Applied Imagination

Today’s post is a short story which takes place in the world I created for a novel I began several years back. One day, I’ll sit down and finish it just so I can say, “I wrote a novel.” It’ll never be published, but I can say I did it.

The elevator door opened and fifteen young gnomes wrestled their way into the hall. A slightly taller gnome began to corral the group before they could explore too far down the passage, much to the disappointment of several gnomes who had just reached an open doorway.

“OK, 5th Grade Copper Cadets, let’s all settle down. Stillsby! You and Nash step away from that door this instant! We are guests here, boys and girls, and I expect us to be on our best behavior! Where is Young?”

A voice spoke up just behind the teacher, “Right here Mr. Scour.”

“Ah yes, Young. I forgot you were there.”

“Everybody always does, Mr. Scour.”

“Right, good for you. Now, boys and girls, can someone please tell me where we are today?”

The gathered gnomes all sipped their coffee 1 and stared at each other in the way only a group of elementary school students can – daring someone to chime in with the obvious answer. An uncomfortable silence continued for several seconds before Mr. Scour ended it in obvious disappointment 2.

“Really, no one? We walked right past the sign for gnome’s sake. Oh well. Today, Copper Cadets, we have the privilege of taking a tour through Great Roll University’s Experimental Thinking Department. We’re going to be taken on this tour by who….?”

As this question required some thought the quiet challenge among the class was ended voluntarily by the group. A gnome furthest from the teacher spoke up – he held an extra-large coffee mug, wore skinny lederhosen, and a tee-shirt which read, “Born to be ironic 3.”

“I think you said it was Nobody, sir.”

“That’s right, Francis! We are going to be given a tour by none other than Professor Coolly Nobody, head of this department! And here he is now!”

The gathered gnomes diverted their attention to a plump, bespectacled, gnome who was bounding down the hall. He was wrapped in a white lab-coat, carried a generous grin on his face, and balanced several dozen snack packs between his arms.

“Say hello, cadets!”

The class sighed, sucked in a swallow of coffee, and said in unison, “Hello Professor.”

“Ahh, yes! Here you are, the Copper Cadets! You know, I thought you were going to be here yesterday. But here you are today, wonderful!”

“Oh, Professor, I’m so sorry. Was there a mix-up with the calendar? I hate to think we inconvenienced you.”

Nobody chuckled, “Oh no, the fault was all mine. I simply forgot which tank the goldfish was in. Not to worry! Now, who wants some snack puffs!”

The offer of unhealthy food shifted the general opinion of Professor Nobody from “strange old weirdo” to “strange old weirdo who our teacher said is ok and who offers us snacks at Nine in the morning.” To a gnome the Copper Cadets all raised their hands.”

“Oh good. These are my own invention, you know! I’m trying out some new flavors at the moment. I’ve got Mushroom and Vinegar, Salmon Anchovie, Catnip and Parsley, and Cinnamon. What would you like?” 4

After searching for 10 minutes to find enough bags of Cinnamon snack puffs to feed the class, Nobody began to usher the children down the hallway toward a large metal door. Several flashing red lights illuminated the door, which was itself trimmed with yellow and black stripes. His companions seemed to be unnerved by the intimidating portal, but Nobody failed to notice their growing discomfort.

“Now, my position here is, as you might know, is the Ill-Advisor for the Applied Imagination project.”

Mr. Scour dutifully discharged his duties as a teacher on a field trip, and asked a question to make the guide feel like people were interested, “That’s interesting, Professor Nobody. What is an Ill-Advisor?”

“Yah, shouldn’t you be an advisor?”

Mr. Scour turned in surprise, “Who said that?”

“It was me sir, Young.”

“Ah, I forgot you were there. Anyway. Yes, professor, don’t you mean you are an advisor?”

Nobody pulled a red-handled lever with some effort. As he did so a series of deep metallic groans escaped form the doorway and the class took a visible step backward. When the groaning had ceased the professor turned to the gnomes and beamed at them with a disconcerting smile.

“Oh no, not at all. You see, class, when we are dealing the idea of imagination in The Realm we’re really kicking the fundamental force of the Fictoverse. You couldn’t do anything more ill-advised than what we are doing here! Isn’t it wonderful? Now, you all signed your wavers?”

Mr. Scour held up a stack of signed papers with robotic enthusiasm. Before he could suddenly remember a pressing engagement for the class, however, Nobody snatched them from his hands and shoved them in a nearby drawer. In triumph he asked, “Well now, who wants to lead the way?”

Without so much as a pause to sip his coffee, Francis ran through the doorway – eagerly followed by the rest of the class.

“Cadets, stop this instant! We have to stay with our guide!”

“Oh don’t worry Mr. Scour. We don’t mind.”

“Well, that’s nice, I suppose.”

“Besides, if anything terrible is going to happen to them having me around isn’t going to make it any better. This is a very ill-advised place.”

It took several minutes, three death-defying circus stunts, and two epic boss-battles to return the class to order. Once corralled, Nobody led the group to a small auditorium and asked the class to take some seats. The professor strolled to the front of the auditorium stood behind a small table – on the surface of which was placed a hand-crank coffee grinder and an auto-drip coffee maker.

“Alright children. Let’s chat. Now, who can tell me what imagination is?”

The Cadets sipped their coffee in unison and stared blankly at Nobody. It was clear no one intended to answer so finally Mr. Scour chimed in, “Well, professor, I believe imagination is what makes us all… us.”

Raising a finger in triumph, Nobody cried out, “Ah yes, well done!” He then took off his glasses and surveyed the gathered gnomes. After he had made everyone uncomfortable, he spoken again, “Imagination is the force which creates The Realm, and keeps it together. For years our theologians and philosophers have tried to figure out the nature of imagination, but people have all had different opinions. You see, some think imagination actually shapes The Realm into what we are. Others think imagination actually forms the realm but the life we live in the realm isn’t shaped by this force. Instead, these people believe imagination uses The Realm as a sort of amplifier – that because The Realm exists, imagination is actually stronger. Do you understand?”

Nobody was greeted with the sound of 15 cups of coffee being slurped, but continued in his presentation anyway. “So, if imagination is this strong force which is amplified by The Realm, then what we here so ill-advisedly do in Applied Imagination is harness that amplified power, and put it to work for us. So, if imagination doesn’t already shape The Realm, it will when we’re done with it! Would you like a demonstration?”

The slurping halted. Demonstrations of ill-advised projects are, after all, a fifth-grader’s vision of an ideal field trip. The gathered gnomes leaned forward in their chairs, ready for anything.

Slightly unnerved by the sudden attention, the professor removed his glasses and called for the lights to be dimmed. Once out, the gnomes saw that the table in front of Nobody was actually enveloped by a pale blue light.

“This children, is the light of the Imagination Reclamation Field, or Irf.” 5 He then pulled a small paper tablet from a nearby cabinet and held it up for the class. On the first sheet was a drawing of a combination coffee grinder/auto-drip coffee maker. “On the table you see two different products – a coffee grinder and a coffee maker. Here in Applied Imagination we can trigger the power of imagination to transform these two products into the one drawing you see on this sheet of paper. Once we figure this out with precision, manufacturing and video game sequels will become lighting fast, extraordinarily inexpensive, and environmentally friendly. All it takes to activate the field, is for me to place this drawing on the table. Once I do, the field takes over and we’ll have our combination grinder/brewer.”

The class had stopped breathing. This was, after all, the stuff of field trip legend. Even Mr. Scour had forgotten to worry about potential law suits stemming from the trip.

“OK, so, let’s see what happens.” Nobody walked to the table and gently placed the notebook on it’s surface. A moment later there was a flash of brilliant blue light, temporarily binding all present. When the their vision had returned the table had been replaced with an armchair, an Eighty-Inch Television, and four poodles. Much to the dismay of the glass, all the coffee in the room had suddenly been transformed into water.

Flustered, “Ah, yes. Well here you see the problem we’re having with the Irf at present.”

Mr. Scour, already reading complaints from parents in his mind, tried to keep up a semblance of educational responsibility. “What problem is that, professor?”

Nobody shrugged, “Well, you see, the problem with Applied Imagination is that it seems imagination has a mind of its own.”


  1. Penny Gnomes begin drinking coffee at six months old. As a society they figure kids are going to be hyper-active and jittery anyway, so they might as well start the process early and get it over with. 
  2. Class – 1, Teacher – 0. 
  3. He left his lensless glasses at home. 
  4. This put him right back in the “strange old weirdo” category. Children of any species are a fickle lot. 
  5. Professor Nobody never really understood the point behind Acronyms. 
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