Okay, so all of your campfire stories have been pretty good. But now, I am about to knock your socks off with a true story. Hold onto your marshmallows.
My story is called “Backyard Party.”
We were the first to arrive. Lisa had already ordered a couple of pizzas and laid out some snacks. It looked less like a study session than a party, but I was excited about that. I had expected to see her parents there, but they had left for a bit on a date night to give Lisa some time to hang out. Most of us were still in our early 20s, so it was a nice gesture to the study group.
Lisa gave us a tour of the house and the property; it was a pretty ideal spot. It wasn’t overly large as nice two-story houses go, but it sat in a two-acre clearing practically carved from the woods. It was surreal to see a wall of trees that cut so clearly against the manicured lawn, and the trees were packed tightly enough that it made me a little uneasy.
After the tour, Lisa had Ken and I set up the firepit, and while that was happening, Jason and Anja arrived. We all took a seat outside with our textbooks we’d dragged from the trunks of our cars and started studying. The pizza arrived shortly into that, with Kerri arriving after.
The later afternoon was mostly uneventful, and as the light outside began to die down, we opted to quit studying and just hang out around the firepit. Soon enough, night fell, and we were pretty happy working through a case of beer Jason had brought.
Throughout the night, I kept looking across the yard. The tree line at the rear of the house was about 50 or 60 feet away. Eventually, everyone noticed my attention was elsewhere, and Lisa mentioned she hadn’t gotten used to the trees either, having been raised in the city. She said on windy nights that the woods seemed to sway.
As though to lend color to her story, the wind picked up, and in our silence, we heard the trees of the woods sway behind us. We all burst into nervous laughter at the timing of it.
What we heard next almost made me piss myself.
As our laughter faded, we noticed distant laughter coming from the woods. We were quiet and listened to it die out.
Ken, as a joke, yelled out to the trees, “havin’ a laugh, mate,” in his fake-British accent.
We waited for a reply, and just as we collectively shrugged off the sounds as an echo, we noticed a man emerge from the woods, shirtless and shoeless, with a stringy beard and long hair.
Lisa asked the man who he was and if he needed help. He said nothing, staring at us.
By now, Anja and Kerri had risen from the seats around the firepit and backed toward the sliding glass door. Ken and Jason stood up and stepped toward the stranger a few feet from the pit. I followed not of an inclination toward bravery but because I was probably expected to.
The stranger didn’t move. He stood there, staring at Lisa. Even given the distance from us, we could see his gaze was on her, even as she got up and made her way to the screen door. It was all in the head tilts.
Lisa called us inside with the girls, and we followed, Ken quickly smothering the fire with the metal lid. Inside she called her parents and told them what was going on. They were a couple of towns over. They would be back within an hour and a half. They told her to call the police.
Lisa, Kerri, Jason, and Anja went to each window, drawing the shutters, as Lisa made her call. Ken and I stood at the glass door, and, without saying a word, Ken shut off the lights in the kitchen. The darkness made me nervous. But, it allowed us to look into the backyard. Ken yelped as he saw the man standing at the firepit, about 10 feet from the screen door. I did the same thing when I noticed it, and within a few seconds, I made my way past the breakfast bar and pulled a larger knife from the block.
The man didn’t react to me coming back to the sliding door with a knife. He stood there next to the fire pit, staring into the house, searching for something with his eyes. As much as we could tell in the moonlight, his skin was dirty and pockmarked, and his pants, his only clothing, hung loosely off his thin hips.
Lisa appeared behind us, still on the phone with 911, and screamed when she saw him out the window. Her scream caught me off guard, and I dropped the knife. By the time I had reached down to pick it back up, the stranger had already moved from the firepit to a different spot around the house. I took a few steps back and sat at the kitchen table as Ken and Lisa darted to the windows to catch a glimpse of where he was going. I just sat in shock, listening to everyone say they had seen him walk past and Jason screaming that the stranger was tugging on the front door.
After twenty minutes of confusion and sporadic sightings, we noticed flashes of blue and red against the trees on the side of the house, followed by a knock at the door. The cops arrived, and as we told them our story, they agreed to check around the area. We waited for them in the backyard, near the firepit, as they cast pale beams of light into the woods. One cop came around from the side of the house and asked which of us was the homeowner.
Lisa answered. The cop asked her if she knew the house had crawlspace access, and Lisa admitted she didn’t but assumed there was due to a removable floor in one of the closets. The cop seemed annoyed by this and began to search the house’s base from outside. Sure enough, he found one, a wooden panel that he slid out of the way.
He flashed his light beneath the house and, content he saw nothing, conferred with the other officers that the coast was clear. The cops offered unhelpful advice to keep an eye out and left. We agreed as a group to stay with Lisa until her parents came home.
Within a half hour, we seemed to be okay. The stranger was still on our minds, but in one room with locked doors, we felt safe enough not to worry as much. I decided to use the restroom, and Jason volunteered to accompany me, as Lisa didn’t want anyone wandering the house alone.
Jason and I made our way to the guest bathroom on the first floor, and he waited outside while I did my business. Once done, he asked me to keep watch as he took a turn. I agreed and stood far from the door to give him some privacy.
That is when I heard some shuffling in a closet. I kept my distance and was silent, my eyes locked on the door. I thought I saw it open slightly for a moment, but it may have just been nerves. I didn’t even hear Jason come out of the bathroom.
He touched my shoulder, and I felt my heart leap into my throat. I pointed at the door, and his eyes grew wide.
Just then, he yelled for everyone to come to the bathroom, and while he was yelling, I swore I heard the click of the closet door. When the others arrived, we made out way to the closet door, throwing it open, ready to fight.
The closet was empty, but Lisa shrieked when she saw that the wooden panel on the floor was open, the crawlspace exposed.
The participants of the 2022 summer fiction series at Haunted MTL hope that you have enjoyed this batch of original creations. If you have missed the previous installments, you can find them all linked below.
Into the Deep Woods 1, an October AI journey with Jennifer Weigel
I am embarking on an AI journey using NightCafe to illustrate this graphic story based on a dream I had awhile back. I am also using Canva, so here’s to learning more online systems of image dissemination and propagandizing…
I will include some of the original AI generated images with each piece along with a bit of the dream that inspired it. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Artwork description: Overall layout: Lightning strike through the corner into obscure clouds and map-like graphic in gray tones sets the mood for Into the Deep Woods.
Part 1, Art: AI generated image of a girl with reddish hair dressed in a robe of some sort and holding a staff. A similar girl in soldier garb fades behind her. Edited in PhotoShop.
Part 1, Text: 1.) Two sisters entered the woods, one a soldier and the other a witch. Only one lived. 2.) The young witch had picked up a bit of magic as she and her sister fled into the deep woods to seek the old witch… They were tired and alone, this was their one and only chance… 3.) The war raged on all around as the Nazis drew closer…
Prompt (Horror): Portrait of soldier girl sister
Prompt (Horror): Portrait of witch girl sister (Evolved from soldier girl)
Prompt (Horror): Soldier girl sister hit by lightning (Evolved from soldier girl)
As mentioned this series is based on a dream that I had awhile back. The two girls first enter the woods to escape the Nazis. In my dream there were initially more soldiers with them who perish due to the war or hazards in the woods. It wasn’t unlike Pan’s Labyrinth but on a much smaller and more intimate scale.
It had been awhile between having the dream and creating this story to share with you. And I quickly learned that the term “Nazi” is prohibited by the AI art generator interface. So there are some changes that have been made, but hopefully you can still follow along. The time and place are not as relevant to the overall anyway.
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…