I rolled over, sunlight streaming into my face. *sunlight sound* I brought my hands up to shield my eyes, wondering why it was so bright. When I eventually opened my eyes, I rubbed them again to make sure that I wasn’t in a dream. Because what I saw before me seemed too good to be true.
I was in a room full of books, shelves stretching up to the ceiling. Organized books! With a piece of parchment that detailed the place of each one. Someone rolled over. As I saw her blue hair, I remembered my new friend, Quest, who had helped me organize this place. And the incentive for why I had been so stressed… I sat up with a start. The twenty-four hour bonus! I gently shook Quest’s shoulder.
“Wha-huh-whuh?” She moaned sleepily.
“It’s morning! We did it! If I tell the innkeeper now, we get a bonus reward!”
Still sleepy, Quest perked up at the sound of that.
“I… *yawn* am definitely into that”
We strode to the main room, bustling with the breakfast rush.
Eventually making it to the innkeeper.
“Good morning sir”
He looked suspiciously at my tousled hair.
“Mornin’” he grunted
“The library is finished. Would you like to see it?”
“Hmmph,” he tilted his head as if in thought, then said “go on, then”.
We lead him back down the hall, opening the door once more.
The grumpiness melted right off his face when he saw what we had accomplished.
“Ye two did this, last night?”
Quest and I nodded, sharing a small smile.
“Hmm,” he said, rubbing his chin. He walked over to the shelf to read the parchment posted there. It seemed to be to his liking.
“Well I’ll be. I never thought yeh’d actually be able to do it in twenty-fer hours–I jist thought if ye had an incentive yeh wouldn’t just use it as free room and board for a month.” He sighed a little remorsefully.
“Well, come along then. A deal’s a deal.” He walked us back to the main room, went behind the counter, and counted out ten silver. He handed it to me.
“Here’s hopin’ it’s a good investment,” he chuckled.
I counted out five silver to Quest.
Q: “I didn’t know we were getting paid!” she whispered.
Q: “What are we gonna do with five silver?”
B: “Ye can stay another week fer a mere two silver, ‘cuz that’s how long I actually expected ye here. If’n case I need yer services again. That is, assuming the two of ya can share a room.”
We looked at each other and nodded enthusiastically, each placing down one silver.
“Deal,” we said in unison.
The innkeeper ducked behind the bar to grab a sign that read “now with a library!” and hammered it below a piece of wood that said The Dragon’s Inn.
Quest and I ordered some well-earned breakfast.
*plates set down*
“Jest came in this morning, been travellin’ around the realms with a bear, or so I’ve heard.”
“Johnny really wants to go, but we jest don’t have two silver to spare.”
My ears perked up.
“It’s supposed to be the best circus in the area; they only come by once a year…”
E: Quest, are you hearing this?
She nodded excitedly.
E: Excuse me gentlemen, where exactly is this circus of which you speak?
They eyed me skeptically.
“Why don’t you ask your parents, lass?”
I looked down.
“They don’t think it a safe place for a young girl such as myself. They’re taking my little brother Joey, though. It’s so unfair! He doesn’t even like bright lights! *starts to cry* I’ve wanted to go my entire life, but–”
They looked at each other uncomfortably.
“Well, ye didn’t hear this from us–but if yeh take a left at the pawnshop and a right at the tannery, ye can’t miss it, it’s in a big clearing”
I looked up, wiping away my tears.
“Thank you mightily. Maybe I’ll see you there”
“Doubtful,” one whispered to the other, “It’ll be so crowded we could barely see each other.”
When I turned back to the bar, Quest had the biggest grin on her face.
Q: “Well, come on! Let’s get packing!”
We scarfed down the rest of our breakfast and ran our stuff upstairs to our new room.
*footsteps to the room*
I took my spare shirt out of my knapsack, leaving my writing supplies inside, just in case I met someone who was in need of my services. Water canteen, apple for the road, coinpurse–done!
“Hurry up,” I told Quest.
Q: “I want to make sure I have everything!”
I sighed, and fiddled with the locket around my neck. My locket! The men had said the circus was crowded–a prime place for thieves. I undid the clasp and took it off, not wanting to look like a target. I placed it carefully in the secret front pocket of my bag.
*sounds of a bag being closed*
Q: “Okay, ready!”
*walking, outdoor sounds*
The men were right–we could see the circus as soon as we rounded the tannery. A huge yellow and blue tent ballooned from the center of a field, whose white stripes spelled “The Jordan Circus”. People filed in through entrances at each side. In the entranceway were tradesmen selling their wares.
“Get yer chairs here!”
“High quality swords and daggers!”
“Cream of ice!”
E: “Oo, let’s get some!”
“Here you go, miss”
Every one of my senses was bombarded with information. The sweetness and coldness of the ice cream mixed with the smells of food roasting, the sounds of music playing, and people walking and talking all around me. Everywhere around me were bright colors, from the performers’ clothing to the flames illuminating the stage– even the ground seemed decorated with shiny red particles. (*magic sounds*)
“The show will begin in two minutes!” A small man crowed from on top of a table.
Q: “Two minutes! Let’s get a good seat.”
As we arrived at a dirt patch big enough for the two of us to sit on, we saw a sorcerer warming up, changing the colors of the flames onstage.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, please welcome, the magnificent, the marvelous, the Magical Mr. Mistopheles!”
A black-and-white catfolk stepped onstage, his ears curling as he bowed to the audience.
“Thank you all for coming. Today, you shall witness the greatest, most powerful cat magic in the realms since the time of Schrodinger.”
“You’ve seen a cat with a rat, you’ve seen a cat on a mat, but have you ever seen…. A cat in a hat?”
He pulled his hat on his head and it promptly fell to the ground. A tiny version of him gave a wave from underneath the hat, before scaling back up to size, hat still in hand.
“Thank you, thank you,”
The crowd roared, and with a wave of his hand, the crowd was silenced.
“What, cat got your tongue?”
My mouth moved, but no sound came out. I turned to Quest, who looked similarly perplexed.
Mr. Mistopheles placed his top hat firmly on his head.
“For my next trick, could I please have a volunteer from the audience?”
A young boy raised his hand, and Mistopheles beckoned him onstage.
Mr. Mistopheles spread out a deck of cards.
“Young man, you may pick a card, any card…”
The boy chose a card from the center of the spread.
“Look at your card, remember it clearly, and then replace it in the deck.”
*coughs up a furball*
…. This your card?”
Mr. Mistopheles spat out the queen of hearts, which he showed to the audience.
The small boy nodded, looking slightly uneasy.
“It has been a pleasure being here with all of you; I hope you enjoy my final trick,”
Mistopheles gestured, and four balls of light flew from the stage, one coming to land at our feet, before winking out. When we looked back up at the stage, he was gone!
*Rewrite the stars-esque music*
The flames changed color seamlessly, as wooden bars dropped down from the ceiling. Trapeze artists appeared from nowhere, swinging through the air as if it were a perfectly normal thing to do. They flew between bars and outstretched hands, with the utmost trust in one another. Quest was completely entranced by–
A small, skinny girl with long dark hair, concealed in a baggy coat with many pockets, materialized out of the darkness. Her hands were concealed behind her back.
“Oh I’m so sorry, I didn’t see your beautiful tail there,” the girl said, staring up at us with huge green eyes.
Quest smiled at the compliment.
Q: “That’s quite alright”
The girl averted her gaze.
A: I should get back
Her sparkly red boots turned face-up as she blended back into the crowd
On instinct, I ran my hands along the outside of my bag, checking my secret pocket.
Q: “What’s gone?”
I looked around for the girl, and saw the edge of one glittery red boot just leaving the circus tent. I took off after her.
The girl saw me from across the field, then turned and raced down an alleyway–her legs didn’t even appear to be moving. As I gained on her, I saw that there were wheels attached to the back side of her boots that allowed her to roll down the small hill on her feet.
Man, I want one of those *says while breathing hard from running*
She saw me getting closer, and her eyes widened. She knocked down a vacant cabbage stand full of moldy leaves. As the rolling vegetables obscured the main path, I pushed off a wooden box, grabbed the swinging sign for CURES FOR WHAT AILS YOU, and used my momentum to swing over the obstacles.
The girl lead me through winding alleys like a maze– right, left, right; she climbed up over a fence and through a front door that was unlocked, and I chased after her.
“Hey! You again! I’ve told you, no dramatic chases through my living room!”
Out the back door, down another couple streets–I lost track, the only thought in my mind to keep her in sight.
Finally, we arrived in a square with many offshoots and alleys. I couldn’t hear movement from any of them. I silently bent down to feel the ground for vibrations. As I looked at the ground, I saw the same red particles I had seen on the circus floor. It must be dust from her boots! I followed the trail to an invisible crevice where the young girl crouched.
E: I’m not trying to hurt you– you took something I care about, I just want it back
A: I’ll trade you for market value
E: I’d prefer if you just gave it back
A: Ah, a negotiator–the art of the deal
E: That locket you took is the last thing my mother ever gave me–it was my twelfth birthday present.
A: Ok, fine *gives locket back* … Let me steal something else then
E: I have… a quill
A: But I can’t write
E: You could… use it to dust corners!
A: But I don’t have a house
E: You could tickle your friends’ noses
A: The street and the night are my only friends
E: Is this what your life is like? Stealing nicknacks from strangers?
A: And selling them, yeah. I’ve got to eat somehow.
E: You don’t have parents?
A: They couldn’t take care of me. So I do this now. Busy places are usually best, because there’s so much going on that no one even notices me. The circus has been a gold mine–
She flashed me a line of sparkling gold jewelry on the inside of her coat
A: People are so entranced by the show, they have no idea I’m even there! They’re paying so much attention to the people onstage, they forget about themselves.
E: I guess so; I wouldn’t have even seen you, except you tripped over Quest’s tail.
A: I’m not proud of that one. One of my worst. It’s these dang nabbin boots
A: They’re too big for me, they get caught on stuff, they’re so dang flashy, but I just love ‘em
E: They’re pretty sweet.
The light was starting to fade. The sun would be setting soon.
A: Anyways, I should go
The girl faded into the night.
E: Wait, I don’t know how to get back!
A: [sighs] Well, I’m the night now, so…. Ok fine, I guess I can lead you back.
We walk together through the fading darkness; at least, I think we’re together–I can’t really see Allorina, but there’s small red sparkles on the ground.
At long last, we made it back to the open field with the circus tent.
A: I sleep on the bench outside the ___ chapel sometimes, if you want to see me again
E: That’s very nice of you…. Wait, what’s your name?
A: Allorina Windwater (fading out)
Quest was standing outside the tent, talking to the colorful trapeze artists. When she saw me, she looked relieved.
Q: Hey! Are you okay? What happened? I looked everywhere for you!
E: Remember that cute little girl who complimented your tail?
E: She stole my locket! But I got it back. She’s not so bad; she’s an orphan, like us.  What have you been up to?
Q [bursting with excitement]: They invited me to join the circus!
E: Congratulations! My heart sank slightly. Just like you wanted.
Quest seemed to notice my sadness.
Q: Don’t worry, she nudged my shoulder, they’re not leaving town for another few weeks. It takes a lot to move a circus, you know!
I perked up a bit at that. A few weeks was better than nothing. Still, though, I hated the thought of her leaving.
E: That’s great [somewhat unconvinced]
Q: A few of the performers invited me out for drinks; do you want to come?
I shook my head.
E: That’s okay; I’m kind of tired, I had a lot of exercise today. Thanks though
Q: Okay; I’ll see you back at the inn then?
E: See ya
As I walked back to the inn, I watched the lamps flickering in windowsills. Inside the houses, I saw families gathered together, around tables laden with food and warm fireplaces. I tried not to wonder when that could be me.
Lost in my thoughts, I turned down a road I thought went to the inn. Someone had left their door open, a light flickering inside. As I approached, I thought about letting them know, or maybe just shutting the door so the cold wind wouldn’t get in.
As I got to the doorway, I saw a shadowy figure inside. I shrank away, tripping over the frame. [body falling] The creature came outside to investigate, and as it turned around, I saw… my mother.
// outro music
Magic of the Mind is a podcast set in the Forgotten Realms of Dungeons and Dragons that communicates topics in cognitive science. If you want to learn more about the theories of attention and perception written into this episode, keep listening for the science behind the story interview with Dr. francesca capozzi, an attention researcher at mcgill university.
This podcast was made with support from Building 21, a McGill space for innovative and collaborative creation. Thanks to Emily Sheeran and David Jhave for reprising their roles as Quest and the innkeeper, Marie Norwood as Allorina Windwater, Yves Abanda as the announcer, and Liam Halloran as the Magical Mr. Mistoffeles. You heard Allie McGowan as Janice and Jonathan Jarry and Christopher Labos as assorted male background characters – if you liked hearing their voices, Jonathan and Chris also make a really funny medical podcast called the body of evidence which I highly recommend checking out. Huge thanks to Florestan Bruck for composing Eve’s themes and Dorothea Stefanou for creating our beautiful logo. Additional thanks to Thomas Barrett for scripting edits.
This show was made possible by people like Linday Barrett, Ginny Phillips, Marco David, Tara Clifford, and Megan Stauss. You too, could have your name read out on the podcast, get some cool stickers , if you choose to support our show!! Link on our website, magicofthemind.ca.
If you liked this episode, please let me know by leaving reviews on iTunes, tweeting @magicofthemind1, or joining the facebook group at bit.ly/mindmemes. Check back in two weeks for the next step in Eve’s journey, where she explores memory and journeys home. I’m Morgan; thanks for listening.
Hi! It’s Morgan, your friendly neighborhood writer and voice of Eve, here to talk to you about episode 2 : The thief’s trick. I wrote this episode to focus on attention and perception, because their functions are so intertwined that I thought it would be more fun to just lump them together.
While there are a few obvious perception scenes, like when Eve is eating her ice cream at the circus and sensing everything around her, perception is a much more subtle process, and each sense uses lots of different parts of the brain for us to come up with a cohesive picture of the world. I thought it would be more interesting to focus on the role attention plays in perception, how we choose to take in the information that we do. Attention shapes our perception which shapes our worldview, and can affect our beliefs and actions as a result. This is something I’ve always found really cool, and one of the topics that have fascinated me deeply.
The standard model for attention has two parts: bottom-up attentional processing, where an outside stimulus, such as a loud noise, automatically grabs your attention, and top-down attentional processing, where your current goals and previous memories influence the things you attend to. This model of attention is actually changing quite a bit, because lots of research is coming out that shows far more nuance in attentional mechanisms, but I just stuck with the more general ideas so you could get a sense of the different processes.
One classic example of bottom-up attentional processing is something called the cocktail party effect. In the typical example, you are talking to a friend at a party, and you hear someone across the room say your name. This can completely take your attention away from your conversation, even though you weren’t consciously listening for it. In this episode, Eve’s ears perk up when she hears the word circus, even though she wasn’t consciously listening for it, and there’s lots of other things happening in the inn at the time.
The next thing I brought into the show was the theory of affordances. After Allorina steals Eve’s locket, they run through the streets of the city. When Allorina knocks over a cart full of vegetables, Eve does some cool parkour to avoid them, jumping on a box and swinging on a sign to get over them. This is one example of the way our current situation can affect our perception of objects – affordances. Even though a sign is usually used to demarcate a place and a box is typically used to hold things, these regular uses can be overcome when there’s enough cognitive effort.
Pattern recognition is another thing attention plays a big role in. When Eve first enters the circus, she remarks that the ground is decorated with glitter, but doesn’t really notice more than that. However, once she’s chasing Allorina, she realizes the glitter is coming from Allorina’s shoes, and deducing this pattern is actually what allows her to catch Allorina. Even though there’s no necessary reason why there was glitter on the floor at the circus and in the town square, our brains are really good at making meaning of things, and Eve was able to put together the glitter from Allorina’s boots.
When Eve talks to Allorina towards the end of the episode, Allorina says that she likes spaces where people are distracted, because they’re less likely to notice her stealing. Attentional load – the idea that you only have so much attention at any given moment, and it is taken up by the things that you give it to. Also, inattentional blindness – people are so focused on the stage, they forget what’s happening to them.
The big takeaway for me, and this is coming from my yoga teacher and writer, not necessarily my scientist, is that even though attention is partly controlled by the world outside of us, it is also very goal-driven and influenced by what’s already in our minds. This is a powerful reminder that we are able to choose what we give our time, energy, and attention to. For me in my life, I know a lot of people who give a lot of attention to their phones, different social media platforms that don’t really make them feel good. I always think it’s cool to think about where your attention is going and make sure it’s somewhere you really want it to go.