WHO DO YOU WANT TO BE?

When you were little, eyes wide as could be, the teacher sat you down and asked you a simple question:

Who do you want to be?

And dreams of all the choices filled you up. You could fight fires, or teach, or land a shuttle on the moon, that question echoing in your head:

Who do you want to be?

But you got older, and the eyes grew dim. The choices fluttered away, those dreams seemed more and more childish as the days passed, the real question getting more urgent all the while:

Who do you want to be?

You had to make money, there was no time to waste, so you took the first job you were offered. You worked to save up to get away from it all, that question now a tiny whisper:

Who do you want to be?

But times got hard and cuts had to be made, the company laid you off. In the pits of despair, that question came back loud and clear, now screaming at you:

Who do you want to be?

And it was bad for a while, but the world didn’t end as you thought it would. The days passed in peace, and as they did you spent them with someone you hadn’t seen in a while: yourself. That question was barely noticeable, but still there:

Who do you want to be?

The interviewer called back, you landed another job. You didn’t need to save as much any more, the frills of life were just that. Those teacher’s words had more meaning now:

Who do you want to be?

You worked to live, no longer living to work. You read the books you always wanted to read, visited the places you always wanted to see. The question was a soothing one now:

Who do you want to be?

And in the end, that interim time was just a stage. The moments you remember had nothing to do with the office, with the rat race it contained. The teacher’s words were prescient, but not in the way you first thought. The question was always for you and only you. So:

Who do you want to be?

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I’VE BEEN PUBLISHED!

This isn’t a fic, and it’s not Friday, but don’t adjust your set just yet.

A flash fiction piece written by yours truly was just accepted onto The Open End, which you can peruse to your heart’s content by clicking here.

And while you’re there, be sure to check out all the other great stuff that TOE has to offer.

Fics!

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THE NOTIONS

Turn around, take a look behind you. No, no, don’t make it too obvious. Act like you’re just checking a speck of dust you found on your shoulder or something. Alright, good. Now behind you is a wall, right? Drywall or brick? It doesn’t matter. I don’t even care if there isn’t one directly behind you. If your eyes could see far enough behind you they’d eventually run into a wall, right? Don’t be a smartass, okay?

Point is, there’s a wall somewhere behind you and you have no idea what’s inside it. Oh sure, open it up and you might find plaster, insulation, and the like, but that’s not what I’m talking about. No, what I’m talking about isn’t so much a what as it is a who. Right now, as you read this, there exists a race of beings called the Notions who live in the wall behind you. Stop looking at me like that, I mean it. They’re in the wall in front of you, too. Basically any wall that’s ever existed or will exist has housed/will house them.

Keep looking at the wall, now. Stop reading, and just look at the wall for a second, will you? Okay. See a few cracks and bumps? Maybe a couple marks that you thought were sloppy brushstrokes from the last time the wall was painted? That’s the Notions. They live in the bumps, you see. Yeah, I know the bumps are tiny. But so are the Notions, so it works out pretty well for them. Your house would look pretty tiny to a giant, now wouldn’t it?

Alright, stop spacing out and imagining giants, this is important. Think of something, right now. Don’t ask what, that’s for you to decide. Have you thought of something yet? Good. Now that thing you just thought of came from your brain, right? Wrong. The Notions thought it for you. I know it sounds crazy, but I’m serious. Wait, wait, wait, don’t click away just yet. It’s vital that you read on.

Alright, thanks for hanging in there. Now, as I was saying, whatever it was that you just thought of, whether it was about elephants or salad or a treasured childhood memory that no one else had any clue you had, the Notions just thought it for you. Maybe thought is a bad way of putting it. You see, the Notions are thoughts, basically. Let’s say you want to think of an elephant. The Notions in your walls will then have a meeting to decide who’s up for the task (their time’s much faster than ours, so their hour-long discussions are nanoseconds in our world) and whoever they pick leaps out of the wall and into your brain, forming into the shape of whatever elephant it was that you wanted to imagine at that moment, tusks and all. They’re really good at what they do, too. They’ve had a lot of practice at figuring out what it is that people want to imagine or think about, so they can usually get it right the first time. I say usually, because the Notions have run into a bit of trouble lately.

They’ve been having some reproductive trouble, to be more specific. I’ll spare you The Talk, as I’m sure you’ve been given the human version already, but here’s the gist: the Notions thrive off of our energy. Whatever we want to imagine, the Notions form into for us. And then, when we see that little Notion in our head (which we assume is our own thought), we give off energy. The Notions then feed off of that energy to survive, so they can go on to have little baby Notions of their own. Normally, this is fine. It’s a pretty reciprocal relationship, wouldn’t you say?

The only problem is, the Notions can’t distinguish between what kind of energy they’re given. When you think of something happy or at least somewhat pleasant, everything’s fine. The Notions get nice and full, you feel good, what’s not to love? But when you think destructive, angry thoughts, that energy is sent out to the poor little Notions. And their bodies just can’t process that kind of negativity, you see. They wither up and die before they even get the chance to become mommy and daddy Notions.

Historically, this hasn’t been a problem. Negative thoughts killed off Notions here and there, but there were always plenty more happy thoughts to keep their population going strong. But that isn’t the case any more. Their numbers have dwindled considerably, and they’re on their way to extinction. What’s that? You’re wondering how you come in in all of this? No, don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn into some sad commercial with a Sarah McLachlan song playing in the background, asking for your donation to help a Notion in need. Money wouldn’t be able to help them, anyway.

No, what you can do, right at this very moment, is to think about something positive. It doesn’t matter what. Remember that time you laughed so hard your stomach physically hurt? Or how about when your best friend called you that one time you really needed it? Or even maybe that time you said that really nice thing to that total stranger, just because you felt like it? Remember the smile on their face, maybe a bit of surprise mixed in with it? Good. Keep thinking like that, it’s working.

We won’t be able to pull their population back from the brink overnight. It’ll take a fair amount of time, and a lot of positive thoughts will have to be conjured up. But we can do it, you and me. It might be hard, but nothing worth doing was ever easy. I think I read that in a book once. Or maybe it was a quote I saw online. Either way, it doesn’t matter. The Notions need your help, and only you can save them.

Okay, I’m done. You can click away now.

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MR. BROWSE

Creepin’ ‘round inside us all’s a man called Mr. Browse.

His goal, you see, is for you and me to laze about like we’re cows.

He’ll wait till you’ve got work to do and say, “Hey! Look over here!”

But internet, you’d better bet, it’s best to not go near.

‘Cause if you do, he’ll smile at you and think, “Hey! I’ve got a rube!”

Then you’re out of luck, ‘cause you’ll be stuck all day watching youtube.

Don’t get me wrong, ‘cause any song you want to hear he’ll find.

But all day of, “It’s Friday!” and you’ll probably lose your mind.

He’ll say, “Hey Matt! Look at this cat that’s stuck inside a box!”

And, “Oh, hey Joe, don’t you want to know what sound’s made by a fox?”

But if you say, “I’ll keep away from him”, though hard it may be,

Then you’re the best, you’ve passed the test of productivity!

So unless it’s true you want to chew on cud just like the cows,

Then don’t be annoyed, be sure to avoid the man called Mr. Browse!

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THE CLOCK REWOUND

Wind was howling incessant on the break and filtering eddies of snow into Dr. Starlin’s eyelashes as he crouched down to reach eye-level with the latest find. The current stratum was down as low as the Carboniferous period, bits of compressed coal gleaming up brilliant black out of all that white snow. The Kamchatka Peninsula was the sort of place that you’d be perfectly happy with only having seen on a postcard. Once you got here and could feel the icicles clinging to your nostrils and the bitter sting of your eyes trying to freeze themselves shut, you couldn’t help but feel duped by all the beautiful sights.

He was here to study anthracite, its origins and formation. It was a strange type of coal, looking far more crystal-like than what you’d expect to have burning up in your furnace. Light from the dim, cloud-blocked sun would just barely break through from up above, send shimmering reflections of itself dancing off the coal’s surface and into Dr. Starlin’s eyes. This was his home. He was more comfortable being around rocks than other people, where the data was consistent and the variables were few. Things just made sense here, and there were very few surprises, even for a scientific venture.

He wasn’t one to rock the boat. The more consistent the finds the better as far as he was concerned. He didn’t want money, or fame, or the possibility of upheaval of accepted theories on the way the world works. If he could just sit there alone with his rocks and somehow get paid for doing so, then all would be right with the world.

One of the bits of anthracite stood out from the rest, even as it rested clumped among that lumpy pile of coal. It glimmered as if to beckon the doctor over, like it had a secret to tell and he was the only one authorized to hear it. Dr. Starlin approached cautiously, as if expecting a trap to be sprung at any moment. But there was no trap and the coal was just coal. He fetched his tools, picked the heavy piece of anthracite up and began to break it apart. He didn’t know what it was about this particular specimen that told him to pick it apart himself, not just toss it aside with the rest for an aide to analyze later, but he pressed on even so. And when he got to the center of the piece, he had his answer.

There, gleaming brighter than even the sides of the anthracite itself was a solid hunk of metal, dirty from the coal that still clung to it but shining all the while. Dr. Starlin worked tirelessly, picking apart the coal that rested around the hunk of metal, dusting off debris, and polishing it up so he could get a better look at what it was. And when it was all done, and the coal was nothing but powdered and chipped remains left at his feet, he held a glimmering pocket watch in his hands. It had foreign symbols in place of each of the twelve numbers, glyphs that Dr. Starlin had never before seen in his life, but it was a pocket watch all the same.

But how could this be? This piece of anthracite had been buried in the earth since the Carboniferous period, 300 million years at least. It was packed hard as stone, buried in the same stratum that fossilized, ancient insects had just recently been found at. Either this pocket watch belonged to a very fashionable arthropod or something very strange was going on. And even worse was the button on top of the watch itself, which button had just started to glow as if wanting to be pressed. There was too much going on for Dr. Starlin to handle. Too many variables, too many unanswered questions… This wasn’t a comfortable situation at all.

Despite his better judgments, Dr. Starlin wanted to press the button. Maybe it was one last holdout of curiosity from his childhood days, that indomitable sense of adventure that the doctor had been trying all these years to crush. He looked at the button, how it glowed a golden hue against all that white of the snow. Before he could stop himself, he pressed it.

Dr. Starlin had the immediate sensation of being shot out of a cannon and into a tunnel of unending light. He lost all feeling in every limb, his body being lost in some vapor that was as all-encompassing as the Kamchatka snow, but warm all the while.

When he came back to, he was standing on a plateau in the summer heat, rain falling in drops the size of dimes. There was flora all around, luscious green as calls from strange-sounding animals echoed all around him. He looked at the ground. Insects the size of his feet wriggled around, exoskeletons like plates of armor as strange birdlike creatures dropped out of the sky in hot pursuit. He looked at his hand. The pocket watch was still there, clutched tightly from the stress of the journey he just made. But the hand was not his. The fingers were long, spindly gray monstrosities, only four of them total. His body, too, felt much too long. Looking down at his torso, it seemed to stretch like some disturbing taffy. He noticed a puddle a few feet ahead. Running over, he looked desperately at his reflection. A long, gray face greeted him, massive black almond-shaped eyes peering back at him. He looked up. Several figures with the same appearance were there before him, crouched over ancient creatures as they studied them and took samples.

Dr. Starlin slammed on the watch’s button and was whipped quickly through that tunnel he had just come through. He was back in the snow and cold, never more thankful to be in that climate in his life. He stuffed the watch into his pocket and rushed off into camp.

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WE

We are here.

We make decisions, we mend fences, we live and breathe.

We are still.

We wander in fields, we climb up trees, we eat till we’re full.

We expect things.

We feel our way around, we think of all the ways, we sit beneath the stars.

We tell stories.

We dig under the snow, we play tag on the blacktop, we think of one another.

We laugh sometimes.

We heal our wounds, we dance in the rain, we watch as the water becomes frozen.

We trade cards.

We empty out tanks, we collect all the shells, we wonder who’s out there.

We sing songs.

We run till we’re tired, we jump into puddles, we breathe in the helium.

We clap hands.

We get the chores done, we color inside the lines, we dip toes in the pool.

We hammer nails.

We fold over the pages, we drown waffles in syrup, we scratch off fake tattoos.

We smile within.

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