Entrepreneur of absurdities Adam Grant (Jafflechutes) shares a time-travelling story from his curiously curated blog, Eggs on Toast with Thyme.
When we heard there was a blog of time travel stories sourced entirely from an anonymous online taskforce, we had to know more.
Adam Grant is a busy and curious man. When he’s not wooing Melburnians and New Yorkers with jaffles and parachutes, or Pimping Mykis, or sketching selfies for the narcissists out there (like us – check out Adam’s rendition of the very first GDS cover below), Adam’s sourcing time travel stories from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.
Mechanical Turk or ‘MTurk’ prides itself as “a marketplace for work”, with workers accepting tasks for around USD$0.01 to USD$0.35 (or nothing at all). Jobs, or ‘Human Intelligence Tasks’, can involve anything from categorising screenshots to finding contact information or writing product descriptions.
Enter Adam, who offers two to four dollars to write a short story on time travel.
“I like the idea of using like a piece of infrastructure for a purpose other than what was intended,” he explains to us in the backwaters of Brunswick. “It’s kind of awful to describe it like this – but it’s like fishing. I just put the line in the water and wait.”
After commissioning the stories through Mechanical Turk, Adam publishes them on a non-commercial, barely publicised Tumblr: Eggs on Toast with Thyme.
“It’s kind of a secret, like a treasure trove of stories that may or may not be good,” he says. “Like a zine that people have forgotten about, or a magazine that’s been lost down the back of a couch or something.”
Because Mechanical Turk forbids the disclosure of workers’ identities or whereabouts, Adam asks his writers for their first name and what they had for breakfast to supply their pseudonyms.
“It just seems like a good fit, time travel and breakfast – like breakfast is a really weird meal. Especially if you get up early for work.”
His participants seem to enjoy their travel writing tasks, too.
“It’s all been really positive. A few people have just been curious what the stories are for, and have said they’ve had a lot of fun doing it and wanted to know more. One guy was curious about intellectual property – whether he could republish his story for whatever – and my response was ‘do whatever you want’.”
While the stories can be hit or miss, Adam says he’s stumbled upon a few delicious ones that respect the rules of the genre.
“It turns out that, technically, when you’re writing a time travel story the moment of reveal – the moment that you let the audience in on the time travel – is the most important part.
“A lot of it is done on Eggs on Toast a little clunkily. They just say it straight out – you know, ‘I am a time traveller’.”
Nevertheless, Adam says he never censors the stories.
“I’ll always publish, so long as they tick all the boxes.”
One piece that ticked all the boxes was Owen, who enjoyed an ambiguous breakfast of ‘two eggs and a banana’.
“I liked his little ‘fuck you’ at the end,” says Adam.
We’ve republished Owen’s story below. If you’d like to check out more stories from Eggs on Toast, then head this way.
The wagon groaned and creaked as it pushed forward, the dirt road crunching beneath its wheels. The first rays of sunlight for the day were peeking out over the horizon, only providing enough light to tint the landscape a blue-greyish hue.
A chestnut brown horse trotted forward, its breath visible in the morning chill. The farmer held the horse’s reins lazily in one hand, as the other gently clutched the rifle which lay across his lap. A lantern hung next to him, swinging back and forth, casting a shaky semi-circle of light which lit the road ahead.
Out of the corner of his eye, the farmer saw a shape and, instinctively, the grip on his rifle tightened. He yanked on the reins, causing the horse to come to an abrupt halt, and reached up for the lantern. He slipped the lantern over the barrel of the rifle, and slowly panned the area. He saw no movement. He climbed down from the wagon and stood still, listening. Still nothing.
The farmer looked back at the lump by the side of the road and approached it cautiously. Lying there in the foetal position was a young man. The man appeared to be in his mid-twenties, dark brown hair, and a skinny build. The farmer slowly reached down with the barrel of the rifle and poked him in the shoulder.
The young man looked up, startled at first, and then quickly annoyed. “Aw, not again”, he mumbled.
The farmer looked down at him quizzically.
The young man sat up, rubbing his eyes and looked around. His eyes first ran over the horse and wagon, and then gazed at the farmer who woke him.
“So … uh, what year is it?”
The farmer stared silently, now noticing the peculiar way the man was dressed.
“Uh … English? Do you speak English?” the young man asked, nervously.
The farmer nodded, visibly confused.
“Okay. Look, I don’t have much time, I’ll try to make this quick. I’m from the future. I won’t waste time with the details, but, sometimes, I go to sleep in my time and wake up in the past. And I can’t get back home until I complete my mission. Usually it takes a while for me to find my target, but you made it easy for me this time.”
The farmer stared blankly, and did not lower the rifle. The young man continued, “Okay, so basically I’ve been sent here to tell you to be cool.”
“Cool?” the farmer repeated.
“Yeah, just be a good person. Apparently, you’re going to do some bad things one day, and I’ve been sent here from the future to tell you to be cool. Understand?”
The farmer nodded.
“Great, now how do I get outta here?”
The farmer stared blankly.
“Joke. I was joking. Seriously, be cool.” And with that message, the young man walked off into the mist and disappeared.
My name is Owen, and I ate two eggs and a banana for breakfast this morning.
First published on Eggs on Toast with Thyme