#FlashFicFeb 7th – “Inspiration”

“How do ideas work?”

Her voice broke the quiet, interrupting the noise of the traffic. He opened his eyes, leaning forward half asleep.

“Hmm? How’d you mean?”

“I mean… do you ever wonder how they happen? Where they come from?”

The pair braced as the bus turned, shifting their weight, following a rhythm; as though rehearsed. He’d been waiting – these long trips were usually accompanied by meandering conversation, but she’d been quiet tonight. Lost in thought. He looked at her, signalling to continue.

“Ok, so – you can’t create or destroy anything, right? Like it all comes from something. You say you made something ‘from scratch’, but even if you planted the tree that grew the fruit; where did you get the first seed from?”

The streetlights scanned across the empty rows of seats, peering through stained windows. It was usually about movies, or a book she’d been reading. This felt different.

“…Right, sure.”

“But ideas just… happen? Appearing from nothing?”

“Ok, but isn’t there a bunch we don’t know about how brains work?”

“Granted – but it’s all just chemicals and neurons and signals though, right? Just because we don’t fully understand it doesn’t mean we should just throw up our hands and say ‘it’s magic’.”

The bus came to a stop, gentle and then abrupt. The pair, half illuminated by the red traffic lights, looked at each other.

“Well… if it’s complicated enough that we’ll never understand how it works, maybe that’s how it’ll always be? Even if it’s just neurons firing off random signals.”

“Right, that’s just it though! ‘Random’ is a made up word – if you get a robot to flip the same coin the exact same way, it’ll always be heads. Even computer randomness isn’t really random – we use lava lamps and weather fronts and cosmic background radiation-”

“Ok, wow.”

“I know! But all of that is just to… to make a ‘seed’. Something you give the computer, and it spits out a random number – some digit of PI or something. But if you have the exact same seed, you get the exact same result.”

The windows rattled as the engine rumbled to life, the lights and noise of the intersection passing and fading behind. Still a long way from home.

“So you’re thinking… what, that ideas are like these numbers? If you put the same thing in, you’d get the same result?”

“I mean… right? Like those twins separated at birth; would they come up with the same idea if they’d lived the same lives, been given the same stimuli? People say ‘what if we run out of new ideas?’, but if it’s all just the result of some complicated formula – if you could reverse-engineer it – is there even such a thing as ‘original’?”

The bus continued, falling back into it’s low, droning rhythm. He leaned back, exhaling and nodding thoughtfully.

“… That’s pretty good, actually. You should write that down.”

She looked out the window, fingers drumming on the glass.

“Somebody already has.”

#FlashFicFeb 6th – “Oath”

He always felt alone in a crowd, but never more so than in a church. He’d been to a few, all of them with high ceilings and quiet halls. His family was never what you’d call religious, but they’d fallen on hard times over the years. Troubled people are drawn to communion – like an oasis in the desert, it promises all the answers to your questions. He wondered.

The crowds were always full of loud voices, bright smiles, heads nodding solemnly. There’s never any ambiguity, any uncertainty, while someone preaches at the head of the assembly. There’s an intoxicating quality to that – the idea that someone has it all figured out, and you only need to listen. His mind wandered. Some predators can lie beneath the surface of water, perfectly still, waiting for thirsty prey to bend down for a drink. The animals know it can be dangerous, but sometimes they’re thirsty enough that they try anyway. 

He wasn’t with his parents today – in fact, he didn’t know many of the people here at all. There were teachers from his school, some friends too. Another family, one they used to go camping with until they had a falling out, standing together at the front of the crowd. They seemed to be fully immersed in the sermon, swaying back and forth, hands held skyward. When do you stop pretending, and start really feeling it? Many of his classmates were similarly enraptured, occasionally shouting in affirmation, hands clasped before them. When did they stop just mimicking, start believing? 

Had they?

A large panel up on the stage was removed to reveal a small pool, a hot tub full of cold water. This church was newer than the others he’d been in – the carpet was less musty, the front doors were glass, automatic. The pews were still wooden though, uncomfortable – the pockets on the back of the seats that the bibles rested in had more cushioning than was afforded to the congregation. That seemed only fair, he thought.

Today they were conducting baptisms. The pastor looked out over the audience, hand outstretched. Those who felt a calling, he said, to grow closer to their lord – they should step forward. A few did, children his age. All in their bathers, as the pastor was. 

Churches are places of big moments – christenings, weddings, wakes – though the real moments always happen somewhere else. You’re not born in a church, you don’t die there. You propose at a place important to you – the church is just where it becomes official. Is it just a place for paperwork, then? Filling out the tax returns of the soul? Does it feel more real when it’s you, standing knee deep in the water, being lowered beneath the surface? What if, when you come back up, nothing has changed?

Maybe it’s the same for the animal at the edge of the river, peering into the dark, looking for eyes. When it bends down to drink, is that not faith?