The driver’s voice crackled over the two-way.
“Bombardier approaching Bridge over Troubled Waters. Repeat, Bombardier approaching Bridge over Troubled Waters, estimated viewing time fourteen hundred hours. Roger that.”
Roger was on his 5th ‘tour of duty’ but could still not work out if Vince (the driver) was taking the piss because of his name or really thought it a military operation, though to be fair to Vince, there was manipulation of the masses and a political agenda involved— it was an assault of propaganda and faux-cheer on holiday makers who if the ruse went well, would be future investors, so one might as well call it a war effort and use military parlance.
Once alerted to the train’s approach, Roger checked his watch and did the math. It would be fifteen minutes before the train would glide over Crescent Fields Viaduct which ran parallel to the campsite of settlers 1497a. Like clockwork, he gathered dried dung from his stockpile, placed it on a retro barbecue and carefully positioned sticks on top of its grill. From the vantage of the train riding audience, it would look like sausages or even prawns, if they squinted and used their imagination. It was normally a two-person effort, but due to an incident on the worksite below that was spoken of in hushed tones, this time, Roger was alone. A substitute for the merry scene was Verity, Roger’s AI mannequin and confidant. Roger positioned Verity on a sun lounge, certain of the convincing act of her ready smile and silent complicity while on ‘standby’.
The masonry of the viaduct curved into imposing arches elevated above the floodplains, teasing residents of the campsite with what could have been but wouldn’t be. Roger’s tent was one of many hidden to over-head traffic by what appeared to be a giant house, a replica of dwellings that were common in the McMansion period of architecture in the early to mid 21st Century. The ‘house’ was in fact an MDF box with no structural integrity, its tiles and bricks made with careful strokes of acrylic paint.
No bricks, no stones, no resources sent their way for the dreams of housing that remained elusive. Before being officially marked as Crescent Fields on surveillance maps, it was an unassuming expanse of land in the middle of nowhere that would flood, in the days of rain. It had, at one time, been given a wide berth by town planners, home makers and mortgage lenders, but necessity and natural forces being the mother of sometimes unwise decisions to counter previous unwise decisions, the land was zoned housing. The town addressed the urgent questions for which powerful lobby groups worked hard to suppress the answers, however, with worrying intel that the truth of Crescent Fields may be leaked by a double agent, the Administration, with a reputation and lucrative deals to protect, hatched a plan with the Bureau of Arts and Transportation, which is where Roger and other graduates of the School of Dramatic Arts came in.
Once a year, the select, privileged group of Dramatic Arts graduates took turns in getting reprieve from their subterranean energy cells, so that for the 15 seconds every 2 hours that a train crossed the viaduct, for the duration of the 12 days of Christmas, a performance was given. The train’s crossing time was sufficient for passengers (that is, the audience) to register the festive scene below and be lulled into believing all was well. Of course, during heat restrictions, which were more frequent than not, the passage time was as long as 739 seconds, allowing for deeper penetration of the scene into the psyche of the audience.
Five years into his commended performance, on the night before Christmas, when all through the Fields, not a resident was stirring, for they were all working, Roger pulled off the Santa hat that had been handed down through generations of graduates, rubbed his eyes from the irritation of the acrid smoke of burning dung, and chose to descent, or ‘do a Grinch’ as it was colloquially referred to in the Fields, calling Bravo Sierra on the whole charade, knowing he’d be sent to the energy cells with no seasonal pass-out. He’d spend the rest of his days in the expansive space more than 6 feet under which was set up like a spin studio that the leisure classes used before exercise was deemed an untapped government resource. Roger would have no break from peddling, powering electric vehicles, Christmas lights and surgically implanted communication devices of the haves, until he could peddle no more.
This story was inspired by the holiday greetings of V/line, the regional train company on which I write the vignettes in this series. The accompanying image is part of the original post on instagram @10000hoursleft.
Writing this made me realise that I have a thing for speculative fiction that I just can’t seem to shake. I definitely write more in this genre than what I read, but often-times, the reading that inspires my dystopian spin on things is the ‘reality’ in news and current affairs, e.g. the abolition of a dedicated arts department in Australian federal politics, with arts soon to be rolled into the newly formed Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, which in a case of funny not funny is like my combining of writing and train travel with the V/Line Vignettes.
Wishing you all the best over the holiday season and the new year. Here is to Two Thousand and Plenty!