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Wheelbarrow of Destiny
An article for Footprints Magazine by Cheeseburger Brown
Wheelbarrow of Destiny, an article for Footprints Magazine by Cheeseburger Brown

There is an inventor in Alcona, a retired National Defence engineer turned garage-based scientist. He tinkers with household gadgets in an effort to improve them, like his refrigerator with an integrated scale that locks itself if you've become too fat. He is also the originator of the self-opacifying peephole (patent pending), the light-up denture set (patent pending) and the solar-powered roller-skate (as seen on TV). When he called to say he was going to show me "the future" I figured he'd hatched another oddball invention that he imagined would transform the world. When I could find the time, I swung by.

In the inventor's cluttered garage the apparatus was unveiled with a flourish. I furrowed my brow. "It's...a wheelbarrow – with a windshield?"

"No, young man. It is a time machine."

I frowned. "I suppose someone could sit in it, if you took the window out. Does it have to be pushed up to 88 miles per hour or something?"

He shook his head. "It's not that kind of time machine. It's a portal. That's not just any ordinary window – the glass has been specially treated to act as a kind of chrono-manipulative lens. In layman's terms, light shining through the glass is temporally displaced."

"You're telling me that if I look through the window, I'll see the future on the other side? The actual future?"

He nodded. "Precisely."

"So what's with the wheelbarrow?"

"It alters the virtual vantage via local geographic translation."

"Pardon?"

"We can move the window around and point it at stuff."

"Ah."

The inventor cleared his throat in an important way. "The device is currently tuned to fifty years forward. I have invited you, a member of the local press, to witness what transpires next." He grinned. "Care to take it for a spin?"

So we did. We wheeled it out into the warm summer twilight. At the end of his driveway he connected the window to a couple of car batteries and then cranked the contraption to life. It hummed. The wheelbarrow quivered. And then the view through the window changed -- not dramatically, but noticeably. While above my head stars were visible, the evening sky through the glass was clouded, the smoky ceiling ruddy and orange in the distance.

The inventor had his head right beside mine, peering through the panes. "See that light pollution in the distance?"

I nodded. "What's it from?"

"The skyscrapers of the downtown Barrie."

"Holy smokes!"

We set off, the wheelbarrow humming and squeaking as we manoeuvred it to the end of his block and out to Innisfil Beach Road. In the world, it was a sea of construction -- through the glass, it was a busy six-lane avenue lined with restaurants and shops. The sidewalks were crowded with every hue of human. Reflexively I leapt back from the wheelbarrow as a sleek car seemed about to run us down -- but it was only in the glass. In the present world, the inventor and I were standing safely on the grassy boulevard.

"The cars don't look that different," I observed.

"Until you notice that there are no steering wheels," said the inventor. "Autonomous automotive automation."

"Auto-auto-what-what?"

"The cars are intelligent. Speeding is a crime of the past. Everything is under robotic control – acceleration, navigation, altitude."

I blinked. "Altitude?"

"Well, from what I've seen things can get pretty hairy up in the Skyway 400 on a cottage weekend," he replied, jerking his thumb toward the western sky. People in present-day Innisfil stared at us as we moved down the sidewalk hunched over the wheelbarrow to peer through the window, but the people in the future-view didn't seem to take any notice of us at all. In fact, once or twice they walked right through the window, which briefly gave us a disconcerting view of their internal organs as they were bisected by the glass they could not see. "Why do the kids' pants look so stupid?" I asked.


"Kids' pants always look stupid," the inventor said. "It's just hard to tell until you're old."

"Or a time-voyeur."

"Same difference."

It was Saturday night and through the glass we saw a crowd lined up outside a stately concert hall with holographic projections of musical notes streaming through the air above the front doors, the graphics interrupted now and then by promotional messages that seemed to flicker and change as I read them.

"I don't get it," I said. "The words keep changing. Is it the Barrie Symphony Orchestra or the Innisfil Symphony Orchestra?"

The inventor offered a wan smile. "It's either. It all depends."

"What do you mean?"

"The future is not fixed. What we think and do in the present influences the future. It changes in response to the foundations we lay here and now. Look." He pushed the wheelbarrow up a rise and swiveled it around, gesturing at me to look through. "What do you see out there?"

"Oh, it's a giant park. No, wait -- it's a parking lot. It shifts."

"What kind of a town do you want to live in, Mr. Brown? Your attitudes and feelings about your neighbourhood today shape what kind of city it will one day be. The priorities we set now, as we grow, determine the direction of our destiny."

"But I'm not anyone special," I scoffed. "I'm not out there voting on zoning laws or whatnot. What do I have to do with it?"

"You live here. You're part of the community. The real future is decided by all of us, not by any one leader or group. A city doesn't just happen around us – it's an artifact of how we choose to live."

This shifting effect was even more pronounced when we wheeled the barrow to the waterfront – through the window we could see homes and buildings stretching far out into a dried out flat from which Lake Simcoe had entirely receded, or we could see piers and breakwalls clustered more westerly, out of the reach of a very high waterline with surging waves. To my right I could see either wetlands or condominiums, boardwalks or warehouses. A busy port in one blink, a string of resorts in the next. After a few moments the view made me quite dizzy and I was forced to look away. Then I threw up a little bit on the sidewalk, which was embarrassing.

"It gets worse, the longer we run the portal," explained the inventor, "because we think about the changes, which changes them further. It's a feedback effect. Without interruption it might even drive a man mad."

The inventor chuckled.

"Maybe you should turn it off," I said, averting my eyes.

"Certainly not," he snapped. "Patent pending."

It was at that point that a stray baseball zipped across my field of vision and then went on to pierce the portal with a sharp bang! The glass shattered, stray shards flying after the ball as it bounced off into a gutter. A kid half-hiding behind the house on the corner shrugged, eyes cast into his catcher's mitt. "Sorry," he offered.

The inventor's face fell. "It's ruined!"

I put a consoling hand on his shoulder. "I guess you should've seen that one coming, eh?"

Fin.

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