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Caleb Strange
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I've probably shaken a few of my fellow bizarrists with the 'Operation Rudolph' idea, which, incidentally, is slowly gaining momentum. So let me quickly assure you that this post is reindeer free.

Peter Marucci made a very valid point in another thread, when he dared us to see if our stories, and our storytelling, were strong enough to affect an audience without the magic. As Christmas is traditionally the time of telling scary stories, let me share this little piece with you.

Twelve years ago, I was doing post-graduate work at a British University. Sad to relate, personal circumstances forced me to spend my Christmas in a Hall of Residence. And Yuletide at Hogwarts it was not!

We handful of stragglers were a sorry bunch, with our party hats and detumescent balloons, a poorly stocked common-room bar and scalding microwave mince-pies. But it did give me the chance to get to know some people I'd only 'nodded at' before. As the saying goes, any port in a storm.

Now amongst this rag-tag group of social inadequates was a young I.T. researcher, who bored us senseless with his seemingly endless supply of theories on what he called 'the theology of intelligence'. He was supposed to be brilliant, I'm sure he was, but he was not MY idea of Yuletide fun, when we were all cold and damp and miserable. But I shared a Christmas dinner cracker with him, over a cardboard turkey, and we all, I.T. man included, got roaring drunk, and shouted obscene things during Her Majesty's address to the Commonwealth.

The next day, all of us woke with gravel in our brains, and fresh air was sorely needed. Now in the UK, football clubs traditionally play matches on Boxing Day. And it was inevitable that a group of hungover and desperately bored young men, would do the bonding thing, and arrange to go, en masse, to the local game. Please don't try and guess where this was. I'd rather you didn't know.

So off we all went, except for my I.T. friend, who hadn't come down for lunch. Drunk as a skunk, we thought, or maybe he'd found someone to share his Christmas after all. Various ribald comments were made as to the probability, or otherwise, of this scenario. Then we promptly forgot about him, and enjoyed ourselves immensely hurling abuse at the match officials.

My new 'friend' wasn't down for tea, either, which was surprising. Apart from boring you senseless, the fellow enjoyed his grub, so somewhat curious, and, I admit it, a little lonely, I went across the quadrangle and up the stairs to his room, to see how he was. The door was unlocked, and the first thing I saw going in was his kettle, boiled dry on his desk. I bent down to switch it off, and it was then I saw him.

I had seen death before with my Nan, and I have seen it twice since, and it has always made the same impression on me. The person looks incomplete somehow. Something is not there, something has left maybe, and only a husk remains. I was twelve when my gran died, and all I could think of, when I saw her on her bed, was of an empty launch pad. There was a devastating absence. The soul, the spark of life, or just the glint in her eyes, I don't know, SOMETHING had blasted away, and was gone, gone forever.

But the I.T. man was different. Don't ask me how I knew, he was just different somehow. I could lie, and say that he looked 'switched off', but that's the mythologising gloss of hindsight. Truth is, I really don't remember feeling particularly freaked about the way he looked. He was dead, and that was more than distressing enough. Shocked and shaky, I contacted the relevant people, and then the rest of us 'saw in' a sombre New Year.

It was February, with me, that things got weird. I was interviewed by police twice that month, and the second time, there was someone present the police called 'Doctor'. Amongst the questions you'd expect, she'd throw in puzzlers. 'Tell me about the conversations he had the week before he died'. 'You mean about his feelings? Was he suicidal? Did he feel unwell?' I asked. 'No', she said, 'tell me about his IDEAS'.

In March, the Christmas gang decided to honour what would have been I.T. guy's birthday, with a pub crawl. It seemed the decent thing to do. We got as far as 'The Rose and Crown', when the stories started crawling out. All of us, it seemed, had been interviewed by this 'Doctor' woman. All of us had been asked weird questions about I.T. guy's IDEAS. And a couple of the gang claimed to have been followed to and from the lab. Something was going on, we decided, most definitely. You know how it is. What beer does. Those idiot notions it catalyses. Well, with my common sense well and truly rotted, I spent a stupid night ripping my room apart, in a futile hunt for surveillance equipment. Next morning, by the time I'd relaid the planks in my bathroom, I'd forgotten all about it. A rather tedious, and not staggeringly original dissertation later (though at the time, I thought it would change the world!), I entered what people call 'real life', and got on with forgetting the little I'd ever learnt.

It was six years later, on a crisp, knife-sweet October day, that everything changed, and this cosy snuggles complacency was ripped away. I was playing golf with a friend from my first university. He was, still is as a matter of fact, working as a GP, a doctor in General Practice. Now, you know how it is when you meet up with old friends. You quickly forego the pretense of catching up, and hurry smartly to the serious business of reminiscing. And as this friend had been to the more than his fair share of my undergraduate seance parties, we were soon swapping tales of death and the maccabre. And eventually, I got round to telling him about that awful Christmas. He stopped laughing. We didn't finish the round.

As plainly as I can, let me tell you what he told me that afternoon. It's cruel and bright in my head still, fresh as bleach. But, friends, I warn you, if you do not want this in your life, if you do not want this shadow to eat into your heart like an eclipse, then stop reading now. I kid you not. This is not one of those grimy awful ghost stories, in a Penny 'pot-boiler'. I know we weave our tales in this forum, and boy, am I telling this one badly, but, people, in all seriousness, I'm not making this up.

Very well. It's kind of better knowing. In 1978, at an Ivy League University, a gifted theologian died without any obvious cause. Thirteen similar deaths followed in 1981 in places of learning scattered around the world. By the mid 80's, this number was nearer a hundred, with there being a similar amount of related deaths in the general population. And by the early nineties, the total death rate was close to a thousand. Trust me, you do not want to know the figures for this year.

Of course, there is a name for this type of death. It's called 'The ******** Syndrome' after the first known victim, the theologian. I won't give you the name. Research into the cause(s)of this condition was fruitless for the best part of a decade, until in 1988, when researchers got a break, albeit of a rather grisly sort. One of their own died the death, in full view of her colleagues, at a faculty meeting, in a French University. 'One minute she was full of life, excited about some new idea. The next minute, she was dead', a colleague said. Another added that 'she was leaning forward to speak, when she, I don't know how to put this. She just switched off'. An extensive autopsy revealed, as always before, absolutely nothing. Her brain had, seemingly, just stopped working.

Finally, by 1992, after much debate in institutions across the world, a consensus view was established, and an unsettling theory was propounded. It remains unchallenged to this day. Again, my conscience insists I must caution you about what is to come. I won't warn you again.

Very well then. In the several cases actually observed by others, (and also seen in the three deaths caught on CCTV) witnesses had the impression that the victim was 'about to speak' immediately before his/her death. As if something had crossed their mind, prior to death. As is the way of these things, until the '88 French case, scientists had been reluctant to give this 'about to speak, mind crossed' testimony much credence. Researchers focused more on the initial patterns of the syndrome, namely that victims had been bright, and often young. To begin with victims were nearly all engaged in research, though, bafflingly, in widely different areas of study. Yet by the late 80's, even this pattern had faded , and now anybody in the general population seemed at risk. But after France '88, they returned to these 'about to speak' reports, and eventually postulated this:

There is a pattern of thought, or a sequence of ideas that is fatal to the human brain at this present moment in time. It is not a physiological problem. The brain has not changed. But something lurks, most probably in our culture, possibly new, and undeniably deadly. Some association, some potential deduction, that anyone of us could happen upon at any moment. Drifting off in traffic, on the way home from work. In bed, in the bath. Wherever, whenever, the pattern lurks. And once triggered in your soft brain, it means only one thing. Death.

Now, a word to the wise. For goodness sake, don't get curious. Fool that I am, when I first found out about this I felt compelled to find out roughly where this fatal sequence might hide. What were the occupations and interests of the early victims? What were they good at? Were they all I.T. people, or A.I. workers, like my Christmas 'friend'? Actually no, but that's all I'm going say. I feel bad enough posting this as it is. It would be murderously irresponsible of me to tell you everything that I know. Maybe forewarned is forearmed. I truly hope so. But it really doesn't pay to speculate about this.

Forget I ever told you.

Trust me, you DON'T want to think about it.

Merry Christmas,

Caleb Strange.
-- QCiC --
Peter Marucci
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Dark illusionist
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you know that story had me thinking about what the thoughts might actualy beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
Check out my brand new website:

if you like it sign the guest book, if you realy like it then realy sign the guest book. If you hate it then go away.
Caleb Strange
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Peter many thanks for your lovely response. I'm a big fan of your work, and it made my day to see your post.

Dark illusionist. Man, please tell me you're joking! I was kind of counting on your support for Operation Rudolph. Besides, I don't know if my insurance would cover it.

Anybody else got a favourite tale they'd like to share? There's a cold something rapping on my window, even as I sit here by the fire. The day has turned cold, and the sky is fat with snow. It's a perfect night for mulled wine, and a scary tale.


Caleb Strange.
-- QCiC --
David de Leon
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Great story, and beautifully told! Luckily, if there are ideas that are fatal then they would have a hard time spreading: whoever had the idea would die before he/she managed to share the idea with too many people. Oh, oops, forgot about ideas like religion, nuclear physics and fast food.

The idea of there being a train of thought that is fatal to humans brings to mind the following (both of which I truly recommend):

1) That Monty Python sketch in which a joke writer dreams up a joke, so funny it kills him and anyone else who reads it.

2) A story in the book ”The Mind’s I” (edited by Hofstadter & Dennett) in which there is a sentence that pushes people into an irreversible trance-like state.
Caleb Strange
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David, 'The Mind's I' story was a direct influence on my thinking for this story. And after I posted my interpretaion, I also remembered the Monty Python sketch. Very funny. I second, for what it's worth, David's recommendation of these sources.

As for people being in irreversible trance-like states, it's difficult avoiding them when I go shopping. The slow, hesitant gait, the dull eyes; put some scary music over the PA next time you're at the mall, and you're in a Zombie movie. Derren Brown has alluded to the techniques employed by advertisers, and shopping centre planners in his work. And as bizarrists, it might be worth our while examining the psychology of conditioning/brainwashing. There may lurk some powerful techniques, and great plot ideas there.

As for scary stories, the fact that when I go for the weekly food shop, I still come home with £20 of stuff I do not want, and £40 of stuff I do not need, now THAT is scary.


Caleb Strange.
-- QCiC --
Philemon Vanderbeck
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Dear Caleb,

Add me to the list of people who appreciated your story.

I was also reminded of the classic cyberpunk novel, "Snow Crash."

Some other authors have played around with this idea as well.

Curiously enough, there is the actual case of many prominent scientific researchers, who were all involved in the same line of research, "coincidentally" suffering fatal accidents, apparent suicides, heart attacks and strokes all within a year not too long ago...

Professor Philemon Vanderbeck
That Creepy Magician
"I use my sixth sense to create the illusion of possessing the other five."
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Bravo! I feel myself...invigorated and inspired....excellent.

Now, however, must...not...think....must...not...think...That shall be my new mantra!! Heavens, is it true...I'm finally about to grow up and join the "adult" world I've observed all my life?!

@(*% the mantra...I'm thinking...

Your EFFECT is only as good as its AFFECT.
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