Idle Thoughts

📅 Published on June 11, 2022

“Idle Thoughts”

Written by Micah Edwards
Edited by Craig Groshek and N.M. Brown
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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As a kid, I read a ton of sci-fi.  Pulp stuff, real trash, most of it, but it inspired me.  It told me that there were things out there to be discovered, that there were new worlds to open up.  No matter how far we’d come, we’d only scratched the surface of what was there.  It’s what drove me to become a scientist.  I wanted to be a part of this, the hero of the story.

A lot of the stories had a secondary theme, too: the idea that there were things that man was not meant to meddle with.  That never resonated with me, though, so I sort of glossed over it.  Sure, bad stuff happened sometimes, but the hero triumphed, right?  After all, that’s what makes him the hero.

All of this is to say that I grew up to become a neuroscientist.  We’ve got robots on Mars and probes in deep space, and James Cameron is going into the ocean’s abyss in his one-man submarine, so it seemed like turning inward was the new and best frontier to explore.  And we really do know so little about the brain, even with all of the studies we’ve done.  We’ve gotten past the days of drilling holes in the skull to let headaches out, but sometimes it honestly feels like we’re not past them by much.  Synapses fire out chemicals along axons to activate other neurons, and the whole process turns chemicals into thoughts…somehow.  Magic.  Demons.  Obviously neither of these, but the point is that we don’t know.

We know where thoughts are happening now, at least, if not why.  We can use MRIs and other techniques to watch parts of the brain activate in real-time.  I wanted to do this in reverse, though: to demonstrate that by activating specific parts of the brain, we could cause specific thoughts.  And the way I wanted to do it was to connect two brains together.  Rudimentary telepathy!  Just like in my sci-fi books.

I didn’t phrase it that way in the proposal, of course.  I called it “An investigation into neuronal activity replication between human prefrontal cortices.”  That got me my preliminary funding and access to a group of epileptics undergoing a surgical treatment involving intercranial electrode grids.  In layman’s terms, electrodes placed right on the brain.  It gets faster and more precise results than any other detection technique, with the minor drawback that you need to cut someone’s head open to set it up.  Like I said, some days it feels like we haven’t moved far past drilling holes to let the headaches out.

So we set up the experiment, me and a fellow neuroscientist named Ravi.  We separated our first two subjects, hooked one up to the sending end of our machine and one up to the receiving end, and began our tests.  Our test subjects, Stefan and Greg, each had a pen and a pad of paper with instructions to write down whatever they were thinking about, no matter how random it seemed.  Ravi prompted Stefan, the sender, with various topics while I remained in the other room with Greg, the receiver.  To make sure I didn’t accidentally influence him in any way, I had no idea what Ravi had written down.  Our hope was that when we compared notes afterward, there would be clear connections between the two lists.  We both knew, though, that there was a very good chance that there would be nothing in common, so we tried to temper our expectations.

After the first session, Ravi and I collected the pads from Stefan and Greg and sat down together, each anxious to see the results.

“Okay, the first thing I asked him to think about was a meadow,” said Ravi.  “Stefan has written, ‘The big overgrown meadow behind our old house.’”

I laughed.  “Well, the first thing on Greg’s pad is, ‘I wonder if the experiment has started yet.  I don’t know if I’m supposed to be writing this thought down.  They said everything, though.’”

Ravi grinned.  “And after that?”

I shook my head.  “He has, ‘Playing in the creek with my little sister, looking for crawdads.’”

Ravi shrugged.  “Both childhood memories, maybe?”

“Let’s not interpret,” I cautioned him.  “We’ll report what’s there, nothing more.”

“Okay.  Next, I asked for a ball.  Stefan wrote, ‘A beach ball, multicolored.’”

“Greg has, ‘Summer vacation, running down the steps to leave school.’”

“Next was—well, that’s a little weird.  I asked him for ‘happiness,’ but he’s got ‘alone in my house at night, the hairs on my neck standing up as I heard a footstep.’  Oh, but then next he’s got ‘Seeing my daughter after a day at work.’  So I guess that was just a stray thought.”

I smiled, excited.  “Stray thought or not, Greg has ‘That feeling when you suddenly realize that someone is standing right behind you and you jump and your heart races.’  I think that’s the clearest one yet!  And then the next one is ‘Winning a track meet,’ and that’s pretty close as well.”

“Let’s not interpret,” Ravi told me, but he was smiling, too.  “It looks like the emotion was a much clearer transfer than a concrete object.  Let me see where else we had some of those.”

“We should just keep going in order,” I said, but Ravi was already scanning through the list and chuckling.

“Looks like Stefan was letting his mind wander a fair bit.  There are several things in here I never asked him to think about.  Greeting a friend at the train station, first day of school, and ha, he’s just got ‘frustration’ written down here a few times in between some of them.”

“Greg’s got that, too,” I said.  “‘Frustration,’ I mean.  Four times, all in the last quarter of the results.”

“Yeah, four times,” confirmed Ravi, looking at Stefan’s pad.

“And here, Greg’s got ‘picking a friend up at the airport’ and ‘first day of school.’ Their off-script was on point.” I had the two pads side-by-side at this point, comparing them directly.  “Nothing in your list matches as closely as these extra ones.”

Ravi frowned.  “You think they planned this?”

“Unfortunately, yeah,” I said.  “The other stuff, our stuff, is sometimes similar, but these are often direct matches.  They must have planned it.”

“Why would they do that?” he complained.

“If you can reliably answer the question of why people do things, you don’t need this study to get famous.  Go publish that paper instead,” I told Ravi.  He whacked me in the arm with one of the notepads.

The next day, we took two more of the epilepsy patients, Sarah and Miguel.  Ravi and I switched sides this time, me with Sarah on sending and him with Miguel on receiving.  As I was setting up the machine, Sarah asked me, “Can this have any long-term effects?”

“Absolutely not,” I assured her.

“Because Greg said he kept having weird thoughts all day yesterday, and at night, he just dreamed of the attic door in his parents’ house.  He said he just dreamed of staring up at it, wondering what was behind it.  For hours.”

“I’m sure that had nothing to do with this test,” I said.  What I was thinking, though, was that if Greg told her this, what else did he tell her?  Were she and Miguel in on the joke to skew our results?

The answer, unfortunately, was yes.  Ravi and I saw the same sorts of unprompted ideas appear, along with the word “frustration” appearing several times on both pads.  When I saw Sarah writing it the first time, even though I knew I was just there as an observer, I couldn’t help myself.  I asked, “What made you write that?”

She looked surprised.  “You told me to write down anything I thought about.”

“Right, but what made you think of that?  What were you thinking of?”

“Just…frustration, I guess.  Not really any event or anything.  It was just a disconnected feeling.  I guess maybe I’m just finding this whole thing sort of frustrating?  Or maybe life in general, I suppose.”  She gestured to her shaved head.  “I don’t know.  It was just a passing thought.”

I related this to Ravi after the test.  He shook his head.

“I still say they’re screwing with us,” he said.  “We’ll try the next two tomorrow, but if they’re all talking to each other, we may need to travel to find an uncontaminated group.”

We didn’t try the next two tomorrow, though.  When we showed up in the morning, we were told that Stefan had been undergoing another surgical procedure the previous evening, and had died on the table.  What’s more, Greg had been insisting that it was our experiment that had caused it, saying that it had done something to his brain.

The hospital staff didn’t blame us, of course, but it still seemed like a good idea to give everyone time to calm down.  We planned to resume in a week or so.  Greg was pretty clearly going to opt out of any followups, but we could work around that.

The next day, we received word that Greg had suffered a grand mal seizure during the night.  Despite being in the hospital surrounded by trained medical staff, necessary medications and state-of-the-art machinery, he had failed to respond to any treatments.  Scans of his brain showed a total lack of activity.  They hooked him up to feeding tubes and a machine to regulate his breathing so that the family could make the final call, but the doctors already knew that Greg was beyond saving.

While the doctors were running the scans on Greg’s brain activity, Sarah began to seize.  She, too was totally unresponsive to any of the techniques attempted, and also displayed a total cessation of brain activity shortly following the seizure.  And while the doctors were still working to revive her, yet another alarm sounded as Miguel also succumbed to a seizure of his own.

Now the hospital staff blamed us.  All three of these patients—four if you count Stefan—had been doing well in controlling their seizures.  Despite our protestations that we couldn’t have had anything to do with this, we were the new variable and therefore were the easy scapegoat.  Ravi took some time off of work to deal with the stress.  I more or less locked myself in my office, keeping myself busy to keep it out of my mind.

They say that Ravi killed himself last night.  The theory is that it was guilt over our failed experiment that led him to drive his car off of a cliff.  It could have been an accident, of course, but no one believes that.  The road was clear, the night was calm, there was no evidence of anyone else on the road.  His car went straight over, never swerving, never slowing.  That was no accident.

I also don’t believe it was an accident, although for different reasons than everyone else.  Two days ago, Ravi called me.

“In my house, growing up, there was a door with a padlock on it,” he told me.  “I always wanted to know what was behind it.  I tried to pick the lock a thousand times.  I would lie on the floor with a flashlight and try to peer through the crack underneath.  I never got it open.  But I was always curious about what was behind it.”

I didn’t ask why he was telling me this.  I knew.  When I was a boy, I’d found a small cement pipe in a hill in the woods near my house.  It was no wider than my head, much too small to get into, and as far as I could tell, it went back forever.  I used to pretend it was the entrance to an alternate dimension, and I would imagine monsters oozing out of it, or shrinking myself small enough to fit in and go adventuring on the other side.

More than anything else in my life, that pipe represented curiosity.  And for the last several nights, I’d dreamed of it.  Nothing else.  Just standing there at the hill, staring at it.  Feeling the curiosity consume me.

“I don’t know what we found,” Ravi said.  “What do you think it is?”

“It’s curious,” I told him.

I don’t know what we found, either.  I don’t know if it’s one thing, or many.  I don’t know if our machine just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if these things are everywhere.  I don’t know anything, any more than I ever knew what was on the far side of that pipe.

I don’t think I’m going to get any answers.  But something else is about to satisfy its curiosity.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Micah Edwards
Edited by Craig Groshek and N.M. Brown
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Micah Edwards

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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