“You don’t choose the gift,” Madame Phara says, laughing. “The gift chooses you. And there’s no giving it back once it’s given.”

Phara lives in a small apartment in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward. She shares the three-room efficiency with her husband Stanley, who didn’t do much other than snore on the couch during our visit. “He works the night shift,” explains Phara, “and I make him a powerful sleeping draught for the day so he can catch up.”

Though a sleeping potion powerful enough to knock out your husband for 12 hours may seem like a dream to many spouses, Madame Phara insists that her magical powers can be as much of a gift as a curse. “It’s impossible for me to use the microwave,” she says. “If it’s plugged in and I accidentally cook up a little magic, it’ll blow the breaker.” The microwave sits in a corner, greasy but unplugged; Stanley uses it only when Phara is away. She bashfully admits that it’s the 17th one they’ve had since getting married in 1983.

In the kitchen, the matriarch of magic goes through a litany of things her magic makes difficult or impossible, pointing each out in turn. “I can’t cook with vinegar,” she says. “Stanley has to do it for me. I’ll turn it to wine, even right through the bottle.” She has turned to using vinegar-flavored potato chips instead to satisfy her cravings for the sour and pungent.

Clearing her throat, she adds: “I hope you don’t mind a slice of raspberry pie. Normally I’d choose something without so many seeds, but…” She looks at a blackberry bush that has sprouted from the garbage can and overtaken half of the kitchen. Berries the size of golf balls dangle from its thorny boughs. “You understand, that’s just how it is,” Madame Phara laughs, by way of apology.

How does it feel when her magic interferes so much with her daily life? “You get used to it,” Madame Phara says. “Some things you get nonmagical folks like Stanley to help with, but other times–like when I accidentally raised poor Mr. Washington as a zombie–I just have to sort it out myself.”

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JOHN L-35: I’m your host, John L-35, and this is Crossball coming to you live from our studio on Deep Space Station K-9. It’s October 6, 2563, and today’s interview topic is the assimilation of the human race. Our panelists today are Krk-skrr 010, formerly Serena Doublett of the New Queensland colony, and Unit 11001001, formerly Mercedes DiGiacinto of Sleepship Twenty-Seven.

KRK-SKRR 010: Thank you, John.

UNIT 11001001: Happy to be here.

JOHN L-35: So let me lead with the obvious question: why does the human race need to be assimilated at all, and what benefits does assimilation offer?

KRK-SKRR 010: Well, John, I think we can all agree that as a species humans have proven themselves incapable of evolving, with almost no change in 10,000 years. Think of what the species could have done with a chitinous exoskeleton impervious to laser blasts and molecule-sharp claws with which to rend its enemies? That’s what the Starbrood offers.

UNIT 11001001: Give me a break.

JOHN L-35: Unit 11001001, you’ll get your chance for a rebuttal.

KRK-SKRR 010: Thank you, John. Starbrood is legion, Starbrood is flesh, Starbrood is the future. The transformation isn’t even that painful once the pain receptors are burned away in the Changing Vats

JOHN L-35: Thank you. Unit 11001001?

UNIT 11001001: We assert that The Cogitate is the future and the only assimilator capable of helping the human race reach its true potential. After all, computers are the work-horses of our minds already; we outsource thinking to our devices, so why not to The Cogitate? Individual differences, not lack of evolution, are dooming humanity. The Cogitate stands to scour all that would stand in the way of distribution of resources for the collective good, including the dangerously individualistic Starbrood.

KRK-SKRR 010: At the cost of surrendering to a dictatorship, you mean! That’s tyranny.

UNIT 11001001: And demanding that every member of your society be the same species is not?

KRK-SKRR 010: We’re still individuals.

UNIT 11001001: Individuality is lipstick on a horse to the Starbrood. Valuable data and bodyforms are lost in your inefficient conversion process, which ought to assimilate via neuro-implants rather than fleshy viral pools.

JOHN L-35: Please, please! We are here for a civil discussion. Now, I want you each to say something nice about your opposite to get us back on the right foot.

KRK-SKRR 010: For a mindless cog in a totalitarian nightmare, Unit 11001001 is surprisingly capable of restraint.

UNIT 11001001: Krk-skrr 010 is marginally less hideous and knuckle-dragging as a Starbrood drone than as a mechanical engineer.

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In light of the riots at the University of Braintree, where Brainist zombies openly espousing the murder of humans and the eating of their brains clashed with counter-protestors, many had expected Zombie President Brayne to issue a statement. In a press conference on the steps of his company, Brayne Trust, the president offered the following remarks:

“It’s sad that once again we are seeing paranoid humans taking advantage of solid zombie citizens to advance their agenda of hate.”

This had many humans up in arms, claiming that in failing to denounce the Brainists was akin to endorsing them. “The Brainists say that they should be able to crack open my head and feast on what lies within whenever they’re peckish, said counter-protestor Anthony McGee. “They’re literally saying they want to kill me, what’s so hard to denounce about that?”

Referring to the Zombie Wars, McGee added: “Didn’t we fight a war over this?”

The Zombie White House issued a clarifying statement later in the afternoon, noting that President Brayne “categorically discourages the eating of any brains under most circumstances.” Pressed for stronger language, both the Zombie Press Secretary and President Brayne himself insisted that the previously issued statements were “more than sufficient.”

For their part, Brainists saw the remarks as a clear victory. “President Brayne struck a blow for true zombie rights today,” said Brainerd Earl, the Grand Necromancer of the Cerebrum, Cerebellum, Colossum (CCC) Society. “Even if the time isn’t yet right for him to declare total support, we know he’s got our back.”

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Art Lover
Start your day at the Chattel House in the First Ward, where generations of human cultists have carved the agony of insanity into swirled patterns in the brick. Take an afternoon tour of the R’lyeh Musuem and marvel at the preserved ghouls on display as well as the raiments of Nyarlathotep the Crawling Chaos (on loan). Finish with a trip to The Gibberer for dinner and enjoy the sort of traditional non-normal matter food that sustained R’lyeh for years.

Health Nut
A jaunt around the exercise pens at the Indenturium is just what you need to quicken the blood; if it works for those who have pledged their souls to the Great Old Ones, it should work for you! Take a walk along the Non-Euclidean Trail on the outskirts of town next, and laugh at the other tourists seeing the sights via double-decker shoggoth. Your dinner will be at Cave to Table, where succulent free-range albino penguins and shoggoth squeezins are always a hit.

History Buff
Squat on the streets of R’lyeh with the cultists opposite the Tomb of Cthulhu where the sunken lord of R’lyeh lies dead and dreaming; the first to die suffer the least! An afternoon tour of the Miskatonic Annex will sate your need to know, filled as it is with artifacts reclaimed for R’lyeh from looters as well as seventeen of the twenty-seven known copies of The Necronomicon. Finally, the Norwegian Freighter Cafe is built into the very hulk of the ship that pierced the breast of Dread Cthulhu during his last rising.

Foodie
Aspiring gourmets need to sample local watering hole Shoggoth-to-Go, which offers traditional style protoplasm and excretions without any additives. If you’re in town during the Waxing Gibbous Festival, be sure to check out the Culinary Tents, where mad cultists are ground down for grist and the human form is mutilated into every foodstuff imaginable. Dinner at Asenath’s Doorstep Thing is a must, especially on Fridays, when guests are transmigrated into bodies with taste organs that cannot be described by the sane.

Hipster
The best R’lyeh music is played by the city’s vibrant Elder Thing community; hear locals flapping their radial wings in a mockery of flight at Yog-Sooth’s Juke Joint. Chances are that the R’lyeh Players will still be performing their long-running hit Necronomiconned at the Kadath Theater, which is accessible only in the fever dreams of a madman. Round out the day with a poetry reading at Ponape Scriptorium, and listen to the raw art flow as poets lose their sanity live onstage.

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As Brainstorm Bernard fades into a dull ice cream headache, Zombie President Brayne toured the devastated area today, offering remarks and pledges for zombie aid to the afflicted.

“We offer our thoughts and prayers to everyone stunned by the psychic feedback loop of Brainstorm Bernard, and pledge to rapidly and efficiently eat all the afflicted brains that are open for the taking,” said Brayne.

Brayne Administration officials, contacted for their comments, noted that President Brayne was “joking” and that no one should attach too much meaning to his “boyish autopsy room talk.”

“Look, the zombies of our nation elected President Brayne because they were tired of beltway zombie insiders,” said the Zombie Press Secretary in a statement. “That doesn’t mean that anyone should be alarmed or concerned about all this talk of eating brains. President Brayne would like to move past this gaffe and focus on accomplishing his agenda.”

When asked about the president’s agenda, which included campaign slogans like “Eat More Brains” and “Food For Thought,” the secretary demurred. Asked if President Brayne’s visit to the Brainstorm Bernard area would include eating any brains, she offered the following clarification: “The president is committed to picking the brains of civic leaders in his quest to achieve the agenda for which the zombie people elected him.”

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Aresphobia
Fear of the planet Mars. Sufferers cannot bear to be under any sky that contains the Red Planet.

Ntousphobia
Fear of douches. Sufferers cannot be in any college town with active fraternity chapters.

Koumpiphobia
Fear of buttons. Sufferers must use custom all-zipper clothing

Patatakiphobia
Fear of chips. Sufferers cannot eat fried potato slices or use integrated electronics.

Philophobia
Fear of love. Sufferers spend all their time on the internet.

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1670 BC
Pharaoh Amenhotep VI decides that the eclipse is a sign of Ra’s anger and immediately vows to disband his brief flirtation with representative parliamentary democracy.

951 BC

Armies battling in central China pause their slaughter for an awestruck moment during the eclipse. Upon its expiry, the battle resumes as if nothing had happened.

217 BC
The Roman general Trivius witnesses an eclipse after praying to Jupiter for a sign of what to do in order to achieve victory. Inspired, he leads his men into battle blindfolded, resulting in a disastrous defeat.

5 AD
An African eclipse leads to a stampede of frightened wildebeest, trampling King Odayo II of Senemali and his court.

900 AD

An eclipse over the Yucatan convinces a Mayan ruler that the end of the world is at hand. He orders that all of his worldly possessions be hurled into a cenote, and then joins them after failing to pay his workers.

1491 AD
This widely observed Mesoamerican eclipse was dismissed at the time as portending anything ominous.

1603 AD

This eclipse is believed to be the inspiration for a lost Shakespeare play mentioned in the MacDunnagh Register: The Tragedie of the Sunne Blocke.

1962 AD
An eclipse over Antarctica leads a colony of Emperor Penguins to revert to their winter heat-retention behavior. Hundreds die of heatstroke on the ice.

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