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Photo by Quinn Mira on Unsplash

The barren streets of Boston howl as the wind runs through empty streets. Clothing lines hung up between windows, overflowing bins of trash, rats running rampantly.

The sky is gray, streaked with darkness that comes off to be something more of the color of rust. The air blankets over the city, thick and heavy, like a storm cloud that is the sky itself. The sunlight tries to force its way through the walls and roof that the sky has created for itself, trapping the walking corpses within its arms, only to cast hazy shadows on the molding walls of buildings.

Every window to every apartment complex is closed shut, locks rusted and stuck in their positions, never needing to be moved. Scattered around the buildings are dead pets, their bodies rotting, waiting for the ravens and rats to feed off of their carcasses. 

Upstairs in Complex number 3, room 25 on Queensberry Street, shouts and screams ring through the walls, pestering other residents who seek nothing but rest and peace.

“But Mom, I want to play,” A little boy yelled, shaking his hands and stomping his feet in a tantrum.

“Now stop it Tim, you know there is nothing outside for you to play with,” His mom scolded him, holding a sharp finger, pointing at his face sternly.

“But Mom,” He whined, “I never get to go outside, you never let me. It is not fair. Why do you get to go outside but I don’t?”

His mom paced around the room, running her fingers through her hair, checking the kitchen cabinets to see what food they had left. The wood was peeling apart, and a couple of the shelves no longer had any doors or covers. There was rot and cobwebs beginning to find homes in the dirtied corners, the old paper walls, covered with now dull flowers, holding in all moisture and germs. His mother sighed, dusting crumbs off the countertops before realizing that the small remnants of bread was all that they had left for their next meal.

Tim continued to whine, tossing himself on the floor, his face pulled with a dramatic flair, hoping it might finally win over his mom. But she did not listen, instead her body leaned against the countertop as she bit the nail on her thumb, her face twisted with worry.

“Mom,” He yelled again.

“Tim, be quiet won’t you?” She snapped at him, storming over, “We will go outside. I need to get food. And when we do, you can see the outside you so desperately want to play in. Okay?”

Tim stopped in his tracks, head tilted with confusion, his stare blank as he blinked at her quickly, “What?”

“You heard me, now put on your coat and gloves,” She began, starting to put on hers.

“It is so hot–”

“No, put them on unless you want to get sick,” She lectured him as she layered clothes so not an inch of skin on her body could feel the open air, “Now do as I say unless you want to stay here.”

“Okay,” he groaned, but on his coat and gloves, “Do I have to wear the mask too? It is so hard to breathe in.”

His mom looked at him, raising her eyebrows, “You won’t do much breathing without it.”

He grabbed it off of the hook, strapping it around his head. It covered the entirety of his face, but his mom could still see the scrunch of his nose and the disappointed pout twisted under the thick cloth, “Fine.”

The mask was waxy, thick thread worn and torn across the edges, glass circles over the eyes, and a metal filtration system around the nose and mouth. The sides dug into Tim’s skin, irritating him and creating dark red marks– but it had never not been like this when he went to go outside, and he didn’t argue with his mom.

The outside was quiet, with only a few pieces of paper and trash flying around in the slow wind, thick and heavy with fog and other pollutants.

“Now hold my hand and follow me closely, I can’t have you getting lost,” His mom took his hand, knowing that if he strayed too far from her, the air would not let her reunite with him and he would be as good as dead, “We will go to the park first, okay?”

Tim nodded, no longer fussing around. Instead, he timidly held tight onto his mom’s hand, stepping right next to her feet, looking around nervously through the muggy glass of his mask.

The streetlights remained on all hours, but the thick blanket that rejected all light made it hard to tell whether the shadows were cast by the moon or the Sun. His mom walked on, her feet moving at a fast, steady pace, feeling chased by the threats of death the particles in the air held. Tim felt it too, the feeling of not wanting to stay out for too long.

The two of them walked in the middle of the road. The streets and dotted white lines no longer served the purpose of directing cars– for they were all banned. But even if they weren’t, there wasn’t anyone who wanted to be outside for that long. 

“Are we there yet?” Tim asked.

“Yes, but do not speak, you will waste your air,” His mom told him shortly, not looking down at her son, his eyes wearily drifting between the different broken buildings that lined their streets and dried-out gardens, thinned and weakened to the point that any gust of wind too strong would turn all petals and leaves into mere ash.

After a few minutes, they arrived at Back Bay Fens. 

“This is the outside you so desperately wanted to play in.” 

Tim looked around. There was a large basin, carved out for what should’ve been a small lake or body of water. But it had been sunken dry along with the rest of the park. All the greens had been crushed, with only a few inches of grass that looked more like short stacks of hay. The skeletons of wilting flowers and trees now hung over the park grimly, their branches and stems twisted wickedly like claws– a warning. Further to the South stood a garden of thorns, large archways of brown hurling over themselves, knowing they would never grow roses once again, like a forest that belonged down under.

“Now do you see what I mean?” His mother asked.

“I do not think I want to play here,” Tim stuttered, walking backwards, spooked by how the gardens and parks had been starved of all life, and was now nothing more than a playground for the winds that howled loudly, “I think I will stay home.”

His mom nodded, still not looking down at him as she bit her bottom lip. Her eyebrows tilted as her eyes dropped along with her body that hung over her bones weakly. Decades ago she had once played in this park. But now, it was only a ghost of its past self that haunted her. All of the outside haunted her. Where the skies were once blue and white clouds puffed cheerfully across were now only filled with dust and darkness– everything had been replaced, gone, stripped.

“Should we go back home?” His mom asked softly, choking on her words, forgetting about the food and the groceries. Her fingers curled up and itched at her sides. Her knees felt weak as she did not want to stand here anymore, it was a world she did not want to live in. It was only inside the confines of their apartment where she could even remotely pretend that everything was the same as it had been in 2030. 

I was inspired to write this piece based on pollution and climate change. Most sources of pollution are human-made, such as through cars, factories, and power plants, making it so that we will possibly become our own ends. We can already see the effects of this in countries such as China, where there is a dense population and a large amount of factories and manufacturing. I think that pollution is one of the most dangerous problems out there because we never truly are able to see its effects and impacts until it is too late. The colors of the sunsets and sunrises, blue skies and light clouds– it could all be gone to gray and brown if we do not act consciously enough before the problem becomes increasingly evident. Through this piece, I hope to have illustrated a world where pollution has grown drastically, acting as a cautionary tale. Within the clouds and fog, the bleak colors and aura of death that surrounds, the story works as a warning against the world we are slowly inching closer and closer towards. 


Where Does Air Pollution Come From?

One of the easiest ways to work to help prevent further polluting the air is by paying attention to transportation. Instead of driving everywhere, maybe try to bike, walk, take public transportation, or carpool. 

Addison Lee is a young student and writer for the Incandescent Review from Southern California. She is an editor for her school’s newspaper and literary magazine. Aside from reading and writing, she loves baking, boba, and the bass. One day she hopes to publish her own novel. 

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