On Your Life by Julia Wren
“Ready in 5…4…3…2…” a younger woman with a raspy voice in an all-black outfit says to a crew member above the curtain, “1.”
The curtains move to the side, and the lights turn on from above. My skin feels warm already from the glare. Fake clapping is played on the entire stereo system around the room before the tall man I saw before walks over to his chair. He smiles, flashing the white pearls behind his lips as he waves to me. The beat and clapping die down.
“Hello, everyone, and welcome to—“ he pauses, raising his left hand to his ear dramatically.
I look out beyond the stage, instead of people, I see a blank brick wall. A hunched over man just behind the camera clicks a button on a soundboard.
“On! Your! Life!” a crowd of people say, erupting into cheers before going silent once more.
“I’m here with—“ the man says, holding out his hand to me.
“J-James. James MacLean,” I say.
“Well, James, I’m assuming you know
how the game works?”
“Afraid not, coul—“
“Well, all you have to do is answer a series of questions. Get them right, and you can move on,” he clears his throat, turning towards me with an unbreaking smile, “But if you get one wrong… Well, just try not to get any wrong. Are you ready?”
“As ready as I’ll ev—“
“Terrific! James, did you pick your nose as a child?”
“I… What? I mean, of course. All children had to, right?”
“Hm…But did you eat the sweet rewards of a nose well cleaned?”
My eyes crinkle, pursing my lips as I shake my head, “I mean… as a young child, sure?”
His head turns towards the camera, suppressing a laugh, “Fair enough, but, James… Do you still fall into these habits?”
I shake my hands in front of me, “Of course not! What do I look like? A child?”
He smirks, holding out a small blue box towards the screen behind us. With a push of a button, a compilation of videos and pictures catching me in the act appear on the screen.
“That’s one strike, James! But we play for three. But you still must be punished!” his arm stretches towards me, pressing another button on the remote. Two cold, metallic bracelets clasp over my wrists on the table that separates us. I yank my body back, but the clamps keep my limbs in place.
Heavy footsteps settle behind me. I twist my head but can’t see the figure on the other side of my chair. I look to Neil who nods at me and smiles at the person just behind. His smile seems too smug. A click and buzzing can be heard. It’s like a mini chainsaw is being held to the nape of my neck. Suddenly the pitch changes to a low vrrrrr and before I realise, chunks of my dirty blonde hair fall from my shoulder to my lap.
Hair falls on me like a blanket or a freshly sheered sheep. Cold air touches places of my scalp that I hadn’t felt since I was a boy. The noises and falling particles cease. A glaring handheld mirror is presented in front of me as the clasps release my wrists. I take the mirror and reach to run my fingers through freshly cut hair. In place of my mop is now barren scalp. The remainder of hair feels like a dull cactus. My eyes flicker to Neil who shrugs.
“Two strikes left, MacLean!” he says.
I nod, folding my arms close to my body, “Go on then.”
“Have you ever watched something not suitable for you?”
“I watched R movies all the time?”
“Oh, no, James. Far worse,” he says turning towards the screen.
A clip of me biting my lip and shaking vigorously appears. It flashes to the screen my past-self was gazing at.
“Kiddies, huh, James?”
My face goes white. My left hand is pulled into the lock again. I look blankly at Neil who cringes at me.
“Kids, James? How sick. We’ll make sure you watch nothing like that again.”
A hole opens on the edge of the table. Two jagged ice cream scoopers sit just in front of my gaze. Neil taps his fingers on the wood as I back into the chair as far as I can. The man behind me grabs my shoulders, sitting me straight to look at the twisting utensils.
My vision is bloodshot and filled with shades of red and fall to black. My throat burns with screams as I feel the strings of my eyes being pulled form my skull. A whirring noise marks the retreat of the device. I reach up with my other hand. My face feels wet, but dry. It reeks of iron. I want to cry, but it burns as all that flows is my blood.
“Have you ever stolen something?”
“Y-yes,” I answer through my sobs
“Have you ever stolen from your family, James?”
“What about a friend?” he asks, creaking the chair as he leans forward.
“I don’t think so,” I say.
“Wrong again, James,” he says, tapping the
plastic button. I hear giggles of an old female friend fill the room. She’s
laughing. Suddenly, her laughter turns to struggled breaths and rustling.
Something is overcoming her. The screams and frantic gasps as I ripped away her
innocence on the living room floor echo around the room.
“I never said it had to be entirely tangible, James,” Neil says. He’s enjoying this torture porn.
I stand, almost leaping out of my chair to make a rush for the exit. My arms out, trying to feel my way around the table. Two weights sit on my shoulder, dragging me down to the chair once more. One of the giant hands pushes my right hand into one of the constraints. A metallic slicing sound rings in my right ear.
Julia Wren is an author, storyteller, and cat-enthusiast. She spends her spare time with her cat, Maya, and filling paint-by-numbers. If she’s not binge-watching Netflix movies or ordering pizza in her sweatpants, she’s traveling the world’s reaches with her inspiration, and father, James.
Nightmarish Nature: Vampires Among Us
This is the kickoff to a new series exploring nature that is kind of horrifying, at least in ways. Our first subject is Vampires Among Us. There are lots of animals named for vampires, sometimes due to folklore and sometimes for their appearance (like the Vampire Squid), but most of these animals don’t have blood sucking tendencies.
Bats & Birds
There are legit vampire leaf-nosed bats in Central and South America that drink blood. They feed on mammals and are often shown to feed on livestock. They’d be kinda cute if they weren’t so creepy. There are also vampiric birds: some finches in the Galapagos have developed the taste for blood of other birds, mainly seabirds that flock to the islands to raise their young.
Leeches & Lampreys & More
And then you get into leeches and lampreys and other denizens of the water that are known to attach themselves to larger creatures and drink their blood. Leeches were even believed to have medicinal value (and still are in certain circumstances). And there are also numerous plants that are known to be parasitic and feed on other plants, wrapping their roots or vines around others to steal nutrients.
Now I’m going to drift off into the realm where this becomes truly horrific. Spiders. Now, spiders aren’t vampires per se, seeing as how they actually kill their prey – they don’t just feed off of it while it remains living and wanders about its business. But because of their structure, they cannot eat solid foods, so they have to inject their prey with enzymes to liquefy it so they can slurp it out like a protein shake. That’s sort of vampirism on steroids if you ask me, just the kind that no one is coming back from.
But let’s get back on topic. Now let’s consider mites and ticks and fleas and mosquitoes and the like. Some drink blood for their survival; others do so as part of their reproductive cycle (like mosquitoes which otherwise eat fruit and nectar but need the extra protein from blood to grow their eggs).
Ticks need to feed on blood once at every stage of their life cycle and can pick up diseases along the way (like Lyme Disease) but don’t always do so. Different ticks are more likely to come in contact with different things and often humans are not their preferred meal but they are opportunistic and will feed on whatever is available when necessary. Symptoms of illness from tick bites may take years to develop and can have really weird side effects (like the allergy associated with Lone Star Ticks which makes a person unable to consume mammalian flesh).
Anyway, here are some brief glimpses of vampirism in nature. Thank you for joining us for Nightmarish Nature and may you avoid getting bitten by any true vampires among us… And I still think spiders take first place in the creepy eating category here, even if they aren’t technically vampiric.
Buried Treasure by “Dread Pirate” Jennifer Weigel
This story came to me in a sort of roundabout way from a rather unusual source. So I thought I’d share it with you, dear readership, and see if you can make heads or tails of it. – Jennifer Weigel
Dread Pirate Rum Tum Tugger could tell this was the right spot.
The site, beneath the sweeping limbs of the Live Oak, Spanish Moss swaying gently in the breeze, was a perfect match to the crude map he had bought off that soothsayer Deuteronomy.
The earth moved easily, as if it had been excavated previously. He dug in with greater fervor with each swipe. The sandy soil gave way to reveal something hard. He scooped and smoothed the remaining detritus from the surface as he uncovered a box.
The carton was simple.
No markings; no ornamentation; no writing. Just a plain cardboard crate, brittle from having been buried for so long but still sturdy. He hoisted it from its burrow.
“Ha HO!” he shouted to the passing breeze, rousing a small cloud of birds that erupted from a nearby thicket. They captured his attention for a moment, but he quickly refocused and returned to his task.
The box was locked but no difference.
Any self-respecting ruffian like himself could pick a lock in seconds. And he did so with panache, as was his way. He pried the lid open and licked his lips.
Inside was the legendary Kernel of Eternal Life, a small sparrow’s heart, still beating.
Artwork description: Myself as Dread Pirate Queen Miss Kitty wearing black bell sleeve shirt and black vinyl skirt with strapping leather belt over leopard print shirt and tights, with strapping leather boots, pirate head wrap and leopard cat ears.
Image text reads: Purr! Avast ye mateys, Dread Pirate Queen Miss Kitty invites ye to check out her booty stash and dig ye up a dungbie prize. Seek ye some buried treasure! Just grab ye a plastic litter scoop and dig… dig… dig… to ye heart’s content.
I created this image for a promotional poster for a performance piece in a charity art show in which I, as Dread Pirate Queen Miss Kitty, hawked a carnival sideshow style sidewalk installation. For a mere $5 donation to the animal shelter the show supported, gallery goers could dig around in a kiddie pool full of litter to find a prize: a cheap plastic trinket from the dollar store. I had some takers, including one kid who seemed to really enjoy the digging and whose parents were all in, saying “You know, you can totally do that at home too.”
For more cat antics, we invite you to read C-2747’s logbook here on Haunted MTL. 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.
Queen of Everything Mother’s Day Wishes
Happy Mother’s Day to the Queen of Everything… nothing gets by you.
Artwork description: A Happy Mother’s Day card featuring a picture of a Nefertiti doll with swooping hair, glitter makeup, and elaborate gold and blue headdress and evening gown.
Image text reads: Happy Mother’s Day! You are the Queen of Everything and you shimmer brighter than the twinkliest star in the sky. Stay sparkly and shine on in your magnificent glitter bombasticness. You ARE truly everything everywhere all at once and you’ve seen and heard it all. Eyes in the back of your head and superpowered hearing mean we can’t get away with much no matter how hard we try. So Queen on and rule over home in sparkly sentinel.
And may this be a testament to why us kids shalt never get you out of bed too early or run amok while you are getting ready to start your day… Because being the Queen of Everything takes planning and preparation…
Feel free to check out this Mummy Dearest Mother’s Day card from 2021 here on Haunted MTL.