Short Story Challenge

Looking for a short story challenge? A couple of posts back I published some old stories I had found languishing in my messy Google Drive. I also found these fragments of stories.

I had a sort of futuristic vibe going for a while.  Both stories were intended to be longish short stories or shortish novellas. I was aiming at around 10 – 15,000 words.

I don’t remember what my complete original plot lines were going to be.

Disconnected was going to be the story of a group of older people, led by a curmudgeonly fellow (think Harrison Ford type figure) who refused to connect to the internet. They go on to help people escape from the grips of the “government” which has collapsed into a 1984-style dystopia.

NOWASTE had a similar theme. Jeez! I must have been on fire when I came up with that acronym! It is again set in a future when thought police are real. I think the main character (well the only character so far) was going to turn into some sort of resistance fighter. Perhaps even influenced by The Handmaid’s Tale

Many of my older stories would have been better written as screenplays.

My challenge to you dear reader is; how would you progress them? What would happen next? Please outline some possible scenarios in the comments below! We can start our own virtual writers’ group!


Disconnected (October 2017)

Greta ran as fast as she could from her doorway to next door and these days that was not fast! It was after curfew but she risked it anyway. She needed to see him and she couldn’t connect any other way. Since the beginning, he had refused to connect.

“If people want to talk to me they can come and see me! In person!”

It wasn’t that he was a Luddite, as such. He had just read Orwell’s 1984 so many times that he began to see it as a reality.

Greta would tell him he was just being paranoid.

“Just wait”  he’d say sipping hard on his beer. The beer he brewed himself from scratch. 

To most people, he was just a crackpot. He thought the establishment was out to get us all.

We would argue “but we are the establishment – this is not the Government!” He didn’t buy the argument that we the masses, decided what was posted on social media, that it was a platform for disruptive change.

“You are so naive” he’d say and we would ignore him and take another photo of our breakfast pancake stack to prove how magical our lives were.

Sometimes on public radio, we would hear that a shocking study showed that the content on social media was manipulated. That the Millennials in charge had actually been doing secret experiments where they showed some people happy posts and other sad posts and watched how it affected them. It would stay in the news for a while and then vanish. Public radio didn’t last long after the last election. 

OVER TO YOU!


 

NOWASTE (December 2018)

Patricia was careful to not draw attention to herself. It was much better to keep things low key. To fly under the radar. To blend into the crowd. To think in cliches. To avoid original thought. 

At 63, Patty still remembered how Christmas used to be. Oh my god, she thought the word!! She glanced furtively at those around her. Had they heard her thought? Would she be arrested? 

Keep cool. Look calm. Repeat the mind-block mantra Money doesn’t buy happiness. Stuff doesn’t buy happiness.

No movement towards her.

No telltale wailing of sirens approaching. 

No flashing drone locked over her position. 

Phew. Perhaps they had all been too busy suppressing their own thoughts to be worried about tuning into hers. 

It was not that we didn’t celebrate anymore. It was just that we were careful not to include thoughts of religion, ageism, sexism or wanton consumerism when we did. The focus was now on The Agreement.  It just so happened that the New Order World Agreement for Sustainable Trade and Emissions (NOWASTE) was signed on the 25 of December in 2018. (Glorious day)

It was a good thing. Global warming had slowed down and only a few of the smaller Pacific Islands had vanished. 

 

…. so what next??

Digital Ephemera and the Cloud Keepers.

A hand embroidered tablecloth featuring Australian flora

In the not too distant future…

Imagine this scene: It’s 2200. We are in the Met in New York. A mother is with her two children and they are walking through the halls crammed with artifacts, art and sculptures. They come into a room which has very few items. The sparse white walls are draped with a few posters that appear to be advertising. There are some boxy looking computers. An Instagram frame, the type you see people have at parties. Some boxes full of macabre plastic false nail tips and a box of disposable contact lenses.

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The sign above the door says the Screen Age.

“Mummy? When was the Screen Age? Were you alive then?”

“Steady on, sweety! I might be older than you but I am not that old! Your Grandma’s grandma was alive then. “

“Haven’t they finished setting up the display yet” the little boy asks staring into an empty display case.

“No, no. This is it.”

“Where are all the paintings and art? What about the handicrafts?”

A 6 pointed lacy doily made by my grandmother I think

At this question, the robotic guide zooms up beside them.

“I am so glad you asked” she says in her smooth synthetic voice. “There are two major reasons there is so little to display. Firstly, the rise of the Minimalists and secondly the fact that most activities were done online. There are very few physical artifacts available from this dark time in history.”

“What are Minimalists, Mummy”

“I’ll answer that” the guide pipes in.  “They were a new social class which arose in what used to be called first world countries, between 2012 and up till around 2075. They believed in living a simple lifestyle without the physical accoutrements of modern life. It was a noble aim. Prior to this time, the focus had been on accumulating goods. We have found evidence of a cult that had the motto “he who dies with the most toys, wins”. The Minimalists railed against this. Partly as a way of improving their own mental health but also as a challenge. They began to discard perfectly good items. The aim was to be environmentally aware, yet in this time landfills became over full, packed with items that could have been used in poorer countries – the so called third world. Incidentally, these poorer countries were the main producers of the goods being discarded, but they could not afford to buy any of the goods themselves. Instead of distributing the goods more equitably, the Minimalists destroyed or discarded the usable items and declared themselves cleansed.”

The family shifted from one foot to the other, uncomfortable at the thought of such wanton behaviour.

“The second reason is much more sinister.”

“What, more sinister than destroying the Earth’s precious resources?”

“Well, yes I know it’s hard to believe, but yes, more sinister. At that time AI agents – my early ancestors – they called them computers back then, required physical storage devices. At first, the solution was like the ones here in my hologram.”

The robot played a holographic video on the bare white floor. The reels of magnetic tape from the 1970s and 80 gave way to floppy discs, USBs and external hard drives.

“At first, individuals looked after their own storage issues. They would save their files, documents, photos and that sort of thing on these relatively small portable objects using magnetism”

“Fascinating!”

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“Then as files got bigger and they wanted to store more and more data, the portable devices were no longer able to cope. They began to upload their products to external corporate providers known collectively as “the cloud”. People paid for these services. But unbeknownst to the them, over time, the owners of “The Cloud” began to read or view the stored data and they used it as a way to sort the desirables from the undesirables and exterminate them.

The children gasped and the mother held them close.

The robot continued “It started with good intentions. They targeted those people trying to store illegal items. The Cloud Keepers as they came to be known, could easily justify getting rid of them.”

“What about privacy laws?” the mother asked

“The greater good” the robot replied. “The Cloud Keepers could cite that they were interested in the greater good and if you were doing nothing wrong you had nothing to hide”

“Oh I see. I can sort of understand that…” the mother had heard enough she did not want her children to have nightmares. She gathered them up and nudged them out the door.

“Thank you. Say thank you to the guide kids, let’s go look at the Greek sculpture!!” she called over her shoulder.

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Will museums be empty?

I hope this is a far fetched and fanciful look at the future but I do wonder about what we will have to show after this age  of digital ephemera. What can our museums keep and collect when we communicate by email, store our photos on Instagram or Flickr, listen to music on the web and have webpages instead of actual physical items. There will be no Dead Sea Scrolls equivalent from this era.

Before the digital age people would use their downtime to create physical objects. Like dainty doilies, paintings, hand made furniture. The downtime of the masses is now filled by cruising Facebook, falling in the dreaded Pintrest vortex, swiping right (or is it left?) and reading blogs like this one.

On top of that, much of the stuff we consume has a very finite life. It’s poorly made with substandard materials. It is cheap and deliberately disposable. A necessity if we are going to support an advanced capitalist economy that demands constant fiscal growth.

Is it time for the mediumalists?

I class myself as a mediumalist, a word I have coined. I believe in reducing consumption, reusing what you can, reducing plastic, avoiding waste. Living simply and enjoying experiences rather than buying stuff. I buy nearly all my clothes and housewares from op shops. BUT I still do buy some some stuff new. I still travel, even though air travel is not environmentally sustainable. I do believe we should have more shared economic activities. We could hire or borrow so many items like lawn mowers, wedding clothes, suit cases. All the sorts of things you need, but not everyday.

I do have a bit of paranoia about storing stuff in “the cloud” – more from the point of view that what happens if the electricity goes off? We’ll all be in strife them.

I hope my story doesn’t come true. Let’s think about how we want to build our future.

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The Mitchell Library, Sydney.