The Prompt: You live in an alternate reality where it's still illegal to tear off mattress tags after buying them,one night you sit in bed and stare at the tag hanging off the end,and the intrusive thoughts win.
I sat on the edge of the hotel room bed. Traveling cross country as a motivational speaker was ironically bleak. I had watched a pay per view movie and called my family already. The kids were doing well in school and my wife was spending more time with her yoga instructor then I was comfortable with. I sat on the edge of the bed and noticed the tag sticking out from under the sheets
Why was it even illegal to tear them off in the first place? Surely no one would know I did it. I doubted anyone had ever got a check out fee for tearing off the mattress tag. The end of the tag was frayed. All it needed was little tug. I was filled with boyish mischievousness and pulled the tag off in one swift motion and chucked it on the pillow.
"Hah." It occurred to me that I hadn't done anything remotely unsavory in a long time. How could I when I was basically telling other people how to live their lives?
It also occurred to me that the mattress was deflating, which was highly unusual for spring mattresses. As I sank closer to the base of the bed, I heard a crashing sound behind me.
I turned around to find the bedside lamp smashed on the floor. "Hello, is anyone there?" I said.
Somewhere to my left I heard someone tittering in a sharp falsetto. I turned again to see a tiny blue imp emptying the remote control of its batteries. In fact, the whole room was filled with the creatures, scratching at the bedpost, clawing at the curtains, running the sink. Had they come out of the now completely deflated mattress?
I swiped at the one closest to me. "Stop that!"
He dodged and screamed shrilly.
What was I going to do? This was definitely going to result in fee at check out. Not to mention they were emptying the mini bar. I was just about to call the police when another creature materialized out of thin air.
He was about 70cm in height and rather fat, wearing a suit and holding a briefcase. He would have looked just like a miniature tired old bureaucrat if it wasn't for the wings that hung languidly from his back, his pointy ears, and his green skin.
He looked around the room and sighed. "Why do I always get sent on these missions?"
I watched him swat away an imp and sit down in the armchair in the corner. Was he with the imps? And was he going to stop me from calling the police. I picked up the receiver carefully.
"You've really messed up here you know," he said.
"Are you talking to me?" I said.
"You tore off the mattress tag right?"
I was hesitant to answer, but eventually let out, "Yes."
He opened his suitcase and got out a stack of papers." Don't you know the tag seals the imps in the mattress?"
I put the receiver down. "They put imps in the mattresses?"
"How else do you think they make them so comfortable? Memory foam? You humans will believe anything." He walked over to the bed, grabbed the tag off of the pillow and examined it.
"Are you going to help me fix all this?"
He sifted through his briefcase and pulled out an identical tag. "I suppose."
"If it's about money..." I fished a few dollars out of my wallet and thrust it in his direction.
"No." He waved away the stack of bills. "It's just that it's a lot of paperwork, and I haven't been feeling it lately."
I took a deep breath. This was the moment when all my motivational speaking would come in handy. All those hours of people half listening to me in beige hotel conference rooms. All that cross country travel.
"You know, sometimes you just have to trust that your actions are leading to something bigger," I said.
"Um, sometimes all you have to do is change your attitude and the rest will follow."
"Is this some sort of human torture that I'm unfamiliar with?"
"Good things come to those who wait."
"Jesus." He waved his hand and all the imps got sucked back into the mattress, then he sewed the new tag on it. "There, I fixed it. Will you stop with the platitudes?"
I raised my finger and meant to defend myself, but decided against it and agreed to stop.
"Great." He thrust a stack of paper at me. "Sign this."
After about ten minutes of signing papers he gave me a thumbs up and de-materialized as quickly as he had appeared in the first place. I would have to pay for all the damages, but at least I had indisputable proof that my motivational speaking had had some influence on the world. That night I slept on the floor.
The Prompt: Buddhism was right, reincarnation is real. However, due to a technicality, Reddit karma also counts.
Like an erupting volcano, I burst out of a mountain. My new form was colossal. I could feel power surging within me. Power to rival the gods. To move mountains, flatten cities, topple empires. Also, I was totally purple and shit. Yeet!
A group of tribal villagers approached me. “Oh great being. How have you come to be?” Instinctively I knew the answer. “I was born of the earth, and am, in time, to occupy the sky.”
The villagers talked amongst themselves as I surveyed the land. It seemed I was incarnated in the Tibetan mountains. How fitting that my new form should be born out of the “Roof of the Earth.”
“Oh great one.” He trembled as he spoke. “From whence have you acquired your powers?”
“I have acquired my powers through the means that your Buddha has foretold. Reincarnation.”
They gazed upon me in awe, as they should.
I continued. “And this Herculean form was bestowed upon me, for I had proven myself in a virtual trial ground known as Reddit.”
“And what, oh great one, must one do to prove oneself in such a place?”
I laughed heartily at their ignorance. “Mostly I wrote lengthy commentary about how others were wrong. And if they dared to oppose that, I would correct their spelling.” They prostrated themselves before me. “Surely your worthy of worship -”
“You said ‘your worthy,’ when it’s supposed to be ‘you’re worthy’.”
“Forgive me, you most astonishing one.” He picked up a stick and started flagellating himself. “I must repent.”
“No, please don’t do that.”
A younger man stepped forward. “If he cannot bear the task of speaking to the great one, than I shall.”
I pursed my lips, quite by accident.
“What, did I say something wrong?”
“You should have said ‘then,’ but it’s fine.”
“Clearly I am not up too the task ether. I am emberrased of myself.”
I crossed my mighty arms. “Oof. That was just awkward.”
The villagers huddled up and talked amongst themselves again. In the meantime I surveyed my domain. In just a short while this whole region would worship me. And from there I would expand my reign even further.
“We’re leaving.” The villager said as they turned and started walking down the mountain.
“What? You can’t leave.”
“We kind of are.”
How dared they defy me? Because I insulted their petty honor. Didn’t they know that I was a god. I would rush down and punish them for their insolence. But what was this? I could not move. Herculean as I was, I was stuck to the mountain. “Stop! I am your mighty ruler. You will bow before me. I am God.”
In the distance I heard a faint yell. “Good luk with that.”
The Prompt: A fairy appears on your desk and explains that you just conjured a very inconvenient spell. It turns out humans are accidentally casting spells all the time, but are unaware of it.
I was in my studio apartment singing a legally safe knock off version of The Steve Miller Band’s classic “Ablacablabla.”
“Abla, Abla, Cablabla. I’m gonna take a viagra. Abla, Abla, Cablabla, Ablacablabla.”
Once I sang the last syllable the apartment started shaking violently. The lights flickered and a blazing red pentagram of sorts appeared on my desk. Except it looked more like one of those stamps they use at the DMV. It even had the date on the side.
A strange creature materialised out of thin air and crashed down on my desk, breaking it in half. He was about 70 cm in height and rather fat. In accordance with his height he wore a little suit and carried a little suitcase. I didn’t notice at first that he had wings because they were hanging so languidly off his back that the ends were torn, presumably from being dragged along the ground. I did notice right away that he had pretty bad skin.
He muttered something about always landing in the wrong place before he got on his feet and addressed me.
“What’s the matter?” He said. “Have you never seen a fairy before?”
“No,” I said. And feeling I had not adequately expressed my surprise, I added. “Really, I haven’t.”
“Well now you have.” He looked over at my broken desk, shook his head, and sat down on the floor next to his suitcase.
The dials on the lock were covered in strange symbols. He turned them to some particular combination, opened the suitcase, and handed me a wad of papers from within. “Fill out this form, please.”
Having so many questions and not knowing where to start, I blurted out what felt the most important at the time, “Aren’t fairies supposed to be tiny and cute.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be living in a nicer apartment at the age of twenty eight?” He poked me with the papers. “Fill out the form would you.”
“Ugh, every time I visit a human I gotta go through this. Tell a Leprechaun he has to fill out Disaster Aversion Form 21.B and he knows what he did. He signs the form. But with you I always have to explain the nature of the known universe. You just cast a level five spell on your entire apartment complex.”
“Yes and now you have to fill out the form.”
I took the form from him and leafed through it. I had to fill out everything from my date of birth to my first pet to my second myspace password. “What’s this form got to do with it though? Can’t you just magic it all away?”
“It’s a standard form. I can’t do anything if you don’t sign it.”
A loud roar issued from the floor below. “What was that?” I said.
“Sounded like a troll. Mutations are a classic symptom of level five spells resulting from singing knockoff versions of The Steve Miller Band songs.”
“You’re telling me I just turned Ms. Campbell into a troll?”
He was cleaning his nails as he spoke “Among other things. These things also tend to result in conspiracy theories.”
The troll roared from downstairs, “The water is turning the frogs gay!”
“Jesus Christ in a harness.” I fumbled around for a pen and started frantically filling the massive document in my hands.
Obscene nonsense was uttered by my neighbours as I wrote out my life story one piece of trivial fact at a time. “The earth is flat,” “Vaccines cause autism,” “The Star Wars sequel trilogy was actually pretty good.”
“They’re going insane in here,” I urged the fairy. “Can’t you do something?”
He picked at a piece of meat stuck in his teeth. “Not until you sign those forms.”
I got back to it and just as I got to the insurance aspect of the form I heard the sound of heavy footsteps in the hall.
The fairy looked at the papers. “You might want to finish the insurance bit before she gets here.”
There was a thunderous knock at the door. I scrawled frantically as the door gave away bit by bit. “I don’t know my mother’s social security number!” I screamed at the fairy.
He took the forms from me and leafed through them. As he did so the door shattered in half and the conspiratorial troll started at me. I cowered into a ball on the floor when the fairy said, “Good enough.” He snapped his fingers and disappeared. As soon as he was gone Ms. Campbell turned back to her usual feeble self.
I ran over to Ms. Campbell and helped her up. “Are you alright?”
“Sure, sure I am,” she said. “But why do I have a sudden urge to cut GMOs from my diet?”
The Prompt: It is really easy to get to other planets, but it's your job to convince humanity that it is utterly unachievable.
There was a red door in my office building. And the man guarding it didn’t look like a doorman at all. He wore a top hat and a purple suit. I didn’t know if it was because he stood around all day, or because he was an eccentric, but he also had a cane with a glass ball at the top of it, inside of which was a miniature replica of a suitcase.
I said “Good morning,” to him once and he answered, “G’day old chap.” I never tried to greet him again.
I had a bullshit job where I sat at a front desk and pretended to do things. Leaving me plenty of time to wonder about the red door just down the hall. What could possibly have been so important as to demand a full time guard, and why was that guard a discount Willy Wonka?
I jumped in my seat. It was my coworker Mark. “What?” I said.
“Are you coming to lunch?”
“Yeah, of course.” I started gathering my things. “Hey, what do you think is behind that red door?
“Probably something unseemly,” Mark said as he stared at his nails. “Why don’t you wait until that guy leaves and see for yourself.”
“Sure,” I said, sarcastically. But that was exactly what I wanted to do.
A week later I had to stay a couple of hours late; someone or other needed access to the conference room, which meant I couldn’t go home. Around six thirty, the man in front of the door started getting fidgety. I’d never seen him move more than an inch during office hours. He started snapping his fingers in frustration and before I knew it, he ran down the hall.
I couldn’t help myself. I was through that door in a second, and had entered an empty stairwell. It was a huge letdown. The staircase was probably faulty, and that’s why knockoff Wonka had been guarding it. I was about to turn around when I heard him shout. “Hey!”
Out of instinct I ran down the staircase. In hindsight I could have just apologized, but I ran down all the same. At the bottom was another door and I flung it open. Before me was an open field, full of wild Peony flowers. The sun was inexplicably high in the air, seeing as how it was evening a moment ago. And occupying the field also, was a slew of stock traders. They ran around, babbling nonsense into their Blackberrys.
Willy Wonka came through the door. “You shouldn’t be here.”
I gestured toward the open field. “Neither should any of this.”
He sighed. “I suppose you’ll want to know why there is a field of stock traders in your office building.”
I looked him straight in the eye. “Yes, I would like to know that.”
“Very well.” He paced around a little as if he didn’t know how to broach the subject. Then he put his index finger in the air. “This is the planet of the stock traders. Their natural habitat if you will.”
“You mean that stock traders are aliens?”
I plopped down on the grass. “This already makes so much sense.”
“Planetary travel has been possible for a while now, using doors. You just have to find the right door.” He adjusted his top hat with pride. I suppose he enjoyed the chance to talk about this stuff.
“Are all aliens stock traders?”
“No, accountants are also aliens.”
I nodded. “Of course they are.”
“And I am one of the guardians.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw one stock trader approach another. They sniffed one another before the approaching one made his move. My eyes got all bugged out. They were making the beast with two backs. I got my phone out of my pocket and got ready to take a picture when Wonka slapped it out of my hand with his cane. “No! You can’t just take pictures. The world must not know about any of this.”
He grabbed me by the shoulders. “Because these creatures are further evolved than man.”
“You mean they used to be people? Are stock traders better than people?”
“More evolved does not necessarily mean better. But earth could share this planet's fate. We’ve already had three escapees this week.” He picked my phone up from the ground and handed it to me. “It’s alright to have a few stock traders in the world. They don’t do much harm. But would you like it if everyone was a stock trader?”
I looked at these languid beasts. All they did was babble nonsense, sleep, eat, and procreate. It would have been so wonderful if they weren’t also stock traders. “What can I do to help?”
Standing around all day isn’t easy. Although the job has some perks. I got my own cane, I don’t have to pretend to work, and my mission statement is simple: guard the red door. I have the most important job in the world.
The Prompt: You ended up in a utopian parallel world. The catch? People are so good in that world, that you're now literally the most evil person alive.
I stepped out of the train feeling refreshed. “That sweet Canadian air,” I thought.
The train station was a freshly painted orange, I could smell it. A couple of kids were ushered past me by their mother. They laughed their way to some far off adventure, much like I was on an adventure of my own. I straightened my back. It felt as if I had just emerged from a cubicle cocoon, and I had to relearn how to stand upright.
My stomach rumbled at the sight of a vending machine. I was almost done punching in the numbers when I realized I didn’t have any canadian change on me.
“Hi there stranger,” said a short man in an Ivy Cap. Who even wears those?
“I can’t help you, I’m not from around here.” I enjoyed saying that. It was going to be my new catchphrase.
“No, I don’t need your help. I noticed you needed some change for the machine.” He handed me a wad of change.
“You’re welcome.” He reached out his hand. “Noah’s the name.”
“Edward.” That was a lie. It’s Brad. But I was on vacation and I didn’t have to be myself. He seemed to be satisfied, and he skipped away.
When I counted the change I realized he had given me five dollars more than my Twirly Winky cost. What a ridiculous man.
I strolled to a nearby park, where I listened to the blue jays sing. I hadn’t taken the time to listen to birds in forever. In the middle of the park was a plaque with the words, “Always do your best.” I munched on the last piece of my Twirly Winky and threw the wrapper on the ground. The plaque reflected the afternoon spring sun and it took on an otherworldly glow. In fact, it was so much that I had to look away. That’s when I noticed that everyone was staring at me. The mother and her children were back. They pointed at the candy wrapper while maintaining eye contact with me.
I picked up the wrapper and threw it in the trash, and just like that, they stopped staring at me. Who knew that Canadians were so environmentally friendly? I needed something to steady my nerves. Luckily there was a restaurant next to the park.
I sat down outside. The tables had red and white checkered tablecloths, and the waitress had an apron in the same style. It was tacky, but cute. She was cute.
I raised my hand. “Waitress.”
Her shoulder length blond hair fluttered as she walked. “What’ll you have?”
“A pint of your local beer.”
She wrote it down and tapped on her pad. “And to eat?”
“Uhh, some fries.”
I sat there for a while, watching the park, drinking my beer, watching the waitress, picking at the fries. In time I started feeling rather bold. I wondered if she wouldn’t like to take a break, come see my hotel room. Except I didn’t have a hotel room yet. That didn’t matter, I’d get one. “Waitress.”
Suddenly I didn’t know what to say. “The check please.”
Stupid. I should have planned something to say. Something like, “Actually, there is something else I’d like.” Then I’d do a super suave pause and say, “You.”
She came back with the check. “Thank you for dining with us, have a nice day.”
“I would also like you.” Fuck. That wasn’t suave at all.
I was sweating madly. “I mean, I’d like to take you home. Or... to my hotel room. Except that I don’t have one.
“Are you saying you would like to have sex with me?”
That was so crass. “Yes.”
She shrugged. “We could just do that in the bathroom.”
“Are you pulling my leg?”
“No, I have my break in ten minutes, we’ll do it then.” She seemed way too relaxed about it.
“Ok I get it, I’m being inappropriate, you’re just trying to do your job. Whatever, I just thought you might like to spend the evening with me.”
Her face was expressionless. “Mister, I’d be happy to have sex with you.”
“Alright, alright, I hear you loud and clear.” I stood up, and I even sort of stumbled away, just to add to my humiliation.
A couple of suits stood in my way. “Could we trouble you for a minute of your time.”
“Bugger off, I’m on vacation,” I said.
“Is it Brad Norton?” The right one said, “It’s about the small matter of your kidneys.”
“Well, you seem to still have both of them,” the left one said, “so we wondered if you wouldn’t be willing to give one to the less fortunate. Perhaps the left one?”
“Or the right,” the right one said.
“No I’m not going to give you my kidney, I don’t even live here. I’m on vacation.”
They look quizzingly at one another. “He said no,” the left one said, “nobody ever says no.”
They turned to look at me. “Did you come by train?”
“Nr 42 perhaps?”
“That explains it. The 42 runs parallel to worlds.”
I was practically jumping. “What the fuck does that mean?”
“Sir, watch your language,” The right one said, “It means you’re in the best of worlds.”
“How could this be the best of worlds if you’re going to take my kidney.”
“Good is subjective Mr. Norton,” he said, “come now, you’re hardly doing your best.”
“Always do your best.” The left one smiled with his mouth and looked right at me.
I backed away slowly. “Alright… I’m leaving.”
“That’s fine. Just as long as you’ve given us your kidney.” They stepped towards me.
I turned around swiftly and bumped into the man from the train station. “You must always do your best,” he said.
Before I could say anything I felt a prick in my neck and everything went dark.
The countryside swooshed past my window. Little towns brimming with life, and salt of the earth people trying to be their best self, some sacrificing life and limb simply to get by. I sat up in my seat and felt a sharp pain in my side.