’t dead. He crawled towards his
daughter, his heart soaring with relief as she stirred in the boy’s unyielding hold.
He wept his apologies and blurted excuses for his actions, and released the inevitable ‘if’ questions of the outcome being different.
“You promised you would stop.” Ensley rasped quietly.
“Your mother… She is alive. I know it. They promised to help me search for her if I stayed in the secret service.”
“I don’t want to hear it anymore.”
“Ensley… If you would only join me this one time… We could be a family again.”