Oct 31, 2013

The SYN Grab-Bag of Horrible Goodies

‡ Hallå, my spøøkie-wøøkies. 

Papercraft Universal monsters by Eelus

Hăľłǒɯɇȝȝɳ has come down like a mantle of darkness upon our weary souls, its aching back laden with gifts of blood and death. As usual, they are too good not to share.


9 intensely creepy stories to really get under your skin
Gaming Roundup: A celebration of video game horror
What do zombies mean?
What is a bestiary, anyway?
Writing death scenes


Oct 30, 2013

3 Ghastly Offerings from Your Favorite Two-Headed Sheep of Doom

Halloween is here! That time of year when you send your children out to snatch candy from the hands of pedophiles, cannibals, soul-sucking demons and possibly even liberal atheist transvestites.

How could I ignore Halloween? It makes me feel alive. Why, if I weren’t reduced to the miserable state of a brain in a jar, I might even take to the streets with my imaginary children and trick or treat for a couple of hours. Mostly trick, because I’m a grown man and I can pay for my own candy, thank you very much. But the look on somebody’s face when you just dumped a mountain of bloody skulls on their front yard? Priceless.

Although I do none of these things, because I’m a brain in a jar and you shouldn’t trust anything I say. Anyhoo, my benevolent captors/caretakers, the Alopecia Remediation Society, have hooked up my corpus callosum to a bionic hand, so now I can type on a computer to keep this blog thing going. 

All this to say I’ve got some story prompts for you – and all of them faithfully edited by my supervisor’s pet marmoset, Guillaume (he’s from France or Canada, I forget which), so you know this is quality stuff. Go nowhere else for your Halloween story prompts, we’ve got you covered! Whatever that means.

© John Magnet Bell


Shumway collected clumps of his wife’s hair; Stimson, who collected bird skulls and wanted to make little wigs for his featherless friends, did not know of it. One time as Stimson walked to his mailbox he and Shumway locked eyes. “Hey, I’ve got the same shirt,” said Shumway.


Bancroft and Evermore followed the white crows for three nights and a day, even as hope dwindled.
Before a small and cheerless fire, Evermore blew his nose.
“A pox on you,” he said to Bancroft. “The Golden Gorge is a legend.”
“The white crows exist, do they not?” Bancroft asked.


The last ten years of her life blossomed into a marinade of cat piss and dry flowers. The hungry thing ate her husband, then her children one by one. At night it whispered; it wanted more people to eat. She placed an ad in the local paper.

Do not ask me what this is. I don't think you want to know.

The Most Expensive Horror Movies Ever Made || 13 Horror Movie and TV Favorites from IMDB || Can you perform surgery on yourself? || The 13 creepiest things a child has ever said to a parent

And oh, there's definitely a Halloween playlist coming tomorrow.

Oct 25, 2013

Blame it on the Drunk Who Invented Objects with a Conscience

Jacinta found Excalibur gathering dust under a seat of the Ashmolean. It looked like a kitchen knife. She didn’t touch it.

She flagged the location on her phone and dialed an 11-digit number.
“Tell Tradescant the article has devolved,” she said.
“Elaborate,” said a man’s voice.
“90% assimilation,” said Jacinta.

John Tradescant the Elder
portrait attributed to Cornelis de Neve

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England displays the variegated collection of Elias Ashmole -- which includes objects and curios brought to Ashmole by the Tradescants. Tradescant the elder and his son of the same name were gardeners and travelers. To them, England owes the existence of the Musaeum Tradescantium; the first house of that nature to open its doors to the public in Albion.

I imagined one of Tradescant's prominent friends bringing him a curious object from the Americas which would bestow immortality upon its owner, and transfer parts of his consciousness to other objects that could function as recipients/vessels. The legendary Excalibur would be one of those vessels. Excalibur would also possess a quasi-sentient capability for mimicry. It would blend in and go unnoticed until the need arose to reveal itself.

Oct 23, 2013

No Rest for the Gnome Hunter

How can you track an elf? Simple. You look at the ground. You sniff it. You taste it. If you can’t see, smell or taste anything specific, an elf has been by.

They’re a little too good at hiding. Bet that worked fine on that big driftworld they came in.

by Sascha Rinaldi

Ways to explain the decline in gnome sightings down through the ages:

1. People got bored of the same old stories. Gnomes don’t zoom around on flying saucers, like Zeta Reticulans, or build hi-tech underground bases like Reptiloids. Their bowel movements do not produce rainbows. In short, the age does not agree with them.

2. As the science of biology advanced, along with significant advances in literacy among the general population (societies with complex productive structures demand highly-skilled workers), people gradually came to realize that tiny humanoids do not spontaneously occur in nature. 

3. Nobody expects to see gnomes anymore. They only appear to those with a true heart, an electron microscope and a piece of apple pie. 

4. “Gnomes” is a generic term for a ragtag crew of intergalactic criminals dumped on Earth. Their numbers would have not constituted a viable population. While long-lived, gnomes would inevitably die out over millennia. Whether any gnomes have made it to 2013 is anybody’s guess.  

After the jump: Music for ADHD Gnomes

Oct 20, 2013

Now Go Get Disinfected Like a Proper Citizen

Brief note: I didn't have any time to blog last week. I was busy with a massive translation, and no less with preparations for a long, long journey. But the dust of my life has begun to settle, so I now rejoin the blogging fray. Without further perorations, I give you a Sunday prompt.

I got detained outside the Watermelon District carrying seventy-five follicle mites in my secret eyebrow pockets.

The officers kept me waiting in a Spartan concrete room no more than six feet by two while they checked my papers. I starved; the mites wiggled and squirmed. Oh, temptation -- excruciation!

Eyelash mites live on your face. And they find you delicious. Now imagine a guy (or a girl), a mutant, who's evolved to derive nutrition from eyelash mites and nothing else, in an oppressive society where facial parasites have been made illegal.

So this guy (or girl) has to pretend to eat regular food; devise techniques to conceal their lunch from parasite scanners at multiple checkpoints on the way to work; and take their cold meals in the company restroom. 

As this prompt begins, the National Directorate For Safety, Security and Hygiene has issued a level-10 Contagion Alert on an escaped parasite smuggler. Every NDSSH checkpoint is at 110% personnel capacity – slightly overmanned, I guess you could say --  and our protagonist must contend with heightened stress levels. Just imagine the adrenaline flowing through that guy’s (or girl's) system.

Oct 11, 2013

You Made Me Poindexter All Over the Place

“OK, so Gary joined this gang and wants people to call him Jules now – and they dress like colorblind golfers and…”
Merriweather sighed.
“They’re not a gang, Howard,” said he.
“They raided my grandmother’s drug cabinet!” said Howard.
“Your version of events,” said Merriweather.
“They microwaved my pet scorpion!”

by Nadja Donner

Have you ever heard of cerebral achromatopsia? It’s a kind of color blindness caused by damage to the brain. You should totally read the Wikipedia article for the quotation from Oliver Sacks ("The case of the colorblind painter").

And then, if you think Colorblind Golfers would make a dumb name for a criminal association, head on over to this article on the 20 stupidest gang names in the FBI national gang threat assessment.

Oct 9, 2013

Three Meditations on How Much Your Spaghetti Sucks

Each of these prompts is set in the imaginary world of Babsyaronkell, which you may develop as you please.

art by Thomas Robson

The basic idea is that Babsyaronkell is Earth but no-one wants to call it that, and whatever you wish would become real, becomes real. The more it inconveniences someone, the realer it becomes. So it’s like a kitchen sink with extra gunge and those little chicken bones that desperately cling to your plate after a couple of washes and you have to go in there with your nail and scrape them off and dispose with them in a bespoke manner. That sort of place.


A sharp pain woke Mysteris at midnight. Something stuck out of his back. It was a corkscrew.
“Augh,” said Mysteris to his bunkmate, Crewsom, “Finagle is at it again.”
“It’s your fault,” said Crewsom not fully awake, grating his words. “Let him bugger you and be done with it.”


Popper Nickel got married to the prettiest girl in the village, pregnant but not yet showing. She carried Popper’s twin brother’s child. She was also a guy.

Popper found out on the wedding night the child would fulfill a prophecy; and this disturbed him greatly, for it lacked originality.


The astronaut pined for his mother’s spaghetti.
“These food tubes,” he said to the other crew members, “I just--”
Europa loomed in the viewport.
“There’s no turning back, Geordie,” said Aline, a xenobiologist. “Earth is gone.”
“I need to cook,” said Geordie, taking meteors for meatballs.

art by Emir Sehanovic

After the jump: Hand-picked music for lovers of meatballs. Köttbullar av alla de slag!

Oct 4, 2013

Out of the Weeping Sky

Shaped like a giant’s teardrop, the Cygnus cast her shadow over the pink waters of the world and pretended to sigh. She allowed herself a jolt of grade-2 endorphins. The constituents slept in Cygnus’s hold. She’d broken the terms of her mandate, veered off-course. Would they demand a new election?

Painting by Justin Maller

The sentient ship: If humanity survives long enough, we’ll certainly build one.

What would happen if a living ship were granted personhood? Persona (Latin) and prosopon (Greek) referred to the masks worn by actors on stage – now, among other things, a persona is a customization pack for your Internet browser. As a concept, person has become the opposite of persona. The latter is mask, surface, concealment. Person on the other hand is all about essence. But, because “essence” is hard to pin down, let’s talk about autonomy for a little while.

Your autonomy in the world expresses your personhood -- the way you think, talk and act, your decision-making capabilities, and so on -- so, for instance, a mannequin looks like a person, but it does not possess autonomy. Nor does any sane human being place the same expectations on a shop window dummy as they do on another human being.

But we like to humanize objects and living creatures, i.e., to look for, and ascribe human traits to the world around us. From that to according personhood to an AI created in our image doesn't look like a huge leap to me. A techno-cognitive revolution is around the corner.

Now picture us well past the point of having accepted non-human beings as persons. Now come new challenges and troubling questions. We live in a future where spaceships would like to form, or join political parties. They want salaries. Savings accounts. Retirement funds. What kind of friction does that cause? What if spaceships and humans considered themselves the same species?

This prompt was partly inspired by We Who Fell in Love with the Sea, by Rome.

Oct 2, 2013

The Four Ghosts that Devoured Gabriel St. Lazare

With the clumsy pincers of his index and middle finger, Gabriel pulled the flask from his jacket pocket. Gabriel uncorked it, drank up the amber liquid within, shook the flask over his mouth for the last drop, and looked at his dead wives, moonlight-pierced and silent.

Painting by Ysabel LeMay

Lazare or Lazarus: You could say this is the story of a man who will only find resurrection in saying goodbye, in walking away. How much of the past must he carry along in order to survive? How does he tell what he really needs?

I am not the wisest person in the world. This much I know: we need people and memories more than we need objects. We need freedom of choice more than bonds. Freedom to exist as an individual in control of your life – the freedom to take seven showers a day or make your bed out of saxophones if you feel like it.

The Magician
by James Reads

“Learning to let go” often comes up in books, films and TV shows for a simple reason: attachment is a bitch. Habit can become tyrannical.

But you control your habits. Or at least you can try to. And trying always begins with a little choice. One small step for you, a giant’s leap for the rest of your life.

Echo Tree
by Vesna Pesic