On The Shoulders of Giant Idiots


At Bellevue, the “internes” ran about in corridors with “pus-pails,” the bodily drippings of patients spilling out of them. Surgical sutures were made of catgut, sharpened with spit, and left to hang from incisions into the open air. Surgeons walked around with their scalpels dangling from their pockets. If a tool fell on the blood-soiled floor, it was dusted off and inserted back into the pocket—or into the body of the patient on the operating table.
–from The Emperor of All Maladies, pg 153, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, describing the operation of hospitals in the 1850s

Take a moment and think about your reaction to the above quote. I’m sure you’ve run into something like it before. In this case it’s about medicine, but you can find similar descriptions regarding every field of human endeavor. The world’s top astronomers used to believe the Earth was the center of the universe and the planets whirled around us in dozens of layers of increasingly complex epicycles. The world’s top biologists used to believe flies arose spontaneously from rotten meat through a process called abiogenesis.

Even the genuine geniuses of the past aren’t immune. Aristotle–who aside from being an important philosopher was the great granddaddy of science–believed that earthquakes were caused by underground wind, analogous to the rumblings in the human gut that produce internal wind of their own. Isaac Newton spent almost all of his working life trying to predict the apocalypse and divine the location of the Temple of Solomon using cryptographic puzzles hidden in the text of the Hebrew bible, and only with the remaining bit left managed to squeeze in the invention of optics, orbital mechanics, and pretty much the rest of physics.

If you made of list of important scientists and thinkers of history and scratched off everyone who believed in phrenology, seances, and that thing that blew tobacco smoke up someone’s ass in order to resuscitate drowning victims, you’d pretty much be left with just Galileo. Stephen Hawking said in 2016 that, “We spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let’s face it, is mostly the history of stupidity.” It’s hard to look at the history of human thought and not think that he’s right.

Most books and documentaries about the history of science and medicine weave this narrative thoroughly into their accounts. Most important developments in science, they tell us, were achieved by mavericks who defied conventional wisdom and proposed fringe theories that were scorned by the supposed experts until experimentation and history proved our heroes right. Joseph Lister’s carbolic acid to disinfect wounds. Albert Einstein’s dismissal of luminiferous aether, and also the prevailing notion that time actually existed and made any damn sense at all. Hell, the guy who invented the 3 point seat belt had a hell of a time getting it widely adapted.

So why is that? Why were the people in the past–leaders in their respective field–such idiots? Why have the experts never listened to the pioneering geniuses who were clearly right and much more intelligent than them? It’s hard to answer those questions, but one thing is clear: We can all be incredibly thankful that we’re all much smarter than that now, and we no longer make those kinds of mistakes.

Right. Definitely.

The fact is, people in the past weren’t stupid. At least, they weren’t any stupider than we are. They weren’t really any more ignorant, either. Or rather, society as a whole was more ignorant by virtue of the fact that knowledge builds on itself and our modern sciences are built on the discoveries, lessons, and (most of all) mistakes of the past. But the individuals who thought that the stars were stuck to the far end of the sky or that hand-washing did absolutely nothing to prevent the transmission of disease weren’t ignorant. In fact, the very people we make fun of for being wrong were generally the most education and functionally intelligent members of their society.

What’s more than that, those maverick heroes that pushed science forward only to be mocked by their peers deserved to be mocked. Or at least, the people in charge weren’t wrong to be skeptical. The mavericks had fringe theories, and conventional wisdom is becomes conventional for a reason. Sometimes–much of the time–prevailing thought is wrong, even dangerously so. But the fact is that the overwhelming majority of scientific development isn’t done through breakthroughs. It’s done through tiny, minute iterations on the prevailing theories, and it can only be done if there is a strong prevailing theory in place.

Chances are, if we ran into the theories of Pasteur or Lister or Einstein today, most of us would initially dismiss them as cranks. Or at least irrelevant. That’s what we do with fringe theories. They’re fringe because most of our evidence for any given scientific theory exists in support of the currently dominant theory. Even when those theories have flaws–which, let’s face it, they basically all always do–they’re still important to the day-to-day work of science. It takes a long time for a new paradigm to take hold not just because the people in charge are stubborn, but because the overwhelming majority of newly proposed paradigms are wrong.

It is easy (and fun!) to smugly laugh at the dumbness of the past, but that attitude is not only ahistorical, it’s also dangerous. Smugness comes from a sense of superiority, and superiority comes from the hard and fast belief that you are right, and whoever you are feeling superior to is wrong. All of those doctors killing patients–particularly the ones who kept doing it even when better evidence try to–did it not out of idiocy. They did it out of smugness.

Yes, the stupid things that doctors and scientists of the past believed are hilarious and bewildering. It’s often hard to imagine how they could possibly have not known things that seem so obvious to us. I mean, they put fecal matter into their drinking water sources, for crying out loud. But the lesson that we should learn from it isn’t that they were stupid.

The lesson is that they were thoroughly trained, highly education, and in many cases legitimately brilliant, and they still got nearly everything wrong anyway.


Well, That Didn’t Work

Confused ...


I was doing this thing where I was writing a bunch of stories. Three a week, in fact. I made it slightly longer than two weeks before I stopped. I ended with seven stories. Appropriate, perhaps, but…also coincidence.

The thing is, I didn’t stop because it was too hard. I didn’t stop because I couldn’t keep up, because I can’t write that much, because I didn’t have any ideas.

I stopped because it was too easy. This…is good to know. I thought I had lost the ability to sit down and just write a story, but I haven’t. Not at all. For the kinds of stories very much in my wheelhouse–weird little high-concept slices of whatever that suggest larger worlds and stories beneath their depths–I can do it. I can do that all day.

I just don’t really want to. That is exactly not the kind of story I’m interested in writing right now. And that’s the kind of story I end up with when I try to just pump them out. I tried a few more character-interaction oriented stories, and those are definitely the weakest of the bunch. That’s where I need to put the work in, and I can’t do that at these kinds of speeds.

I’m still writing. I’ve been writing quite a bit. I just don’t have anything I can post. These are snippets, ideas, experiments. Valuable to me but perhaps not interesting to anyone else. Or at least, not anything I’m comfortable sharing with the world. Or my little patch of it, anyway.

But I don’t want to lose my momentum. People seem to like when I write stuff. Not that many of you, but…man, is it wonderful. Very validating. So I’m going to post more. Thoughts and ideas and whatnot, and some stories. I’m also planning on formalizing it and setting goals, because I do find that very motivating.

We’ll see.

Hungry Eyes, Part 1

Scary eyes

People had found Anna unsettling since she was a very small child. She was used to it. But you never got used to it. Very few adults are willing to tell a little girl that they find her creepy, and other kids didn’t talk that way to her. But she knew. She knew before she had words for it.

It wasn’t her fault that her long black hair hung in bedraggled strings that tended to cling to the pale skin of her face. It wasn’t her fault that her strangely shaped bones made whatever clothes she wore look ill fit upon her frame. And she certainly didn’t try to play so vigorously that all of her clothing existed in a perpetual state of raggedness.

None of that really mattered. She could wear a hat to cover up her hair. She could spent more time in the sun and try to get some color on her skin so she looked less like a corpse. She could be very careful with her clothing, only wearing the best materials and discarding them when they tore.

She had a photograph of herself from her second grade picture day, dolled up like a princess, and in one shot where the photographer caught her from a specific angle she looked perfectly normal. Even on that day, she remembered, everyone looked away. Adults and children alike. Even the photographer could barely keep his attention on her long enough to take the picture.

The others didn’t know what is was about her that unnerved them. But Anna knew. It was her eyes. Her eyes were hungry. They were always hungry. She asked her mother about that, once. Why her eyes were so hungry. Her mother just looked frightened, and told her not to talk like that.

It didn’t matter. Anna didn’t her mother’s help with her eyes. She could feed them herself. It had been agony when she was little, when she didn’t understand. All she knew was that her vision ached something awful and it kept her from sleeping. Sometimes it ached so much that she couldn’t eat, couldn’t concentrate on anything at all. Maybe that was why she was so skinny.

Her mother told Anna she had almost died as a baby because she wouldn’t feed on mother’s milk. Anna remembered. It was because her vision hurt. Hunger pains. It was her earliest memory, and it was sharp.

When she grew up a little she learned she could feed her eyes with colors and images. Not the normal kind. They liked red things, bright and runny and vibrant, in as many shades as possible. Streaked through blue and green, screaming their contrast. They liked sharp angles, pressed together. Twisted and broken shards and shreds of glass and metal and paper, strewn over empty tables so her eyes could drink in ever contour.

And they liked to look at flesh. Maimed, mangled, bleeding raw. She had learned that more recently. Anna didn’t like to look at these things, but her eyes did, and she had to keep them fed. They were so hungry.

He Hates Ghosts

Old man on bus


I am feeling singularly uninspired today. At least, to write any stories. I’m feeling highly inspired to play video games. I tried a few things, and I looked at some prompts for writing various types of stories online, because sometimes those are helpful. When I ran into a list of horror prompts that included the following:

There is a priest who is a vampire

I decided that inspiration had gone to lunch, and I wouldn’t bother it. So here is a little poem about ghosts!*

He Hates Ghosts

We thought

we had a ghost

in the attic

with the noises

and the moaning

and the creaking of floorboards

at 3 in the morning

Finally, we got tired of it

and checked

and it turned out

it’s only Uncle Steve

and he hates ghosts

*It may not actually be about ghosts

The Scar


You’re staring.

Don’t worry. Everyone does. They can’t help it. You probably didn’t realize you stared. Even now, when I’ve caught you, you have no idea why you were doing it. You don’t know why you can’t look away.

And you can’t look away. The fact is, someone could hit you in the head with a fireplace poker, and you would still struggle to look away. You don’t know why. Just like you have no clue what’s causing that sick feeling in your gut, like your intestines are full of frightened parasites all scrambling to escape you, like rats from a sinking ship.

Don’t panic. I’ll tell you. It’s not a secret. I have no secrets. Not anymore. You’re staring at my scar.

Go ahead. Look for it. Search my face, my neck, my exposed arms. You won’t find it. Strange, because you’re looking right at it. Right now, if I asked you to close your eyes and describe my eye color you wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s true. You wouldn’t even be able to describe the color of my skin.

You can’t focus on anything, right now. Nothing but my scar. It’s gnawing away at you and you can barely remember why you came here and what you’re doing and it’s driving you insane that you can’t look at or think about anything else and you can’t even find it.

It’s there. It’s right here. You can’t see it because it’s in a place you’ve never paid attention to, even though you’ve look there thousands of times before. Every time you look at another person, or an animal, or a tree. Because they all have them.

You are staring at me not because of what you are seeing, but because of what’s missing. It’s as if someone stripped all of the color from their skin. You couldn’t help but stare at the colorlessness, because up until that moment you had assumed such a thing was impossible.

I thought so, too. I didn’t mean to do it. I was just bored. I was bored and curious and playing around with my knife. This knife. It’s very special. I don’t know if it was special before I used it to do what I did, or if using it made it so. But it’s special now.

This is the knife I used to reach in and gouge out my own soul. I didn’t know there was such a thing as souls. I still don’t, really. I don’t know what they are, or what they’re for. But I know what it means to lose one. I know what it feels like to rip it out.

Maybe I should have stopped after I started digging. It was like a sore on the inside of your mouth. You know you shouldn’t worry it, but you can’t stop. You can’t stop until you’ve ripped your essential essence from your being. It’s happened before.

You won’t remember. You people never do. I could stab this knife into you and slice off your finger and you would have no idea how it had happened. You’d make up a story. Or someone else would, and you’d believe them. Explanations are like souls. Your mind can’t stand when they’re missing.

I could stab this knife into you, deeper than your finger, deeper than your flesh, deeper than your heart. I could make you like me. You’d remember me, then. Then, only then, you would understand.

But I won’t. Not this time. Instead, I’m going to walk away, and only once I’m out of your sight, only once something mundane and fleshy and full of color blocks your vision will you forget me.

But you won’t. Not really. You people never do. You just pretend. You come up with stories that explain the wriggling in your stomach, the panic that nestles in the back of your mind. The stories amuse us, as we watch you. They’re all we have left.

You still amuse me. So I won’t cut you. I won’t make you like me. Not this time. Not just yet.

Sweet dreams.

The Whole Time

a Candle

7 and 3, Day 4

“Can we start?” Steve tried to keep the impatience out of his voice.

“Just a minute, Sillypants,” said Peri. “I’m checking to make sure you drew the circle right.”

Steve opened his eyes to look, and sure enough, there was Peri, crouched on the ground like a lizard, her eye an inch away from the chalk lines he drew on the cloor.

“I was super careful,” said Steve. “Plus, you already checked it twice.”

“Yeah, but it’s important that you don’t screw this up. You’re kind of a screwup.”

Steve sighed. He couldn’t deny it, but did she have to be so blunt.

“While we’re at it, I really need a better magical name,” he said. “Sillypants is just so…silly.”

Peri grinned her wicked grin up at him. “You’ll get a better name when you’ve progressed in your awakening, Sillypants. And when you get better pants.”

“What wrong with my…”

Peri held up her hand, and Steve fell silent. Something was about to happen.

She sniffed the air. She leaned up on her haunches, and her head darted around liked a meerkat. Excitement welled up from Steve’s root, and he took a deep breath to stop from shaking. He always wondered what she was sensing when she did those kinds of things. He would know soon. She had promised him that, and he believed.

Steve had been undergoing magical training under the tutelage of the strange girl for almost a year now, ever since they met at the anime convention. It had been…transformative.

He started out skeptical. Everyone did, he thought, whether they admitted it to themselves or not. Steve had always known that there was more to the world than what science textbooks presented, but society sent so many messages. There is no magic. There is no wonder. What you see is what you get. Never-mind quantum mechanics and tribal shamans and the little things that every single person in the world experiences that just don’t make sense.

His skepticism didn’t last. Under Peri, Steve had made a candle flame dance, changed the weather, and seen the future in his dreams. This was real. He knew it was real. He just knew it, inside of him. And it was amazing.

“The time is right,” said Peri. She turned to him, her eyes half closed. “Are you ready to meet your spirit guide?”

“Hell yes,” he said before he caught himself. “I mean, yes.”

She laughed. Then her expression turned serious, and she nodded. “Let’s begin.”

Steve flicked on his lighter and lit the charcoal block. He poured on the custom incense—jasmine and thyme and pine resin—and it’s aroma filled the air. He set each candle alight, one after the other. He closed his eyes again, and let the scent, the smoke, the red that filtered into his vision, carry his mind away.

“To they that listen,” he said, “here is one who calls.” From the first word his voice sounded strange in his ears. Distant, barely like his own. This was happening.

“I have begun, taken these first tentative steps, into the Veil that touches lightly upon the world of clay, and into the vastness beyond.” The syllables echoed. He did this in a tiny basement room. There shouldn’t be an echo. Were they somewhere else? He could almost believe it. He fought the temptation to open his eyes and look.

“I have felt your presence in the moment between waking and sleep. I have seen you dance in my dreams. You, who are of me, and above me. Who are a part of me, as I am a part of you. My impossible twin, from impossible places. I call you.” A sound, like a single footstep, resounded in Steve’s ears.

“I lay gifts at your feet,” he gestured to where he knew the silver tray of Madeline cookies lay. They were Peri’s favorite, and she told him the spirits loved them, too.

“I implore you to take what is offered, and, if the time be right, if my offering be worthy, reveal yourself to me.”

A giggle echoed from the distance. From a dozen different points all around him, but in a single voice.

“Reveal yourself to me.”

More footsteps. Another sound, faint, melodious. Flute music, scattered, as if carried by the wind.

“Reveal yourself to me.”

The air changed. It was a cold day outside, and the space heater in Steve’s basement did little to alleviate the chill. Now, there was no chill. The air felt warm, a spring breeze. Warm, and electric. It charged his ever nerve.

“Reveal yourself to me!”

A gust of apple-scented air.
“Reveal yourself to me!”

Another sound, like a giggle and like the note of a flute, all at once.

“Reveal yourself to me!”

“I’m here!”

Steve’s eyes burst open. For a stretched second, his mind reeled. It had worked! She had answered. He was about to meet an otherworldly being, a guardian and guide from an unimaginable and alien place, that would take him to realms undreamed. He held his breath, his vision focused, and he saw…


“Hi Steve!”

She said it an inch from his face, and he leapt back. She fell over laughing, clutching her sides like a cartoon character.

“You should see yourself right now!” she cried between giggles.


“Oh man, that is priceless.”

Steve’s stomach sank. “That was…that voice was…you?”

“Of course it was, Sillypants. Who else would it be?”

“So…” his jaw clenched. “So it was all bullshit?” Anger filled every blood vessel in his body. His fingernails dug into his palm. He wanted to punch something. “What the fuck, Peri? Have you just been messing with me this whole time?”

She stopped laughing, and looked him, wounded. “What? No, of course not.”

He furrowed his brow. “Then why the hell did you do that?”

“Because it was hilarious,” she said, shrugging.

“But what about the ritual? I mean, you stopped it. Why didn’t you let it work?”

Peri looked confused. “I didn’t stop anything. It did work.”

Steve scratched his head. He hadn’t realized people actually scratched their heads in confusion, but here he was.

“Don’t you get it?”

He said nothing. She stared at him as if he was missing something obvious. He didn’t know what to say.

“I’m your spirit guide,” she said at last.

“Huh.” He paused. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“It means exactly what I said. I’m your spirit guide.”

“But…you’re not a spirit.”

She laughed. “Of course I am.”

“I’ve been to your house. I’ve met your mom.”

Peri shrugged again. “I’m adopted.”

Steve shook his head again. “No, no, no. The ritual, the ritual was supposed to summon my spirit guide. How can it have summoned you if you’re already here?”

“I came a little early,” she admitted. “Come on, Sillypants. You think magic is bound by a dumb little think like time?”

“Huh.” He thought. She had sort of come into his life out of nowhere and started teaching him magic. And she never seemed quite…normal. But then neither had his babysitter when he was little, and she certainly wasn’t a spirit.

“You weren’t my baby sitter, were you?”


“Nevermind. Listen, Peri, I’ve seen some amazing things with you, but I’m just…this is hard to swallow. You’re a spirit? You’re in my life to guide me to…whatever it is you’re going to guide me to?”

“That’s right.”

“So why do you work at Starbucks?”

“I like coffee,” she said. “And it’s run by a mermaid.”

He blinked.

“I just don’t…”

Peri sighed with her entire body, like a five year old. “Okay, fine. You need some proof?”

“Yes please,” he said, with his best sheepish grin.

“Fine.” She pranced forward and knocked the candle off the altar. It landed on the rug, which immediately burst into flame as if it had been soaked in accelerant.

“What the fuck!”

“Calm down,” said Peri. She stepped over to the flame, reached down, and picked up a large chunk of it in her hands. Then she stuffed it in her mouth.

Steve’s jaw dropped open.

Peri grabbed another handful, and downed that one, too. Within a minute she had eaten the whole thing, and the fire was gone.

“My rug!” Steve cried.

“Oh,” Peri put her hand over her mouth and giggled. “Yeah. I guess I’ll have to get you a new rug.”

“That was incredible!” Steve stared at her. “You’re…you’re a spirit!”

“Well duh. You really are silly, you know that?”

He nodded. “So…what now?”

She look his hand, smiled, and fixed him with a gaze that hid all of the mystery there had ever been in the world.

“Close your eyes, Sillypants. You’re about to find out.”



Yma sometimes thought she saw a person on the other side of the Mirror. A little girl, like her. Only strange. Distorted, like she was composed out of warped glass. All of the glass on Yma’s side was smooth.

She told Amam, but her mother only smiled, said, “That’s silly,” and continued her favorite game of pulling silver ribbons from the air and tying them into Yma’s hair.

Yma knew it was silly. More than silly. It was impossible. How could anyone live outside of the Mirror?