11 May 2012

#fridayflash: newsmagazine story v2

This is the "happy" version of the same story I wrote for #fridayflash last week. It's more like what I originally had in mind when I got the idea, but overall I think it wound up being a good exercise doing the two different versions.

May 2068: small-town life in the late 21st century

HORNPAYNE, ON — Jane Fenton wags her finger at me. "It won't be the first time there were no physical roads into this town," she says.

The first road was built in 1958, over a hundred years ago. Before that, the only way in or out of Hornpayne was by rail. Rail was why the town was built to begin with — the town marks the farthest point between the major rail stations to the west and south that a diesel engine can go before it has to be refuelled. By the turn of the century, Hornpayne boasted not only rail and road access, but an airport as well. More people worked for the local logging company than the railway that founded the town.

The rail, the road, and eventually the airport will all be phased out, because as of tomorrow Hornpayne is officially switching from being a railway division point to a teleportation service hub.

"That was one of the perks of moving here," adds Roger Fenton, Jane's husband. "This town had the highest teaching salaries in the province. Basically it was isolation pay." He grins.

We're sitting around their kitchen table, drinking coffee. Roger and Jane have lived in this town for their entire marriage — fifty-two years next month. Jane worked for CN Rail, and Roger was an English and History teacher at the local high school. They are Hornpayne's oldest residents.

Tomorrow, Jane will come out of retirement for one day to help officially shut down the railway and start up the teleportation maintenance office. "There's a comment field on all of the rolling stock maintenance logs," she laughs. "I'm half-curious and half-dreading what people are going to enter for the last time they have to fill them in!"

I ask if there's going to be any kind of "last train" ceremony, similar to the "last spike" events that marked the building of the railway in the nineteenth century.

"We're having a waffle breakfast," says Roger. "It's a working day, but the community thought it would be a nice way for the crew to start the new work. Then Jane will give that speech she's been working on, she'll collect the old logs and hand out the new task lists, and people will start heading out to do their jobs." He sips his coffee. "Then the retired stiffs like me will help clean up from the breakfast."

"Once you're done making your video," says Jane. Since retiring from teaching, Roger has become the town's archivist, and got special permission from Teleport Inc. to record the first-day events for posterity.

Aren't they worried about the town being so dependent on employment from a foreign company? Teleport Inc. is based in Australia.

Roger shrugs. "The whole idea of 'foreign' has been radically redefined in the last hundred years," he says. "Besides, thanks to the Americans in the last century, Canadians are used to having a branch plant economy and making it work."

The Hornpayne maintenance division will be responsible for the maintenance of all of the pad hubs on the North American continent. "We're in a great location," says Jane. "We're in the Eastern time zone, but just barely. So people can work regular day hours and cover the whole territory without getting too much pad lag." The geographical advantage is extra-appropriate, she points out, since it was for the Canadian rail system that time zones were invented.

Do they think other businesses will be promoted by the pad maintenance hub being here?

"Definitely," says Roger. "Anyone who likes the great outdoors would love to come here as a tourist, winter or summer. People love to fish and swim here in the summer, and ski or snowmobile in the winter."

"There's the commuter aspect too," says Jane. "Pads mean you can live anywhere. People who like the salaries of big-city jobs but not the lifestyle can live here and commute easily." She pours herself more coffee and shakes her head in wonder. "Everyone who lives near a pad has a commute time of less than twenty minutes. Even if they're going to the other side of the world. Who'd have thought we'd see the day?"

"I'll sort of miss it, though," says Roger. "Travelling."

"What do you mean?" says Jane. "We're going to Berlin next month."

"Oh visiting, sure, but travelling... you know, like the time we took the train from here to Vancouver... those days are gone," says Roger. "You know — watching the world go by while you sit at a window and drink your cocktail. And air travel — people are going to miss that, you watch."

Jane shrugs and sips her coffee. "Can't stop progress," she says. "Maybe if you're lucky, you can nudge it a little so it doesn't run you over, but that's about it."


  1. Nice comparison with the previous story. Progress definitely looks better in this one.

    1. Thank you! I'm glad I wound up doing both.

  2. I'm a sucker for the faux-news format, especially as a narrative tool rather than satire. I also highly support doing different versions of a story as exercise. I dug this a second time, and appreciated the increase in folksy optimism. Thumbs up for the nudging of progress.

  3. I found myself settling into this story. It reads so naturally that when the pads are getting mentioned they kind of slip by me at first.

    Interesting experiment. I think I liked the sad one more but maybe that's just the way I roll ;)

    1. You know what? I liked the sad one better too in the end, which makes me feel horribly guilty 'cos it's a real town.

  4. I liked this one too Katherine, both stories are very nicely put together, and both are very believable, even though we don't actually have these pads (Yet), which is a shame because I personally find travelling a bind, twenty minutes to get to your holiday location? Yeah, bring it on. :)

    1. Yup, and that's 20 minutes of standing in line, then one-tenth of a second of actual travel!

      Have a Google -- it's being researched around the world now, and there has been (very) limited success already with particles.

  5. I liked this as it makes everything sound far more hopeful - Progress in this sounds good.

    1. :-) Progress is usually good for *someone* -- just this time it's the townspeople.

  6. I liked the first one a little more. I'm glad you wrote both. I've been thinking a lot lately about alternate realities.

    I agree with this one though about the loss of travel. Reducing daily commute time would be great, but missing out on the adventure in getting to new places would be a terrible loss.

    1. Yeah, I originally committed to the second version just because it was what I originally had in mind. But now I'm glad I did both because it's given me ideas on how to handle a plotline where the timelines might shift around, or the same event gets told from different POV.


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