Old and New

[Fiction] Friday Challenge #157 for May 28th, 2010

A writer’s computer begins to flash messages on its screen, as if trying to communicate.

Charles looked at the shiny new laptop assembled in front of him.  The slight hum of the cooling fan sounded like the whisperings of little creatures that worked inside it.

“Son, I appreciate the lavish gift, but I am quite happy with my typewriter.”

“I know Dad, it’s just that with me and Sophie moving interstate, this will be a way we can keep in touch a bit more easily,” said Michael.

“There’s nothing wrong with Alexander Graham Bell’s wonderful invention for staying in touch,” said Charles.

“Yes Dad,” said Michael, “now let me show you what you can do.”  Michael began running through all the programs, but Charles got lost in applications, internet, saving documents and something called electronic mail.

“If I want to write a letter, I can put it on paper and mail it.  Like God intended.”

“But this is more convenient.”

Shortly after, Michael shook his father’s hand and took his leave.

“Gotta go.  Sophie’s packing the last of the kid’s clothing and I need to pick up some tea on the way home.”

“Thanks, son.  I do appreciate what you are doing for me.”

“No worries, Dad.”

Charles left everything running and closed the lid of the laptop before seeing his son to the door, giving him a final embrace.  He went back to his study and looked at the new laptop sitting oddly amongst his leather notebooks, fountain pens and assorted stationery.  Pushed to one side was his typewriter.  He remembered the first article he had published had come from the hammers and ribbon, all those years ago.  Sentimentality kept him tied to the typewriter.  Charles scanned the shelves to his left where he saw the result of his time hammering out stories and articles.  Retirement stemmed the flow, but he pottered away writing stories.  The computer looked like a piece of alien technology with wires and cables trailing away like tendril limbs.

“Just doesn’t feel right for an old man like me,” he said before heading to make a cup of tea.

It took Charles almost a week before he was tempted to open the laptop again.

“Might as well teach this old dog something new,” he said to himself.

Opening the lid he watched it come to life again.  Tentatively he moved the mouse and watched the cursor track his movements.  He clicked on the symbol of a page and found something that looked reassuringly familiar.

“Ah, a blank page.  Some things don’t change.  But what to fill it with?”  Charles stared at the blank page with a degree of satisfaction as he flicked through a nearby notebook.

There was a distinct pop and a small box appeared on the screen with a message, Hi there.

Charles leant back, slightly bemused.  The messages continued, Are you having a nice day? What have you been doing this week?”

“Now my computer is talking to me.  I saw 2001.  I know how this ends.  Not nicely, particularly if you’re name is Dave.”

Each message was accompanied by the popping sound and it began to unnerve Charles.  He had no idea what to do or if he should respond.

Are you there?

“Yes, but I don’t want you to know that.”

Charles watched the flashing cursor, waiting for the next message.  Slowly he reached for the mouse, but unsure of what to do with it.  The jangling of the telephone jarred Charles.  He watched the screen as he backed away towards the hallway to answer the phone.

“Hello, Charles speaking.”

“Hi Dad, it’s Michael.”

“Michael, the computer you gave me was trying to talk to me.”

There was a faint laugh from the other end of the phone.

“Dad, that was me.  I set up an instant messaging system on your computer so that we could talk online.”

“I doubt I’ll get this technology thing, son.  I’ll just use the telephone from now on.”

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14 responses to “Old and New

  1. That time of the week again: Fiction Friday. I had a few ideas for this one, such as a sci-fi story influenced by Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but couldn’t find a suitable resolution. I wanted to do a satirical piece, with lots of authorial intrusions and subverting of literary rules. Might do it later and spend some time on it.
    Fell back to some familiar territory in examining relationships and personal dynamics. And I didn’t use an adolescent protagonist. That’s new.
    That being said, this response feels a little weak, kind of homogeneous and without punch. It’s “nice.” (There’s a word that needs to be consigned to the literary graveyard, but here, oh so appropriate.) Say it with me, “That’s a nice piece of work.” Oh the comedy.

  2. I liked it. The father and son relationship was very good and the way you describe the older man’s reluctance to give up his typewriter to join the computer age is very realistic. I know several people like that. I know this sounds crazy but I got the mental picture of Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch as the father and son characters. (like the roles they played in Independence Day) I guess that means you did a good job on creating your characters.

  3. “Nice” work. Seriously, you’ve got a real knack for relationships. You’re characters are real and relatable. I know a few of those old timers who don’t know an email from a piece of toast. It was encouraging to see someone like that make a real attempt at modernizing. I also like the ending: finding out it was his son on the other end of those messages.

  4. When the message popped up on the screen the first thing I thought of is that paperclip character that pops up in MS Word. The image of an old man trying to talk to a cartoon paperclip had me laughing out-loud.

    When it turned out to be an instant message, it was still just as funny. Great work with this piece. Thanks for sharing.

    • I hadn’t thought of the paperclip character, but now that you mention it, that is really funny. I could so see this happening to someone. Great idea, Walt.

  5. That’s awesome. Nice to see a twist that’s not a killer or someone booming voice from beyond.
    Very clever

  6. I think that you did more than a “nice” job here, Adam. In this short piece of fiction, you managed to realistically portray an older man who wants nothing to do with the technological age–just like a lot of elderly people that I know. Great job.

  7. The end of this story had me laughing out loud. I was expecting something supernatural to happen; definitely wasn’t what I expected.

    http://johnpender.net/2010/05/fiction-friday-157/

  8. You have a great knack for exploring relationships. You did a wonderful job painting a very real and relateable situation.

  9. OH BLESS!!!!!

    I agree with Chris, I love the empathic way you explore relationships. Sincere and with depth.

    for those playing along – my entry this week can be found at http://annieevett.blogspot.com/2010/04/cipher-of-heart.html

  10. That was too funny! I thought for a second that the computer was talking to him too, then I realized…oh…It’s IM.

  11. I love this! I can almost imagine my mother having a similar reaction – I’ve gotten her into the wonder of emails and blogs, but IM might be a bit beyond her. But such a wonderful, upbeat take on what could have been a sinister, dystopian tale.

    • There is a lot to be mined from a distopian tale about computers, but that isn’t the first thing that I think of; I tend to go for the more human aspects of relationships. I must explore my dark side some more 🙂 *evil laugh and plans of world domination*

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