Weird Tales: Ramsey Shehadeh on Thoughting

Writer: Ramsey Shehadeh
Weird Tales Story: Creature (Issue #347, March/April 2008)
Writer Bio: Ramsey Shehadeh is a computer programmer by day and an aspiring writer by night. He lives close enough to Washington DC to have internalized the casual panic of day-to-day life there, and owns a beagle who was previously employed as one of the heads of Cerberus. His first published short story, Creature, will appear in Weird Tales next year.

*** 

I first went thoughting in the winter of 2002. It was a good time for it — the first day of warm weather after a dreary week of ice and snowstorms. The crowds were out in force. My mentor and I, an old pro named Dan Splendor, got a cup of coffee and took our seats outside a cafe on L street, and watched the hordes go by.

“The secret to thoughting,” said Dan, “is concentration. How do you do it with those magic eye pictures?”

I shrugged. “Not very good.”

“Well, that’s a problem.” He leaned back and hooked his thumbs into his belt. “That’s a problem. Thoughting is all about disambiguation. You got to get past the noise, down to the nut of it all. Take that young lady over there.”

I followed his outstretched finger to a worried-looking woman hurrying by on stilt heels, staring down at a blackberry. A dark mass of thought roiled over her head.

“Tell me what you see,” said Dan. “Hurry now.”

I squinted at the cloud. It beat like a heart. Sparks played along its surface, and occasional bolts of lightning arced out of its center like darting serpents.

“Wow,” I said. “That’s a mess.”

“Keep looking.”

“I can’t …”

“There, in quadrant four. Look.”

I squinted at the lower right portion of the cloud, and then I saw it. A shimmering notion, bright vermilion and shaped like a kidney bean. I blinked, and blinked again, just to make sure I was seeing it right.

“Is that a Haberdasherenvy?”

“Yup,” said Dan. There was a broad smile on his face. He took out a notebook and made a notation. “Third one this week.”

Haberdasherenvies were some of the rarest thoughts out there — sublimated neo-Victorian desires to wear silly, outrageously baroque hats with unreasonably wide brims. I watched until she turned a corner. “That’s fantastic,” I said.

“Here comes something,” said Dan. I turned and watched an 80-year old man shuffle by, leaning heavily on a cane, an island of relative stillness in the blur of rushing throngs. “Quadrant one, subsection eight.”

I looked, and saw it immediately. It was a clenched fist of a thought, black and bristling with spines. A Kill-Someone.

“Oh my god,” I said. “Should we call the police?”

Dan laughed. “Oh, hell no. If we did that, we’d have to report half of the people down here. Kill-Someones are a dime a dozen. Deep down, everyone wants to kill someone. I don’t even keep track of those anymore. No, I’m talking about all the other stuff.”

I looked. He was right — the Kill-Someone was just a tiny blip in a constellation of larger, stronger thoughts. I saw a giant, pulsating Wife-Love, shot through with hundreds of sickle-shaped Survivor-Sorrows. The Wife-Love was ringed by a series of Child-Loves and Grandchild-Loves, orbiting like satellites, and there were more Hurts than I could count — a Neck-Hurts and a Knee-Hurts and several layers of Back-Hurts — but those were just background noise, permanent residents that had long since become part of the firmament of his mind.

“That’s the biggest Wife-Love I’ve ever seen,” I said.

“Yep, that’s a doozy,” said Dan, scribbling in his notebook. “You only see them that big in newlyweds and widowers. I don’t think that poor guy’s going to be with us much longer. That’s not a normal Wife-Love. That there’s a tumor.”

But I had already moved on. I picked out huge masses of Lusts, Body-Lusts and Mind-Lusts and Memory-Lusts and Fantasy-Lusts, darting around like giants schools of fish, jumping from cloud to cloud like sparks. Lots and lots of Work-Obsessions, inscrutable and jargon-heavy and opaque. A young man in a motorcycle jacket walked by with a huge Death-Wish careening around his head, gunmetal grey, knobbed and pitted. Tiny babies with unformed and inchoate Everything-Wonders, teenagers with directionless, all-encompassing Yearnings of every shape and description. Two Geese-Hatreds. Countless Fantasy-Football-Ruminations. One Incapacitating-Nostalgia, in the person of a middle-aged man with a mullet, going gently to seed.

By evening, we’d recorded about a thousand thought-sightings, half of them Rare, and half of those either Very Rare or Almost Never Seen. Dan put his notebook in his fanny pack and stood up, patted me on the back. There was a prominent End-of-Day-Contentment throbbing over his head. “Let’s go get a drink,” he said.

I nodded, and then caught a glimpse of my reflection in the cafe’s window — and, above my head, a drooping Dream-Come-True, as ambivalent and conflicted a specimen as I’d ever seen. I tried to smile it away, but you can’t fool a Dream-Come-True. It glimmered, and whirled, and wilted, and slowly went about its usual business of metastasizing into Disappointment.

I shrugged, and turned away.

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