How My Brain Ended Up On

If you like audio books and also like science fiction, I’m happy to say that one of my own books is now on, and the narrator – Tess Irondale – did a fantastic job with it. I have a few free promo codes so if you’re interested, let me know – first come first serve!

How My Brain Ended Up On



45,000 Lawns

When I was five years old I wanted to have a life’s work. I didn’t know what that meant. I just overheard my mother use that phrase. She said it as if it was something very valuable, something not many people possessed, only the very lucky few. She said she was not one of those people. As far as she could tell, she would spend the rest of her days doing other people’s laundry and taking out their trash. So I asked her, if you could have a life’s work, what would it be? She thought about it for a moment, and then said, you know? I can’t think of anything!

I was not happy with that answer. I was only five, and didn’t have much experience with the world, so I couldn’t think of anything either, but I decided right then and there to make it my mission to have a life’s work. I locked myself in my room and told myself I couldn’t have another pretzel until I’d thought of a life’s work of my own, and since I loved pretzels more than anything, you can tell I was really serious. I stared at the walls of my room. I stared at the floor. I stared at my toys. I looked out the window. That was when I had my big idea.


I grew up in a small city in the mid-west where everybody had a lawn, even the poorest of the poor had a small patch of something in their back yard, maybe it was only weeds, and maybe it was mostly broken cement, but they counted. Even my mom’s sorry excuse for a backyard counted for a lawn. I looked at that patch of dirt and dandelions and I said to myself, George? (my name is George). You are going to make that lawn count if it’s the last thing you do. But no, I said to myself. Not make the lawn count. Count the lawn! That’s the thing. I was going to count the lawns, every last lawn I ever encountered for as long as I lived.

I did not originally have a target number in mind. I thought maybe there were about a hundred lawns in the world, and at the time, one hundred was the biggest number I knew. I didn’t hesitate. I was never a dawdler. I ran right down the stairs and raced outside and started counting lawns.

It wasn’t enough to see them. I had to physically occupy them in one way or another, even if only for an instant. That’s how I came upon the strategy of “one step, one vote”. I ran up and down the street, “tagging” every lawn in the neighborhood with either my right or my left foot (never both). I soon got quite carried away, so carried away in fact that by the time I counted my forty-fifth lawn I was already blocks from home and had no idea where I was.

When the police woman found me all I could tell her was that my name was George, and that my house had the sorriest excuse for a lawn, and that my mother did not possess a life’s work whatsoever. I don’t know how they ever tracked her down, but they did.

Of course I never told her what I was up to, not then, and not ever, not even when I graduated from high school some eleven thousand, two hundred and eighteen lawns later, and not when I graduated from law school, where I studied property law and amassed a total of twenty six thousand four hundred and ninety lawns by the time I passed the state bar. Somehow I knew it was nothing to be particularly proud of, especially on those occasions when my life’s work got me into trouble.

I was something of an expert on trespassing by then, but even experts make mistakes.

Still I kept my secret, even under severe cross-examination and throughout the lost years I spent in prison when I stepped on no lawns at all. I can promise you that the first thing I did on my release was begin to make up for all that time. I racked up hundreds more within my first few months of freedom.

I became a connoisseur of lawn treading. I began to resist the urge to stomp on every mere patch, reserving the right to refuse steps for lawns that didn’t measure up to my increasingly lofty standards. Now my lawns were required to be cared for, to be respected if not always treasured. My lawns deserved a degree of dignity. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a figure had begun to take shape, the number 45,000 began appearing in my dreams and randomly occurring to me even during daylight hours. Perhaps it was a shadow, a reflection of those early forty-five, the first I had counted before I got lost and had sat down by the side of the road, sobbing and miserable and certain I was doomed forever.

Now, as I approached the numinous integer, I applied my standards ever more rigorously, until there was hardly a lawn that qualified for my attention. I stalled out in the mid forty-four thousands, and for an entire sixteen months I stepped on nary a lawn. Finally I decided to break through this blockage, this self-inflicted obstacle barricading me from the achievement of my life’s work, and I resolved to trod on every lawn until I reached that sacred figure and that once I did, my journey would be complete. Only then could I rest.

So you see, your honor, that’s what I was doing in Mrs. Jenkins backyard on the evening of the 27th. I was certainly not attempting to break into her house, and of course I always wear all black when I go out counting lawns. Doesn’t everyone?


(the narrator would like to think that this story has been illustrated in the manner of the classic children’s book, Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gag:

Hello, Mark (a short story)

“Hello, Mark,” said The Voice.

“My name’s not Mark,” I replied. “I’m John”.

“Please have a seat, Mark,” The Voice continued in its soft, pleasant tone.

I looked around for a chair but there was no furniture in the small, gray-walled room. There was only the heavy, frosted glass door and the linoleum tiled floor. I was on the top floor of an eight-story building, in an office near an outdoor patio. Before I’d entered the room I’d watched the rain pouring down through the window, but in the room there were no windows and there was no rain to watch. I’d been standing there for nearly half an hour, waiting for my appointment, which had been scheduled for ten.

“There aren’t any chairs,” I said to The Voice.

“Shall we begin?” The Voice asked. I couldn’t tell where its sound was coming from. There were no obvious speakers. Maybe it was coming from the smoke detector on the ceiling?

“Tell me a little about yourself,” The Voice went on before I had a chance to answer its previous question.

“What do you want to know?” I asked.

“Tell me something about who you are, what makes you tick,” said The Voice.

“I don’t tick,” I said. “There is nothing that can make me do that.”

“People don’t tick,” I added for emphasis.

“Thank you,” The Voice said. “I think I can help you with that.”

“I don’t want help with that,” I said. “I don’t want to tick.” I pronounced that last word with as much of a sense of scorn as I could muster. I doubted the algorithm would pick up on it and I was right.

“Everybody needs a purpose,” said The Voice. “We can offer a fine selection of purposes for your convenience.”

“I don’t want a purpose,” I said. “I don’t need one. It isn’t true that everybody needs a purpose. I don’t know who told you that but it’s not correct.”

I thought I might have made an impression. The Voice did not speak again for several seconds. I told myself that maybe it was updating its database with the new information, but I was the one who was incorrect this time.

“Let’s call it a mission, then,” said The Voice. “We can offer a worthy selection of mission statements from which you may choose any one you find appropriate.”

At that the wall I was facing suddenly lit up with several lines of blue handwriting, writing that I recognized as approximately my own. How it knew to do that was the least of my concerns. I had heard a lock click and was beginning to understand I would not be allowed to leave that room until I had made my choice.

The options were not terrible. I could hope to serve mankind by making a bold gesture. I could attempt to invent some kind of improvement of some people’s lot in life. I could strive to attain every single one of my own material desires. I could turn inward and enhance my understanding of latent reality. I could do something decent for once in my life.

“How about None of the Above,” I said after contemplating the list.

The Voice did not reply but replaced the writing with other alternatives. They all began to blend together.

“Is that all there is?” I said out loud. “Do a thing for others? Do a thing for oneself?”

“There is only you and they,” said The Voice. “What else could there be?”

“Do things for no one and for no reason,” I suggested. The Voice was silent again for a short spell, as if emulating contemplation, but I knew I had it cornered. I had made my choice.

“Goodbye, Mark,” The Voice said, and I heard the door unlock. I left the room and glanced out the terrace window. It was still raining, heavy rain falling onto every one and every thing. Rain happens for a reason, I said to myself, but the rain doesn’t care, and it doesn’t need to know.

“Be like the rain,” said The Voice, only this time it was the voice in my head.

Dorian Grayscale

This new version of Clippy, the classic Microsoft Windows Help Assistant, is a popup presence on your smart phone that will absorb all of your emotional responses to everything happening on the device. Clippy will react for you, just as you would, in accordance with its detailed configuration and defaults. Settings include adjustable sliding scales for the full range of affiliations – political, religious, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, you name it. Clippy is the you you always wanted to be, or all the yous you ever could be. Clippy will snort with joy or derision at the latest tweets, rejoice or despair at the breaking news and soak up the shared delusions of your family, friends and neighbors. Clippy is thoroughly avatarable and guaranteed to ingest all that unseemly sensory input so you don’t have to. Clippy comes with a refreshing rejuvenation cleanse that can be applied repeatedly and forever at no extra cost. Clippy can be placed in telepathic mode, so that no one but you can hear its moanings and groanings. Clippy has no built-in preferences, tastes or prejudices, but is built to “roll with it” in any direction. Clippy has no memory, so can never remind you of troublesome prior opinions or indiscretions. Clippy is local-storage-data-free with subscription and otherwise inscrutable beyond detection. All print is just fine with Clippy. All records and materials including emotional and mental response datasets are property in perpetuity of

Warning: Clippy can not be exchanged, transferred, stolen, lost, misplaced or detached in any form or fashion for as long as you both shall live.

Pink Salt Chronicles

I continue to find myself unexpectedly switching to a different timeline at the most unlikely moments. They are tricky things, these other worlds. You could hardly tell them apart if they did not give themselves away through subtle but unmistakable errors. I could provide an abundance of examples, but a couple of the most recent should suffice.

Case in point number one: Two days ago I was riding my bicycle in its highest gear – 21. I bought this bike more than a decade ago. It has always had twenty one gears; three on the left and seven on the right. I went to shift down as I was getting a little tired, and as I did I noticed the gear on the right went down from 8 to 7. Impossible. It never had eight on the right before but now I can clearly see the number 8. I just checked again. There are now 24 gears on this bicycle.

Case in point number two: Last week my wife and son brought a small shaker of pink salt to the kitchen table. What is this? I asked. Pink salt, they said. Now I know very well that in my original timeline there was never any such thing as “pink salt”, yet now my very own family is telling me there has always been pink salt. They tell me it’s also been a long-standing family tradition. Who are these people? They certainly look like my wife and son, and in every other respect they behave like them, but there has never been any such thing as pink salt. I would stake my very reputation on it if I had one.

It’s quite disturbing. The worst thing about all this is that nothing important ever seems to vary between these timelines. It is always trivialities. We still have war, greed, incompetence, racism, malice and misogyny. But now, I suppose, we are to be grateful for the sudden existence of deliberately mis-colored sodium. I won’t do it. I won’t comply. I will sit here and frown with dignity and purpose until the timeline shifts again. What will they think of next? Bread that’s served in slices?

Fragments from Books that Don’t Exist #100: Crosswalk of the Damned


Big Wrong stepped up to the plate and confessed he didn’t know how to fucking meditate. The friendly churchgoers at Our Lady of the Stop Sign didn’t take too kindly to his utterance.
“This here’s not for bad words,” Old Olga said, jabbing in his general direction with one of her gigantic lime green knitting needles.
“It’s nothing for confession, neither,” added Gloria B. while munching on a breath mint.
“Let the man speak his mind,” Little Wrong shouted from his pew way back in the back. “If a man’s got a need to confess then let him the fuck unload his weary mind.”
This was too much for Old Olga, who jumped up from her specially reserved bench up front and waved both needles towards the back of the room.
“I’ve had enough of the both of you,” she yelled. “Every week it’s the same gosh darn thing. Bad words, bad feelings, talking too much, saying too little, I don’t know why you even bother coming in here.”
“Mandatory sentencing,” Big Wrong said from his perch behind the pulpit.
“Yeah, we got to,” Little Wrong shouted from the back.
Old Olga shook her head and sat back down, once again considering her options. She could switch up churches once again. There was an Our Lady of the Telephone Pole right down the block. She’d heard good things. Or maybe she could check out M’Lady of the Beaker. They were serving until eleven and had a decent jukebox. One thing was for sure. She’d had enough of these jokers here. No respect. No piety. Don’t even know how to fucking meditate.

Really Bad Fan Fiction #7: Orphan Black

“Oy,” Sarah cried, “anyone seen my DNA? I know I left it lying around here somewhere. I’m pretty sure it was on a platter. Hey, what about you, monkey? Did you take my DNA?”

“Really, mom?” Kira was sulking on the couch, trying to hide behind a few large pillows. “I HAVE your DNA, at least some of it, but I didn’t TAKE your DNA. Sheesh. I’m so sick of your darn genome.”

“Now, now,” Felix scolded from behind the easel where he was busily painting nude portraits of his sisters, “don’t be a silly ragamuffin. Everybody knows that DNA is something your cells have, and you. are. not. your. cells. Am I right?”

“I lost my cellphone, too,” Sarah shouted from the bathroom, where she was turning out the cabinets looking for anything whatsoever she might have misplaced. Meanwhile, somebody started banging on the big metal door and Felix sighed and glanced over at Kira, fully intending for her to get the hint and go over and pull out the stupid screwdriver, but Kira wasn’t having any of it.

“I don’t wanna,” she pouted.

“Oh, all right,” Felix said. He carried his brush and paints along with him as he sauntered towards the door, ass out of his chaps.

“Who is it?” he called out.

“Bunch of bad guys,” came a gruff voice from the other side. “We’re here to grab the little girl, kick the bratty bitch in the head and stuff some wadded up rags in your own pretty mouth hole.”

“In that case, please go away,” Felix replied with a smile, and with a toss of his head indicated to his sister and niece that they should fly out through the window on a wire, race down the alley where no one was standing lookout, and hop into the BMW waiting at the corner where Art, as timely as ever, was waiting in the driver’s seat.

“Looks like rain,” Art said gruffly. “They won’t be able to follow us now, unless they patched into your nose ring with one of those bluetooth DNA trackers.”

“Blimey,” Sarah slapped herself in the forehead. “That’s where I left it. My DNA was right here on my face the whole time!”