Bryce Albertson doesn’t want to write this bio. He remembers a day when he would have works published in On The Premises, Pseudopod, The Brooklyner, Necrotic Tissue, and others. He remembers relishing opportunities to write bios because they allowed him to go on and on about his favorite subject: himself. Now, even though he is still amazing, Bryce is too old, too tired, too married, too employed, and just too darn humble to brag.
The Thinking Cap
by Bryce Albertson
What seven-year-old Karen didn’t know—couldn’t know, in fact—was that the dusty old shelf completely agreed with her. It was a silly hat, at least in the shelf’s opinion.
At first, the shelf had thought the idea of consciousness had been a novel one. For the first three weeks, it had been fascinated with the simple tactile sensations that come with being a sentient plank of aged maple. It had studied the textures of the things placed upon it: the shoeboxes filled with who-knows-what; the smooth, cold steel of the .357 magnum that was always loaded, but never shot; the cargo shorts that went away during the warmer months, and the glossy slickness of the dirty magazines that were hidden beneath them; and, of course, the silky smoothness of the brim of the old top hat.
The simple concept of touch had fascinated the shelf—which had been unaware of its own existence prior to the arrival of the hat—for several weeks. Even when it had been part of a living tree it had never been aware of anything, but suddenly it had been thrust into a veritable universe of input, albeit a smallish one. There were textures! There was heat and cold! And then, there were the shelf’s favorite sensations: the vibrations. Perhaps they, like this new experience the shelf had come to call “life,” had meanings. With so many new thoughts and feelings to explore, the shelf had been figuratively beside itself with joy at being literally in the top of the closet.
When simple sensory processing became routine and uninteresting, the shelf had spent the better part of a year contemplating the nature of its existence. It had conjured in its mind a mythology about its own creation. Perhaps there had been another shelf before it, a Big Plank which it had once been a part of? Perhaps there was something out there which possessed a will, something that had created the shelf with a purpose? Perhaps this creator had made the shelf in its own image and endowed the shelf with a similar mind, one capable of logic, of love, even? Surely this was the case.
However, after years of isolation broken only by the groping, grasping, and hasty replacing of a dog-eared copy of Hustler on the one night a month when its owner’s wife went to play canasta, the shelf had come to believe that it had been wrong about the nature of existence, which of course it had been because… well, because it was a shelf. Dauntlessly, the shelf had continued its search for meaning. It had assigned its own meanings to the vibrations which rang through the house. Amazingly—and quite conveniently—the shelf had called these vibrations “sounds.” Even more amazingly, the shelf had called the sounds which it believed had meanings “language.”
The shelf had imagined that there might be many different languages, for what else could explain the fact that the cargo shorts had nothing to say to it when they returned from wherever it was that they went when the world grew hot and humid?
The greatest miracle of all was that the shelf had come to understand the vibrations that were produced by the man and his family, and that the shelf had named this special set of vibrations “English.” This miracle had its limits, though. While the shelf could understand the family, it couldn’t figure out how to communicate back.
For the better part of a decade, though, it had tried. O, Big Plank how it had tried! It had tried every time the man had needed clothing and every time the creature that the man had called “Honey” had placed the nice-smelling pants (which she referred to as “laundry”) on its poor, lifeless sibling below. The shelf had tried when the man had shown the handgun to “Bobby,” a thing that the shelf had come to think of as the man’s own little plank. The shelf, too, had tried to caution Bobby that the gun was not a toy (even though the shelf had no concept of the true nature of either guns or toys, nor a concept of danger).
No one had heard the shelf. No one had cared. And so, over time, the shelf had given up trying to communicate and had simply been. For a brief moment, the shelf had been proud of itself for being the first sentient being to truly experience Zen, but it soon realized that it had no way of verifying this. Then, it realized it had no need to verify it, and finally, no desire to do so (setting another record for the shelf: first sentient being to experience true Zen twice).
This state of Zen, however, eventually became a state of ennui, then a state of depression, and finally a state of utter despair. After years of sitting in near-perfect darkness at the top of the closet, the shelf had grown weary of spending its entire existence as a place to park infrequently used belongings, and without so much as a thank you.
It was in that moment that the shelf had decided that this thing it called “life” wasn’t worth “living.” The shelf, having no concept of death, longed to die. Again, it was just a shelf, so it had no way to bring about its own demise. It invented another word for this state. It called it “madness.”
When the weather outside (which the shelf had never once seen because of a bad angle between the closet door and bedroom window, as well as a lack of eyes) had become very cold again and the shorts had been resting comfortably on its lower sibling for months, the whole family gathered and came to see the shelf: the man, Honey, Bobby, and an even smaller plank named Karen. And they were creating very peculiar vibrations today. The shelf had heard similar, more accurate vibrations when Honey had turned on a thing called the “radio” while folding laundry, but these out-of-tune vibrations seemed strangely sweeter, yet bittersweet, for the shelf would never have a family to call its own. At least, for a brief moment, it could share their joy.
And then, something new. A different touch. From the smallest, highest pitched plank. She had never touched the shelf before, and her hand was even stickier than the man’s. The shelf felt. It listened.
“Thumpity thump thump! Thumpity thump thump!” the family sang. The shelf had no clue as to what “snow” was, much less the concept of a “snowman.” But it had a concept of magic, and it had heard of a hat before.
And then it remembered.
The shelf had known nothing before the arrival of the hat. There must have been some magic in it. And the shelf knew that it would remember nothing once, after long years, the hat had been removed. It would cease to be. And the shelf was thankful, so thankful for that.
Silently, as was its way, the shelf said goodbye and wished this Frosty fellow luck.
Copyright 2018 by Bryce Albertson