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Tomorrow’s Progress, Today: a short story

 (This short story was written as a companion piece to Daydreamers, my storytelling course for ages 10-13. Sections of it are used along the way to illustrate such ideas as character development, scene creation, dialogue use, tension and a bunch of other things.

It has three different endings, just to show how the story could possibly have ended differently, as we see in Lesson 11. And, it is copied here with deliberate errors – spelling, some grammar or style, even some inconsistencies – to use as an example in Lesson 12, when we go back to our stories and learn to edit them. Some of the errors are highlighted in red, and some are not.

The bulk of the story is 4566 words long. I never expect any junior writer to put that much in, not at the start. If you have more than 1000 words than I am happy.

If you are coming across this with no idea of what Daydreamers is, and what it can do for your aspiring young writer, then have a look here for info.)


The village was not large. Nothing about it was very big, even the houses, the barns, and the stores. Nothing was above one storey high. Stores were dotted here and there along Main Street, some of the signs hidden behind tall, willowy trees. What signs could be seen included the feed and hardware store, the general store, and the local tavern. There was only one, as a village this size didn’t really need two. Main Street itself was just dirt. Now, in early autumn and as the wind was starting to pick up, two of the store owners where already sweeping sand off their porches. Only the road going out of the village was paved. That road meandered through the hills and out of the valley, while the other side of the village opened up onto vast, green rolling hills of wheat, barley, and apple orchards. An early-morning cart was making its way into the village from one of the orchards, the clip-clop-clip-clop of the horse’s hooves finding its way to Banjo’s ear, carried on the cool wind.

He watched as the cart trundled on by, one hand raised in greeting. The farmer nodded back.

Unlike some of the sons in the village, Banjo could never be described as robust. Oh, he was strong, insofar as that goes, but tall and willowy as well. The fact that he was taller than most, and certainly thinner than most, often meant that he had to tolerate the kinds of jobs that kept him indoors a lot. He tended towards a paler complexion and in the winter months – when the cold drove most people indoors – a person could be forgiven for thinking him ill. Just a glance into his deep, brown, glistening eyes, however, spoke of his vitality, as did his quick step as he strode about his tasks. You wouldn’t see much of his eyes as they were almost certainly hidden away beneath the rim of his large, straw hat.

Banjo still had two hours before school started and so – for the first time in two weeks – he took the small pathway behind the general store and walked to The Outlook. Very few people came out here. It was nothing much more than an outcrop that looked out over the valley. It didn’t have an official name and “The Outlook” was what Banjo called it. Some years ago an enterprising member of the community had put in a couple of benches and – despite their general neglect – there were still serviceable, minus the threat of a splinter here or there.

Banjo crested the pathway and walked out into the gravel circle, approaching the edge. He looked up at the sky, the early clouds blowing in quickly. Some rain was approaching, normal for this time of year, and Banjo zipped up his jacket against the encroaching cold. He felt a presence enter the circle and looked back. Pickles came bounding up, little nose twitching. Banjo leaned down to pick him up.

“Morning, Pickles,” he said, pulling a pierce of lettuce out of his pocket and handing it to the little, white rabbit.

Pickles had been a near-constant companion for about two years now. Banjo didn’t know exactly where he lived but Pickles seemed to come out and hang around when Banjo was out walking. They would walk and talk for a bit and Pickles would take off, only to reappear later in his usual, somewhat ethereal way. Banjo sometimes wondered if the rabbit was a figment of his imagination. It was never around when Banjo was in town, and no one (that Banjo could recall) had ever seen Pickles either. He seems physical, Banjo had thought to himself, I mean I can touch him and feed him and he’s here, like really here, so…I don’t know…

Once Pickles had had his lettuce and Banjo had put him back on the ground at his feet, the two of them would walk together. This morning, however, Banjo took a step towards the edge of The Outlook. It wasn’t Pickles’ favourite spot and he baulked, nose wrinkling in apparent disapproval as he hung back.

Banjo stopped at the edge. He frowned. Pickles’ disapproval was forgotten. He sucked in air through his teeth and looked down into the valley.

In a flat area near the river, a fence had gone up, alongside the dirt road leading into the valley. Inside the fence was a small metal hut, and alongside the hut was a large piece of machinery. A grader, Banjo thought it was called. Smaller than a bulldozer, but larger than a tractor. A white sign was affixed to the fence but from this distance it was all but a blur.

Banjo looked down at Pickles. Sometimes, he thought, it was impossible to know what the rabbit was thinking. Then he caught himself wondering about whether or not the rabbit was even thinking anything Banjo would understand and mentally shook his head.

“Come on, Pickles,” he said. “Let’s go have a look.” The rabbit backed off slightly, head low to the ground. Maybe he does understand me, thought Banjo. He nodded to the rabbit, then turned and began the five minute descent down the gradual slope to the valley floor below.

Throckmorton Industries: Tomorrow’s Progress, Today read the sign on the fence. Banjo walked the perimeter, which didn’t take long. There was no movement inside the enclosure. No one was there at the moment. The gates was closed, high steel and wire ones, a big chain and padlock blocking his way. He stood at the gate and thought for a moment, then went back to the sign on the fence. He looked at that for a moment as well.

Then he backed away and returned to The Overlook.

*****

“Dad’, he called, coming into the workshop. The forge was already hot, the bellows pumping air into the fire. The atmosphere was already stifling, and even against the chill outside Banjo felt the urge to remove his jacked.

“I thought you were off to school,” came a voice from behind one of the large steel cabinets that ran in rows down one side of the shop. Banjo’s father, wearing a thick leather apron and wiping his hands on a greasy rag, stepped out from behind the cabinet.

“I was…I am…I mean,” Banjo started. “Look, there is something by the river.” He pointed behind him in the general direction of the fenced-off area.

Dad nodded. “Earth moving equipment. I know.”

“You know?”

Dad nodded again. “There was grader there yesterday. Old Man Hannity saw it and told Pete.”

“It’s still there,” said Banjo.

“Just the one?”

Banjo nodded.

“Okay,” said dad, “so they haven’t added to it yet. Good, good.”

“What’s this all about?”

Dad looked at him for what seemed the longest time.

“You’re interested?” he asked.

Banjo nodded.

“Well,” said dad, “I can tell you what we know now. As for what we don’t know, the boss of that thing out there is meeting Pete and the rest of the council this afternoon.”

Dad motioned for Banjo to take a seat. Banjo picked a chair with the least clutter and cleared off a pile of magazines, a couple of invoices, and one discarded chocolate paper.

“You should clean this place up,” said Banjo, gingerly lowering himself into the chair.

“You offering?” asked dad with half a smile.

“Well, no…,” said Banjo, opening his hands as if you say: have you seen extent of the problem here?

Dad laughed. “It’s a smith. We work with metal. It gets a little dusty. Live with it or pick up a broom. Your choice.”

He took a seat at this desk across from Banjo. He reached for his coffee cup and took a sip before starting.

What was happening, dad told Banjo, or at least to the best of his knowledge, was that some guy had bought up a parcel of land on the other side of the river. They were putting in either a holiday resort or some kind of housing development, dad wasn’t too clear on that yet, but what he knew from chats around town was that the river was to be dammed up.

“Why a dam?” asked Banjo.

Dad shook his head. “Hydro-electric plant,” he said. “Know what that is?”

Banjo nodded.

“Okay,” said dad, “so they want to use the river to generate some of the power needed for this development. Some green thing. It’s only a small amount of power but it is supposed to make the hippie buyers happy, or whatever, satisfy some ‘sustainability’ thing.”

“But,” said Banjo, “what about the fields?”

“Ah, yes, you spotted it,” said dad. “And the answer to that is: I don’t know.”

The surrounding farms relied on the river as their primary water source, and so did the town. If the location of the fence was anything to go buy, the river would be dammed upstream from the farms. That meant cutting off some – Banjo wasn’t sure how much – of the water the farms needed. The town relied on those farms. In fact, the town was only here because of those farms.

“You’re going be late,” said dad. Banjo checked his watch.

“Plenty time,” he said.

“If you’re interested, the meeting this afternoon is open. Come along.”

Banjo nodded. He wouldn’t miss it for the world.

*****

And apparently the world wasn’t going to miss it either. That afternoon, when Banjo arrived at the general store, it seemed as if the whole town was out. Cars lined the road, horse buggies were dotted here and there, and if there was anyone even remotely manning the important services of this town right now, Banjo couldn’t see one. He made his way around the outside of the store to a large open area at the back. It was covered with a thatched gazebo and served as the town meeting place, when such a thing was needed.

A table towards the back was already set up. Pete, the mayor, and his council were seated at the table, pouring water from pitchers into glasses and passing them down the line. Banjo’s dad was seated at the end of the table, his hulking presence a stark contrast to the rest of the three-man, and two-women, council.

Pete was bashing his gavel to try and get the throng to quieten down.

“Let’s bring this to order, people,” he called out, and got little response.

“Hey!” dad shouted out, now standing up. People muttered to themselves but began to calm down, taking seats where their were and taking up standing space where there wasn’t. Banjo made his way down the side and took up station against one of the wooden uprights, to one side of the table. The promised rain had started to fall, not a lot for now. Feeling a spattering of water on the back of his neck, Banjo moved a little further under the gazebo.

“I can see,” began the mayor, “that from the turnout here today we probably don’t need to summarise anything. Is that correct?”

The murmering from the crowd went back and forth.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’,” said Pete. He motioned to a chair in the front row. “In that case, may I introduce Mr. Alistair Throckmorton, who has come to address the council and this gathering today.”

Banjo craned his head around two farmers. A man was standing up, turning to place a leather folder on the seat of the chair. He was a tall man, grey hair but with the kind of smooth and blemish-free skin that makes it nearly impossible to determine his precise age. He stood upright, with a commanding presense, much like a man used to giving orders and expecting them to be obeyed. He wore a simple yet elegant charcoal coloured suit, with a white shirt. The collar was open, and he wore no tie.

A suit, thought Banjo, his a suit. Suits are a problem. They seldom say what they mean or mean what they say.

“Gentlemen, ladies,” said the man, nodding to the table. “Thank you for allowing me to speak this afternoon”. He turned towards the crowd behind him and gave a slight bow. He walked up to the table and stood to one side, nearest to Banjo.

“As the mayor said, my name is Alistair Throckmorten. I am the founder and chairman of Throckmorton Industries. I won’t bore you with our portfolio of interests; that information I will leave with the mayor and you can look over it yourself. However, my interest here today and as it pertains to this conversation” – he waved a hand to indicate the gathering – “is in my capacity as a developer.”

Fancy words, thought Banjo. A man in a suit with fancy words. Banjo trusted him even less.

“My company,” Throckmorton continued, “has been contracted by a group of investors to purchase and develop a parcel of land to the east of this community, along the river, for the purposes of building an exclusive countryside get away.”

The murmuring in the crowd was getting more intense. Banjo stole a look at some of the faces. He didn’t like the mood of this crowd.

Throckmorton raised his hands against the gathering current. “Part of that scheme is to develop a small hydro-electric plant at a point along the river” – he raised his voice as well as the murmuring grew – “in order to power certain key elements of the resort.”

The murmuring, already haven taken on a life of its own, now exploded. People began to rise out of their seats. Shouts were being flung, fingers were being pointed, and Throckmorton stood still and resolute against the storm.

Pete banged his gavel and called for calm. The crowd ignored him. Dad was now standing and asking for quiet, and he too went ignored. It was only when Throckmorton walked back his chair and removed some pages from his folder that the crowd quietened down a little, straining to see what he had.

“Now I understand,” said Throckmorton, his free hand raised against the continuing hub-bub, “that there is concern. Allow me to address those concerns.” He licked a finger and turned a page.

An environmental impact study had been conducted, he told the gathering, and his company was confident that the farmlands surrounding the town would not suffer adversely. There was a short period, he said, in which water service would be interrupted but this was temporary. Water would be trucked in to the farms to compensate for the lack of service during that short period, and the town would receive some as well.

Like the banging of a screen door in a hurricane, thought Banjo. Throckmorton would have more luck securing that door with a piece of chewing gum than he had of calming this crowd. The gavel banged and the council pleaded and the crowd surged and Throckmorton explained and remonstrated and – through it all – Banjo watched. He watched the anger swell. He watched the undercurrents flow this way and that. He watched the ground between the crowd and Throckmorton being eroded, bit by bit and inch by inch, as the crowd pressed irresistibly forward. All it would take, thought Banjo, was one stone thrown into this pond, for the ripples to spread and the dam to break.

This suit, thought Banjo, is in more danger than he realises.

The men with Throckmorton, till this point unnoticed, must have thought so too. They rose from their seats in the front row and surrounded him, quickly ushering him off and out of sight. Banjo, without realising and operating only on auto-pilot, felt his legs lurch. They took off down the front row and he watched as his hands reached out to grab Throckmorton’s folder, which he had forgotten to take. Banjo hugged it to his chest and kept his head down, heading for the exit. He was bumped this way and that, received an elbow to the side of the head and his feet were trampled on, but he escaped the throng and made it out into the air. He quickly made his way around the store and out into the street, looking this way and that, imaging that millions of eyes were on him now, that Throckmorton knew, he knew, and would be coming for Banjo and the folder. He hugged it closer against the rain, now coming down harder, and dashed for the blacksmith’s shop.

He slammed the door shut behind him and bent over, breath coming out in rasps.

*****

The house that evening was anything but quiet. Banjo’s home seemed taken over by wasps, whirring here and whirring there, little poison stingers out and ready to gang up on and jab anything that so much as looked at them funny. Everyone had opinions, opinions, opinions, and thoughts about this, and conspiracy theories about that.

Throckmorton is going to tear down the town, went one theory.

It’s not about a resort, it’s about dominance of the whole region, went another.

Banjo leaned against the counter nearest the stove, a favourite spot. He absentmindedly stirred a boiling pot of stew as he watched the wasps moving this way and that. One of the wasps was Pete, trying to be the voice of reason as usual. Merrick the general store owner was another wasp, trying his best to overrule Pete’s reason. Susan, a council women and local farmer, had not one but two stingers: both of her ceremonial six-guns, a harking back to her Western, pioneering ancestry, were displayed on her ample hips. Dad made up the other wasp, trying to make himself heard above the buzzing and whirring, his finger pointing (stabbing) this way and that.

Finally, mom turned from the stove, where she had been nursing a pot of rice, and announced dinner. No one noticed. She announced it again, a little louder. The whirring continued.

The smallest women in the room, mom was married to a blacksmith. She too had pioneering in her blood. She had built her first home by herself, rock by rock and with her bare hands. Those hands now raised in a way that Banjo had seen before. He watched with interest as mom put two fingers to her lips.

The shrill whistle cut through the noise, the whirring and buzzing coming up against the granite wall that was Banjo’s mom. He grinned as everyone paused in mid-buzz and turned towards her. She wiped her hands on her apron and motioned to the table.

“Dinner is ready, I said. Susan, there is a jug of orange juice in the fridge. Please fetch it. Pete, take a seat. No, I don’t care. Make your point later. Sit. Merrick, you too. No, wait. Take this first.”

She turned back to the stove and removed the pot of rice from the burner. She handed it over to Merrick who took it, then looked unsure of himself.

“There,” mom pointed. “There. Put it on the table. On the marble stand, not on the tablecloth, for goodness sake.”

She looked at Banjo and raised an eyebrow. Banjo winked back.

The quiet that only mom could bring restored, Banjo took his seat at the table, the food passing left and right as roast potatoes followed servings of rice and piping-hot mutton stew. Glasses and tableware clinked and scraped as everyone got themselves settled. Mom surveyed the table, looking from one to the next. Then she nodded.

At that permission, dad reopened the conversation.

“So, what we know it this,” and at that the noise level started rising again, with every wasp wanting their say. Mom raised her hand.

“One at a time. This is a dinner table, not your private circus.”

Dad cleared his throat. “So, yes, what we know is this.”

He held up the papers that Throckmorton had left for the mayor. “Throckmorton Industries intend to build a resort, in our valley and below this town. They intend to dam the river and build a hydro-electric plant. That plant will in turn power” – he looked quickly through the pages before finding what he wanted – “a recreational centre in the resort.”

“Not the whole resort?” asked Merrick.

“No,” said Pete, “just the recreational centre.”

“A token gesture,” said Banjo.

“Indeed,” agreed dad. “It won’t be big enough to power the whole resort. It’s like a sort of ‘hey, look at us, doing our part for the planet and blah blah’ kind of thing.”

He looked around the table before continuing.

“There will be a short period – it says here two weeks – in which water supply will be interrupted. That will be supplemented by water trucks at each farm and in town. There are no figures here to say how many trucks or how often.”

“There is also a whole lot about tourism, and the town benefiting, and more money, and upgrades to infrastructure, and a bunch of other things,” said Pete.

“Yes, tourists,” said Merrick. He almost spat the word out.

The table was silent for a long moment as everyone digested that.

“So,” said mom, “what can we do?”

“Well,” said dad, “we’ll probably need to have a lawyer go over all of this and tell us but…I just don’t know. I’m not sure.”

“That land is county land,” said Merrick. Pete nodded.

“Uh-huh,” he said. “We don’t have a say over who buys it or what they use it for.”

“Progress,” said Banjo, almost to himself.

“Uh-huh,” said Pete again. “Progress.”

“Tomorrow’s Progress, Today,” Banjo said.

“What’s that now?” asked Merrick.

“It’s on the sign on the fence.” Merrick nodded.

“So unless we catch them in irregularities,” asked mom, “there is not a whole lot we can do?”

“What irregularities?” asked dad.

“I dunno,” she replied, “like…something illegal. Maybe something not up to code in the construction, payoffs to officials, stuff like that. Something illegal. Something we can point at and say: ah hah. See there what they’re doing?”

“Not sure that would stop anything,” said Susan, speaking up for the first time. “Slow things down, sure, but stop this?”

“Sabotage,” said Banjo, again under his breath. This time, no one noticed.

“And,” continued Susan, “it’s not like us country bumpkins are gonna have access to any kind of paperwork or information, not past the stuff they show us publically anyway.”

“That might not be quite correct,” said Banjo. No one heard.

“No, indeed,” said dad. “Those people play their cards close.”

“I might have something,” Banjo said a little louder.

“I don’t even know anyone that might know anyone,” said Pete.

“I have his folder,” said Banjo.

“And anyway, we’d still need a laywer,” said Susan.

“I said,” said Banjo, standing up and raising his voice. “I said: I have his folder.”

“Say what now?” said Merrick.

They all looked up at Banjo.

*****

He crouched in the dark near the river. It was a cold night, cloudy, but no rain. That was just as well. The shrubbery provided just enough cover that Banjo was all but invisible to anyone in the camp. For camp is what it was now. Merely two weeks after arriving and the one hut had grown to five. One grader had grown to two. Various other pieces of equipment and machinery were dotted here and there. New signs had gone up and solar-powered lighting lit up the camp. The fence was still there, and the gates were still there. The chain was still there and the padlock was still there.

But Banjo had side cutters. He had side cutters and his black hoodie was on and his head covered. The only thing white in this landscape – apart from the lights inside the fence – was Pickles. How the rabbit had gotten down here, and why, Banjo didn’t know. But he was happy for Pickles’ reassuring presence.

He laid a hand on the rabbit’s head and stroked his ears. Pickles wrinkled his nose.

For two weeks everyone had spoken. Everyone had had their say and then some. Pete had said some things, and mom had said some things, and Pete had said even more things. And that, thought Banjo, was the problem: a lot of saying and not a lot of doing. But what did he know: he was just a kid, right?

They had consulted a lawyer. They had explained the situation and handed over the paperwork to the lawyer, even Throckmorton’s folder. The lawyer wanted to know how they had come by it and wasn’t happy to hear the answer. Something about it being obtained illegally, blah blah. In short, said the lawyer, the land had been bought, legally, from the county. All permits and permissions were in place. The environmental impact study was approved. As far as Throckmorton Industries was concerned, the plan was a go.

But the folder, they said, look, the folder. Document upon document, lots of them, all with figures. Yes, the lawyer had said, she could see that. Surely, they said, there must be something that could be used. And no again, said the lawyer. Legality notwithstanding, it would take a forensic accountant to go over the pages of impact studies, requisitions, expenses, and everything else to spot the holes, the issues, the problems, something “not quite right.” And if spotted, if identified, and if understood, then maybe, just maybe, the lawyer may be able to use some of it if it proves something illegal has happened.

And even then, she said, it was one small town – with the resources of a small town because let’s face it lawyers are expensive – against a large multinational organisation which likely had teams of attorneys on speed dial. The simple fact, said the lawyer, is that even if they could show something wasn’t right, these guys were good at taking their time. Heck, she said, they could spend years on this, burying the town and its attorney under reams and reams of paper, under truckloads of discovery and mountains of depositions and landfills of motions. Even if the town had the resources to pay an attorney for that – and they didn’t – it could take years. Nothing would stop. The resort would be built. All it would do is slow it down. Progress, she said, was inevitable.

Tomorrow’s Progress, Today.

Banjo could just about make out the words on the signboard. Maybe he just imagined being able to see then. The sign, lit from the back by the faint solar-lighting inside the fence, was cast in shadow.

“See here, Pickles,” he said, looking down at the rabbit again. “See here. The thing is, and this is the thing, is that what we have here is an injustice. Oh, I don’t know if many will see it that way, but that is what it is.”

Pickles scratched in the dirt.

“You see,” Banjo said again, “they’ll build this resort and then people will accept it because it is here, right, and the water will be restored and of course people will say “thank you kind sir” and “good on you kind sir” and “three bags full kind sir” and they’ll forget that they were angry because the water is back. People will go back to their lives, and their daily chores, and their plans, and hopes and dreams, and barbeques and Sunday Afternoon Football.”

Pickles stopped to listen as if he caught a hint of something in the distance.

Ending 1:

“And you know what? You know what? Then the town will get a new gas station, and bigger stores. Maybe a quaint but unnecessary restaurant because ‘the tourists will love it’, small town, come visit, all that stuff. Then because of the extra infrastructure we’ll need a new substation and more overhead cables to manage the extra power demands. That means more land taken.”

Pickles settled again and looked up at Banjo. He gave him another scratch, almost absentmindedly.

“And the people might fight that. They’ll quickly forget about what came before. They’ll forget about what started it all and face this new monster. But progress, like the lawyer said, is inevitable. So the people will accept this new change, this new normal, and move on, all the while not seeing the injustice of it until it is too late. And you know when they will finally realise that it is too late?”

Banjo had stopped scratching. Pickles was having none of that and nudged Banjo’s hand.

“They’ll realise it is too late when the big highways start going through. They’ll realise it is too late when the industry goes up to support the entertainment. They’ll realise it is too late when the water is dirty and the air is polluted.”

Banjo paused.

“They’ll realise it is too late when they come for the farms.”

He looked at the sign again: Tomorrow’s Progress, Today.

“But maybe not today, huh Pickles? Maybe not today. Like the lawyer said: we may not be able to stop it, but we can slow it down.”

He fished a piece of lettuce out of his pocket and handed it to Pickles.

“Because, the way I see it: we accept this one small thing because it is easy. Then we accept the next thing. And then the next. Before you know it, there is nothing left. Maybe the key here is not to accept it at all. Not one little bit. Just because a thing is legal does not make it right.”

Banjo clicked the side cutters in his hand. Once, twice. Then a third time. He took a deep breath.

“Okay. Let’s go.”

Ending 2:

“And you know what? You know what? Then the town will get a new gas station, and bigger stores. Maybe a quaint but unnecessary restaurant because ‘the tourists will love it’, small town, come visit, all that stuff. Then because of the extra infrastructure we’ll need a new substation and more overhead cables to manage the extra power demands. That means more land taken.”

Pickles settled again and looked up at Banjo. He gave him another scratch, almost absentmindedly.

“And the people might fight that. They’ll quickly forget about what came before. They’ll forget about what started it all and face this new monster. But progress, like the lawyer said, is inevitable. So the people will accept this new change, this new normal, and move on, all the while not seeing the injustice of it until it is too late. And you know when they will finally realise that it is too late?”

Banjo had stopped scratching. Pickles was having none of that and nudged Banjo’s hand.

“They’ll realise it is too late when the big highways start going through. They’ll realise it is too late when the industry goes up to support the entertainment. They’ll realise it is too late when the water is dirty and the air is polluted.”

Banjo paused.

“They’ll realise it is too late when they come for the farms.”

He looked at the sign again: Tomorrow’s Progress, Today.

“But maybe not today, huh Pickles? Maybe not today. Like the lawyer said: we may not be able to stop it, but we can slow it down.”

He fished a piece of lettuce out of his pocket and handed it to Pickles.

“Because, the way I see it: we accept this one small thing because it is easy. Then we accept the next thing. And then the next. Before you know it, there is nothing left. Maybe the key here is not to accept it at all. Not one little bit. Just because a thing is legal does not make it right.”

Banjo clicked the side cutters in his hand. Once, twice. Then a third time. He took a deep breath.

He looked at his watch.

“Something’s wrong,” he muttered, as the seconds ticked by. “It should have happened by now.”

He half stood, peering further around the bushes and squinting into the dark. It was too far to see, not completely. He imagined the hole that he had made in the fence earlier in the night, in the dark, but like the sign it was probably just his eyes playing tricks.

“No, something is wrong,” he said, louder this time. He began to stand up. “I’m going to…”

There was a crump, a blast of wind. Banjo was knocked backwards as the night sky was lit up. Then the roar hit him, as the grader rose into the air on a pillar of fire.

Banjo turned his head, groggy from the fall, and looked at Pickles.

Pickles stared straight ahead, the fire of the burning camp reflected in his thoughtful little eyes.

Ending 3:

“And you know what? You know what? Then the town will get a new gas station, and bigger stores. Maybe a quaint but unnecessary restaurant because ‘the tourists will love it’, small town, come visit, all that stuff. Then because of the extra infrastructure we’ll need a new substation and more overhead cables to manage the extra power demands. That means more land taken.”

Pickles settled again and looked up at Banjo. He gave him another scratch, almost absentmindedly.

“And the people might fight that. They’ll quickly forget about what came before. They’ll forget about what started it all and face this new monster. But progress, like the lawyer said, is inevitable. So the people will accept this new change, this new normal, and move on, all the while not seeing the injustice of it until it is too late. And you know when they will finally realise that it is too late?”

Banjo had stopped scratching. Pickles was having none of that and nudged Banjo’s hand.

“They’ll realise it is too late when the big highways start going through. They’ll realise it is too late when the industry goes up to support the entertainment. They’ll realise it is too late when the water is dirty and the air is polluted.”

Banjo paused.

“They’ll realise it is too late when they come for the farms.”

He looked at the sign again: Tomorrow’s Progress, Today.

“But maybe not today, huh Pickles? Maybe not today. Like the lawyer said: we may not be able to stop it, but we can slow it down.”

He fished a piece of lettuce out of his pocket and handed it to Pickles.

“Because, the way I see it: we accept this one small thing because it is easy. Then we accept the next thing. And then the next. Before you know it, there is nothing left. Maybe the key here is not to accept it at all. Not one little bit. Just because a thing is legal does not make it right.”

Banjo clicked the side cutters in his hand. Once, twice. Then a third time. He took a deep breath.

“It’s time, Pickles. Come, or stay. It’s up to you.”

The little rabbit regarded Banjo for a moment, then settled down in the dust. Banjo nodded.

“Suit yourself.”

Checking once again for movement, Banjo moved quickly across the open space between the bushes and the camp, crouching as he went. He aimed for an area of the fence that seemed to provide the most shadow.

Staying low, Banjo quickly snipped three sides of a square out of the fencing wire, bending it back to make a small door. He tossed his bag through and crawled after it. He paused again, looking around for movement, then raced across to the nearest piece of cover.

He took a moment in the shadow of the large grader wheels to catch his breath. Then he stuffed the side cutters back into his bag and secured it over his shoulders. He glanced out into the night. The low light illuminated just enough of the camp that Banjo could see a small sign above one of the hut doors: Site Office.

He nodded. This is what he was looking for. If there was anything to find at this camp, it would be there, in the Site Office. He reached back and eased a small crowbar out of a deep pocket on the side of his backpack.

The door gave easily. It took three, maybe four pushes and pulls with the crowbar and the thin metal started to bend. The lock, no longer having any traction, pulled away and Banjo eased the door slowly open. Looking around once more, and sensing no movement, he moved across the threshold, still staying low and pulling the door closed behind him.

He let out a breath that he didn’t realise he’d been holding in. He stood up and took a step into the room. He swung his backpack off his shoulder to retrieve his headlamp.

The overhead light blazed on. Banjo took a step back and covered his eyes, the lights momentarily blinding him.

“You see what I mean?” came a voice from the other side of the room. “Sooner or later, they all try this.”

“Right you are, sir,” said a voice near his ear. Someone grabbed his arms and propelled him into the room. He was thrust down into a chair, and the chair was turned around.

Standing against the rear wall was Alistair Throckmorton.

“Yup,” he said again. “Sooner or later.”