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Fiction: Transit

Atlas sculpture, New York City, by sculptor Le...
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Jerrod punched out. He wiped the sweat from his brow, and walked to the locker room. Walking to his locker, he thought about the stories his dad told him of unions in the 2010s. It was interesting to consider how much had changed in the last 60 or so years. How much society had advanced and where they had to go.

Jerrod had read some old classics, and stumbled upon the famed capitalist enthusiast, Ayn Rand. He found her cynicism towards people interesting and was glad society, for now, was able to prove her wrong. Although he disagreed with her negative premise and her presumptions of politicians and people, many of the sentiments expressed in Atlas Shrugged, he found himself living daily. Like his father, and his grandfather, Jerrod was a tinkerer. He loved working with his hands, learning how a thing worked, tearing it apart, and putting it back together again. His father had even been diagnosed with the passe Attention Deficit Disorder. Scientists in the last 40 years had proved that people really just needed to move, and there was no sense trying to enforce chair-ridden tasks when someone’s body was telling them to move. So, as someone who needed to move, Jerrod, his father, and his grandfather, all found themselves doing manual labor jobs.

Jerrod grabbed his towel from his locker, and nodded hi to a fellow worker. It was 5:30pm. It was considered late to be leaving work, shift work was abolished more than 30 years before. While some jobs required later hours, it was decided on a per-business basis. No longer were manual labor jobs and shift work synonymous.

Jerrod loved history, and he loved the stories his father told him. He was fascinated with how things worked when company’s sent off all the work they needed, routinely to different businesses often in different countries. It got to the point, so said his father, that “companies” consisted of a few puppet figure heads while all the work, even office work, was done often offshore. Jerrod’s dad painted a picture of the ridiculousness of the idea, all in the name of profit, while quality control was the major sacrifice. Quality control, fair wages, justly treated employees went out the window with outsourcing.

Jerrod was equally fascinated with the things that were still done, like regular meetings and punching in and out. He was always interested in how regular he was coming into and leaving work, so it was a task he didn’t mind. The steadfast labor-rites abhorred any and all forms of tracking, stating that it only demoralized the worker and was a horrid way to hang onto the past.

Some things, even in Jerrod’s job still hung onto the past, and with good reason. Take, for example, how the buses and trains were largely motorized now, but they were mechanical, and needed fixing. Which is where Jerrod fit in. You had this very automated process that was fixed with human hands. A blend of the past and the present. It was a general societal agreement that the human hands found the problems and could take this scientific art to a new level with its beautiful maintenance. And, Jerrod, he fixed those elegant people movers.

Another interesting hold onto the past was how about 25% of the trains were built with the antique street car in mind. All the buses were sleek and shiny, and aerodynamic. None had any similarities to the past. The antique streetcars, though, even had drivers, although the process was automated.

The vehicles were run in shifts, so no one had to work evenings. The vehicles were all automated, so they ran all day and night, a shift lasting about 24 hours unless there was a mechanical failure en route. When they came in for the 6am shift change, a few early morning employees corralled the vehicles for their daily maintenance and cleanups. Jerrod did this job on occasion, but now that he was seeing Annie, he preferred the day shift so they could share meals. Jerrod and his crew were responsible for cleaning and maintaining the previous day’s vehicles. A job that was done from 8am to 5pm. A job that Jerrod enjoyed in its regularity and interest.

It was 6:00pm. Jerrod arrived home. Annie had roast chicken and vegetables on the patio table. He grabbed a beer, one he and his father brewed a few months before. Annie was sipping her favorite regional Pinot. After they ate their dinner, Jerrod grabbed a few pears from their tree, and they had dessert. All the while talking and enjoying each others company. After they cleaned up their dinner, they would play a game of cards with their neighbor and start the day all over again. Jerrod was always a little surprised at how comfortable this routine had become, especially given his restlessness of his 20s.

Off to Billy’s they walked.

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Fiction: The Things We Do

French press cafetiere with coffee on Coffee R...
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Sharon grumpily handed the man his mug, barely sloshing hot liquid on the counter and his hand. Oddly, with his own grumpy attitude, he did not notice this move.

Sharon was a little surprised that she let him get to her with his snide, inconsiderate comments. Usually, she had good command of her own emtions and with an ablility to articulate her needs in a more productive way. Not today, though. Today, last night, this morning, it all rolled into one grumpy mess. She even wore her bright red lipstick to match the sassiness she felt.

Last night, she sat knitting while her husband complained about everything. He complained about the traffic. He complained about the hot meal cooked on a hot day. He complained about how their preschooler didn’t pick up his toys in a timely manner. It was Sunday. Sunday nights were always the most annoying. She couldn’t believe that after all this time, Monday coming after Sunday was still a surprise to him. After they put their child down to bed, she sat with her knitting watching an old mystery classic. Through eyes filled with contempt she watched as he drank beer, after beer, complaining.

Anticipating an annoying morning, she got the lunches ready the night before. She even went to lengths to explain where everything was just in case something was missed in the morning. She hated starting her days with more grumpiness. It’s enough to keep her own emotions in check. How do you keep others in check too? And, they were supposed to be raising someone else in this world. How does evolution work if as a couple, a team, you were constantly regressing?

Sure enough, when Monday morning rolled around, the alarm went off. He was going to ride to work. Although there had been strides to minimize congestion with, finally, an influx of public funding for transit, traffic was still a problem. Her husband didn’t like driving anyway. He rode a motorcycle instead. Motorcycle laws had changed over the years, but one thing remained steady: motorcycles could weave when cars couldn’t. So, it offered a quicker way to get to work.

It was hot, as it often was this time of year, so her husband hadn’t slept well. She wondered what sort of sleep training he had as a child. As a couple, they used painstaking efforts to ensure their own child could self sooth. Why couldn’t her husband?  So, he woke up grumpy. Couldn’t find his clothes (that he set out the night before). Couldn’t get his lunch to cooperate in his bag (the one she pointed out and explained time and time again). Couldn’t get the bike to work properly (even though he checked it over the day before). For whatever reason, when it was from him, she internalized everything. She was getting much better at keeping others’ own emotional issues outside herself, but not her husband’s. So, through all this complaining, all she heard was “my fault, my fault, my fault.”

Finally, he left, but she couldn’t shake the grumpy mood with his departure. Getting the child up was even more difficult. He wet the bed, and there was no time for a bath. So, now laundry had to be done in addition to getting ready for work.

When she finally got into work, she was just grumpy. She nodded good mornings to those already there. It was times like these she wished she worked back in the Cube Farm where she could find solace in that cold, gray wall. Instead, she worked for her sister at her sister’s coffee shop.

The man who came in was a regular. He was known to be grumpy. Sharon just couldn’t take one more bit of grumpy on this already grumpy day. He made another one of his misogynistic comments, and she about blew her top. She was rarely witty on Monday mornings, so how did she think of such a zinger? She couldn’t even remember what she said. He just looked at her, shocked she asserted herself. The rest of the staff sort of paused and looked awkwardly at each other, eyes twinkling.

Maybe, just maybe, the day was looking up.

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Fiction: Country

Manhattan Beach
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Veronica was taking a three day holiday. Her week was quite busy, and she needed some refresh time. She took the train to Gales Creek. It’d been 12 years since the high speed rail integrated the small towns. She was going to visit her parents. As was custom, she stopped at the Gales Creek Grocer before making the mile walk to her parents hobby farm.

Dingle-ing! The corner bell rang loudly, announcing her presence in the tiny shop. She took the place in. It had stayed the same for years. Patty glanced up and smiled at the familiar face. Veronica smiled back. Aside from “hello”, no words were exchanged. None were needed. Veronica loaded her woven basket with various sundries that she assumed her parents could use and she would consume during the weekend. She ran her fingers along the dusty shelves and just enjoyed the quiet time with this familiar space.

Along the walk to her parents hobby farm, she picked at the lazy Susans, daisies, and cow parsnips. She tossed them in her basket as she waved her hands over the grass, took in the sun, and walked along the dusty gravel road. She hadn’t told her parents that she was coming, so she wasn’t surprised to see her father on the tractor, plowing the plot that held winter vegetables readying it for fall. Her mother was weeding the tomatoes. She waved to them as she took in the rest of the surroundings. A large pile of garlic to be clipped and woven was on the porch.Various baskets of salad greens and snap peas were waiting to be stored, leftovers from the market.

Veronica weaved around the barn cats as she entered the house. She set her basket on the table and went to examine the pantry. She grabbed an empty mason jar, two quarts of canned tomatoes, and a pint of pickled asparagus. Running water over the the mason jar and wetting the flowers, she made a mental note of the pasta she would construct for dinner. She grabbed an apron as she walked back to the pantry for the gallon of whole wheat flour, honey, oil and salt. Setting those on the counter, she returned to the cupboard for a bowl. She instinctively drew enough water, sprinkling the tepid liquid with yeast. Dissolving it with the honey she let it rest while she surveyed the ingredients.

“Hi, honey,” said her mom as she gave Veronica a chaste peck on her cheek. “What brings you away from the city?”

“You know, work.”

“Hmm,” replied her mother as she surveyed the kitchen. Veronica had a red sauce simmering on the stove and a loaf of bread proofing. Her mother had brought in some fresh salad greens from the garden, so she rinsed off the dirt and threw in a few more vegetables to round out the salad. Soon, her father came in and opened a bottle of wine.

Over their pasta dinner, Veronica and her parents reminisced over simpler times. they pondered memories when people didn’t have to ration their gas and mileage. They talked about some of the changes in laws, like when politicians started fining for taking on mobile devices. They tracked the pattern of control of electronic devices invented to help. Veronica’s father always reminded her that humans have always fought against the social contract. He’s surprised, always, at how little society heeds Rousseau‘s specialist warnings. The link is clear, to her father, that the more specialized we are, combined with the continuous breakdown of community that society would turn to fear as a guidance instead of trust and healthy bonds.

Chats with her parents always refreshed her. Chats with her parents reminded Veronica why healing through art was so important. She had an ambitious goal of empowerment through art education, and it was just really taking off at a statewide, national, and subsequently global level. Veronica was terrified her baby would crash. But, whenever she went home from visiting her parents, she was able to deal with the fear healthfully in order to keep plugging away at her goals.

Later, that evening, Veronica found herself in the hometown bar. She wasn’t sleepy, and she enjoyed the atmosphere. The tavern hosted a local band every weekend. She sat, sipping her Manhattan, laden with Drambuie but no Maraschino cherries as those were outlawed with the food law changes. She closed her eyes as the Dobro twanged in harmony with the steal guitar. She loved the simple rhythms of country music. She was glad this folksy side to life was one of the few things that hadn’t changed. She was glad to be home. She was glad to be reminded of this community that lived simply. She cherished their struggles and tried to focus their drive internally so she could get her project off the ground. At least, now, she had an architect.

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Fiction: Veronica

The UN headquarters in New York, viewed from t...
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She giggled at the slightly inappropriate joke. Her mouth just opened and the words flowed out. She had just met him.

“I am sorry,” Veronica apologized, “It’s just that you remind me of someone, so there is this supposed familiarity that we haven’t quite, well, earned.”

“You remind me of someone too,” he solemnly responded

And, that’s where they left it.

On the train ride home, Veronica thought about this supposed familiarity, this connection. It wasn’t many people with whom she shared those instant connections. In fact, she could tick off on one hand the number of people with whom she’d had a similar connection. Her late husband wasn’t among them. With her husband, she had felt comfortable and safe, which is what she needed coming  off some very intense emotional roller coaster relationships. They had a great marriage together, after they earned it, together. But, they never had that instant connection.

She enjoyed that instant spark. When you meet someone and for whatever reason the cosmos agree that you already know them. Those emotional relationships of her early 20s helped diminish her then long held belief in soul-mates, but these connections rekindled that belief fire. If soul-mates exist, they must look something like this. Is this why people believe in past lives?

Veronica was older than her 20s now, so she also knew that instant fire could die out, and quickly. It’s as if it’s a guise, when you get along so well at first, you want it to continue. And, then, the fire starts to wain and you have to begin to earn the relationship. Others she knew, affected by this flame, sought flame after flame, which is one contributing factor to her disbelief in soul-mates. Her inner core preferred lasting, monogamous relationships, not this fleeting from fire to fire searching for the next best connection. She appreciated the flame for what it was, a remembrance of something familiar, no matter how it came about. When it was over, she cried a few tears, but that was all. The memory of her late husband and the relationship they had together was more than enough to fill any lost familiar voids.

The train stopped. Three stations from hers. Off to the next thing, so she tried to switch her brain train onto a different track, rather than thinking about these fleeting feelings. She still had a lot of work to do with her organization to get this event off the ground. There had been so much disagreement with how to best celebrate humanity’s paradigm shift, she was simply elated that they had the go ahead to forge this next road. They were going to construct a monolith that would house the new United Nations building. Her organization dealt with the aesthetic aspects in addition to being a driving force getting the project off the ground.

But that fire. Maybe the lesson learned was how to best utilize it in the circumstances they were in, now. Maybe there was a reason… She looked at his business card. Billy Hamm, architect. She would contact him tomorrow. Her view returned to the window where let her brain wander through the last two stops until hers arrived.

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Fiction: Setting the Stage

Polar bears on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean...
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So much was the same, yet so much different. Technology still whizzed by and people always had a hard time getting used to it. Not unlike with the introduction of cars to iPads and smaller phones and personal computers. The older generations always thought it was moving to fast, and the younger generations embraced it until they turned into the older the generation and wanted it to slow down too.

In America, it was still Right vs. Left. In Europe, social taxes were still higher. There was a new blend of third world countries with whom to pawn of the labor the richer countries didn’t want to complete. There was still waste. There was still overconsumption. There were problems of years before that technology couldn’t solve because they got worse, out of hand, or it wasn’t time yet. There were problems of the past, though that technology could (like the never ending cycle of waste to nuclear energy, that surprised most everyone).

The polar ice caps were simply a sea now.The Amazon Forest was burned 20 years ago for one final farm-land push. Earthquakes had shaken parts of California loose where Los Angeles and San Fransisco were now islands. Florida was half the size it used to be along with the rest of the Eastern Seaboard. The Netherlands receded in-land. Italy was half its size. South Africa was no more.

Polar Bears had been extinct for 30 years. Most “tropical” birds died out before the Amazon Burn.

New species were born to take their place. We had new trees, new “natives” as they had been dubbed. As the climate changed, so did the surrounding environment. Desertification hit strange areas and caught people by surprise. No one expected the Great Lakes to dry up, but they did. With most of the belts around the equator looking more dessert and less tropical, and the seas where the polar ice caps used to be looking more tropical and less frigid – life certainly changed.

The neigh-sayers forgot that all creatures are resilient in their own way. They wanted to put so much fear in the hearts of men to change, they simply forgot that we can survive and we need to embrace our knowledge in order to do so. What they wanted though, was simple recognition that we must be stewards of this place we call home. That recognition came with the Amazon Burn.

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Fiction: The Amazon Burn

Amazon Rainforest created by ?????:?? ????
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Twenty years ago from today, the Amazon Rain Forest was set on fire. What was left was burned to the ground in hopes of more farmland for the shrinking South American Continent. The birds and animals, what were left, died when the fire started. It was as if their hearts knew they were done for, and their own survival instincts urged them to go with their long-gone brothers and sisters.

The World knew it was coming. It was talked about, debated, discussed at length for years. Yes, it belongs on one continent, but the whole world needs its benefits. Stop exploiting our labor, our land if you want it so much, the natives rich retorted.

But, slowly, while all the talk went on, the forest was stripped away to make room for farms, subdivisions, and mining. One day, a spark from the mining flew, but it didn’t stop. The forest had been so stripped barren that it had little defense against the one, tiny spark. Since the habitats of the exotics had long since eroded, the animals that were left had no fight left in them. With the barren-ness of the forest, desertification had begun to set. Kindling was what was left. After that spark ignited: only ash, like the mountain after a volcano.

It was as if this spark ignited the sleeping dragon. Sure, unions were busted. The haves versus have nots had been divided more than anyone could ever imagine, for years. But, a part of the human spirit hung onto the solitude only nature can supply. Suddenly, in one week, the world’s most cherished solace erupted in flames, turned to ambers, and over the course of a few weeks it all turned to ash.

Scientists studying the after affects were amazed at the charred remains: bones, plant life, remnants of third world civilizations. All the talk turned to ash because we couldn’t, wouldn’t pay attention to such a simple concept: stewardship for someone’s home.

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Fiction: Veronica

She looked in the mirror, again, examining the little lines around her eyes. “Those didn’t used to be there,” she thought. Age, such a condition of time. “How the kids keep getting younger, and today I look closer to 40 than 30.” She stretched her arms out in front of her. Still trim, but the skin was getting a little looser. “No, definitely not 20 anymore.”

How many grandparents had she put in nursing homes? Four. The hardest was her maternal grandmother. Her own mother was only 57, still a long ways off. She used to have a theory that those who continued with their routines were exempt from Alzheimer’s. Than her farm-living maternal grandparents got dementia. Blew that theory to shreds with one phone call. It only took six months for each, paternal and maternal, grandfather to die once put in the home. It didn’t matter how nice it was – they weren’t home, they were facilities. Her grandmothers faired better, but it wasn’t living.

She wondered, again, why religion and society looked down so much on euthanasia. She chuckled how her own thoughts have done a 180 on that topic. To think, when she was in high school, she had a passionate piece describing the point of cherishing life – always for abortion, because you never know who’ll need it, but against euthanasia. At least more states have changed their minds about mercy killing. It is all choice, isn’t it? Who has the right to choose – the person or the government?

“Well, enough oggling over how I’ve aged,” thought Veronica. Today she had plans to work more with the farm-to-school programs. The local Farm-HUB proved too expensive for most, and she preferred the direct connections and conversations. Getting others to network had always been a secret passion of hers. And, now, finally she was putting it into place. She lad to live in a place long enough to develop those connections, and once she learned that, the rest was easy.

The “People, Places, Profit” slogan had been used so often, that it was now second nature to most. Sustainability was little more than a question, although the Amazon Burn was a big wake up call for the whole world. She was only 16 when it happened – a formative teen. That was certainly a turning point in her life, from a suburban kid to an “activist.” It wasn’t so surprising, when you thought about how socially liberal her parents were, even if it was a quiet liberalness.

Time to walk the half mile to the Mag Train.

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Fiction: Future

Front page of The New York Times July 29, 1914...
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Note: The second writing tip in this top ten suggests writing different styles. I’ve got a pretty good groove with my daily ponderings, but I always get fiction bits floating through my head. So, why not start something? Nothing says I have to finish, but starting is something. (I have started various fictions in various forms over the years (none really finished), but let’s let this start be a part of the challenge.)

The alarm went off. Billy rubbed his eyes. Morning wake up, always difficult. What happened to the days when he was a morning person? Where did they go? He could see the sun peeking through the break in the curtain. He sat up, half way, propped on his elbows, taking the daily-morning assessment of the room. The cat, Henry, had slept on the bed again. His glasses were still by the night stand. He reached over, plucked them on his face, and took a sip of water. Looking up, the alarm screen showed it was forecasted for 68 and sunny with a light breeze, 5-10mph. A nice day. Some old-school Classic Rock (Cheap Trick), was getting louder, reminding him he needed to wake.

Rolling off the covers, he threw his feet over the edge of the bed, stretching out the last remnants of sleep. Tucking his feet into his red, corduroy slippers, he started to plan his day. There was an early coffee with the volunteer captain, a mid-morning meeting with Councilman Skinner, lunch with the Dean of Environmental Education, and an afternoon in the office. Given the forecast, the office might have to be by the waterfront today.

One last stretch, and Billy waved off the alarm screen. He could hear the coffee peculating, on schedule. Stepping into the bathroom, he set his shower for 101 degrees, pondering how far water-on-demand, or InstaH2O, has come. At 4 minutes, 30 seconds, the pressure started to wane, warning Billy his time is about up.

Over breakfast, Billy caught up on the days’ news, browsing through various news-sources. The Guardian, Washington Post, New York Times, Globe & Mail, and various Asian reports. He still preferred his news screen to be embedded in the glass of his dining table, whereas many he knew simply opted for the standing kinetic screens. The markets were down, again. The Dow hit another record low, this time 15,000. He couldn’t believe it was 35,000 just five years ago. Although there hasn’t been another housing crash like the one in ’08 (banking regulations continue to get more stringent), the encroaching desert in much of the world has put markets in a tail spin.

Billy was excited to chat with Mark, his top volunteer-captain. Mark had great ideas on steering the education-stewardship piece of policy. This would serve as a good primer for his meeting with Councilman Skinner who, despite all the things Billy’s group has done, still has resistance to volunteer-driven stewardship. Billy was looking for more secure funding in the Pre-K-to-clean-rivers programs where groups hosted 5  year olds to do litter clean up and native plantings. After all these years, even though stewardship was a common goal and no longer argued about, he was surprised it was still a struggle for policy makers to make the link. They were able to keep the desert back in so many areas with the stewardship approach, he often forgot it’s not a “no-brainer” to those saying how the money should be spent.

On the mag-train into the city center, Billy glanced over his next week’s appointments. Next week marked the 50th anniversary of the Amazon Burn. Sarah’s NGO had been a part of the organizing effort for his neighborhood. 20 years ago, A Swiss gentleman, founded the first world-wide event to summarize these world-wide atrocities in a day of education, so we could continue to learn from history instead of pretending it didn’t happen. Even though they haven’t been able to turn around the encroaching desert, there hadn’t been oil spill in 13 years. Coal mines closed down 17 years ago. And most countries had a variety of natural power sources.

Billy was glad he found his place in plants and volunteers. It was that ground-up fixing that motivated him, literally building strong roots. But he never ceased to be surprised at how far humanity had come in such a short amount of time.

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