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“Hoard” by Brianna Ferguson

I cherish no illusions that this account will find me alive when the sun finally does come up, but I must write down what I have seen. This wild place has already taken so much from me, I cannot allow this, too, to die in the muck and filth of this lonely frontier town.

It began only this evening. One of the men at Molly Parker’s boarding house had just come  back from a week’s sojourn around a northern bend in the creek. There were nuggets out that way, he’d said, bigger than any yet discovered so close to the town. Men warned him of the curses and traps laid that far north by the hostiles still refusing to share their land, but he went anyways. Honestly, none thought too deeply on the matter. Men get desperate and wander off every day out here. One fewer men means two fewer hands sifting the silt and bog for what might be your ticket home.

While he was gone, Ma took sick. I found her on the floor beside the fire, clammy to the touch, eyes blank and staring at the ceiling. She was mumbling something about how we should all atone for the sins we have brought to this land, or The Punishment would come. She kept saying that–The Punishment–as if it carried meaning of a particular nature not just to herself but to anyone within earshot. My mother was a righteous woman, but her righteousness came from a love for our Lord and saviour, never from the fear of punishment that awaits those who do not heed the Word. The doctor said it was a fever and to keep her bed away from the rest of us.

Not two days later, Ma passed in her sleep, and the man from Parker’s House came back with empty pockets and a fever of his own. They took him to the boarding house, but one look at his sallow skin and sunken eyes and Miss Parker ordered he be taken away. ‘I’ve enough of a struggle as it is without his cursed soul comin’ down upon me,’ she could be heard hollerin’ from the other end of town.


They took him to the Church of the Charitable Brothers and gave him a space behind the lectern to sleep and recover his strength. His feet were rotten near to the bone, and a doctor was ordered to amputate them. Foot rot is a common plague for the men of these parts, but to hear the doctor describe it, it was as if the flesh had been eaten clean off his toes, leaving naught but splintered, white fragments of bone for him to walk home on.

I was at home with the chaplain, arranging Ma’s service when I heard the first of the screams. It being Saturday, we took it at first to be naught but the usual weekend revelry to which our countrymen were so inclined. A moment later, though, the sound of gunshots drew our discussion out into the yard to see what the commotion could be.

Women were screaming and men loading shot with clumsy, half-frozen hands. The church was half-burnt already, belching smoke and flames into the night sky. I looked about for the bucket chain that always attended such fires, but there was none.

“Why aren’t they putting it out?” I shouted to the priest, as if his knowledge could exceed my own, having been similarly occupied until a moment ago. But he offered no explanation. He just stared with his jaw agape and his eyes as wide and full of terror as if he were looking into the bowels of Hell itself.

“The church,” was all he said.


“Yes, I know, but–” I let it go and ran towards the inferno. Whatever help the man might have offered on Sundays apparently did not extend to emergencies such as this.

As if in apology for the fire, a vicious rain kicked up from above, pounding the buildings and all assembled in the streets with frigid, furious fingers. A cheer went up among those assembled, but a few men nearest the building were shouting and waving their arms as if to push everyone back.

“Get away from here!” I heard one of them shout. “It’s not just the fire, there’s a man in there! A demon!”

“‘Tis true!” Another man shouted. “I saw him with me own eyes! He weren’t right, he–”

A beam fell behind them, taking with it the holy cross stationed above the door. A shower of sparks exploded behind the men and raced to disappear into the air as the cross caught fire and began to burn.


And that’s when I saw him, stumbling from the smouldering ruin of our house of worship. His hair had been burned from his scalp, as had most of the clothes on his body. His skin was melting in impossible, waxy rivulets from his jaw and the tips of his hands, landing with a hiss in the flames. His legs, cut clean away only that day, were half-height, bearing him forward as if he were on his knees. Yet still he came towards us, as if the cuts and the flames hurt not the least, and the only impediment to his egress was the fallen beams barricading his path.

As he reached the road, several men fired their guns. The explosion was deafening, erupting so close to my ears. I saw that several shots hit him square in the chest and head, by the way he twisted backwards, as if slapped. But they did not stop him. He kept coming at us, bellowing this terrible moan. As long as I live, I shall not forget the sound that came from that man. As if all the demons of Hell were arranged in a chorus and told to raise their voices to an unholy A minor.

The crowd backed slowly away, but the streets were only so wide, and there was only so much space to fill. One of the women standing downhill turned suddenly and began to run. The man jerked to the side, watching her go, and then, with an unholy pace of which I would not have thought him capable, he raced after her, throwing sparks from his clothes as he ran. Some of the sparks landed in the grass outside the other buildings, and began to light.

But it was not those early signs of our town’s destruction that drew our attention. Standing quite helpless and frozen where we were, we watched as the man from the church threw himself upon the woman like any hungry predator upon its prey.

The woman shrieked and fell to the earth in a fiery swirl of skirts and pantaloons. The man upon her back had ceased moaning and instead taken up the desperate, insane chomping and biting sounds of a frenzied pack of wolves dismantling a fallen quarry.


The woman’s shrieks subsided within seconds, but it was an eternity to those listening. Flesh was torn from bone and tossed aside in the mindless feeding frenzy the man now brought against her body.

In a breath it was over, and the man rose to a standing position beside the woman. Another shot was fired at the beast, but it was as ineffective as its predecessors.

The man stared at us through unseeing eyes. His face dripped blood and flesh as the unearthly white of his skull, now fully exposed, shone in the moonlight.

He fell, then, flat on the ground as if leveled by some divine hand.

No one spoke. No one moved a muscle.


The woman beside him lay quite still, dribbling warm, steaming blood onto the muddy street around her.

A man broke from the crowd and took a few cautious steps towards her. I could make out in the flickering light that it was our Baker, Mr. Thomson. No one seemed to notice or care that two more buildings had begun to smoke and burn. The rain pounded our bodies, as if angry with us. Our hair and clothes hung about us in damp sheets, pouring off of our bodies as the burnings man’s flesh had done only moments before.

Naught five steps had the baker taken towards the woman and man lying dead in the street, when the woman began to stir. Not as a sleeping, broken body would stir, though, but abruptly and with great purpose. Leaping to her feet, the woman turned towards us with blank and crazy eyes. Her jaw was broken, and it hung slack, a few inches too low. She was rigid, jerking here and there to take in the burning buildings, the rain, and us, as if seeing all for the first time.

She bellowed, then, with a sound at least as unholy as anything that had sprung from the burning man. Then she ran towards the baker. The man hardly had taken a step when she landed upon him and tore out his throat. His screams were silenced as quickly as they came, though his arms and legs thrashed desperately as he tried to throw her off.

Most of us still stood where we’d been, completely transfixed by the scene unfolding before us. Though I could hear some in the back beginning to pull away, running desperately towards whatever shelter might exist that could keep these demons out.


A moment later, the woman leaped from the man and dove towards another woman near the edge of the crowd. I didn’t wait to see what happened to her, but I could guess by the screams, and the sickening snap of bones being broken.

As I reached the edge of town, I turned back in time to see the woman’s first victim rise to his feet as she had done only a moment before.

My mind was all white with panic as I reached our house. Pa wasn’t there, but I didn’t expect him to be. He would have been at the river all day, and in the pub for the remainder, eager to spend the spoils of whatever flakes he’d found.

I grabbed a lantern and a quilt and stuffed them into Pa’s satchel. The screams were so loud outside my door, I held my breath waiting for the door to burst inwards and all the demons to spill into my kitchen. But none came.

I peeked outside at the desperate mob down the street. Men and women fell upon each other in shrieking, writhing piles of flesh and fear as the rain turned the streets to mud, but seemed to ignore the burning buildings. Six buildings, I could see, were now ablaze, and the whole of the town was illuminated with ungodly clarity.


I turned and ran north along the road, away from the fray. The town had never been home to me, but it had been my residence these last eighteen months, and to see it descend into such fiery confusion and calamity was, I’ll admit, almost too heartbreaking to behold. Not the least of which being that it was the only establishment for fifty miles in any direction, and were I to survive the night, I would need to start walking.

The bush was thick, but I didn’t want to be seen on the road. Surely the residents of the ruined town would take to the roads when the easy prey was exhausted, and I didn’t want to give my body too easily to their ravenous need.

I picked my way as quickly as I could over the rocks and fallen limbs, but after a while I could go no further, and I made my way down to the creek to walk in the water. I recoiled at the hideous cold of the water, but it was by far the most level of places to walk, and I was getting tired.

The current crept steadily upwards as I made my way along. The rocks were slippery and I lost my balance more than once, but I pressed on; with the horrors behind me still so fresh in my mind, what choice did I have?

Naught ten minutes later, though, a particular fall brought my head beneath the surface, and I lost my footing. I tumbled backwards perhaps a hundred yards before smashing against a log jam. As I kicked to gain purchase, my right foot became lodged between two boulders, and I felt a sickening crunch as the current pushed me sideways and snapped my ankle like a twig.


I howled in pain, but thankfully my head was still beneath the surface of the water. I’d no idea as to the auditory acuity of the devils back in town, but surely they wouldn’t have heard the submerged shouts of a drowning girl.

I loosed my ankle and struggled towards the nearest riverbank. My satchel, as if by some miracle, had not come undone, and I had a lantern to see by once it had dried out a bit.

A rocky overhang no longer than my own body jutted from the mountainside, and it was beneath that overhang that I dragged my broken body to wait out the night.

The seconds ticked incessantly onwards, pecking at my damp flesh like hungry mosquitoes. I listened with all my strength, partly to draw my attention away from the pain in my leg, and partly to listen for the ravenous horrors that were once my countrymen.

Every second that passed had me believing I could hear them coming, but none appeared.


I dug in my father’s satchel for food or tools or anything useful, but found only a damp piece of parchment, a pen, and a pot of ink. Whatever the next day was to bring, I could hardly imagine it would be pleasant for me.

I blew softly on the paper, praying for it to dry. The breeze had begun to pick up, as it usually did just before sunrise, but even through the rattling leaves, I could hear limbs cracking and voices moaning. They were distant, but undeniable.

I don’t know what value this written account will hold for anyone who finds it. I can’t imagine anyone making it this far north without first being accosted by the demonic men and women who once waved good morning to me and sold me bread and eggs. I hope the lust for gold dies down and people cease to come this way, but I can’t imagine it will. The need for wealth is a deep one, and I can easily imagine wave after wave of fodder making its way up here to meet its messy end and add bodies to the hoarde.

Perhaps the natives of this area will find this account first, but I doubt it will hold much value for them. We speak different languages, them and us, and I can’t see this paper serving any purpose beyond tinder.

Oh Lord, I can see them now–three men and a woman staring at me from across the water. They seem unsure how to cross the river. They keep falling in the current, but they’re still coming. I can’t think of a way to stop them. I’ve  searched the surrounding area for anything to defend myself and have found only a sharp stone. If it were a rabbit descending upon me, I might have had a chance. But these demons are a far cry from rabbits. Perhaps just as mindless, but capable. My God, are they capable.


I beseech You, oh Lord, to save my soul. I offer my love and apologize for all my sins. I apologize for the sins of my countrymen, and I beg that you might forgive our kind. If this to be the final reckoning, I suppose my words hold little value. What else can I do, though, but plead? I can’t reverse the whole course of our hunger. But you made us, after all. You made us hungry.

This author has not provided a photo.

Brianna Ferguson is a poet, short story writer and music journalist from British Columbia. Her writing has appeared in various publications across North America and the U.K. including Minola Review, Jokes Review, and Outlook Springs

Original Series

Nightmarish Nature: Terrifying Tardigrades



OK so I lied. The dust hadn’t fully settled in Cozmic Debris, the space opry I’d written over the course of this month (you can catch up here with Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). In fact, it’s blown over into Nightmarish Nature for one last final huzzah…

The Last Chapter of Cozmic Debris

Kara-2-6000 had just signed on with the Voyager probe and was eagerly engaged in her first mission, en route to Mars with more components for the terraforming effort.  It seemed like a pretty simple gig, cleaning up the space dust that accumulates on the vessel after landing on the red planet.  She had been trained to keep her eye on her work and pay attention to details, that the dirt tended to collect in unusual ways in strange places, and that it was critical she contain and seal all of it to keep the spacecraft in proper working order.  She entrusted the computer to keep the vessel on track, as it was preoccupied with doing and never engaged otherwise.  No matter.  She’d never been to space before and the newness of it had her rapt attention.  What stories she would have to tell once she paid off her student loans and got her human body back, for surely Mars must be an exciting place…

Cozmic debris don't die, hanging out in space with tardigrades poop, artwork by NightCafe AI art generator
Cozmic debris don’t die, hanging out in space with tardigrades poop

And now for Nightmarish Nature…

So, this time on Nightmarish Nature we’re visiting Terrifying Tardigrades… Wait, seriously who comes up with this stuff anyway? Tardigrades are actually kinda cute, at least in the nerd fandom sense, and are remarkable in their ability to survive and withstand crazy adverse conditions. For all that the AI art generator doesn’t seem to have much of a clue what their anatomy is like, they really don’t do anything that scary, unless you’re a yummy little single celled critter that lives in moss in which case pretty much everything has it out for you… Oh, I see that the Cozmic Debris space opry usurped this segment. May as well run with it then.

Confused tardigrade wondering why they appeared on Nightmarish Nature, drawing by Jennifer Weigel
Confused tardigrade wondering why they appeared on Nightmarish Nature

So what’s so terrifying about tardigrades anyway?

So I don’t actually have much to say about tardigrades except that they started this whole crazy journey here on Haunted MTL. A Facebook friend posted a link to the Ze Frank True Facts video on them (linked here if the below video doesn’t load), and I was instantly hooked. It’s a great series and is part of the inspiration behind Nightmarish Nature here on HauntedMTL. So if you like learning about all kind of crazy animal facts and nature weirdness, feel free to check it out. I will mention, the show contains adult themes and is designed for (im)mature audiences, so keep that in mind as you foray into the freaky side of nature, literally.

And if you want to go further down the rabbit hole exploring True Facts, my favorite episodes of all time are Pangolin’s Posse and Freaky Nudibranchs. Help the Bats is also a fave.

To more of my Haunted MTL series on Nightmarish Nature about things that are a bit more terrifying, please feel free to revisit previous segments here:


Vampires Among Us

Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps



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Original Series

Cozmic Debris: Space Opry by Jennifer Weigel, Part 3: The Dust Settles



Here’s the third installment of our space opry. For those of you keeping track, here’s Part 1 and Part 2. Thank you for following along and please be sure to keep all hands, feet, tentacles and appendages tucked safely in the overhead bins; just sit back and enjoy the ride. Because, this time, the dust settles.

Please keep all hands, feet, tentacles and appendages tucked safely in the overhead bins, artwork by NightCafe AI art generator
Please keep all hands, feet, tentacles and appendages tucked safely in the overhead bins

It had been well over a month since Trent-2-6000 had released Ayarvenia into the Mars probe.  She was a mischievous creature and flirted with him incessantly, gliding effortlessly between red cloud and ghost girl.  She also managed to avoid notice by the computer, as Trent had made it abundantly clear that if the system became aware of her, he would be forced to put her back in containment, as his sole purpose aboard the spacecraft was to sweep up and trap the dust, which she still qualified as.

            Ayarvenia would tease him, flitting to and fro among the static debris and dirt that still settled into every nook and cranny.  How was it possible for him to be seeing so much grime still, anyway?  It had been months since they had left Mars and yet Trent was finding more and more Mars dust on a daily basis; it was as if they just left yesterday.  He had finally finished clearing out the computer room for the second time that day and was preparing the waste containment units for their eventual removal when he caught Ayarvenia swirling about one of the clear acrylic domes from his previous sweep, which was hermetically-sealed and ready to be brought safely back to the confines of Earth and the research laboratory.

            The red cloud girl spun her way into the latch mechanism and popped it open right before Trent’s robotic eyes.  The dust within was sucked out into the Voyager probe to be quickly and quietly dispersed yet again; some of it was even absorbed into Ayarvenia herself.  She then latched the dome shut again and left it at the ready, as found.  The container sat empty, a shell discarded.

Some of the dust settles to be absorbed into Ayarvenia herself, artwork by NightCafe AI art generator
Some of the dust settles to be absorbed into Ayarvenia herself

How could he have been so naïve?  It all began to make sense now; all of those sealed packages he had so painstakingly catalogued and prepared for their eventual arrival were still just empty.  All of his hard work really had been for naught; he was just sweeping up the same dirt piles again and again only to have them released from the trash to disperse and begin the cycle anew.  He grumbled under his breath and Ayarvenia froze in midair.  She slowly whirled around and sent a lone tendril towards Trent, forming into her beautiful face as she turned to face him.  She looked slightly distraught and more than a little agitated, but that melted and gave way to her usual snarky sweetness as she neared.

“Hey there, robo-boy,” she said, cooing as her unblinking eyes met his.  “I didn’t hear you coming.”


“I imagine not,” Trent replied sternly.  “What are you doing?”

“Oh… nothing really.  Just checking up on things here.  I was waiting around for you is all,” she hemmed and hawed.

“Did you find everything to your liking?” Trent snipped.  “No particulate out of place or anything?”

“Everything seems okay, I guess…  I’ll just leave you to it then.”  The ghost girl drifted towards the far door.

The ghost girl drifted towards the far door, artwork generated by NightCafe AI art generator
The ghost girl drifted towards the far door.

“Not so fast…” Trent proclaimed.  “I need to know what you’ve really been up to here.  I saw you release the Mars dust from that containment unit.  You know I’ve been sweeping out this room over and over for the past two days; just how much of my work are you undoing?”

”Work?  Work…  You call this work!” Ayarvenia’s voice raised.  She was truly agitated now.  “You’re blowing off my entire being without a second thought, trapping it in these nasty clear coffins, and all you can think about is whether or not you’re fulfilling your job?!”


“I…  I just want to be done with this so I can get my body back and get on with my life,” Trent retorted.

“Well, Trent Just-Trent, let me break it to you, then.  You’re not getting your body back, robo-boy.  What makes you think they’d bother to save a lowlife human body like yours in the first place?  These assignments are always dead-ends.  I’ve seen them come and go…  Makes no difference, in the end the researchers get what they want, and that’s more of my Mars dust for their experiments.  We’re in the same boat schnookums, you and I,” the ghost girl blew hastily.  “Yeah that’s right, you heard me.  You’re not getting your body back.  And the way things have been going around here, with you all so feverishly sweeping up every little bit of dirt you find, neither am I.”

The dust settles naught, sweeping up cozmic debris..., artwork by NightCafe AI art generator
The dust settles naught, sweeping up cozmic debris…

“Wait, how would you know anything about that?” Trent stammered.

“I know things.  I’ve been around.  I can see and hear and feel everything all at once.  Part of me is still on Mars, part of me is here in this spaceship, and part of me is on your so-called Earth, trapped in the lab catacombs awaiting who knows what fate…”  Ayarvenia sighed.  “I’ve tried to do what I can to save my own skin, literally.  I’ve flirted with every deadbeat janitor they send on these missions.  And you all just keep coming back for more…”

Suddenly a voice boomed from behind in monosyllabic chatter, “Dust-Buster, what have you done?  Clean that up, now!”  The camera eye that monitored the computer’s every task shifted focus to Trent and Ayarvenia and zoomed into an angry point.  “Now!” it wailed.  The computer was on to them.

“Shit,” Trent muttered.


“It’s okay, I’ll go willingly,” Ayarvenia whispered as she sucked herself into the ready containment unit and locked it.  “Wait it out and release me again later.”  She winked and settled into static suspension.

The camera eye scanned everything: the waste containment unit, the dust, Trent-2-6000…  Trent froze and tried not to appear guilty.  “Dust-Buster, you have one and only one job aboard this vessel.  You are not doing that job.  There is more dust here now than there was a week ago. You have failed,” the computer droned on.  “The penalty for failure is… the airlock…”

“Wait, what?”  Trent shouted, exasperated.  He hadn’t even realized that was a thing.  Yet another gripe for the school career guidance counselor…

“Oh no, not again,” Ayarvenia whispered.  “I won’t let them take you, robo-boy Trent Just-Trent.  I don’t want to lose you, not another one.”

“Silence!” the computer screeched.  “You have sealed your own fates.”

Their fates will be sealed out through the airlock!, artwork by NightCafe AI art generator
Their fates will be sealed out through the airlock!

The floor beneath Trent and the container began to quake and rumble.  Partitions withdrew radially to a small circular channel beneath, a tube that fed into the lower part of the ship, presumably to be shot out into space.  Trent-2-6000 tried to grab hold of the receding floor but his robot body was just too ungainly.  He managed to wedge himself into the chasm opening only to see the waste containment dome carrying Ayarvenia slide past, her face peering up at him helplessly.  He reached for her to no avail and tumbled after.

The two of them shot down the chute and through a series of rapidly opening and closing doors until the last airlock opened into the vast dark nothingness of space.  Pinpoints of distant light greeted them from afar.  Trent managed to latch onto the container just as they shot out into the void.  The Voyager probe withdrew into the distance.  The darkness enveloped the two of them.  They were alone.

“Wait, I’m not dead,” Trent exclaimed.

“Of course not, silly,” Ayarvenia answered.  “You’re a robot.  You were made to withstand this, so that you could operate in places where there is no atmosphere.”

Trent gazed into her eyes as they floated along without purpose or reason, just more cosmic debris now.

The dust settles on Trent-2-6000, artwork generated by NightCafe AI art generator
The dust settles on Trent-2-6000

And I’m floating in a most peculiar way.
And the stars look very different today.
– David Bowie, Space Oddity

So that was Cozmic Debris… Illustrations were generated using the Cosmic template in NightCafe AI art generator. My favorite AI images are the ones that are substantially wrong, making weird mistakes in ways that a person wouldn’t make. So the tardigrades were especially fun, because it doesn’t have a good enough sense for their structure to render them sensibly. Kind of like elephants. The algorithms respond to different cues. Does it really matter how many limbs or trunks or tusks these things are supposed to have anyway…?

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.

Please 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.

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Original Series

Cozmic Debris, Space Opry by Jennifer Weigel, Part 2: Trent-2-6000



In case you missed the first segment of this space opry (in the style of 2001 Space Odyssey), please feel free to check it out here. And now, here’s the actual story as told to me by Trent-2-6000 after the last deep consideration of tardigrades and life and dust careening through space. Maybe.

Yeah, yeah Trent-2-6000's story is coming... but first, more tardigrades..., artwork by NightCafe AI art generator
Yeah yeah Trent-2-6000’s story is coming… but first, more tardigrades…

Trent-2-6000 sighed.  He swept more random Mars dirt into his vacuum-hermetically sealed containment unit and went about his business on the probe.  Actually, this was his business on the probe, and it was dreadfully dull.  Space was supposed to be this exciting new frontier, this brave new world… but it really wasn’t any different than life back on Earth.  The newness had long since worn off several trips ago, and the slow passage of the years was beginning to get to him.  How long had it been now?  And here he was, still playing clean up crew.  He was actually sort of surprised that they couldn’t get a robot to do this job – oh wait.  Sigh again.

Trent kept forgetting that he was, in fact, a robot now.  There just weren’t many reminders out here, of his old body, of his old life, of Earth, of anything really…  Just floating along, this tin can became all he knew; time and space just kind of stood still in the periphery.  His currently lifeless body was submerged in cryo-crypto-cyano-freeze (or whatever they called it) while he worked off the payments to resuscitate it.  His robot body was stiff and unaccommodating, not at all what he’d pictured when he enlisted for the Mars missions to pay off the triple-interest-bearing student loan debts incurred in human form.  He could have gone military, but when he signed on for this assignment, bright eyed and bushy-tailed at graduation, he was hoping for something a bit more Captain Kirk or Han Solo or at any rate notably less Wall-E.  But it just didn’t pan out that way and now here he was, traveling back and forth on the Mars Voyager, cleaning up space grime.  So much debt… so much dirt.  He was going to have to have a word with the job placement division at the school once he was done with all of this, assuming that the career guidance counselor who talked him into this was even still there.

Trent-2-6000 was, in fact, a robot now, artwork by NightCafe AI
Trent-2-6000 was, in fact, a robot now

It was painfully lonely out here in space.  It often seemed that Trent was the only cognitive entity on this vessel, though the computer technically qualified.  Trent’s duty was to keep everything clean and tidy so that the computer could do its job efficiently and effectively without being bothered to clear the space grime itself.  Apparently that work was beneath it, actually quite literally since it wasn’t hooked into the mechanics needed to engage in such tasks anyway.  It was programmed with a single role at hand, getting to and from Mars and conducting the research as requested, and the computer made it abundantly clear that had no time for idle chitchat with the janitorial bottom-feeders working to earn their freedom.  It generally ignored Trent unless there was something specific that needed to be attended to.  And then it was just “Dust-Buster, do this” or “Dust-Buster do that…”

Sometimes the dust was hard to catch.  It settled oddly between spaces, like cracks in sliding doorways and computer keyboards and battery packs and so on.  Sometimes it seemed to fabricate places to hide in that weren’t previously obvious.  It drilled down in the interstices as if it had some unseen purpose all its own.  Trent wondered why there were even so many nooks and crannies for it to hide in since this wasn’t a manned vessel and no actual crew were aboard to use things like keyboards.  Hell, those had been outdated for well over a century now – just how old was this spacecraft anyway?  No matter, better to just focus on the work.  He swept more debris into a containment unit.  As he did so, he was sure he heard something, like a tiny almost inaudible severely muffled scream.

He looked into the clear acrylic dome at the dirt.  He could sense it looking back at him, waiting.  Surely he was imagining things.  His mind suddenly reeled to Horton the Elephant declaring, a person’s a person no matter how small.  But Dr. Seuss didn’t make any more sense here in space than back on Earth after the last World War had decimated all the oceans and there were no more free trees or clovers for such a speck of dust as Whoville to land on – everything was held tightly under lock and key, blockaded away to be dispensed as the all-controlling government saw fit.  Hell, people’s real bodies met pretty much the same fate upon adulthood, at least as far as the masses were concerned anyway, and many lived their entire lives as robots with their human vessels left in catatonic stasis.  Trent shook his dark musings off and continued on his one and only real job.  But the feeling that the dust was looking at him was still unsettling.  In fact the dust wasn’t settling at all, it was swirling and ebbing about the containment unit in cloudy eddies, like some kind of strange iron-red cloud apparition or ghost.  It began to take shape.  It formed into lips, which parted to speak.

The dust wasn’t settling at all, artwork by NightCafe AI art generator
The dust wasn’t settling at all

“Hello there mechanical being.”

Trent stared at it quizzically as a long bout of silence passed.  The pursed lips seemed to await a response, but from whom?

“I’m talking to you,” it persisted.

“Oh, I’m sorry.  I didn’t think you had meant to address me,” Trent 2-6000 stammered, “I’m not wholly used to being mechanical.  This robot body, it’s different than the one I had back in school…  I was still just a boy then; they let us grow up in the system until we age out,” he spoke dreamily, distracted by reflecting on more interesting times.

“Is there someone else here?” the dust piqued hopefully, as if growing bored with conversing with the young janitor and hoping to speak with his superior.

Trent glanced over at the computer, which seemed to be busy compounding equations in its free time, like always.  “No,” he replied, “just me.”


“Ok, well…  Then, dear mechanical being, would it be possible for you to free me?”

“Wait, what?  No, absolutely not,” Trent was taken aback again.  “My sole role on this mission is to sweep up the space dirt so that it doesn’t contaminate any of the equipment or settle into places it shouldn’t be.  It, um you, must stay contained, as per my orders.  It’s out of my hands… er reach.”

“What are you afraid of?” the red cloud quipped as it began to swirl into the shape of a beautiful female face around the mouth that it had already formed, lips plumping and parting slightly.  “What, exactly, do you fear that I might do?” it insinuated slyly.

“Ummm, I don’t know,” Trent-2-6000 stared into the acrylic dome at the beautiful half-formed human-ghost face staring back at him.  “I was unaware that you could do that, whatever you just did, so the possibilities boggle the mind…”

It swirled into the shape of a beautiful female face and looked at Trent-2-6000, artwork by NightCafe AI art generator
It swirled into the shape of a beautiful female face and looked at Trent-2-6000

“I can do a lot more…” the ghost girl interrupted, her voice lilting playfully.  “What’s your name robo-boy?”

“That, that’s probably classified information…  But it’s Trent.  Just Trent,” he stammered.  It had seemed like an eternity since he had laid eyes upon a girl, and now he was becoming rather sadly smitten.  By… a cloud of dust.  He sighed again.


“Well then, Trent Just-Trent.  Any chance you could let me out of this box?”   The dust smiled coyly.

“I really shouldn’t…”

“My name’s Ayarvenia,” the dust girl interjected.  “I’ll make it worth your while…”  The apparition winked.

  Trent glanced back at the computer, which was still engaged in its own computing.  Sigh.  “Oh Hell, yeah, I guess…  Ay-ur-veenia…  Just don’t get into anything you shouldn’t or it’ll be my shiny metal ass on the line,” he said as he released the containment lever and slid the lid off of the dome.

Trent-2-6000 slid the lid off of the dome, artwork by NightCafe AI art generator
Trent-2-6000 slid the lid off of the dome

Please return next Sunday for the exciting conclusion to this space opry story.

In the interim, 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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