Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
Like many other writers, Mark Twain kept a notebook--or a series of the, actually--I which, among other entries, he jotted down story ideas. I find that the USA Today’s “Across the USA: News From Every State” column, quite unintentionally, I’m sure, provides fruit for me (and for others), on a daily basis, for story ideas, ripe for the plucking. Notebooks and notebooks of the, in fact. By applying a bit of Gahan Wilson logic or Gary Larson perspective to the news items reported in this column, I find that I can transform at least a few of the straightforward reports into ideas for potential horror stories. For example, five of the fifty reports, or a full ten percent of the, in the September 27, 2010 issue of the newspaper show promise, which is to say, with a little revision., could become the bases of stories from the dark side of the soul. Courtesy of the great states of Louisiana, Montana, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, here they are, followed by my revisions to them and the bases of the revisions.
[Original:] Louisiana: Leesville--Work on a new veterans cemetery begins this week next to Fort Polk. Mike Sewell, project manager for Pat Williams Construction, said a survey crew should be preparing for timber clearing in about two weeks. He said the $6.1 million project should be completed late next year.Revision: Louisiana: Leesville--Work on a new veterans cemetery begins this week next to Fort Polk. The $6.1 million project, the project manager for the contractor said, will kick off the U. S. military’s combined forces’ Operation Alpha, which is expected to ignite a theater-wide war in the Middle East, requiring at least 100,00 graves by the end of the anticipated five-year conflict. (Story Idea)
Basis of Revision: The revision is based on a reversal of cause and effect, assuming that cemeteries occasion casualty-producing wars rather than answering the need for burial sites that is caused by wars--in other words, that the cemeteries are completed prior to the wars that are fought to fill the cemeteries.
[Original:] Montana: Missoula--The art work of a former war prisoner who created drawings of atrocities he witnessed while the Japanese held him during World War II has found a home at the Montana Museum of Art and Culture. The museum announced that it has acquired 11 oil paintings and nearly 80 drawings by Ben Steele, 92. The Montana native was taken prisoner when he was 23.Revision: Montana: Missoula--The art work of a former war prisoner who created drawings of atrocities he witnessed while the Japanese held him during World War II has found a home at the Montana Museum of Magical Realism. The museum curator announced that the 11 oil paintings and nearly 80 drawings by Ben Steele, 92, represent “performance art,” that is capable of magically recreating the actual experience that the artist underwent so that whoever views his work will actually live through the same atrocities that the artist experienced when he was taken prisoner at age 23. (Story Idea)
Basis of Revision: By transforming drawings and paintings into items of magical “performance art” that recreate the artists’ experiences as a prisoner of war so faithfully and completely that viewers actually undergo the atrocities that the art depicts, this story idea plays with the idea of art as a representation of human experience, taking the concept to fantastic extremes.
[Original:] Texas: Houston--Area residents turned over more than 3,000 pounds of expired, unused and unwanted prescription medications to federal authorities. The Saturday collection was the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s first effort to round up unused prescription medications at 3,400 locations nationwide as part of its campaign.Revision: Texas: Houston--Area residents turned over more than 3,000 unwanted infants and toddlers to federal authorities. The Saturday collection was the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services’ first effort to round up unwanted children at 3,400 locations nationwide for use in cloning and bioengineering research. (Story Idea) This story idea obviously lends itself well to satirical treatment of the federal government’s heavy-handed intrusions into citizens’ lives. (Other horrific ideas might stem from the substitution of “virgins” or “spouses” for “prescription drugs.”)
Basis of Revision: The substitution of babies for prescription drugs is an interesting revision to the original news report, to be sure, and one that calls for explanation; the explanation is as monstrous as the federal bureaucracies that involve themselves in such “health” concerns as abortion, fetal stem cell research and similar matters, replaced, in my revision with “cloning and bioengineering research.”
[Original:] Virginia: Lexington--Washington and Lee University is stepping up efforts to recruit Jewish students as part of efforts to create a more diverse campus. Jewish students currently make up 4.5% of about 1,760 undergraduate students. Recruitment efforts include attending college fairs and visiting Jewish schools, community centers, and teen groups.Revision: Virginia: Lexington--Washington and Lee University is stepping up efforts to recruit human oddities as part of efforts to create a more diverse campus. Human oddities, or “freaks,” as they were once know currently make up 4.5% of about 1,760 undergraduate students. Recruitment efforts include attending county fairs and visiting circuses and carnival sideshows. (Story Idea) This politically incorrect storyline is certainly insensitive and bigoted, but it is one that pokes fun at political correctness and, as such, could lend itself to a satirical send-up of social and collegiate concerns for “diversity.”
Basis of Revision: Again, by simply substituting one group of people (“human oddities”) for another (“Jewish” students), an unlikely and, in this case, offensive, storyline suggests itself that could have horrific possibilities.
[Original:] Washington: Bellingham--State officials said they stopped a boat that was contaminated by zebra mussels before the invasive species could spread in the state’s waters. Officers with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington State Patrol in Cle Elum inspected the boat being hauled from Michigan to British Columbia.Revision: Washington: Bellingham--State officials said they stopped a boat that was contaminated by extraterrestrial spores that could have fertilized animal ova, resulting in a hybridized alien-animal life form such as the world has never seen. (Story Idea) The original report could also have changed by substituting an alien virus for the “zebra mussels,” causing a potential pandemic or by replacing “zebra mussels” with a reference to an extraterrestrial germ or other agent that causes a reverse-terraforming of the Earth that makes it inhabitable to humans but livable for the aliens who will soon arrive to replace the humans they’ve killed in advance of their arrival.
Basis of Revision: Substitution of terms.
Every day, USA Today provides writers with another column featuring “news from every state.” If only two items per day result in potential ideas for horror stories, a year will provide 730 entries to one’s journal of story ideas. Very likely, the column will suggest many more. If one generates as many as five each day, as I gleaned from among today’s news items, a year’s yield will provide a whopping 1,825 entries--way more than even the most prolific writer could hope to use in a lifetime!