Ten possibilities…and one more: Flip the switch

I’m liking Rarasaur’s new Prompts for the Promptless series. This week, she asks us for the Eleventh Possibility – the event that comes after the first ten things you might expect: the unlikely one, the result that’s unexpected and almost unbelievable.

Rarasaur has suggested some situations we could start from, and I’m going to use one of them: You walk into a dark room and flip the light switch. What might happen next?

Maybe nothing will happen. The bulb could be burned out, or there could be a power failure, or there could be something wrong with the switch. That’s three possibilities.

Maybe, as I reach for the switch, someone unseen in the dark room will seize my hand and say “Leave it off.” The voice might be menacing, or pleading and frightened, or romantic. If the unseen person goes on to say, “It’s going to short if it’s powered on,” the voice could be sharp and urgent. So that’s four more possibilities.

But those are all more or less normal. Let’s stretch our imagination a bit. Maybe the electric current will disturb a giant firefly that’s been resting in the light socket, and it will spread its yard-long wings and flap lazily around the room, strobing its cold greenish light on and off as it flies. Maybe Beethoven’s Fifth (oops.) Ninth Symphony, with full orchestration and chorus, will come blasting melodiously out of the fixture. Maybe assorted jewels – rubies, sapphires, diamonds, emeralds – will tumble clattering to the floor.

Ten possibilities, some more probable than others. But we’re searching for the eleventh possibility, the one beyond belief. Let’s imagine a world. In this world, tall monsters stand atop mountains and in the ocean shallows, their long arms turning lazily in the wind. Mysterious black panels high on telephone poles or standing tilted in rows in open fields glisten in the sun. In furnaces, pieces of black rock dug deep under the ground burn. Water spills over high walls built to block the flow of rivers. In huge concrete containers, tiny things are broken into tinier things, and the heat of their breaking boils water.

Meanwhile, in that world, thousands of people we don’t know, most of whom will never meet each other, have been dragging themselves out of bed every morning and gulping enough coffee to wake up and hurrying off to hundreds of locations they wouldn’t normally choose to spend the day in – places where they can keep the turning monsters and the furnaces and the black panels and the river-blocking walls and the containers full of tiny breaking things working. And because of all this scattered activity, when you flick the switch electricity pushes through wires into your lightbulb, where it has to struggle so hard to keep going that it makes the bulb glow.

Sometimes it takes an improbably complicated system to give us the normal, ordinary result. The eleventh possibility? We flick the switch, and there is light.

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12 responses to “Ten possibilities…and one more: Flip the switch

  1. Ooh nice twist! I hadn’t considered that one 🙂

    • When I actually stop to think about it, I’m completely, totally, utterly amazed that anything in our civilization works as intended – and yet most of it does, usually.

      (Frexample: the notorious Y2K problem. Ever since Jan. 1, 2000 came and went without incident, lots of people have made fun of the notion that there ever was a real problem. Well, there was, as late as fall of 1999. Then – I don’t know, thousands? tens of thousands? of individuals throughout the computer field spent a lot of time tracking down and fixing all the stuff that wasn’t going to function correctly when the first two digits of the year rolled over. I was one of them, and worked with several others. And as a huge, decentralized group, we fixed all of it that mattered, and the world went on.)

  2. It truly is amazing! Even something like having a fridge is crazy. My mother remembers the days when the ice man would come and deliver a block. Okay, that was in Cuba, but it still applies. Thank you for your work on Y2K! I never realized that it was really a problem and took it for granted.

  3. Pingback: Prompts for the Promptless – Ep. 2 – The 11th Possibility | rarasaur

  4. “Sometimes it takes an improbably complicated system to give us the normal, ordinary result. The eleventh possibility? We flick the switch, and there is light.” – I love this idea! And you’re so right! The mechanisms that make this world function “normally” are beautifully, wondrously complex! It’s fascinating to think of our everyday life as the 11th possibility… thanks for this insight, and thanks for participating in Prompts for the Promptless! 🙂

  5. very good, and so true we often expect the unexpected but never the expected

  6. Pingback: The Defenestration of Impossibility | rarasaur

  7. Wonderful! We are the 11th possibility – the life we have created, and in a way that we have this life in the first place! Great post!

  8. Pingback: Prompts for the Promptless – Ep. 3 – Schadenfreude | rarasaur

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