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.