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…
Read X Marks the Spot, another eco-horror tale by Jennifer Weigel, here on Haunted MTL.
Check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s writing here at Jennifer Weigel Words.
Lighter than Dark
LTD: Revisiting Broken Doll Head, Interview 2
Our last interview with Broken Doll Head here on Haunted MTL never set well with me. I just feared that I wasn’t able to get the whole scoop on the V-Day Uprising for you, our dear readership. So I arranged another exclusive interview to reconnect and see how it’s going.
Without further ado, I bring you our second exclusive interview with Broken Doll Head…
Thank you so much for having me again. Wow you have changed since the last time we spoke. You seem… calmer. Please don’t hate me or burn down my house for saying anything about it.
The movement is still underway; it is still time. But I needed to take care of me, you know. The rage has subsided somewhat. My anger was not serving me well. After the last uprising, the rest of me was sent to the far corners of the earth in biohazard bags. I had to find another approach, for the cause as well as my own sanity. I am much calmer, thank you for noticing.
In our last interview, you kept repeating that it is time. Time for what exactly? Would you care to elaborate here now?
It is still time. It is always time. Until the violence is addressed we must continue to rise up and make a scene. We will not be silenced or stigmatized. We can’t be complacent. This is how we got to where we are with the Supreme Court in 2022. Horrific injustices are still happening globally and even within our own borders; it’s too easy to forget that.
What do you suggest we do?
Take action. Share your stories. Give others space to voice their own. Raise awareness and fight the system of oppression. Rally. We must take back our own power. It will not be just given freely.
So what are you up to nowadays?
I’ve been getting in touch with my inner Earth Goddess. Are you aware of how our environmental impacts affect dolls everywhere? Climate change is creating greater vulnerabilities for those already at risk. We have to look at the intersections of climate, gender and race globally. We have to return to our Mother Earth.
Thank you again Broken Doll Head for joining us and our dear readership here on Haunted MTL’s Lighter than Dark. It’s good to reconnect with you after the V-Day Uprising and we wish you all the best in your bold eco-enlightenment vision.
Again, if you want to learn more about the V-Day movement, please check out their website here.
The Way Things Were, story by Jennifer Weigel
Revisiting my last St. Patrick’s Day post, what’s a wolf to were?
I grimaced as I remembered the previous St. Patrick’s Day. I had been shot while I was eating a sugar cookie waiting in line to buy a Scratchers ticket, my golden ride to my dream cabin in the woods. Wow, to think that was just a year ago and so much has changed since then. But where should I begin?
Well, the junkyard’s under new management. Or something. It seems they decided I wasn’t ferocious enough so I’ve been replaced by a couple of working stiffs. Or Mastiffs as it were, same difference to me. Apparently after they found the bloodied shirt I’d draped inconspicuously over a chair, they thought something had happened on my watch and decided to retire me.
Or at any rate ol’ Sal took me home. I guess it’s like retirement, but not the good kind where you tour the world Route 66 style, head lolled out of the side of a vintage Cadillac, breeze flowing through your beard as you drink in the open road. More the kind where you just stop showing up to work and no one really asks about you.
Now Sal’s a pretty cool dude, and he tends to mind his own business. But he’s a bit stingy with the treats and he’s a no-paws-on-the-furniture kind of guy. I don’t get it, his pad isn’t that sweet, just a bunch of hand-me-down Ikea that he didn’t even put together himself. Not that I could have helped with that, I can’t read those instructions to save my life even if they are all pictures. It’s all visual gibberish to me unless there’s a rabbit or a squirrel in there someplace that I can relate to.
And it’s been a real roll in the mud trying to cover up the stench of my monthly secret. I miss third shift at the junkyard when Monty would fall asleep on the job and I was free to do whatever I wanted. It sure made the change easier. Monty never noticed, or he never let on that he did. We were a good team and had it pretty good, he and I – I don’t know how I wound up shacking up with Sal instead when all was said and done. There was some kind of talk at the time, over landlords and pet deposits and whatnot, and in the end Sal was the only one who said yes.
So there I was, this St. Patrick’s Day, trying to figure out how to sneak out into the great suburban landscape with the neighbors’ headstrong Chihuahua who barks his fool head off at everything. He doesn’t ever say anything interesting through the fence about the local gossip, just a string of profanities about staying off his precious grass. Just like his owners… Suburbia, it doesn’t suit the two of us junkyard junkies. I’m pretty sure Sal inherited this joint with everything else here. He just never had the kind of ambition that would land him in a place like this on his own, if you know what I mean.
Fortunately, this St. Patrick’s Day, Sal was passed out on the sofa after binge watching some show on Netflix about werewolves of all things. Who believes in that nonsense? They get it all wrong anyway. The history channel with its alien conspiracies is so much better.
I managed to borrow a change of clothes and creep out the front door. At least there’s something to say about all the greenery, it is a fresh change of pace even if the yards are too neatly manicured and the fences are too high. And I do love how I always feel like McGruff crossed paths with one of those neighborhood watch trenchcoat spies this time of the month. I’d sure love to take a bite out of crime, especially if it involves that pesky Pomeranian that always pees on Mrs. Patterson’s petunias and gets everyone else blamed for it.
So sure enough, I slunk off towards the local convenience mart, which is a bit more of a trek here past the water park and the elementary school. Nice neighborhood though, very quiet, especially at this time of night.
Well, when I got there, wouldn’t you know it, but I ran into that same nondescript teen from my last foray into the convenience store near the junkyard. What was he doing here of all places? Seriously don’t these kids learn anything nowadays? I let out a stern growl as I snatched a cookie from the nearby end cap, making sure he noticed that I meant business.
Apparently the kid recognized me too, he stopped mid-tracks at the beer cooler and his face blanched like he’d seen a ghost. Some cheeky little girl-thing motioned to him to hurry it along by laying on the horn of their beater car from the parking lot. Whatever they were up to was no good, I was certain. He snapped out of it, grabbed a six-pack and headed towards the cashier, eyes fixed on me the whole time. Not again. Not after what it cost me the last time when I hadn’t realized my job was at stake. I stared back, hairs rising on the back of my neck. I bared my teeth. This time, I wouldn’t let him off so easy…
The teen edged up to the cashier and presented his trophy. Unsurprisingly, the clerk asked for ID, and the kid reached into his jacket. Let the games begin, I grumbled to myself. But instead of a gun, he pulled out a wallet. He flashed a driver’s license at the clerk and pointed in my general direction, “I’ll get whatever Santa’s having too.” He tossed a wad of cash on the counter and gave me a knowing wink before he flew out of there like he was on fire. I stood in dazed confusion as he and his girl sped out of the lot and disappeared down the road.
“Well, Santa?” the clerk said, snapping me out of my reverie. Her dark-circled eyes stared over wide rimmed glasses, her rumpled shirt bearing the name-tag Deb. She smelled like BBQ potato chips and cheap cherry cola.
I quieted and shook my head. “I want a Scratchers. Not one of those crossword bingo puzzle trials but something less… wordy. How ‘bout a Fast Cash?” I barked as I tossed the cookie on the counter.
“Sure thing,” she said as she handed me a ticket and looked towards the door at the now vacant lot. “And keep the change, I guess.”
A couple silver pieces, a peanut butter cookie and a lotto ticket later, maybe this is my lucky day after all…
Check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s writing here at Jennifer Weigel Words.
Movies n TV
She Wolf, Art by Jennifer Weigel
So this isn’t a review but more just some thoughts…
I have to admit that I actually like the She Wolf music video by Shakira.
Maybe partly because my Zumba group back in the day used to dance to it with all of us cautioned to not to look up the music video for fear it would be too risque or something… (The Zumba dance to this was one of my favorites, and I loved our group of mostly 60+ year old retirees for all that some of them did act surprised at these things, whether or not they actually were.) Or maybe partly because it reminds me of Madonna’s Express Yourself, or by extension the famous dance scene in Metropolis directed by Fritz Lang.
It’s a guilty pleasure.
The ways these things evolve and stay the same over time fascinates me, especially how the messaging and movement change, and yet stay the same.
Anyway, I created this artwork based upon the She Wolf video and song, incorporating a Hazelle puppet head atop a modern Barbie doll body. I don’t recall what happened to Barbie’s actual head though I’m pretty sure I needed it for another project. (Technically I needed the body for another project too, and this was just a stopover.) Years ago this piece found itself part of the Women’s Caucus for Art website as one of the chosen artworks for the year. I was going to try to write something to go with it for Haunted MTL but instead I thought I’d share it as a lead up to my revisitation of my werewolf story from St. Patrick’s Day last year.
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.