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Youth Short Story Winner! The Photo Album


The Photo Album Won Joint 1st Prize in our ESRA Magazine Youth Short Story Competition 2022 

Jeremy arrived at his friend's house. The plastic grass crunched under his boots, and his gas mask muffled his breaths as he made it to the front door- a big electrical buzzing gate, built to keep away intruders. He took off one of his gloves and rang the doorbell, which immediately spewed out metallic straps that trapped his finger. He couldn't stay surprised for too long, as a few beeps were heard and his finger was released in just a few seconds. He raised his head to see the door had opened.

"Hey, Oli! Sorry for being late, a tsunami hit my house again," exclaimed Jeremy as he stepped into the house, his eyes adjusting themselves to the bright room as he looked around at the lead lights and high-tech oxygen filters. "I see you've gotten a new doorbell; it didn't recognize my fingerprint" he added, putting his glove back on.

"About that…" A voice was heard from another room, "My parents didn't want 'outsiders' to have access to our home, so you can blame them for that." A boy shorter than Jeremy appeared from behind the electrical coat hanger, and walked into the room where Jeremy was. That boy was Oliver, Jeremy's friend whom he came to see.

"An outsider! What do I look like to 'em, a garbage bot?!" Jeremy said as he sassily sat on the living room couch. "Well, we can't really do much about it. I'll just have to open the door for you myself. Anyway, that's not why I called you here." Oliver half-mumbled as he walked over to where his friend was seated. 

As Oliver plugged in the couch, activating its temperature adjustment system, Jeremy noticed he was holding a big box of sorts. "What're you holding there?" he asked Oliver, who sat next to him. "This thing was found in my great great great great grandmother's grave during the grave emptying event. Apparently, she'd asked to be buried with it." Oliver explained. Due to overpopulation, there was a need for more graveyards. The grave emptying was a yearly event in which workers would empty old graves from old graveyards in order to make room for new ones.

"Ew! Why would you take the garbage from the grave emptying?!"

"Jeremy." Oliver looked the boy in the eyes. "This is a book."

Jeremy's eyes widened in shock "Holy frickin crap Oli, you're rich! Is this an actual BOOK?? No buttons or anything?? How many pages are in it? Is this, like, REAL paper?!" Jeremy reached for the book, but Oliver quickly dodged his friend's grasp. "Hey, hey! Don't touch it! Old paper is super sensitive." He scolded Jeremy, who awkwardly placed his hands on the couch. "But this isn't all. Look at what's IN the book," Oliver said as he opened the book to the first page. Jeremy gasped as he saw the contents.

It was a photo of a family of five, posing in front of a certain building, smiling and hugging each other. "What in th- A GROUP SUICIDE?!" Jeremy exclaimed in shock and raised his hand to his chest.

"I thought the same thing, but no. Apparently, people used to be able to breathe outside without a gas mask." Oliver calmly explained. "Wh-how?" Jeremy looked at his friend, confused. "My parents said it's because real paper used to produce clean air back when they actually produced it."

"Really? Then why did they stop producing paper?"

Oliver shrugged.

"And I'm guessing back then it was fashionable to make grass long? I thought they didn't have access to plastic at the time." Jeremy said as he got closer to the photo, trying to figure out what he was looking at. "They did, it just wasn't very commonly used. Their clothes back then were made out of fabric, for example."

"Fabric!? This family must be stinkin' rich!"

"Wanna see something even weirder?" Oliver interrupted Jeremy's rant. Jeremy nodded and looked back at the book.

"Check THIS out." Oliver said as he turned the page.

The next photo showed the family in winter, dressed in warm clothes and playing in the snow. "Why is the sand white?" Jeremy immediately asked. "And why are they dressed like that? If the other photo wasn't a group suicide then this one has to be! They're dying from the heat!"

"My parents said that back then it used to be cold outside as well, and when that would happen, white sand would fall from the sky." Oliver pointed at the snowflakes that the photo caught mid-air.

"Wow! They had outside air conditioning?! Aw man, I wish I'd lived back then! I can barely walk my dogbot without coming back home smellin' like a factory malfunction!"

"Oh yeah, if you've already mentioned your dogbot, check THIS out."

This time, Oliver turned a few pages. The photo he showed Jeremy featured a dog playing with a young child.

"Ew! What the frick?! Why is this thing covered in hair? "

"I know, right! That's how dogbots used to look!"

"It's a good thing they stopped making them with hair! Who even thought this was a good idea?!"

The boys continued to look through the pages of the book. They saw things they couldn't explain, such as trees in the middle of the street and clean water being wasted on wheeled boxes ("Cars, I think" Guessed Oliver). It was fascinating to see the different world back then. But that made Jeremy wonder…

"Hey, Oli, why IS the world so different? I mean, it seemed to be just fine just the way it was. Why change it?" Jeremy looked at his friend.

"Why? Oh. Um…" Oliver raised his head, trying to recall something. "My great grandpa said it's because of… 'climate change', I think?"

"Climate what now?"

"I'm not sure. Something changed the world, made the weather unstable and flipped the world on its head. Oh, and it also caused natural disasters! Back then, tsunamis and all that were actually pretty rare!"

"Wow, that would've saved me a lot of trouble." Jeremy said, looking back at the book, "Why did they change that climate thing?"

"I… don't think it was on purpose." Oliver looked Jeremy in the eye. "It was a long process, too. The world was being damaged by something that they did back then, and that caused it"

"Well, why didn't anyone do anythin' to stop it? Life back then seems WAY better." Jeremy took the book and flipped through its pages again, "I mean, look! No gas masks! They could actually SEE the streets!"

"I mean, nowadays there isn't really anything to see in the street. Just grey and more grey." Oliver said, taking the book from Jeremy's hands. "I don't know why they didn't do anything about it. Maybe they didn't realize there was a problem."

"Nah, that sorta thing must've been noticeable! I mean, the frickin sky changed color! That's noticeable." Jeremy flipped the pages to a photo of a beautiful landscape and pointed at the blue sky; A color so different from the dull grey sky they had.

"Well, maybe they just didn't care." Oliver said, not moving his eyes from the photo.

"Huh." Jeremy answered, staring at the photo and the beautiful environment it featured. No gas, no grey, only beautiful plants and clear, blue skies. "That's kind of disappointing."

Rei lives in Herzliya. Her native language is Hebrew. 

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