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Fiction in response to Sustainable Cities and Communities
November 2018

For Our Futures

By Kelsey Cashman

Walking down the city street, I press my mask to my face to protect me from the thick smog. All around me, people cough, struggling to keep the bad air out of their lungs. The buildings rise all around me, but I can barely read the street addresses through the gray smoke that covers everything.


Coming from the countryside, I was shocked by the drastic change in atmosphere. I had been called to a meeting in the city by some research institute, something about getting together some smart kids to fix problems the adults caused. Nothing new. As I had driven towards the city, I had watched as the sky turned from clear blue, to gray, to black. I had felt as the air turned thicker and thicker with each mile, and when I entered the city limits I had put on the government issued face mask, designed to prevent the pollution from entering our lungs.

As I round the corner, I see the research institute ahead of me, the address written in neon lighting to shine through the gray air. I reach the door and pull it open, rushing off of the city sidewalk. Before I can enter the building, I am stopped in an airlock and the air is cleaned, preventing the pollution from getting inside. Finally, I walk in and talk off my mask.


Inside, everything is clean and bright. A woman in white greets me and ushers me upstairs to where the lead scientists are waiting. She leads me to the door, but before I can ask her anything she is gone. Confused, I decide to walk into the lab anyway, and the first thing I see is hundreds of vials filled with varying shades of gray scattered around the room. Scattered around the room are scientists bent over microscopes, analyzing the contents of these vials.

“Ummm...hello?” I say, wondering if there was some mistake.

One of the scientists looks up at me and motions me over with a wave of his hand.

“Yes, come in, come in,” he says. “We’re very glad to have you.”

As he speaks, the rest of the scientists look up from what they are doing and wave to me. I walk to the first scientist, and he leads me into another room where a projector is set up. Saying nothing, he sits me down in a chair and presses a button on the projector before walking back out of the room.

The door slams shut, making me wince and strengthening the uneasy feeling in my stomach. Suddenly, a video begins to play on the wall in front of me, the narrator’s voice echoing off the walls.

“Years ago, the air was clean. As years went by, we developed more and more technology that made everything faster, easier, cheaper. But through this technology, we also made pollution. Factories emitted waste into the air and into rivers, oil spills filled the oceans, cars sent emissions into the air. And we did nothing. Individual groups attempted to being awareness, to change this trend, but no one listened. And so the air got dirtier and dirtier, the waters became undrinkable, cities became virtually unlivable”

At this point in the video, the narration stops and is replaced by a slide of before and after pictures. A clear blue sky, like that I see from my home, is replaced by a dark hovering cloud of smog. Blue sparkling waterways and lush green forests fade into black puddles of muck and fields of stumps. Tears fill my eyes as I watch, but it is only the beginning.

Soon the images begin to show people, people laying on the streets. People who had moved to the city in hope of a better life, and instead ended up living on the streets when they couldn’t find a job. People who didn’t have access to the masks, who in the pictures were doubled over coughing, their faces covered in black smog and streaked with tears. Hundreds of people living in tents, hundreds of people who would die far too soon of lung disease or starvation. People who were the leftovers of other’s success.

The narration comes back, startling me. I wipe the tears from my face, even though I know she cannot see me.

“As you can see, our society has come to a crossroads. There is still time for us to go back to where we were before, but it is running out quickly. You can help, you must help. We need you, we need you and others like you to inspire your generation to work for a change. Scientists can analyze the smog and try to find a cure, but none of it means anything if your generation does not find a way to end to production of smog. You are a leader, you must lead us into a better future than the one we have created.”

The voice cuts off and the screen goes black. I shake my head, as if trying to wake myself up from a bad dream. The door opens, and the first scientist tentatively pokes his head into the room with eyes full of hope.

His voice penetrates the silence of the room, filled with a mix of hope and fear.

“So...will you help us?”

I look up at him, my eyes meeting his. My mouth opens, and the words come out, confident and sure.

“Yes, yes I will.”

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