JICAMA by Laura J. Campbell
“I about had a heart attack checking my social media account this morning,” Meredith Stemple said, stirring her vodka-and-orange juice with a straw. “A friend posted ‘My sweet angel baby, Jul, this past weekend,’ but when I first scrolled past it I thought it read: ‘My sweet angel baby, Jul, passed this weekend.’ Can you imagine? Jul is only twenty years old. I thought she had died.”
“Not a ghost! Not a ghost!” Jicama, the parrot — a Blue-Fronted Amazon — squeaked energetically.
Meredith looked at the bird. “What is the deal with your parrot, Mark?”
Mark Grimm continued to wipe down his bar’s glassware. Mark’s bar was named after his infamous parrot – ‘Jicama’s Bar.’ Both bar-owner and bar-bird had amber colored eyes. But that was where the similarities in coloration ended. Mark had dark hair and an olive complexion. Jicama’s feathers were green; the feathers in the area around his eyes a bright yellow. The feathers around his beak were white, with a tuft of sky blue feathers at the base of his beak.
“Jicama can detect ghosts,” he replied. “You know his reputation.”
“I still say that you’ve been drinking too much of your own stock. You’ve told me the stories, but I find it difficult to believe that a bird can detect spirits. The ghost kind. I will concede that he can detect the alcoholic kind, living in a bar.”
“It’s true. About the ghosts.” Mark assured her. “You know, I have a gig at a wedding reception this Saturday. It’s being held in a supposedly haunted hotel. The hotel asked me to bring the bird. You want to tag along? You could see for yourself if Jicama detects any ghostly activity. Besides, I could use another pair of hands to walk around the room and get the guests their drinks. Pay is what it usually is. Minimum wage, plus an equal share of any tips, plus drinks on the house for a week after the party.”
“And entertainment by a ghost-busting bird,” Meredith said. “Let me check my schedule.” She sat in silence for a moment, swirling her drink. “Okay, looks like I’m clear. When and where, again?”
“This Saturday. Show up at around 4 pm, at the Argento Hotel. Not too far away. You can almost hear the Platinum Cards being swiped at their front desk from here.”
“Argento is a fancy place. And quite an expensive venue. Maybe there will actually be tips.”
“The rich got rich by not doling out decent tips,” he reminded her. “But the entertainment should be good. A friend’s band will be there playing covers. They call themselves Wildflower Pudding. Lots of seventies and eighties hits. Jicama is looking forward to it. He’s a big Grateful Dead fan, aren’t you, buddy?”
The parrot looked at Meredith and nodded its head repeatedly. “Not a ghost! Not a ghost!” it squawked.
“I think he likes you. Even if you do doubt his abilities.”
“Well, regardless of his abilities, I like him, too. After all, he’s cued in on my biggest personality highlight. Not being a ghost.”
“Meri Stemple!” a voice called out.
Meredith was headed back to the bar to gather a full complement of plastic flutes filled with expensive champagne. The wedding guests were dancing and getting tipsy, singing along with Wildflower Pudding’s sets. There were dollar bills – and even a few five-dollar bills – accumulating in the bar staff’s communal tip jar.
She turned around. A young man, about six feet tall with bright blue eyes and short brown hair had called to her. She recognized him instantly.
“Jason Walker,” she greeted, managing to exchange half-shoulder-hugs while balancing her tray. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m assistant night manager,” he said. “In charge of making sure our weekend social events go smoothly. What are you doing here – aside from the obvious?” He nodded to her tray, deftly taking a champagne-filled flute off of the tray and quaffing the bubbly drink. He replaced the empty glass and grabbed another.
“Earning a little extra cash,” she replied.
“I would have thought that Gerry brought in enough cash to cover your expenses.”
“Gerry and I are history.”
“I never liked him,” Jason remarked quickly. He had known Meredith since they were in high school together. “Did he cheat on you? Because he seemed like the type. He thought every woman wanted him.”
“Yep,” she said. “The final straw was finding out he was sending photographs of his genitals to other women. His little soldier peeping up above his designer drawers. Drawers I bought for him. Anyway, that’s history. I’m concentrating on me for now. You?”
“Being assistant night manager demolishes the date night opportunities,” Jason said. “Hey – did Mark bring that parrot with him?”
“The talking one? Jicama?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. The ghost seeing parrot.”
“Yeah, he did. It’s over there getting more attention from the ladies than the available men in the room.”
“Men send dick pics to other women, parrots don’t,” Jason reminded her. “I have a little adventure for that parrot. “
“Rumor has it that this hotel is haunted. I’d like to see if the bird senses anything.”
“Aren’t all expensive hotels rumored to be haunted?” she asked.
“This hotel supposedly housed a brothel and a speakeasy back in the 1920’s.”
“I’ve noticed that haunted places tend to be old prisons, asylums, hospitals, brothels, battlefields, or the sites of other tragic events. I think those places are just sad. Places where people suffered or were degraded. I can’t imagine anyone trapped in one of those types of places electing to stay.”
“There’s a haunted staircase here at the hotel, where people have reported hearing footsteps.”
“After how many drinks?”
“You’re such a skeptic,” Jason scoffed. “Anyway, have Mark and his bird join us. We can tour the place. I’ll throw in a little something from the petty cash account, to sweeten the deal for you and Mark.”
“Nothing like a little pay to encourage hearing footsteps on the staircase.”
“It’s not like that. I just value your time.”
“You just value being able to promote a ghost-hunting tour to your guests.”
“Such a bitter girl. Later? After this merry lot have finished their libations and wrapped it up for the night?”
“I’ll go convince Mark.”
“One more thing – how does the parrot know? What does it say when it encounters a spirit?”
“How am I supposed to know how a ghost-sensitive parrot thinks? As for the words – he squawks ‘Not a ghost’ or ‘Ghost.’ Mark picked the bird up from an animal shelter. Jicama used to belong to a fortune teller.”
“What happened to the fortune teller?”
“She was beheaded by a client who thought she had put a gypsy hex on him.”
“She was a fortune teller – she didn’t see that coming?”
“Like I said — fortune telling, ghosts? I think it is all very powerful sadness, creeping out of us, not surrounding us. Empathy is an underestimated force.”
“Come on, Meri, I need something to make the boss happy. Like a paying ghost-tour with some token of verification to the haunting. I’ve missed too many days at this gig due to scorching hangovers. My Dad is threatening to disinherit me if I lose another job.”
“I’ll convince Mark. You, Mark, the bird, and I will do the rounds.” She nodded towards Jicama, happily bopping around to the band’s cover of “A Touch of Grey.”
“Ghost!” Jason mock-squawked across the room at Jicama. The parrot stopped dancing and stared balefully back at him.
“Okay, that’s creepy,” he said. “I never knew that parrots could throw shade.”
Meredith shook her head and went to collect her next round of champagne.
“What was the fortune teller’s name?” Jason asked, as Meredith approached. The reception had ended and the group was meeting up to conduct their impromptu ghost-hunt.
“Susan Colling,” Meredith said. “But that didn’t sound gypsy-fortune-teller enough, so she went by the professional name Madame Rosemary Thyme.”
“It sounds like our master chef’s chicken recipe,” Jason replied.
“The place where she was murdered is still standing. It’s next to a doughnut shop. Nobody has bought the place, because she was killed there, and it looks creepy. But I would be more afraid of rotting floorboards and giant cockroaches than the ghost of Madame Rosemary stalking the place with her head tucked underneath her arm.”
“And the bird?”
“Apparently he was trying to warn her,” Meredith said. “The story has it that he doesn’t just see ghosts – he also sees those about to become ghosts. For about two days before her murder, other clients of the doomed fortune-teller report the bird looking at Madame Rosemary and cawing out “Ghost! Ghost!’”
“That sounds like witness testimony.”
“That sounds like people who wanted to get their names in the paper.”
“Meri, I hope we find ten thousand ghosts in this place,” Jason said. “And that they all throw candles at you or something. You’re such a drip.” He twisted open the bottle of beer in his hand. “You want a drink? It’s after hours?”
“No thanks,” she replied. “I’m already tired. Alcohol will put me at exhausted.”
Mark arrived with Jicama. The bird looked at Jason with an avian glare.
“Sorry about the bad imitation I did of you,” Jason apologized to Jicama. “I can be a jerk sometimes.”
“Apology accepted,” Jicama replied.
“That’s impressive,” Jason noted.
“Amazon Blue-Fronted’s can have a pretty sizeable vocabulary and imitate human speech fairly well. Jicama can actually mimic people’s voices. He is an exceptional bird.” Mark replied. “So, where do you want us to go first?”
“The staircase,” Jason grinned. “The site of haunting footsteps and strange shadows.”
Meredith shook her head. “I’ve got to get a life,” she uttered to herself.
The staircase was a side staircase, used for true convenience of accessing the hotel’s floors, as opposed to the dramatic grand staircase located at the front of the hotel, which was employed primarily for show. The supposedly haunted staircase was wooden, with a rich embroidered rug secured to its steps. The rug was rendered in deep emerald green, with patterns of burgundy and gold; the edges were an elaborate repeating pattern woven out of white, cream, and crimson threads. The walls around the staircase were painted a Tuscan terra cotta, decorated with gothic wrought iron sconces — now holding electric lights — and Renaissance-styled paintings.
“Very nice,” Meredith noted. “It has that old-rich-guy-bought-a-villa look.”
“Everything here is imported from Italy,” Jason reported. “See the silver thread in the carpet, and the silver in the picture frames? Argento is Italian for silver. The Hotel Argento, get it?”
“We should be safe from werewolves, then,” Meredith suggested.
“Don’t mind her,” Mark said. “The truth is that she can’t stand to be in a room with the lights off. She scares more easily than anybody else I know. Meredith believes, which is why she’s so hard on stories of purported hauntings. Like Houdini would be.”
“Houdini – the magician?”
“He had a side gig discrediting fake mystics,” Mark replied. “Okay, Jicama. What do we see? Any ghosts that dwell on the staircase?”
“The staircase – no ghost, no ghost dwells.” The bird squawked.
“That’s it?” Jason asked. “He has spent about three minutes here.”
“He picks up residual spectral signatures,” Mark said. “Or something like that. The spirit separated from the body or the spirit destined to soon separate from the body. I think it has something to do with the bird’s sight. Our retinas have three cones, which detect color. We can detect green, blue, and red wavelengths. Birds can detect those three plus violet – they have an additional cone in their retinas. And they can detect some ultraviolet wavelengths. And parrots are a prey species – they are hunted, so they have evolved exceptional peripheral vision. That gives them excellent depth perception and the ability to detect the speed and distance of surrounding objects with exceptional clarity. Did you know that parrots can see the oscillations of a fluorescent bulb, where we see only constant light? And that head bobbing thing the parrot does? It is actually looking at an object from many different angles in quick succession. I think that’s how Jicama may see spirit manifestations when we don’t.”
“Mark spends a lot of time surfing the Internet,” Meredith added. “But, it sounds plausible. And Mark says he has seen his bird work.”
“You said there was a haunted basement, too?” Mark asked. “Why can try there next.”
“Follow me,” Jason gestured.
They left the staircase, taking a service elevator to a lower floor. “How have you seen the bird work?” Jason asked, as the elevator began its descent.
“I was walking with Jicama through an old tuberculosis sanatorium,” Mark said, his amber eyes almost glowing with fear at the recollection. “The new owners of the building wanted to dispel the rumors that the property was haunted – they were looking to remodel it as a multi-family dwelling. They had heard about Jicama – he is infamous in the real estate circles, since he was rescued from a now un-sellable building, perched over Madame Rosemary’s corpse, squawking ‘Ghost! Ghost!’”
Jicama bobbed his head up and down, his eyes almost the exact same amber color as Mark’s.
“Anyway,” Mark continued, “As we’re walking, Jicama turns around on my shoulder, positioning himself so he can look directly behind me. He starts squawking ‘Ghost! Ghost!’ At that very moment, something grabbed my elbow from behind and hurled me backwards with such force that I was pummeled into the floor. My elbow felt freezing cold where whatever grabbed me had seized me. I got up to my feet. The owner, accompanying me on the walk, felt my elbow and quickly withdrew his hand. My elbow was freezing to the touch. Jicama just bobbed his head, saying ‘Ice cold, ice cold. One ghost, one ghost.’”
“Very creepy,” Jason shuddered.
“One ghost, one ghost,” Jicama echoed.
“So, we’re going downstairs to a very old part of the hotel,” Jason recounted. “About a century old. The basement was originally a brothel. They added a speak-easy and gambling room in the 1920’s during Prohibition,” Jason summoned a freight elevator. “Now we use the basement area for storage. It’s a little garish down there.”
The foursome took the elevator down three floors to a sub-basement.
“It’s this far below ground level?” Meredith asked.
“To be concealed from the constabulary,” Jason explained. “The elevator is new. The area used to be accessed by a stairway hidden behind a panel in the wall on the first floor. Like the song says…” Jason sung the lines to the song, finishing his beer. “I have that song stuck in my head now, courtesy of Wildflower Pudding. Who sings Gordon Lightfoot at a wedding reception? I was dreading hearing the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in their second set.”
“One ghost, one ghost,” Jicama squawked.
The elevator doors opened, and they alighted off of the elevator.
“Wow!” Meredith and Mark said in unison, seeing the hallway they exited into.
“I told ya,” Jason nodded. “Garish.”
The hallway was narrow, with a corrugated aluminum ceiling. Metal doors lined the length of the hallway; the doors and walls had been painted a surgical operating room white. The paint was chipping away, revealing dark metal underneath. There were no paintings or decorations. A series of naked blue bulbs lit the corridor. The hallway was frigidly cold. Meredith wrapped her arms around herself to attempt to stay just a little warmer.
“The doors are all original,” Jason told them. “Notice how all of them lock from the outside only. And there is sound-proofing between the rooms. Presumably to give the clients their privacy.”
“I do not like it down here,” Meredith stated. “This is not just creepy; it is very sad. I can’t imagine what went on here. I don’t want to. A world up there full of light, and down here it’s like a dungeon. Or a torture chamber. Those poor girls, forced to sell themselves down here. I can almost hear them crying.”
There was a mournful creak that reverberated through the aluminum ceiling, as if answering Meredith’s sympathy.
“Laugh in the sunshine, sing, cry in the dark, fly through the night; don’t cry now, don’t you cry, don’t you cry anymore.” Jicama sang in his parrot voice. It wasn’t clear who he was singing to.
“I told you,” Mark noted, “Jicama is a Grateful Dead fan.”
“Let’s move,” Meredith urged. She felt like she was being watched, not maliciously, but watched nonetheless.
“I’ll show you the gambling room,” Jason said, motioning for them to follow him.
He led them to an end of the hallway, unlocking a large door. Inside there was a long-abandoned roulette wheel and a number of card tables in various states of decay. Boxes of beer and wine were scattered between the tables.
“We use it as storage now,” Jason said, plucking out a bottle of beer and opening it. He took a gulp. “It’s perfect temperature. Mark – you want a brewski? Your bar is closed on Sundays. Surely you can imbibe this evening.”
“No thanks,” he replied. “I have church in the morning, followed by brunch, and then I work on the bar’s books and inventory. Then I go to the gym. All sober stuff.”
“Church?” Jason asked.
“Something about being thrown back ten feet by a malignant spirit inspired me to cultivate my own personal relationship with the Holy One.”
“Meri?” Jason plucked out another bottle, dangling it in front of her.
“Some other time,” she answered. “Gerry is coming by tomorrow to collect the last things he had left at my house. I don’t want to be hung over and accidentally agree to a reconciliation. By this time, he’s realized that he screwed up by screwing around on me. He’ll be all apologetic. I have to be alert.”
“Hey,” Jason said. “Speaking of which…” He pulled a card out from his pocket, and a pen. He wrote down his personal cell phone number and handed it to Meredith. “When you’re through that re-bound stage, give me a call. I’ll take you out to dinner or we can walk around the park.”
She put the card in her pocket.
“What about this floor?” Jason asked Jicama.
“This whole floor is steeped in sadness,” Meredith interjected. She looked at Jicama. “Anything?”
“Ice cold, ice cold. One ghost, one ghost.” The parrot replied.
“He senses something,” Mark noted. “You may be able to book those ghost hunting tours after all.”
“Too bad the bird can’t have a beer,” Jason beamed. “I’d pop a bottle open for him. The owners will be tickled pink. A real-life ghost. You are now officially my favorite Blue-Fronted Amazon parrot.” He ran his finger roughly against Jicama’s face. “You see it, don’t you?”
“Ghost, ghost,” the bird reiterated.
“Well, I had to see it to believe it,” Meredith said. “This floor freaked me out enough before I heard confirmation that a ghost was trapped this dismal basement. Between the horrors what those poor girls trapped down here must have gone through when the place was a brothel, and the quiet lingering desperation of gamblers who lost money in this room, I’ve seen and felt enough. I can imagine someone losing hope and becoming lost down here. Can we leave now?”
“The mission is accomplished,” Jason replied. “You can go home. To your exciting lives of bookkeeping and evicting dick-pic sending exes. I’ll knock back another and head on home. I don’t have to work tomorrow.”
Meredith was first in the elevator, pushing the button to the first floor as soon as Mark, Jicama, and Jason entered the car.
Jicama looked at Meredith with a comforting gaze. “Not a ghost, not a ghost,” he reassured her. “Thank you for caring. You sweet.”
Meredith smiled at Jicama. “You are definitely getting crackers when we get back to the bar. Crackers and fruit.”
“Yummy, yummy,” Jicama replied.
“Interesting guy, that Jason,” Mark said, as they arrived back at the bar. They began to unload a few supplies from the bar’s catering truck. Mark got Jicama settled into his oversized cage.
“Jason was born to money,” Meredith explained. “Lots of money. He lives with his family up in the Oaks. Not far from the hotel. Not too far from here, really.”
“The Oaks is a very exclusive neighborhood. I’m surprised he even has to work.”
“He doesn’t. His daddy is making him work. Jason was kicked out of every private school he was given the privilege of attending, thanks to his drunk and disorderly behavior. That’s how he ended up in public school with me. Sooner or later he’ll inherit a boatload of cash, and I give him five years before we hear that he has drunk it all away.”
“Ghost, ghost.” Jicama said, bobbing his head.
“There are no ghosts here, silly,” Meredith teased the bird. “I’ll go get you some fresh fruit.”
“One was there already. Then he said it, then he said it,” Jicama added. “Identified himself. Looked at me. Said ‘Ghost!’”
The bird stood still for a moment.
“He is right. He is ghost.”
Mark and Meredith exchanged quizzical glances. “The one ghost you saw at the hotel,” Mark asked. “What did you see?”
“Two ghosts,” Jicama stressed, as much as his parrot-voice could. “One ghost was already there. So sad. Miss Meredith was the first person to care about her. So she peeked out, to say thank you. But another ghost was there, too. A ghost to be. I tried to warm Madame. I tried to warn. Gypsy die! Jerk die!”
“That other ghost you sensed,” Mark asked. “You said ‘jerk die.’ Jason said he could be a jerk. Do you mean Jason?”
“He can be a jerk sometimes,” Jicama answered, mimicking Jason’s voice. “Ghost!” The parrot resumed his usual voice: “He said. Said it over himself.”
“Jason was drinking all evening.” Meredith said, concern creeping into her tone. “If he drove home after having a few more…” She fished around her pockets, finding the card Jason had handed her. The one with his personal cellular telephone number written on it.
She dialed the number.
Jason’s phone rang, and rang, and rang. Voicemail: “The person you are trying to reach is not available. Please dial the number again…”
“No answer,” she reported.
“I’m sure he’s alright,” Mark said.
In the distance, they could hear the sound of sirens. Ambulance. Police. Fire department.
“Jason is ghost, Jason is ghost.” Jicama squawked, agitated.
“Those emergency vehicles are going to an accident scene,” Mark noted. He turned to Jicama: “Did Jason have an accident?”
The bird remained silent. He had never indicated knowing how people became ghosts. He just knew if he was in the presence of a ghost, or a person about to become one.
Meredith offered Jicama some cantaloupe, cut up into manageable cubes. “How is Jason?” she asked apprehensively. “Tell us: How is Jason?”
Jicama looked at her and bobbed his head. Using Jason’s voice, he blurted out one word: “Ghost!”
Laura Campbell lives and writes in Houston, Texas. She is encouraged in her writing by her husband, Patrick, and children, Alexander & Samantha. Mrs. Campbell won the 2007 James B. Baker Award for short story for her science fiction tale, 416175. Three dozen of her short stories have appeared in Pressure Suite: Digital Science Fiction Anthology 3, Under the Full Moon’s Light, Liquid Imagination, Suspense Unimagined, Gods & Services, Page & Spine, Breath and Shadow, and other venues. Her two novels, “Blue Team One” and “Five Houses,” are currently available online. Many of Mrs. Campbell’s more recent works are available through Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Laura-J.-Campbell/e/B07K6SZJJ9
Nightmarish Nature: Cannibalism
Let’s return to explore more Nightmarish Nature, shall we? This segment focuses on cannibalism, as we generally find it icky / taboo and because it’s more common than you might think. There are many different reasons that different creatures engage in cannibalistic practices. Energy waste doesn’t last long in nature; gaps are filled as things evolve to utilize whatever resources are available to meet their own needs. C’est la vie (light up another cigarette). In any case, the challenge to the cannibal lies in determining kinship and not accidentally erasing their own line or progeny, thus decreasing their likelihood for survival over generations. Oh, and in avoiding those pesky prion diseases…
Resource Driven Cannibalism
Resource driven cannibalism can occur when competition for resources is high. This may be due to scarcity, with individuals taking to eating each other to avoid themselves starving to death (with those consumed either still alive and killed to this end, or eaten after death of other causes). Or it may be outside of the cannibal’s control, considering the spread of Mad Cow Disease from feeding beef meal harboring the prion disease (and parts from other mammals like sheep) to growing cattle to save money, ’cause it’s not like the cows were allowed to order whatever they wanted. Or it may be due to direct conflicts with other groups of the same species, either due to competition for resources, mating rights and/or territory. These behaviors have been noted in mostly male chimpanzees raiding other groups, which have even been documented as all out wars against other males in neighboring bands, campaigning to eradicate all outside of their ranks.
Thinking about chimpanzees, males are also documented to gang up on alpha males seen as too controlling or sadistic, with groups of younger males attacking and rendering the alpha male to pieces, often consuming his flesh and blood in the process. This can upend established hierarchies to replace them with new structures, for example with a new male taking on the role of leader. But cannibalism can also be used to reinforce existing hierarchies, as seen in African Wild Dogs wherein the dominant pair will kill off any offspring that other dogs may have birthed so that the pack will focus on raising only the alpha pair’s pups, thusly reestablishing and enforcing social structure while ensuring the best survival chances for the pups raised by channeling all resources to the one brood.
Infanticide & Filial Cannibalism
Like African Wild Dogs, other parents may also eat their offspring, or better yet their rivals’ offspring. Stillborn or unhealthy offspring may be consumed, or just any that they can get their hands on at birth. (Again with the young male chimpanzees…) Some creatures enter into cycles wherein smaller individuals are more vulnerable to predation by larger ones both within and outside of ones own species, as is seen among many fishes with eggs and smaller fishes playing an important role as prey to larger ones. Other creatures may engage in these practices to reduce competition (for themselves and/or their offspring) and/or increase opportunities to mate. Male cats are notorious for killing kittens that are not their own in order to bring females into heat again sooner, potentially increasing the likelihood of mating with said females themselves while decreasing future competition. Win-win! Female cats must take great care to hide their kittens in order to protect them from males as much as other predators, and can have kittens by different fathers within the same litter in order to increase their kittens’ overall survival as a group with father cats more willing to accept kittens when their own kin are present.
Mantids and spiders are especially known for sexual cannibalism, with larger females consuming males during copulation, but this is not always linked to vast size differences and does not appear in every species. Females who engage in this practice may have healthier eggs in larger clutches, thus increasing the survival likelihood of more of their offspring. Sometimes the risk to the male suitor of being mistaken for another species by an aggressive would-be mate is high, and various rituals have developed within certain species to help avoid such mistakes and entice the female to mate. Male spiders are known engage in elaborate dances, movements, tapping and silk spinning rituals to avoid being eaten pre-copulation or at all. It’s a hell of a lot more involved than a good pick up line and a well-timed drink, as you can see here.
If the above video doesn’t load, you can find it on PBS YouTube here.
Thank you for joining us for another exciting episode of Nightmarish Nature. If you enjoyed this, please feel free to check out these previous segments:
Revisitations: The Devil Went Down to Georgia
So I’ve been working on more painting into found art (as seen here before) and I thought I’d share a newer one, based on the song The Devil Went Down to Georgia by Charlie Daniels. But first let’s make like my She Wolf post enjoy a couple variations of the song, shall we?
First we have Charlie Daniels, the writer of the song which was inspired by the beautiful poem by Stephen Vincent Benet titled The Mountain Whipporwill. You can read the poem on Your Daily Poem here.
Then we have to watch my favorite version, the animated music video by Primus. I know there are claymation-haters out there who find the effect bit too “uncanny valley” but how can you not just love those chickens?
Anyway, without further ado, here is my painting, incorporated into a found still life, original signed L. Harady.
Here The Devil is defeated, crushed along the lower edge of the artwork beneath the fiddle and lamenting his loss. The bow jabs into his sneering nose as if to add insult to injury, but his eyes still glow, alight with the prospect of coming back for another round. (They actually do glow, I have acquired some blacklight reactive nail polish to use in these pieces now.) I suppose I may go to Hell for this portrayal (or for defiling yet another painting) but alas, such is the price of art sometimes. I guess I’ll add it to the list…
Cravings Part 2, story by Jennifer Weigel
If you missed the beginning of this pregnancy horror story by Jennifer Weigel, you can catch Part 1 here.
Jayden’s stomach turned. Who or what was this creature standing before him, and what had it done with his wife? Claire proceeded to eat more than half of the jar of eggs in a fury of consumption; Jayden finally retreated to the office alone unable to watch any more. He heard a sloshing sound as she finished the jar and proceeded to drink the brine before retreating to the bedroom and crashing into their bed, presumably to pass out. Again. Later that night, he crept in to find her sleeping, clammy and sweaty, nervously twitching. Her body made the most abnormal guttural sounds as her internal systems groaned and sputtered. It was definitely getting worse. Jayden resolved to call Dr. Randolph the following morning; this had gone on for far too long already.
The next day, Claire awoke with a start from another bad dream that she couldn’t remember. Crying uncontrollably, she clutched her swollen belly, still ripe with child, and hurriedly exclaimed, “Blood sausage! I must have blood sausage!”
Jayden woke from his curled-up safe haven beside her and muttered, “Wha… What is that? I’ve never even heard of such a thing.”
“Go!” she snapped. “I’m starving. Go now! Return with blood sausage.”
Jayden staggered over to the dresser, threw on some clothes, shuffled into his waiting shoes, and gathered himself to duck out the door in the well-practiced gesture he’d become so accustomed to. “I’ll stop on my way home from work, I guess,” he mused, making his own plans. Claire seemed to settle down a little as she woke further, but it was little consolation.
“Thank you Sweetcheeks,” she said. “You’re the best.” She blew him a kiss.
While at work, Jayden managed to secure an appointment with Dr. Beth Randolph, Claire’s primary physician since before he had known her, for later that day. He took off early and rushed home to gather his unwilling wife. She was going in, whether she liked it or not.
He opened the front door and peered inside. The house was dark and quiet, as he’d come to expect. He crept in and stole upstairs to the bedroom to rouse Claire from sleep. He’d tell her where they were going once he got her in the car, no sense in making this even more difficult than it already was. Unsurprisingly, there she was, a shadowy form hunched over in the bed, her back to him with the covers pulled up over her eyes. He peeled away the comforter and blanket to reveal a tangled mess of white knitted yarn; Claire was nowhere to be found. He looked around, trying to focus on the darkness of the bedroom that enveloped him. That unsettling feeling had returned, like he’d had at Maresh’s shop, sinking into his gut. Claire was here idling, watching, waiting; he could sense her presence sizing him up as if she could read his mind and was on to his plan. But why was her company so disconcerting? This was still their house, their home, their lives intertwined… Jayden felt his trust ebb, spine tingling sensing danger.
“Hey there Sweetcheeks,” Claire’s voice echoed from the darkness of the closet. “Do you have something for me?” She emerged into the room, her eyes wide, frothing slightly at the edges of her mouth. Tiny bubbles of drool burst forth from her quivering lips and trickled down onto her chin.
“I couldn’t find any… blood sausage… whatever that is,” Jayden lied through his teeth. He hadn’t even gone to the store. Claire should never have expected him back at this hour; apparently she didn’t even know what time it was. But that seemingly wasn’t a concern. She wasn’t herself. Something about her fragile frame, the way she rocked from side to side, reminded him of that crazy old witch doctor Maresh. He finally managed to connect the two; it was as though she were possessed. It was imperative that she saw Dr. Beth Randolph as soon as possible, if for no other reason than to sever ties to that crazy old hag and hopefully start to snap out of it. He simply had to get her to that appointment.
“No blood sausage!” Claire shouted, becoming more and more agitated. “No… blood… sausage!” Her breathing became less regular and her body shivered all over as she hulked towards him. “I am sooo hungry!”
She lunged towards him, stumbling into his arms and collapsing towards his feet laughing maniacally. Jayden reached for her instinctively, to lower her to the ground gently, and felt something sticky and warm envelop his hand. Feeling lightheaded, he glanced down as he fell to the floor beside her. Protruding from his gut was a long silver thread, no something pointedly metal and hard, oozing thick oil sludge all around. Not oil, blood. His blood. Claire continued laughing, her lightning-fast fingers quickly and methodically ripping their way into his tattered shirt and worming around within his wounded frame to pull forth bits of viscera, which she wrung in her hands and smeared up and down her arms and torso. As Jayden passed out, she mouthed each of her fingers in turn, sucking the precious liquid off of them one at a time, before she began to feast on his entrails.
Claire’s belly was finally full. The baby developing within squirmed and settled, as if finally satiated. She swiped a stray bit of flesh from her bosom, licked it off of her fingertips, and heaved a sigh of relief. Miracle Madame Maresh Meliasma was right; she just needed to get to the root of her cravings.