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He coughed again and the woman in front of him turned around again, like clockwork, face pinched but empty. She never said anything, but her eyes said enough. She reminded him of his mother.

The lines in J.C. Penney for checking out were overwhelming, wrapping around the clothing areas, over and over – a labyrinth of bulky bodies clutching their heaps of linens, blenders and clothes. Connor only had one thing, a small jewelry box that was already hot and sharp against his palm. 

He coughed again, struggling to suppress it, but succumbing to its twitching urge. The woman turned, frowned, and turned back around. Andy Williams reminded them for the third time that it was the most wonderful time of the year. 

He hated it. Every inch of these feelings – the people, the waiting, the box, the music, the woman who reminded him of his mother. The expectations. God, yes, those. He had only been dating Stephanie for two months, if it could even be called dating. She spent most of their time together on Facebook and Pinterest. 

He couldn’t really say no to his mother, though. He was already fifty-two and this, unfortunately, had been the longest he had been in a relationship. The thought made his stomach squeeze uncomfortably and that itch was in his throat again, trembling against his larynx. 

He coughed. The woman turned. Frowned. Turned back. The jewelry box pulsated. It was the most wonderful time of the year again. 

Anxious clockwork. 

It didn’t matter what he had wanted from his life; it was just endless cycles ultimately determined by causes external to his will. He could carve the years backwards and find every outcome was preceded by the wants and wills of others. The ring didn’t matter. The proposal didn’t matter. The dating. The job, the college, the degree, the first day of school when his mother forced him into the plaid corduroy pants – it was all ultimately others’ actions and reactions that drove his life.

That twitch again, now burning as he tried to hold it in. His lungs stung, felt like splitting, as he desperately clung to the sensations. 

His mind raced as the ring was heavier in his hand. What was he supposed to say when he asked her? What was he supposed to do in the years that followed? What was he supposed to say, down the road, to a child with his long, sad face? 

What the hell was he supposed to do then?

Coughing harder than before, he felt something crack -physically snap- inside his ribs. He couldn’t stop, couldn’t breathe. He was failing at composing himself, from calling attention to himself.

The woman turned, she frowned, but it did nothing to calm the spasms twisting through his body. He clutched the jewelry box like a lifeline as he wheezed and hacked, that itch more palpable, crawling up his throat. 

Horrified, he watched blood splatter from his open mouth, easily spilling onto his shoes with each cough. The itch was now scratching, pushing, gnawing to be loosed from his swollen throat – urgent and desperate in its need.

More horrified when he watched the expelled chunks of flesh fling onto the carpet, as Andy Williams assured him manically that this was the most wonderful time of the year! As the woman still said nothing, face pinched doing nothing but following her own predestined clockwork.

On his knees, he could only expel, couldn’t suck in any air. He was drowning, slamming the jewelry box into the floor in blinded agony. Until finally, it was free. Until finally he could pull air into his torn, bleeding lungs.

Until finally, there in the cradle of purple-veined pulp, was the creature. Now free, it turned towards him. Black and lithe, its long face reminded him of his mother. 

Frowning.

When not ravaging through the wilds of Detroit with Jellybeans the Cat, J.M. Brannyk (a.k.a. Boxhuman) reviews mostly supernatural and slasher films from the 70's-90's and is dubiously HauntedMTL's Voice of Reason. Aside from writing, Brannyk dips into the podcasts, and is the composer of many of HauntedMTL's podcast themes.

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1 Comment

  1. Jennifer Weigel

    December 23, 2020 at 10:20 pm

    “It IS the most wonderful time of the year…” she scowls.

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Original Creations

Some Bewitching Line Drawing by Jennifer Weigel

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This month we are going to explore more fun marker art from Jennifer Weigel, starting with black and white line drawing. Jennifer is getting ready for her big Life Is Brilliant solo show in March and has snuck in a few spookier themes, so she wanted to share them with you here.

Witch Way line drawing
Witch Way

The magic is strong in this Witch Way line drawing with its fun witchy head-topper, complete with striped hat band and star dangle. No self-respecting wizard’s ensemble would be complete without it.

Kitty Witch line drawing
Kitty Witch

And now the adorable Kitty Witch will don the Witch Way hat and cast a spell of cuteness on you. You gotta wonder just how the hat stays on but best not to question these things. We all know it’s magic…

Not Today Satan line drawing
Not Today Satan

The devil is in the details in this Not Today Satan line drawing, and boy is he pissed!

She Devil line drawing
She Devil

This She Devil is just plain goofy. Maybe she’s coyly playing innocent; it’s not a look most devils can pull off, seeing as how innocence really isn’t their schtick…

Hang in There Spider line drawing
Hang in There Spider

This little spider came down to your tuffet to remind you to Hang in There. She is very well-intentioned and is only looking out for you. I guess maybe she’s not so little though, she is an Argiope after all

Feel free to check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL. Or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.

Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.
Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.

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Lighter than Dark

LTD Tripped Out Motivational Posters

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Tripped out… in case you just couldn’t get enough of Everything Everywhere All at Once and the return of the infinite bagel with EVERYTHING on it…

Tripped Out motivational poster
Tripped Out motivational poster

Artwork description: kaleidoscopic image of pink hairy horror (This is actually a fink fuzzy frond plant not unlike a Cockscomb but with longer thinner flowering feelers rather than the fuller protuberances you see on a full-bodied Cockscomb plant. I have no idea what it was, but it was very odd so I had to snap a photo.)

Image text reads: Mixing Magic Mushrooms & Peyote Just remember: once you open that Pandora’s box, you’re never going to get the pink hairy tarantulas back in it…

Tripped Out seeing eye god sunflower
Tripped Out seeing eye god sunflower

Artwork description: kaleidoscopic sunflower backlit by the sun with text and rainbow eye overlay

Image text reads: Eye See You Eye See All (in circle text so you can start and end reading wherever). In an ideal context this would be printed in the bottom of your tea mug or on a record that can slowly spin.

For more crazy tripped out fun, check out Weird Al’s post on Craig’s List

Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.

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Original Creations

The Elves Reunion, a short story by Jennifer Weigel

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An Elven portal in the woods, emerging from stone and forest floor.
An Elven portal in the woods, emerging from stone and forest floor.

I had heard tale that The Elves dwell in these woods.  Many underestimate The Elves; they have a fondness of heart for Tolkienesque Middle Earth fantasy stories and tales where Elves are the most highly civilized, virtuous and intelligent.  They forget that those are just myths, save for The Elves being cunning.  Remember that the Pied Piper was an Elf, and the children he took were not destined for such a glorious fate.

My sister lost her firstborn to The Elves.  She hadn’t noticed the Changeling until it was too late.  Her baby had already long since been stolen away.  She was so distraught she refused to eat or speak.  She locked herself in her room.  Or my family locked her into it as she succumbed to the madness.  Such are the ways of the family, for all of our protection.  We never question but follow as expected, as a means of self-preservation.  It has kept us all alive.

But I couldn’t get the sinking feeling out of my stomach; the grief became too overwhelming. That is why I came here.  I know I will not be able to rescue the child, nor my sister.  But I seek to avenge their meaningless deaths.  To ensure that it doesn’t happen again.  My family will never act.  I am tired of the Village Elders just shrugging these things off in hushed whispers and badly shrouded secrets.  It happens time and again.  We are all expendable.  They never do anything.

So here I am, in the Elven wood.  Alone.  As soon as my family figures out that I’m here, they will disown me.  They probably already have.  Again, it is for our own protection.  I’ll be just another casualty of The Elves.  Everything is so structured, so regimented.  Anyone who dares act in opposition to the rules vanishes.  We are all so afraid.

I lay in wait.  It’s just a matter of time before the portal appears.  The Elves use the portals to travel across time and space.  They appear where and when they wish.  But this time, I will go through first.  I know not what is on the other side, just that the portals allow only one to traverse in each direction.  We will trade places, if only for a moment until another portal forms.  Hopefully that will be enough time.

The trees shift and morph.  Falling leaves drift slower and slower towards the ground.  There is a stillness that I cannot fully express.  My breath hangs heavy in the silent air.  There is no sound, no smell, no taste.  It is time.  The hairs on the back of my neck and arms rise. I can sense the opening forming.  There is an uncanny familiarity in this moment, as if I have been here before.

As soon as the portal opens, I dash through.  But something isn’t right.  No one came through from the other side.  Or did they?  I cannot tell.  I am alone, in limbo between states of existence.  The world spins around me.  I can feel the drift.  Is this what death feels like?  Cold unbroken silence?  I feel distant eyes upon me everywhere, all around me, in the trees, the clouds, pinpoints of light that shimmer through.

I can feel The Elves eyes upon me everywhere.  In the leaves, in the trees themselves.
I can feel The Elves eyes upon me everywhere. In the leaves, in the trees themselves.

I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Maybe this is all according to plan.  But who was orchestrating the exchange?  My idea was only half formed in those passing pensive moments I am able to think for myself, few and far between.  My family, the Village Elders… no one allows time for freeform thought.  I hadn’t considered what would happen after the portal exchange.  I never really got past step one.

A voice greets me from the trees.  It is hauntingly familiar but seems only a distant memory.

“I’ve been expecting you.”

The world slowly comes into focus.  Clarity restored, the leaves circle me in an embrace.  My sister emerges, her dark eyes smiling.  She cradles the baby in her arms.

“You made it.  You escaped,” she sings.

“I didn’t see anyone,” I retort, skeptical.  I hadn’t recalled having seen any Elves, dark nightmarish fiends that they are, wild, unkempt, uncouth.  Savage beasts like Pan or Krampus.  Is this an illusion?  My sister seems so lifelike, so much herself.  She is the joyful young mother I had known her to be.  Filled with love and laughter.  Light dances about her, and she shimmers.

“Not in passing,” my sister clarifies.  “You have been living among them your whole life.  I had done so as well until the baby was stolen.  My heart broke; I had to follow after.  That was when I learned the Truth.”

“Why do you think we are so sheltered?  Why are we forbidden to do anything?  They do so to protect us from the Truth about who and what we are,” she continued.  “We’ve spent our lives evading that which we truly know ourselves to be.  We were the stolen ones, not the other way around…”

I notice that the portal I came through is still open, reinforcing my idea that no one had passed through the other way.  It is as if the portal was opened specifically to call me through. My sister extends her hand, beckoning me to join her.  There is a gleam in her eye I cannot pinpoint.  She seems happy, but something still isn’t quite right.  I’m still uncertain why I am here, in this time and place, as if destined to be present in this moment, in this decision.

The Village has fallen away to the woods.  There are no breadcrumb trails to follow home.  The idea of home itself seems distant like yet another illusion.  Nothing makes sense anymore.  I am unsure whether I am coming or going.  Two paths lay open before me.  Which shall I take?

The Elves portal remains but the path is unclear.
The Elves portal remains but the path is unclear.

The trees are full of Elven magicks… Feel free to check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.

Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.
Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.

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