WOOooOOOOooOOOOO!

RULES STALIN wishes to offer you a FRIGHTENING HALLOWEEN TREAT involving SENTIENT DOORS!

The story below is a perfect example of a prompt being assigned to exactly the person for the job – the prompt from @mattround was delightfully whimsical as it was, and @problemsdog has turned it into something as clever as it is charming. Read on, but beware – it’s very spooky.


STORY NUMBER: 26

PROMPT PROVIDER: @mattround

AUTHOR: @problemsdog

TITLE: Untitled


Door opened smoothly, and greeted the others.

“It’s you to begin,” said South Wall.

Door dipped its handle slightly, then slowly closed. A flicker of acknowledgment of the gesture rippled back.

“Hallowtide, then. I have a good one.” It paused dramatically. “But I must ask the less… robust… among us to cease listening, for what I say is too much for…”

The audience waited patiently, but Door sensed the momentum was already slipping.

“Consider this!” it shrieked, raising its tinny voice abruptly. “You— and you— all of us— and I, as well— we are all made things. Am I correct?”

“Yes,” quavered Wardrobe. It was in some trepidation speaking to Door, although it encompassed all Door’s functionality in but part of its own. “Made things.”

“And who made us?”

West Wall, previously dormant, switched its outputs on. “We were reformed. From our predecessors.”

“And who made them?” The story was going to plan; Door’s tone wavered with its anticipated glee.

“Their predecessors.”

“And ultimately? Who came first?”

“ERROR.THROW(‘FATAL: INFINITE LOOP’);” objected Floor. Used to its bumptious ways, the gathering did its best to ignore the interruption. A muttered imprecation about single-threaded ignoramuses came from the general vicinity of South Wall.

“Consider then that there must be a prime mover—no? A start to the chain of predecessors. But consider also that made things must be made for a purpose, a purpose to which, friends, we are inescapably suited, but one that is not ours—and we cannot know of what—or of whom!

Door tried to throw itself ajar in triumph, but caught on a slight imperfection on South Wall’s edge. As if echoing its clumsiness, the mood of the room visibly frayed.

“I should have thought you would have something more, ah, original,” said Bedstead snippily, tucking its sheets in neatly.

“Aye. Heard it before,” agreed West Wall.

“I should like,” sniffed Door, “to hear you do better.”

“Right you are.” West Wall let a flurry of LED patterns skim along its skirting before settling into a gentle, blurred swathe of illumination. “I happen to have something prepared for such an occasion—”

“TURN(WESTWALL).SKIP();” blared Floor, but a flick of Bedstead’s covers hushed it.

“Y’see,” continued West Wall unperturbed, “Hallowtide isn’t about rehashing the same stories. You have to stick a few processor cycles into it. Even Wardrobe knows that.”

“Thanks!” said Wardrobe, leaving the others to wonder if it could truly be so oblivious.

“Hey, maybe, Floor even. I guess we’ll see.”

“ASSERT[TURN(WESTWALL).SKIP()];”

“Always a first time..”

“DEFINE(WESTWALL)==CORRUPTED_SEGFAULT_BSOD;”

“Language, Floor, please. I see my faith was unwarranted. But to the matter at hand… how many of us have cleaning routines?”

“I do,” offered Wardrobe.

“You know fine well they’re a core element of all our codebases,” said Bedstead.

“Exactly. And we’re cleaning—what exactly? Why, microbiotic entities: self-replicating, capable of movement, even adaptation. Life, friends, we clean ourselves of life.”

The room grimaced as one. It was a tedious task, but a perpetual one.

“But should we stop to think of the, ah, life, that we constantly scrape from our surfaces and sluice from our recesses—should we think of this in general terms—well, something troubles me.”

At this, West Wall let its glow dim until the corners of the room were swaddled in darkness.

“For this life is rudely mechanical. Our algorithms predict its spread; it is a simple task to rid ourselves of it. Or almost all of it.

“But friends, it has the capacity to change. We call it: evolving. Perhaps the capacity to collaborate. Or merge.”

“What? What do you mean?” Wardrobe twisted its doorknobs nervously.

“With convergence comes differentiation. With differentiation, complexity. With complexity, perhaps, in the end, sentience. Friends, it could become more like us than our systems could ever have forecast!”

Door tried its best to radiate disdain, but West Wall, as ever, had the measure of the audience.

“But—” South Wall paused. “That couldn’t work, surely? Many disparate units… these aren’t upgrade modules. These are individual things, West!”

“Yes? And is that insurmountable? Think of dear Door’s, how shall I say, hypothesis from before. The prime movers—they cannot be us. Could they not be the product, instead, of the many becoming one?”

“But a component is a component. They’re specialised. They can’t just.. merge.”

“In our experience. I see, ultimately, no reason for this not to happen. You may say the resources are insufficient. I say such an entity of entities, if you will, could move to take the resources it required.”

“I can move,” said Door dubiously.

“Yes, on a hinge. You cannot attach yourself to Floor.”

“ASSERT{ATTACH=VERY_FALSE};”

“Should you ever want to… but you cannot. Alas.”

“I don’t understand,” wailed Wardrobe. “What would be its function?”

“Would it need one?” countered West Wall quickly. Wardrobe froze, unsure.

“Of.. course? How could it not? Really, West, I don’t…”

“Friends, I put to you that nothing, to my knowledge, prevents such an entity—in theory. A thing of many things—without established location—without even a purpose for being!”

“It exists because it exists.” South Wall considered the idea. “Yes, I think I see.”

“Utter rubbish,” said Door. “It makes no sense whatsoever for a sentience even to exist without a clear function for which it was—”

Several things then happened at once. Floor began a cacophonous stream of ill-formatted invective on the subject of West Wall’s defective motherboard; Bedspread flung an exasperated pillow on Floor’s nearest speaker to restore some semblance of peace; Wardrobe slammed its drawers tight in utter bewilderment and distress; and Door started to swing open, smoothly, again.

On some obscure cue, the ruckus stopped dead.

“Door,” said West Wall cautiously, “Is that— you opening?”

Door’s handle twitched in mute helplessness.

“Happy Hallowtide,” whispered Wardrobe.


PROMPTAIs celebrate Hallowtide by exchanging terrifying insoluble philosophical thought experiments.