The first harvester and forwarder arrived as if on cue, despite the horde of protesters. The gas pipeline was going through. Both sides had played politics and the bureaucratic duel had spanned months into years but eventually the commercial interests won out. The resource was just too valuable and too badly needed by the growing urban populace. After finalizing the path the pipeline would take to make as many people as happy as possible (because let’s face it, this was more about minimizing complaints and gaining political leverage than about the environmental impacts or honoring Indigenous Peoples), plans were in action to bring the project to fruition.
As the deforestation crew descended upon the scene, the well positioned riot-gear-outfitted guardsman made sure they were as unhindered as possible, breaking up the crowd as they moved through. The protesters stepped or were shoved aside, still continuing to chant and brandish signs. All except for one – she was an elderly woman, with long white hair flowing in wispy tendrils about her gaunt frame in a sort of ethereal otherworldly manner. She wore loose fitting peasant’s clothes that bespoke a long-gone era and leaned against her solid wooden walking staff, her moss green eyes steeled on the oncoming procession. How she had managed to evade the wall of guardsmen was anyone’s guess. The monster machines were forced to stop.
“C’mon Grandma,” the crewman called out from the harvester. The name on his pale blue shirt simply read Bill. “We have a restraining order against you folks. This is happening whether you like it or not. You don’t want to get dragged off to jail, do you?” One of the riot-gear guardsmen took a step forward.
The woman smiled knowingly and cackled loudly, her shrill voice echoing through the crowd and the path and the earth and the sky like a primordial spirit unleashed. The world around her fell deathly quiet. She raised a gnarled hand and extended a crooked finger to point at the crewman named Bill. She spoke slowly and gleefully, “To Hell with you.”
Bill rolled his eyes and revved the engine of the mechanical behemoth in response, perhaps to persuade the old woman to move along. He’d listened to too many slurs today already; he was just trying to do his job. It may not have been pretty, but it was progress, and everyone just needed to step out of the way so he could get on with it. As the riot-gear-outfitted guardsman closed in to escort the old woman from the path, she mysteriously vanished in a cloud of pale green smoke.
Bill woke with a start. He had been amazed that the crew was able to get to the site so uneventfully. There hadn’t been any protesters and the few stragglers that had remained had stayed remarkably out of the way, chanting, singing and brandishing signs from afar. The site itself was well guarded from the perimeter, perhaps more so than was necessary since everything was just quietly waiting for the demolition to start. Bill had expected more backlash, as was evidenced by his recurring nightmares from before the job had even started. But the protesters never entered the woods. It had all been too easy.
It was 2 AM and the world was still enveloped in thick, heavy darkness. Bill knew he should try to get another couple hours of sleep before the grueling day ahead of him, but something wasn’t quite right. That old woman, her icy gaze seemed to bore a hole straight into his soul. He couldn’t seem to get her out of his head.
Suddenly and without any warning, a piercing shriek rang through the forest like a throaty impish laugh.
Bill was on his feet before he even realized he had leapt out of bed. He warily stared at the trailer door. The wind howled through the trees in the distance. A familiar voice behind him called out, “What was that?”
“I dunno Sid,” Bill answered, “maybe an owl.”
Sid was sitting up in his bunk, rubbing his eyes. “Not like any owl I’ve ever heard…” He turned to Bill, “Can’t sleep, eh?”
“It’s nothing.” Bill returned to his bunk. “Let’s try to get some more rest. Big day tomorrow.”
“Sure thing, boss,” Sid murmured as he rolled over.
Bill lay in bed staring at the trailer ceiling. As he drifted back to sleep he heard an unnerving cackle float through the wilderness. To Hell with you, he thought to himself as he succumbed to slumber.
The next day, after coffee, the crew went to work. They began work on the deforestation of the first swatch of trees bearing spray painted X marks from the survey team who had demarcated their route. All they needed to do now was follow the signs and clear the debris.
As Bill began to down a nearby pine with the harvester, cutting through the trunk effortlessly to topple the tree to the side, he saw a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. He caught a glimpse of what appeared to be an old woman in peasant’s clothes as she darted unnaturally in and out of the trees to his left, disappearing behind and betwixt trunks. It couldn’t be, surely he was imagining things… He paused and turned the key in the ignition.
Sid’s voice echoed over the radio from the forwarder, “Something wrong, boss?”
“Nothing,” Bill replied. “I’ve just got to see what that was…”
The rest of the team was working on another ridge nearby where they continued what they were doing. There was no call for help, no need for follow up; Bill was on top of it.
Bill got out of the machine and traversed the muddy broken path up the hill to the stand of trees where he had beheld the vision. He peered behind the evergreen where he had last seen the old woman and was greeted by a skull on a pike. He leapt backwards, slipping on some moss and falling to the ground. As he rose, he looked up at the skull pike again: it was nothing more than a fallen branch. He stood and fingered the drying needles, scattering them to the breeze. The wind mocked him, whispering in an ancient and shrill sigh, “To Hell with you.”
Bill turned to return to the harvester and was immediately confronted by the old woman from his dream, standing between him and the sleeping mechanical monster. She stared through him, her icy green gaze penetrating his very soul. Her wild white hair whisked to and fro about her shoulders as she stepped toward him. She smiled, “How nice of you to come, just in time for dinner.” She ran her tongue along her razor-sharp teeth, filed to dagger-like points.
Bill turned to run and slipped on the muddy moss-encrusted mound. He slid down the hill and into a small previously unseen ravine off to the side of their work site. A hidden pocket in the earth engulfed him. He found himself sprawled in a muddy pit with his head reeling, roots trailing the edges of the earthen walls of his prison. A cackle greeted him from the darkness just behind his field of vision.
Bill pivoted to find another skull on a pike. He backpeddled into the other wall of the pit, skinning his hand on a rock, and blinked. Not a skull, but a root wrapped around a smooth stone embedded in the dirt, greeted him. He shook his head and called out, “This isn’t funny… Whoever you are, we have a restraining order. You aren’t to set foot on these premises.”
The hoarse giggle resounded through the pit and the earth in response. “No, you are mistaken,” it laughed. “It is I who have the restraining order against you. Only a fool enters a witch’s wood and expects to leave alive.”
“Who… Who are you?” Bill called out to the empty tomb.
“You may call me Babushka Ježibaba,” the old woman trilled, reappearing out of the shadows right before him. Her nostrils flared wide as she sniffed him up and down and smiled through her serrated grimace, “We feast tonight, my sisters…”
The old woman grappled Bill by the throat and pulled him towards her in a sweeping motion, effortlessly overpowering him. She leapt from the pit into the gaping door of a house on stilted chicken legs, which took off into the deep woods away from the mechanized mayhem of the construction zone. “Welcome to Hell,” she crowed as they bounded out of sight…
“Bill,” Sid called out as he came upon the abandoned harvester. “Where are you?”
No answer. The crew was packing it in for the day and Bill had scarcely even touched his section. His radio stretched idly on its cord, dangling above his empty seat. Sid glanced to the left and saw what appeared to be an old woman weaving in and out of the trees off to the side. “To Hell with you,” the wind whispered as he left the harvester cab and squinted at the vision.
“Bill, you over there?” Sid shouted as he hurriedly followed the elusive presence into the woods…
Check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s writing here at Jennifer Weigel Words.
Nightmarish Nature: Cannibalism
Let’s return to explore more Nightmarish Nature, shall we? This segment focuses on cannibalism, as we generally find it icky / taboo and because it’s more common than you might think. There are many different reasons that different creatures engage in cannibalistic practices. Energy waste doesn’t last long in nature; gaps are filled as things evolve to utilize whatever resources are available to meet their own needs. C’est la vie (light up another cigarette). In any case, the challenge to the cannibal lies in determining kinship and not accidentally erasing their own line or progeny, thus decreasing their likelihood for survival over generations. Oh, and in avoiding those pesky prion diseases…
Resource Driven Cannibalism
Resource driven cannibalism can occur when competition for resources is high. This may be due to scarcity, with individuals taking to eating each other to avoid themselves starving to death (with those consumed either still alive and killed to this end, or eaten after death of other causes). Or it may be outside of the cannibal’s control, considering the spread of Mad Cow Disease from feeding beef meal harboring the prion disease (and parts from other mammals like sheep) to growing cattle to save money, ’cause it’s not like the cows were allowed to order whatever they wanted. Or it may be due to direct conflicts with other groups of the same species, either due to competition for resources, mating rights and/or territory. These behaviors have been noted in mostly male chimpanzees raiding other groups, which have even been documented as all out wars against other males in neighboring bands, campaigning to eradicate all outside of their ranks.
Thinking about chimpanzees, males are also documented to gang up on alpha males seen as too controlling or sadistic, with groups of younger males attacking and rendering the alpha male to pieces, often consuming his flesh and blood in the process. This can upend established hierarchies to replace them with new structures, for example with a new male taking on the role of leader. But cannibalism can also be used to reinforce existing hierarchies, as seen in African Wild Dogs wherein the dominant pair will kill off any offspring that other dogs may have birthed so that the pack will focus on raising only the alpha pair’s pups, thusly reestablishing and enforcing social structure while ensuring the best survival chances for the pups raised by channeling all resources to the one brood.
Infanticide & Filial Cannibalism
Like African Wild Dogs, other parents may also eat their offspring, or better yet their rivals’ offspring. Stillborn or unhealthy offspring may be consumed, or just any that they can get their hands on at birth. (Again with the young male chimpanzees…) Some creatures enter into cycles wherein smaller individuals are more vulnerable to predation by larger ones both within and outside of ones own species, as is seen among many fishes with eggs and smaller fishes playing an important role as prey to larger ones. Other creatures may engage in these practices to reduce competition (for themselves and/or their offspring) and/or increase opportunities to mate. Male cats are notorious for killing kittens that are not their own in order to bring females into heat again sooner, potentially increasing the likelihood of mating with said females themselves while decreasing future competition. Win-win! Female cats must take great care to hide their kittens in order to protect them from males as much as other predators, and can have kittens by different fathers within the same litter in order to increase their kittens’ overall survival as a group with father cats more willing to accept kittens when their own kin are present.
Mantids and spiders are especially known for sexual cannibalism, with larger females consuming males during copulation, but this is not always linked to vast size differences and does not appear in every species. Females who engage in this practice may have healthier eggs in larger clutches, thus increasing the survival likelihood of more of their offspring. Sometimes the risk to the male suitor of being mistaken for another species by an aggressive would-be mate is high, and various rituals have developed within certain species to help avoid such mistakes and entice the female to mate. Male spiders are known engage in elaborate dances, movements, tapping and silk spinning rituals to avoid being eaten pre-copulation or at all. It’s a hell of a lot more involved than a good pick up line and a well-timed drink, as you can see here.
If the above video doesn’t load, you can find it on PBS YouTube here.
Thank you for joining us for another exciting episode of Nightmarish Nature. If you enjoyed this, please feel free to check out these previous segments:
Revisitations: The Devil Went Down to Georgia
So I’ve been working on more painting into found art (as seen here before) and I thought I’d share a newer one, based on the song The Devil Went Down to Georgia by Charlie Daniels. But first let’s make like my She Wolf post enjoy a couple variations of the song, shall we?
First we have Charlie Daniels, the writer of the song which was inspired by the beautiful poem by Stephen Vincent Benet titled The Mountain Whipporwill. You can read the poem on Your Daily Poem here.
Then we have to watch my favorite version, the animated music video by Primus. I know there are claymation-haters out there who find the effect bit too “uncanny valley” but how can you not just love those chickens?
Anyway, without further ado, here is my painting, incorporated into a found still life, original signed L. Harady.
Here The Devil is defeated, crushed along the lower edge of the artwork beneath the fiddle and lamenting his loss. The bow jabs into his sneering nose as if to add insult to injury, but his eyes still glow, alight with the prospect of coming back for another round. (They actually do glow, I have acquired some blacklight reactive nail polish to use in these pieces now.) I suppose I may go to Hell for this portrayal (or for defiling yet another painting) but alas, such is the price of art sometimes. I guess I’ll add it to the list…
Cravings Part 2, story by Jennifer Weigel
If you missed the beginning of this pregnancy horror story by Jennifer Weigel, you can catch Part 1 here.
Jayden’s stomach turned. Who or what was this creature standing before him, and what had it done with his wife? Claire proceeded to eat more than half of the jar of eggs in a fury of consumption; Jayden finally retreated to the office alone unable to watch any more. He heard a sloshing sound as she finished the jar and proceeded to drink the brine before retreating to the bedroom and crashing into their bed, presumably to pass out. Again. Later that night, he crept in to find her sleeping, clammy and sweaty, nervously twitching. Her body made the most abnormal guttural sounds as her internal systems groaned and sputtered. It was definitely getting worse. Jayden resolved to call Dr. Randolph the following morning; this had gone on for far too long already.
The next day, Claire awoke with a start from another bad dream that she couldn’t remember. Crying uncontrollably, she clutched her swollen belly, still ripe with child, and hurriedly exclaimed, “Blood sausage! I must have blood sausage!”
Jayden woke from his curled-up safe haven beside her and muttered, “Wha… What is that? I’ve never even heard of such a thing.”
“Go!” she snapped. “I’m starving. Go now! Return with blood sausage.”
Jayden staggered over to the dresser, threw on some clothes, shuffled into his waiting shoes, and gathered himself to duck out the door in the well-practiced gesture he’d become so accustomed to. “I’ll stop on my way home from work, I guess,” he mused, making his own plans. Claire seemed to settle down a little as she woke further, but it was little consolation.
“Thank you Sweetcheeks,” she said. “You’re the best.” She blew him a kiss.
While at work, Jayden managed to secure an appointment with Dr. Beth Randolph, Claire’s primary physician since before he had known her, for later that day. He took off early and rushed home to gather his unwilling wife. She was going in, whether she liked it or not.
He opened the front door and peered inside. The house was dark and quiet, as he’d come to expect. He crept in and stole upstairs to the bedroom to rouse Claire from sleep. He’d tell her where they were going once he got her in the car, no sense in making this even more difficult than it already was. Unsurprisingly, there she was, a shadowy form hunched over in the bed, her back to him with the covers pulled up over her eyes. He peeled away the comforter and blanket to reveal a tangled mess of white knitted yarn; Claire was nowhere to be found. He looked around, trying to focus on the darkness of the bedroom that enveloped him. That unsettling feeling had returned, like he’d had at Maresh’s shop, sinking into his gut. Claire was here idling, watching, waiting; he could sense her presence sizing him up as if she could read his mind and was on to his plan. But why was her company so disconcerting? This was still their house, their home, their lives intertwined… Jayden felt his trust ebb, spine tingling sensing danger.
“Hey there Sweetcheeks,” Claire’s voice echoed from the darkness of the closet. “Do you have something for me?” She emerged into the room, her eyes wide, frothing slightly at the edges of her mouth. Tiny bubbles of drool burst forth from her quivering lips and trickled down onto her chin.
“I couldn’t find any… blood sausage… whatever that is,” Jayden lied through his teeth. He hadn’t even gone to the store. Claire should never have expected him back at this hour; apparently she didn’t even know what time it was. But that seemingly wasn’t a concern. She wasn’t herself. Something about her fragile frame, the way she rocked from side to side, reminded him of that crazy old witch doctor Maresh. He finally managed to connect the two; it was as though she were possessed. It was imperative that she saw Dr. Beth Randolph as soon as possible, if for no other reason than to sever ties to that crazy old hag and hopefully start to snap out of it. He simply had to get her to that appointment.
“No blood sausage!” Claire shouted, becoming more and more agitated. “No… blood… sausage!” Her breathing became less regular and her body shivered all over as she hulked towards him. “I am sooo hungry!”
She lunged towards him, stumbling into his arms and collapsing towards his feet laughing maniacally. Jayden reached for her instinctively, to lower her to the ground gently, and felt something sticky and warm envelop his hand. Feeling lightheaded, he glanced down as he fell to the floor beside her. Protruding from his gut was a long silver thread, no something pointedly metal and hard, oozing thick oil sludge all around. Not oil, blood. His blood. Claire continued laughing, her lightning-fast fingers quickly and methodically ripping their way into his tattered shirt and worming around within his wounded frame to pull forth bits of viscera, which she wrung in her hands and smeared up and down her arms and torso. As Jayden passed out, she mouthed each of her fingers in turn, sucking the precious liquid off of them one at a time, before she began to feast on his entrails.
Claire’s belly was finally full. The baby developing within squirmed and settled, as if finally satiated. She swiped a stray bit of flesh from her bosom, licked it off of her fingertips, and heaved a sigh of relief. Miracle Madame Maresh Meliasma was right; she just needed to get to the root of her cravings.