How to Spend Your Free Time

Edited by Julia Rios

Copyedited by Chelle Parker

August 2019

Listen to this story, narrated by C. S. E. Cooney:

First see to your obligations

your family, your career

your bills, always piling

no matter how you turn off paper statements

change email

yahoo now forever linked to

collection agencies

credit card applications

debt relief specialists with no

   upfront costs

at least you will always have gmail.

First twist yourself around schedules

due dates

renewal notices

limited time offers that will expire

and you know the worst thing

   the very worst

a person can feel is regret

says parents saying no

teachers saying no

bosses saying no

doctors saying no

elected representatives saying no

the whole world a pair of lips

rounded in refusal

and you, always you,

regretting still.

First plan for your future

save for cars children vacations houses


there are people making hundreds of thousands

and still have nothing in savings

so we’re all in the same boat, really

all furious peddling

all thrashing beneath the surface

yes, some people look

   better off

but their problems are not yours

and just as valid, more valid even

(they’ve never known the taste of avocado toast)

so don’t compare yourself

to them.

First divide yourself

into years and months and weeks and days

smaller still

hours minutes seconds

weigh each one

so you don’t waste a moment

count them twice and three times

and present them to a

   licensed professional

for inspection and guidance

and assessment of billable hours

at only a minimal added fee.

First stop to smell the roses

but also mow your lawn

and never buy time from those

shady people in dark alleyways

with their long trench coats

and indiscernible genders

their orbs and syringes and vials

contain only stolen time

and if you are caught in possession

you will arrested and

yes, your time will be taken

and sold

to those who can afford it

who will drink it laced with

brandy and a bit of opium —

   we assure you it’s completely legal.

First fuck (only reproductively)

First read (only what we tell you)

First buy (only what’s cheapest)

First rage

First weep

First tear yourself apart chasing

   our shadows

cast from some sunny hill

into your cave

where, chained

you must listen to us

tell you how to spend sand

that always drifts to our beaches

where we are building a summer home

and a great wall.

© 2019 Charles Payseur

About the author

Charles Payseur

Charles Payseur is an avid reader, writer, and reviewer of all things speculative. His fiction and poetry have appeared in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed Magazine, and many more. He runs Quick Sip Reviews, has been a Hugo finalist fan writer, and can be found drunkenly reviewing Goosebumps on his Patreon. When not hunting Hodags across the wilds of Wisconsin, you can find him gushing about short fiction (and his cats) on Twitter as @ClowderofTwo.