The children unclipped their filter masks as instructed. Some coughed and spluttered as they breathed in the warm, murky air of the assembly hall.

Teachers strode between the lines of seated children, administering short bursts of precious oxygen from the school’s depleted supply of portable canisters, whilst some of their colleagues taped around doorways and grimy windows. Large, static cylinders lined the sides of the hall.

Extraction fans, an extravagance not normally reserved for gatherings, whirred into action overhead.

The Headteacher stood on a podium; his voice crackled over ancient loudspeakers. “Today we celebrate Carbon Free Martyrs’ Day”, he paused for the obligatory, half-hearted applause from the teachers.

The children remained unmoved. Most seemed bored; a few shifted uncomfortably as they watched their teachers seal exit points.  For many, the now lauded, but failed attempt to shut down carbon belching industry fifty years ago was ancient history.

“This year,” the Headteacher continued, “instead of the usual speeches,” some of the pupils perked up at this, “the School Governors and the Teaching Faculty have funded an extraordinary gift for all of us. Each chose to cut back on their daily allocation of power over the last year, so that we can enjoy this.”

“These,” he gestured towards the upright cylinders, “have come to us by sailboat. I hope that you’ll cherish and remember this day for a very long time. Be inspired by it. We are all going to breathe fresh air for a minute or so.”

The extraction fans stopped and the cylinders hissed open.

Some children panicked and had to be calmed, others tried to outdo their neighbours by taking the deepest breaths possible.

Ten years later the memory of those precious sixty seconds lingered and former pupils would sometimes gather and reminisce about their experience.

Some likened it to the smell of freshly sterilised clothes a few seconds before polluted air seeped back into the fabric; for others it reminded them of the coolness of fresh water, when the desalination plants actually worked.

A few believed it had tasted of freedom and they were going to demand more.

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Voice-Team
Voice-Team(@voice-team)
Admin
1 year ago

A drama deftly combining the mundane and the unimaginable. Powerful story of a polluted future and the very strong, human longing it cannot destroy. Food for thought and a powerful impetus for change.

Julie Harris
Julie Harris(@julie-harris)
1 year ago

Hello Paul, and welcome to Voice Club. This first story will certainly make an impact. Well-written, full of drama and suspense, it is an excellent addition to the Clean Air collection. We readers fill a chill of foreboding as we contemplate such a future for our children and grand-children. Some… Read more »

Julie Harris
Julie Harris(@julie-harris)
Reply to  Paul Lewthwaite
1 year ago

I’m not so sure your story is an alternate reality, Paul. I just read an article about Lake Tahoe – the people there have not seen the sun in weeks and cannot breathe. The smoke and ash from the Caldor Fire have driven everyone indoors, and even inside some people… Read more »

Zinna Lin
Zinna Lin(@zinna-lin)
1 year ago

A very impactful story Paul that makes you appreciate the little things, drawing attention to the devastating impact climate change brings about the world, affecting even the air we breathe.

Lotchie Carmelo
Lotchie Carmelo(@lotchie-carmelo)
1 year ago

A warm welcome to the voice club, Paul. Your story regarding the importance of fresh air is very wonderful. I love it. I also like the message that your story brings. Good job.

Lotchie Carmelo
Lotchie Carmelo(@lotchie-carmelo)
Reply to  Paul Lewthwaite
1 year ago

You’re welcome, Paul. And congratulations on your win. I am glad you did it.

Lotchie Carmelo
Lotchie Carmelo(@lotchie-carmelo)
Reply to  Paul Lewthwaite
1 year ago

You’re welcome, Paul. Hope to read more stories from you.

Alan Kemister
Alan Kemister(@alan-kemister)
1 year ago

Impressive story, but very depressing because if we don’t soon make progress on cutting back carbon emissions…. When you got to the line ‘Some children panicked… I was with them imagining WW II death camps and Zyklon B gas. After that, it got a little less depressing. At least they… Read more »

Melissa Taggart
Melissa Taggart(@melissa-taggart)
Reply to  Paul Lewthwaite
1 year ago

Hello, Paul and congratulations! I love this story – there is a darkness to it that I appreciate. I’m a huge fan of the dystopian. You have a talent, great work!

Chris
Chris(@chris)
Reply to  Alan Kemister
1 year ago

Hi Alan – I agree this story was impressive but a bit depressing. However, I think it’s great that the Voice Club is prompting these climate discussions. I have been reading alot of your various comments, and have learned a great deal from you through this contest. So the good… Read more »

Alan Kemister
Alan Kemister(@alan-kemister)
Reply to  Chris
1 year ago

Here I am responding to Chris in a thread related to Paul’s thought provoking story. Don’t know if that’s the right thing, but here is my response to Chris’s comments. I share his view that humans seem to be incapable of dealing with the climate crisis. Don’t know if trees… Read more »

Voice-Team
Voice-Team(@voice-team)
Admin
Reply to  Alan Kemister
1 year ago

Alan, just want to let you know that this is the perfect place to respond to Chris’s comment to you. Our comment section is designed to allow a freedom of expression and sharing of ideas. When you respond directly to a member, that person will receive an email with a… Read more »

Alan Kemister
Alan Kemister(@alan-kemister)
Reply to  Voice-Team
1 year ago

Good. I wasn’t trying to question your protocols. Another site I visit has a problem with threads being hijacked, getting so far off topic that the original topic is lost. I didn’t want to be responsible for something like that here.

Chris
Chris(@chris)
Reply to  Alan Kemister
1 year ago

This story describes fresh air as a distant memory in a futuristic dystopian world. However, every day in my current reality I ride my bike, constantly assaulted with the exhaust of the plethora of cars surrounding me. On my daily bike rides, clean air is already a distant memory. When… Read more »

Christer Norrlof
Christer Norrlof(@christer-norrlof)
1 year ago

Welcome to Voice.club, Paul, and welcome back to writing (I saw the presentation you give of yourself) after your “short break”. I can clearly see the situation you describe as from a futuristic, dystopian movie showing the situation in a school. Unfortunately not so difficult to imagine these days. I… Read more »

Marianna Pieterse
Marianna Pieterse(@marianna-pieterse)
1 year ago

Paul, it is true that the picture you painted in the story is not a pretty one, but at the rate humans are destroying earth, it is a very accurate one. It is time for us to stop and think of where we will end up if we continue at… Read more »

Chris
Chris(@chris)
Reply to  Marianna Pieterse
1 year ago

Marianna Pieterse
Marianna Pieterse(@marianna-pieterse)
Reply to  Chris
1 year ago

Chris, I agree with you. I remember years ago, we were talking to a friend about the sometimes strange topics singers tend to sing about. He said the same thing, that they most probably do it to shock you so that you would stop and think about it. It makes… Read more »

Carrie OLeary
Carrie OLeary(@carrie-oleary)
1 year ago

Hi Paul and welcome to Voice club. Your story is certainly on the darker side compared to most I’ve read so far, but is most certainly not beyond the realms of possibility if we don’t work at being better for the environment. A distressing read that makes you sit up… Read more »

Fuji
Fuji(@fuji)
1 year ago

Congratulations, Paul, on your selection as a RunnerUp. Your cautionary tale is very powerful. When the very air we breathe is threatened, surely no one can continue to turn a blind eye? Thanks for having the courage to show us a terrible possibility.

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