[Fiction] And they call him Syntax Sam: a Syntax Sam adventure


Not too long ago, I wrote a rainy day flashfic entitled “And they call him Pajama Sam”. I really loved the piece and its feeling of adventure, but Pajama Sam was never my own character — the spiky blue-haired protagonist was the creation of Humongous Entertainment, a company which created a whole rash of PC games that I adored as a kid (keep an eye out for a retrospective on those HE games soon!). I’d been borrowing their character for a while for a number of pieces and decided that it was high time I make my own character, with their own personality and flair. To this end, I created “Syntax Sam”, a whimsical adventure-hero/writer who is more or less an idealized version of myself. The design is still in progress — the sketch below was done by my friend and it’s super adorable, but I have a few ideas on how to develop the look a bit further. Here is Syntax Sam’s very first adventure, and I’m sure you’ll be seeing more of him soon!

Edit: Check out the second instalment in the Syntax Sam saga: ‘Strife in the Citadel’ here!


OriginalCharacterAmyChibi sketch cropped

Deep in the jungle, in the Kingdom of Words, Syntax Sam stood panting.

He knew that Bad Grammar was nearby — he’d been following her for days, tracking her by the path of mangled titles and incomprehensible prose she’d left in her wake. Where the Wild Things Is, An Jungle Book, and, horror of horrors, Heart Within Darkness were all behind him, reduced to shambles by her sense-corrupting influence. Sam shuddered. Bad Grammar had to be stopped before she struck again! The entire Kingdom of Words was under threat from her malevolent disregard for English, and he couldn’t let the Bon Mot Monarch down. The Well-Phrased Knights had already tried and failed to stop Bad Grammar’s rampage, and now it was up to him. He smoothed down his crumpled skirt and peeled back the thick screen of foliage before him.

Ahead, in a clearing, a cluster of boys in what looked like the tattered remnants of private school uniforms were huddled around a fire. One of them, a heavyset boy with taped-together glasses, was holding a conch shell high above his head and shouting.

‘The conch I respect! It is rule within the conch!’

The other children began to call over him, their sentences similarly garbled and impossible to understand. Sam paled. Clearly he had stumbled into The Lord of the Flies (its original title — who knew what monstrosity it had become by now?), but the nonsense being spouted was certainly not the original dialogue written by Golding. Bad Grammar had already been here! And judging by the sharp smell of burnt prepositions and scorched subjunctives on the air, she had been here recently, too. Where could she have gone? Sam surveyed the trees opposite, one palm flat up against a trunk and the other holding back tangled greenery.

On the far side of the clearing, something stirred. A section of leaves hung, quivering, as if they had been dropped back into place in a hurry. There was a faint shimmer in the air, the barest hint of disturbed word order. Sam narrowed his eyes, alert, absent-mindedly tugging up one of his long striped socks that had slipped, but there was nothing… there! A flash of darkness amidst the jungle’s riot of color, a shaking centered too high above the ground to be Golding’s giant boar charging in to startle the boys. Heart beating fast, Sam flung himself forward into the clearing, vaulting over the campfire as he cannoned through the cluster of boys too busy fighting now to pay him any attention. As he plunged head-first into the greenery, leaves and twigs and spiky tropical flowers clutching at his swept-back hair, he scrabbled at the bracer on his left wrist, prying free the trusty fountain pen holstered there. He could see his quarry ahead of him, a dark shape darting through the trees, and he raced off in pursuit.

This part of the jungle was much denser than the sparse, stunted treescape he’d been navigating before, and Syntax Sam found he had to focus to avoid a disastrous collision with the undergrowth as he dodged and weaved his way through the trees. Fortunately, Bad Grammar’s corrupting presence was affecting the jungle around her, so that even when he misjudged a jink or failed to duck he was able to extricate himself quickly from confused flora that was wavering as its text lost cohesion. Sam wondered if Bad Grammar would appreciate the irony of the situation, but concluded that she probably wouldn’t — so much of humor depended upon flawless formulation and delivery, two things which Bad Grammar was not particularly good at.

Despite the occasional stumble, Sam could tell he was catching up. The infrequent glimpses he’d had of his prey as he ran were becoming steadily more common, and the text’s integrity had sunk to the point where trees tilted at wonky angles, their kerning badly interrupted, while other parts of the jungle were entirely missing or transformed into jumbled gloopy messes as their descriptions decayed into gibberish. Bad Grammar must have realized that escape was impossible because only a few minutes later she stopped so suddenly that Sam nearly ran right into her. He looked up just in time and skidded to a halt in an odd-looking clearing filled with half-melted trees that didn’t look like it should have been there at all — no doubt another victim of Bad Grammar’s influence.

‘So, Sam who is of Syntax, at last we do meet,’ hissed Bad Grammar, her short-cropped hair sticking out at crazy angles. Sam took a moment to respond, trying to catch his breath after the wild flight through the jungle. He glanced at his tightly-clenched right fist just to reassure himself that he still held his trusty fountain pen, then straightened up and swept back his hair, careful to avoid entangling it in the chain attached to his ear. Brandishing the fountain pen, he thrust it towards Bad Grammar like a sword, spraying purple ink from its tip.

‘Quiet, Bad Grammar! It’s over. Can’t you see the damage you’ve done?’ Sam gestured with his free hand, indicating the wilting foliage around them. ‘Look what you’ve reduced this jungle to!’ Lord of the Flies would never be the same, no matter what technical wizardry the kingdom’s Reconstructors employed. Golding’s masterpiece was ruined.

‘I have done not at all very wrong,’ sneered Bad Grammar, folding her spindly arms together contemptuously. ‘Only poorly-written prose exposed, oh Sam that would be hero. A service rendered to that throne-warming fool, the Bon Mot Monarch!’

‘Absurd your definitely crime!’ sputtered Sam, then choked, aghast. Bad Grammar’s presence was affecting even his own speech patterns! He swallowed and tried again, forming the sentence carefully in his mouth. ‘Absurd. You have committed grave crimes against the kingdom, Bad Grammar, and I am here to see that you answer for it. Them,‘ he spat, with effort. If the Well-Phrased Knights were here to see this shameful display, his reputation would never recover. He waved his fountain pen threateningly in her direction, achieving nothing more than to embarrassingly stain his red skirt with droplets of purple ink. Lucky the ink was water-soluble.

Bad Grammar seemed unimpressed — on the contrary, she was rather amused.

‘And how to be exact do you intend to force me into answers, little Sam? Hardly a sword, your tiny pen. Your precious Knights of decent phrasing were armed with mighty swords ten times as large, and they were no match for me. What better can you do?’ Sam grunted. As he’d expected, Bad Grammar wasn’t about to cooperate, especially not after she’d so soundly defeated the kingdom’s elite forces. Well, he had something they didn’t. He raised his pen abruptly and began scratching at the air. Where he wrote, ink flowed in purple skeins from the pen to hang suspended, shimmering gently in the gathering dusk. Before long a string of loopy cursive was stretching out in front of him as Bad Grammar watched, bemused.

‘A trick? What is it you are playing at, little Sam?’ He ignored her, instead concentrating on what he was writing. Beyond the softly glittering words, he could make out Bad Grammar’s eyes scanning the text as she tried to decode the backwards letters. Just as he finished the sentence and inserted the full stop with a flourish, he could see the color drain from his foe’s face in terror, awful comprehension replacing her previously smug expression. She staggered back, thrusting out a hand before her as if to ward off evil.

‘No! No!’ she pleaded, but it was too late — he had given her her chance, and she had refused it. Sam blew on the words, sending them flying towards Bad Grammar. She screamed as they entered her chest, piercing her bloodlessly, infusing her with their meaning, and then she was gone, and smoke curled lazily from the space she had occupied.

Sam smiled grimly, not in celebration but in satisfaction at a job well done. As he’d suspected, the sentence he’d written out had been what was required. It had been an extract from James Joyce’s Ulysses, rigorously grammatical yet superbly inscrutable, the perfect counter to Bad Grammar’s ill-phrased absurdity.

The Kingdom of Words was safe once more.

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