Posts Tagged ‘imagination’

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Shines On

Scary Things or Imagination

Years ago a teaser news story from Huffington Post popped up in Catherine’s email about a mysterious “star jelly” found in the RSPB Ham Wall nature reserve in Somerset, England. Being paranormal buffs (which, for us, includes sci-fi), naturally, Catherine looked up the article. There are a lot of theories out there, but not much positive proof about what this substance is. Some people postulate that the jelly is slime mold, a form of cyanobacteria, the remains of regurgitated amphibians, or frog spawn. Personally, all of the above are too ordinary. As paranormal fans, we like the more supernatural of the explanations that says the “star jelly” is related to the sighting of a strange meteor like object seen over the reserve last week—an extraterrestrial substance dropped to earth from the meteor shower.

This isn’t the first time “star jelly” has been found. Records dating back to the 14th century mention finding this gelatinous material after meteor showers. It’s been called star jelly, astral jelly, star rot, star shot and astromyxin. Non-paranormal believers say it’s coincidental that people find star jelly after meteor showers. Curiosity about finding a meteor rock leads them to places they wouldn’t normally go, and they find the substance, which has been there all along. In other words, they want to believe it’s this baffling substance from outer space.

Star jelly has been a part of several fiction stories. Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Talisman, H.P. Lovecraft’s short story The Colour of Space, and Rick Yancy’s book The Isle of Blood all make mention star jelly.

Hollywood picked up on the paranormal possibility of this unusual substance after a 6-foot diameter, 1-foot high mass of star jelly was found by policemen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1950. This discovery inspired the horror movie The Blob (1958) which was the one horror story that Catherine saw as a child that scared her witless. For some reason, vampires and werewolves weren’t as terrifying to her as this big red, quivering mass of jelly. Perhaps it was because the blob consumed you, or perhaps it was because there was no way to stop it. There was no hope of reprieve from its touch, no time of day you were safe from it. Eventually the townspeople found that cold stopped the blob, after it had consumed a diner and most of the town. While they hauled the scary mass off to the Arctic to permanently freeze it, the story left the viewer with a cliffhanging ending, wondering if the cold would really kill it. In a 1972 sequel Beware the Blog, a technician brings back a specimen of the gelatinous substance from the Arctic, and the monster starts a new rampage on mankind, renewing Catherine’s terror. She did not see that movie even though it was a parody.

Other star jelly inspired movies include a remake of the The Blog (1988) which had a biological warfare twist; and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) which had gelatinous creatures falling to earth and growing seed pods that held alien life forms.

So what’s the writing point, you ask, of this discourse on what viewers today would NOT call a scary substance or a scary story?


There is nothing on earth, in outer space, or in the paranormal realm that we can’t reimagine into a story. From today’s or yesterday’s news to ancient Greek legends to ghost stories to bizarre phenomena there is a nugget of a story in every item. You just have to be open to seeing it and willing to tread on new ground.

Catherine already has a new idea bubbling in the background about “star jelly.” She’s just not sure she can write about a relative of the blob and still sleep at night. Her cell phone vibrated in her pocket while watching the Youtube trailer on The Blob and she nearly jumped out of her desk chair. The blob still scares her.

Maybe a gelatinous vampire would be a safer choice.

What new ideas can you imagine from star jelly or another interesting news story?

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I learned a new word the other day—pareidolia (parr-i-DOH-lee-ə).

Pareidolia means to see meaning where there is none. It is also defined as the tendency to interpret a vague stimulus as something known to the observer. The Skeptic’s Dictionary defines it as a type of illusion or misperception involving a vague or obscure stimulus being perceived as something clear and distinct. In other words, we see something, hear something, or smell something where there really isn’t anything.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been experiencing pareidolia all my life, in more ways than one. I’ve often inserted meaning into conversations with people who made absolutely innocent statements than I’ve taken umbrage to. I’ve interpreted vague stimuli as clear, distinct invitations to do something when the person I was talking to had no intention of going in that direction.

I have frequently been guilty of the more appropriate definition of the word whenever I see objects in the clouds,

Shark or Submarine

in the swirls in the linoleum

What do you see?
photo by C.D. Hersh


in shadows on the walls

spooky shadow face
photo by C.D. Hersh

I can clearly see the man in the moon face, the faces on the surface on Mars,

and the Horsehead Nebula in the NASA pictures

I hear the phone ringing in the shower, when it’s not ringing. I smell things on the air when no one else does, (and have on several occasions known what my mother was fixing for dinner because I smelled it a mile away) and yes, I’ve heard the hidden words in In A Gadda Da Vida played backwards.

Skeptics would say our brains are wired to see faces and that’s why we see them where none really exist—there’s really nothing there but random patterns. But I rather like the other, more mysterious approach to pareidolia—the one that leaves me with goosebumps, averting my eyes from the devil in the door, and whooping out a big OOOOHHH whenever I see something unexpected on my burned toast or staring at me from the electrical plug on the kitchen wall.

Skeptics believe the misty faces peering over the shoulders of people in dimly lit photos are just random shapes, not real faces—or maybe I should say dead, spooky faces people claim them to be. Because I can see them so clearly they might claim I have an overactive imagination, but that’s okay too. I revel in that imagination. It’s what makes me a writer. It keeps life interesting, and it gives me something to do when I’m staring for hours at watermarks in the ceiling at the doctors’ offices.

I’m never bored if there’s a random pattern somewhere in my sight line. I’m always searching for that illusive picture. And who knows … I might see something someday that inspires a new story. After all, what is writing but the sparking of a vague, obscure stimulus into something that’s clear and distinct?

Here’s a few pareidolia pictures you might enjoy. Do you have one of your own favorites?

photo (c) C.D. Hersh
Dragon attacking the Disney World Epcot World Ball

Apache head in rocks

Tree hugger

Screaming face

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