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October Prompt: Machine in the Ghost


We challenge you to write a piece of flash sci-fi in which mechanical or AI contrivances imitate, replace, or become someone who is no longer with us. A dead person. A ghost.

This is the first of our new series of monthly prompts here at Sci-Fi Shorts. If you were around for the previous series, you may find this one weirdly specific, or just plain weird. In a good way, we hope. There were some excellent stories inspired by those previous prompts and some great new writers who joined our community as a result.


  • Entries should be submitted in the usual way using the Write for Us submissions link.

  • Mention the title of the prompt (Machine in the Ghost) in the Notes field of the submissions form.

  • Submissions must be received by November 15 in order to qualify.

  • Entries must comply with all the usual SFS Guidelines.

  • Your work can be horror, dystopian, alien, or whatever, as long as it addresses the prompt's theme.

  • Submit as many times as you like.

  • Important: You may continue to submit stories to SFS that are outside the contest, and we encourage you to do so.

After the prompt has ended and all the entrants have been processed, we will list and link to the participating stories in a blog post. The editorial staff will choose a top story of the month for special mention.

Image Prompts

Alongside the theme prompt, we will also have some pre-made art related to the theme in the image-prompts discord channel. For those of you who are visually inspired, image prompts can be an excellent resource. While it is an aid we recommend using, you can still submit a story without an image and we will choose one for you.


It’s the season of ghosts, goblins, and scary stories. As writers, you’re probably seeing a lot of contests and prompts that ask you to write yet another October tale that is spooky or horrifying in some way. And why not? It’s fun to be frightened!

But horror stories are not always science fiction, and we here at Sci-Fi Shorts are all about science fiction. There is a specific theme that combines macabre and sci-fi in just the right proportions and mixes them together in a cauldron of bubbly entertainment.

I’m referring to stories about autonomous machines like robots, androids, and AI that imitate dead people. Machines in the ghost, if you will. You might find this challenge to be, well, challenging because it is a fairly narrow slice of sci-fi. But there are plenty of examples out there from past, present, and future great writers. Here are links to two of them from past masters that are definitely worth reading if you haven’t already.

Poe’s story is, as you might expect, macabre, frightening, humorous, and just downright uncomfortable at times. Full of literary allusions and criticisms, it tells the story of Brevet Brigadier General John A. B. C. Smith who has suffered a slight, ahem, war injury. Fortunately, he has found suitable mechanical and manufactured replacement parts for all the damaged components.

Published in 1839, this is considered to be the first ever cyborg story. The verse Poe includes (in French) just after the title probably telegraphs the tone of the story:

Weep, weep, my eyes! It is no time to laugh For half myself has buried the other half.

WARNING: Like his contemporary, Mark Twain, Poe uses language and references that modern writers may (hopefully, will!) prefer to avoid.

Bradbury’s story, by contrast, is gentle and sweet. The horror in this story comes more from existential dread than from jump scares and gore. There is so much to say about this wonderful short story that it is the topic of the inaugural episode of our new video podcast, Science Fiction Review. This episode discusses the origins, history, and science behind Bradbury’s heart-warming tale of a mechanical grandmother. The podcast also relates a modern true-life example of a "machine in the ghost" that happened just a few years ago.

We hope we have provided inspiration for some amazing new flash science fiction stories, and we look forward to reading them.

Good luck and have fun!

 —  The Editors

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