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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Creations

Dirty Clean Sweep, a Short Story by Jennifer Weigel

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Wendell was a germophobe. His obsessions with cleanliness extended far beyond the reach of OCD and even hypochondria, because for all that he was totally infatuated with his own mortality and utterly convinced that he was sick, it was his peculiar obsession with germs that eventually drove him to an insanity that doomed the world to an unexpected and dire destruction. For Wendell was the reason for the Clean Sweep.

When the COVID pandemic happened, it only increased Wendell’s fear, and his germophobia worsened significantly. He started meticulously waxing all of the hair off of his body, even his eyebrows, and would shower several times per day, using an abrasive pumice to slough off any dead skin that might otherwise accumulate and attract mites. As his manners and habits surrounding cleanliness became more and more rigid and involved, he left his house less and less for any reason whatsoever. He began to treat his home environment like a hospital or chemical facility and reworked everything to minimize debris, personally installing air filtration systems that rivaled some of the most sterile industry environments and cleaning everything constantly (he had once worked in HVAC and now no longer trusted anyone else to be involved in his efforts).

He took advantage of all of the delivery services, with packages coming to his back porch once weekly. He had everything on video camera and would scream at anyone who didn’t follow his explicit instructions through a small speaker in the ceiling. If a delivery-person didn’t first sanitize their hands with the supplied wipes and then put on latex gloves and booties before turning the door handle to drop their package on the specified table, they were yelled at and reported, and a bad review was left for whatever service had sent them.

Dirty Clean hand sanitizer out and about
Dirty Clean…

Wendell only order packaged foods, simple soups and cereals that would not come in contact with the world outside of their factory packaged settings. He meticulously researched processing plants to determine what he could and could not consume according to his own standards of cleanliness. When a parcel was delivered, he would leave it where it sat for two to three days time depending on the weather, all the while monitoring it. He would eventually suit up in a tyvek jumpsuit, goggled and gloved, and brave the porch himself in order to extract his needed food and hygiene supplies. Whilst there, he would spray and wipe down the porch, replenish the hand sanitizing wipes and latex gloves, and take everything that might have come into contact with the outside world out with his trash. The cycle would then repeat again a few days later. Every delivery included yet more gear to perpetuate his clean infatuation. More latex gloves, more wipes, more sprays, more tyvek suits… And every time his labors increased…

While Wendell continued to go about his business, ordering life necessities like soap and soup online, a slow and subtle change to his environment began to take over. It wasn’t obvious and, as he never put any distance between himself and his bubble world, he was unaware of the shift. It began because of a spore, well more of an anti-spore like blossoming of suddenly self-aware sterilization. No one really knows where it came from, or how it managed to get such a strong foothold, but perhaps it was because of Wendell’s meticulous cleaning habits. For this strange and unusual being, or beings as it were (for it was hard to tell whether there was a single individual or a number of them all acting under one consciousness), though unaffected by cleaning reagents and the like, had once been highly susceptible to bacteria and rarely survived at length when competing for resources with other species previous to its evolution in Wendell’s abode. But the bereft home was the perfect outpost for it to thrive, and it finally managed to gain a foothold. It grew rapidly and had soon infiltrated most every corner.

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As mentioned, Wendell didn’t notice, or perhaps he welcomed the change. For this strange surface skimmer actually looked even cleaner than its surroundings, appearing as an even brighter less dingy white that almost seemed to glow. It embodied cleanliness, at least insofar as we have come to perceive the concept. And the more that it acclimated to its habitat, the more resilient it became, learning to alter its own surroundings to its gain by killing off any and all other life forms that stood in its way. When a small quantity of some bacteria or mite or other single-celled threat was introduced, say on a box surface or embedded in the cardboard, the newly evolved clean critter would attack and annihilate them almost as if it were itself composed of harsh cleansers like bleach and ammonia. It seemed to develop a memory for different organisms and found a way to destroy most everything. It steadily increased in size and became stronger and stronger.

Clean Dirty hand sanitizer out and about
Clean Dirty…

Finally, one day, it had grown large enough to determine that Wendell himself was a threat, for no matter how clean his environment or person was, he still harbored a myriad of organisms required to keep a human healthy and fully functioning. He was inherently dirty and had to be eliminated. And so the creature he had fostered at length, by providing a nearly sterile environment for its incubation, rose up and destroyed him. It did so while he was sleeping and so he had no awareness of what had happened; had he realized a blanket of seemingly sudsy foam was suffocating him he would have panicked thinking it was some sort of bacterial infection or the like. But he blissfully slept through his untimely death, and the aggressive new organism worked to dispel all of the unclean bits and detritus of his being.

After finally taking over the whole of the house, this new creature began to spread, much like a fungus or a rot, dismantling all in its path in order to leave a wake of clean sterile nothingness. Although it has been said that nature abhors a vacuum, somehow this void had become powerful enough to negate that and continued on its path of complete and utter destruction, leaving nothing living in its path. Before too long it had absorbed the two neighboring houses, and then the houses just beyond those, in a sort of reverse infection that defied logical explanation. The local health department and center for disease control were perplexed; these spaces seemed too clean to harbor such a deadly silent killer and yet something was slowly annihilating everything in its path on a microscopic level. It almost acted like a slow progressing chemical spill but yet there was no evidence of such either.

Before long, word had gotten out and samples had been taken and distributed across the globe. One of those samples was eventually leaked intentionally, as a weapon of mass destruction, and was unable to later be contained. The Clean Sweep was upon all and the world began to be disinfected wholly as it spread. Life was literally in the balance, slated to be eradicated and left to a sort of shiny surface devoid of substance. All was being cleansed, slowly but surely. What started with Wendell, whom would never be known or acknowledged as the source of this new terror, had grown to be much larger.

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.

If you enjoyed this tale, here is another creepy story about cleanliness. 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 Creations

More Nail Polish Paintings by Jennifer Weigel

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Well, seems I’m at it again, with more nail polish paintings into found thrift store art. Why so many flowers this time…? Well a friend sent them and I just couldn’t help myself. They are so perfect for creepy fairy paintings. And for those of you who think fairies aren’t scary, you haven’t read much about the fey now have you?

More Revisitations nail polish paintings by Jennifer Weigel
More Revisitations nail polish paintings by Jennifer Weigel

Top left: Blue Fairy, originally painted by M Wadorf

Top right: Pegasus, originally painted by Edie Babb

Bottom left: Unicorn, originally painted by R Lovelace (After I painted this I realized I missed the opportunity to do a troll with a bridge and so I hope to do another along those lines in the future.)

Bottom middle: Fairy, originally painted by SD Janz

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Bottom right: Dragon, original signed FZ, very sparkly with black-light sensitive eyes

And the most horrific of the bunch this time is this mermaid, who started as a weird bucket painting by Helen Miller… So, what’s in the bucket, Helen? Body parts? Fish? Plants not yet in bloom? I envisioned a trapped mermaid waiting to ensnare some unsuspecting land-goer, because no one would expect to find a mermaid there…

Mermaid in bucket, original by Helen Miller
Is this mermaid trapped in need of help or just trying to lure you close?

So I broke down and redid the unicorn to a troll. Apparently the troll was hungry… Anyway, here is the result. I am happier with it now.

Troll with toll bridge, original by R Lovelace
Hungry troll wants bridge tolls after eating innocent unicorn.

You can find more of my Revisitations art on Haunted MTL here, including links to even more nail polish paintings…

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.

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 Creations

Bloody Mary or More Doll Costuming by Jennifer Weigel

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So I came upon a Liv doll with no wig and decided to make her a mourning ensemble. The result was so reminiscent of this Bloody Mary music video based on the Lady Gaga song, by Ruben Samuel Cortez for his film school final (not the Wednesday TikTok remix, though that is also fun) that I simply had to share.

Costumed Liv doll to Bloody Mary by Jennifer Weigel
Costumed Liv doll to Bloody Mary by Jennifer Weigel

The outfit is made up of really fancy thick black lace leftover from a skirt I decorated for a party and an old translucent black handkerchief. It really reminds me of the table dancers in the music video but black instead of white (though it also alludes to some of the other outfits too, and Wednesday’s dress from the TikTok remake).

Close up of Bloody Mary doll's face
Close up of Bloody Mary doll’s face

I love the detail on the eyes on these Liv dolls, which are embedded and not painted on.

Closer still...
Closer still…

The Liv dolls’ eyes are just so lifelike. I think this is what attracts me to the Rainbow High dolls too, and why I had to turn the Makeover Failfix 2Dreami into Lady Amalthea of The Last Unicorn…

Failfix 2Dreami as Lady Amalthea from The Last Unicorn (not scary but one of my all time fave movies and I love how this doll turned out so I'm posting her here anyway)
Failfix 2Dreami as Lady Amalthea from The Last Unicorn (not scary but one of my all time fave movies and I love how this doll turned out so I’m posting her here anyway)

If you want to check out more of my altered dolls, I have posted several to Haunted MTL here:

Fashion Zombies

Heartbreak Hotel

Mummy Dearest

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Catharsis

Fairy Wands

She Wolf

Queen of Everything

More Altered Dolls

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Krampus

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.

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.

Oh and here’s a bonus photo of the skirt that I got the lace for originally, titled Kiss My A$$.

Portrait of the artist, dressed for a Blue Jeans and Bling party
Portrait of the artist, dressed for a Blue Jeans and Bling party

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