Sunday, 26 June 2016

Vintage January 2012

This Sunday, another old bit of writing recovered from a flash drive, but I think this one went through the washing machine by accident, given how clean it is. I stuck it somewhere safe, moved twice and forgot all about it. I've not read "Building the Road" for four years and it's not actually too bad. It's a bit cliche in places and the descriptions a bit heavy in others, but I still quite like it for all that.

Building the Road

There was a grinding noise as the giant machine gently lowered another colossal slab into place. The segmented claw lowered it centimetre by centimetre, slowing as it approached the sandy desert floor until, with a deft flick, the fingers of the claw sprang back and the stone dropped the last gap, thumping solidly to the ground and raising plumes of reddish dust.

The tall man standing on top of the contraption looked on with satisfaction and made a tick on his clipboard. He looked minuscule on top of the machine, a faint speck on the roof of crudely bolted plates, framed by the glacial movement of giant articulated claws against the dull, milk coloured sky. Occasionally, the view of the man from the ground was obscured by a jet of dirty white smoke that erupted through a crack in the machine’s carapace.

The tall man retreated back from the edge and returned to the cabin, pulling the door closed behind him. A small man sat in one of the chairs and looked up in annoyance at the swirl of sand that followed his compatriot in.

“Done,” the tall man said definitely and sank into his own chair. The short man reached over lethargically and pressed the scuffed button on top of a clock with a cracked glass face. The hand began moving very slowly round again.

Silence returned to the cabin, spoiled only by the sounds of the machine as it went about its preprogrammed business. At the moment, it was reconstituting material for the next slab, so this was as quiet as it ever got. Both men stared out over the desert, examining minutely the flowing red sand of the plains and the delicate, distant spires of purplish rock, carved into unusual shapes by the endless wind that swirled across the plain.

“The next un’s yours,” the tall man continued in his slow drawl.

The short man replied without ever taking his eyes from the desolate, slowly progressing desert.

“Nope. You lost at cards, so you gotta do it.”

The tall man frowned and protested lethargically.

“Nope. You lost at cards to me six weeks ago, so you gotta do it,” his companion retorted.
Silence fell again as both men listened to the seismic rumbling coming from the machine’s heart as it processed the materials in its holding bay into slab material. According to the clock, the next slab would be laid in an hour and the gigantic mechanism would creep another five metres forward.
“You ever get sick of this?” the short man asked, still not turning his head.

Both men had, like every other topic they had ever thought of, discussed this to death.

“We shouldna backchatted the Boss like that. I think we got off light with building the Road,” the tall man replied, as he always did.

The machine began to ponderously crawl forward. The Road had to be built his way, the Boss explained, even if it took tens of thousands of years.

“Bit much for a first offence,” the small man said. “I don’t want to be on this rig forever. I’ve done one ice age and I don’t want to do another.”

The men slipped into silence again, their recital finished again, but today, unlike nearly all of the other days, something different happened.

An alarm bell rang loudly, indicating a jam in the processing plant. Both men unsuccessfully concealed their surprise from each other and headed down into the belly of the machine.

The steps wound down and round, deeper and deeper. The atmosphere became thick and humid with the tiny steam jets that sprouted from the snake’s nest of pipes lining every wall.

The men found the problem quickly. The arm which carved characters into the slab had jammed when it encountered an area of unusual density. Their scrutiny was interrupted by a terrible wailing cacophony leaking through the wall behind them; the sound of the desperation of thousands. Irritated, the tall man banged the wall hard, bellowing for silence until the cargo sank into miserable submission again.

“Do you ever feel sorry for them?” he asked once the arm was repaired.

“Nope. They know why they’re here.”

The freed arm finished carving the words, “But I thought you’d like it!” into the white bone slab and retracted smoothly again.

Soon, the slab would be laid and the machine would move on, always building the Road.

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