“Quenched In Blood” by Max Carrey
They’d been shoved into a blacked out van and driven on winding bumpy roads. Overcrowding, that’s why they were relocated; at least that’s what they’d been told, but this was no prison or holding site. It was a rundown building in the cover of a wood. Prison guards replaced with mysteriously black dressed men. Their bodies fine-tuned, sharpened, most likely military of some sort. Upon the realization of this threat a roar of grumbles burbled up from the gagged prisoners. There were thirty of them in total. Sweaty, hot, crammed together, being forced to walk single file all the way into a room glowing orange from coal fueled flames. This place was a forge, and a great burly blacksmith greeted them with a smudgy smile as he tinged away on his hammer against heated metal.
They tried to fight but their captors swatted them behind the knees to make them drop to the ground, and dragged them the rest of the way. They lined them up on the wall opposite of the blacksmith, as if they were an audience going to take their seats to watch a show, though shackles and cuffs constrained them. Iron tightly wrapped around their wrists and ankles, cutting into their skin the more they fought against them.
Abruptly left alone in the presence of the blacksmith, with the heat of the forge beating in waves against their skin, looking to one another with widening pupils, tears dripping down until evaporating off their faces, it became apparent that this man, this place would do them no good.The blacksmith, muscles tensed and taut, worked efficiently and quickly churning out stacks of unfinished metal. No longer just billets but not quite knives, the rough blades sat raked amongst the coals with their tangs piling outside the heat begging for handles.
The prisoners pulled against their bonds, but they refused to give. They bit down on their gags, but they didn’t budge. Their cries were muffled and weak in their throats. It had been hours, a horrifying slow burn, waiting for the peak of the moment to rise and reveal itself. No heart beat steadily in those men’s chests. They pinged off ribs in a deafening symphony as blood rushed to their eardrums booming the sound.
“Damascus-” the blacksmith began suddenly, causing the men to start and send them to the brink of fainting. “-blades normally aren’t the strongest of metals, but they stay sharper for longer. And you can make such intricate patterns.” He bellowed deeply, though his voice was surprisingly polished. “That’s usually why blacksmith’s chose to make them. For their cutting and their beauty, but I-I can make any blade strong, despite the metal. I could make a piece of scrap indestructible, but Damascus…Damascus is the best. It holds the most inside it, because of its layers. Things…” he chuckled darkly, “tend to get trapped there.”
The blacksmith threw one last rough blade into the pile and then leaned against his workbench facing the prisoners. He dragged a dirty hand through his sweaty beard. His fat cheeks pushed up into a grin, flashing a golden tooth. “With these blades I not only can make them stronger than any other, unbreakable, but the more blood spilt the stronger the wielder, the more powerful they become. The blade and the solider together as one, unstoppable.
”The sense of dread mounted, and each man began to see his years coming to a close, all culminating to this moment. The prisoner’s arms slackened against their restraints, defeated. Some tired bodies slumped low to the ground, others hung in mid suspension against the pull of the chains. In all their years of being a prisoner, this was the truest form of it enforced upon them. Their resolve weakened. Because who would care? Who would save them, even if they could? They were murderers, assaulters, and thieves. They were heathens, who would question their fate? People only cared if they met an end at all.
“It’s time!” the blacksmith growled. The door flung open and the room filled up with soldiers. Some faces recognizable, the men in black now dressed in camouflage, but there were more of them crowding into the room stifling out the light breathable air. Too many bodies. Each one stood in front of their chosen prisoner. Each prisoner gave one final surge of effort, tugging against their bonds, tearing their skin, blood leaking forth and dripping over.
“Well, gentlemen I suppose it’s symbolic in a way…because here you are on the road to Damascus,” the blacksmith chuckled wryly as he passed a glowing blade to each solider. Thirty prisoners, thirty soldiers, thirty blades. He then turned his back, preparing the grinder that would shape the metal into a smooth surface ready to cut with ease. The solders smiled and gripped the scorching blades in their clamped fists. The blacksmith’s voice roaring up over the prisoner’s terror as their muted screams landed dully in the cloth wedged between their teeth. “Perhaps if the metal you all were made of had tested well you wouldn’t be here. But so be it. Time for the quenching!”
The crude weapons were drawn back in synchronizing motion, the exacerbated energies of the prisoners heightened and they flailed so hard against their bonds the sounds of joints snapped as wrists cracked and broke, but then the blades were struck forth embedding messily and coarsely into their chests. Those that didn’t puncture and simply broke the ribcage swung back and struck forth again until it was buried in flesh. The blood dripping down over the blade, the prisoner’s soul evaporating out their body with a molten heat, but they did not travel far instead going down, down into the metal, deep within the layers.
The blades now quenched, hardened, and their souls trapped inside. They cried new soundless screams of terror that only bounced off the metal, pinging like a bullet to echo among them in the lonely dark. But soon others would join, paying an unlawful penance, crowding in around them. All kept prisoner inside the blades to give the wielder the power of God. Though this was no heaven. This was a place that the Devil ruled from afar. The layers of hell made of Damascus.
Max Carrey loves to delve deep within the complicated pasts and suspense filled futures of her characters. Currently she lives in sunny California, but will be moving to a gloomier location much like the settings in her stories (hopefully without the tragedy and mayhem involved). She has several upcoming stories to be released in print and online with magazines and indie publishers alike. To stay up to date on future releases follow her on instagram @maxcarrey
UFO Bizzarro, a graphic journey with Jennifer Weigel
The UFO draws closer, its shiny metal form spinning high overhead. As it approaches, points of flickering light begin to come into focus, shining down like a hundred incandescent bulbs rotating and swirling around its mid-point. The beam falls upon you, unsuspecting soon-to-be abductee. It creates a sort of strange void, mesmerizing you while pulling your body towards its center.
What foul and terrifying beings lurk in the cavernous belly of the strange space vessel? To what dark recesses of the universe are you doomed to travel? Your body hangs limply in the warm sucking light as you ascend into the shiny metal saucer. You disappear from view, lost within the recesses of the UFO. A switch is flipped, the lights abruptly darken, and the spacecraft shoots across the night sky.
You awaken on a metal table. A bizarre alien creature looms overhead. But what is it?
Is that a… space swine? Did someone put lipstick on a pig? But only the porcine parade of Miss Piggy paradigms would come up with something this surreally swinish. Oh, wait…
Yeah, yeah – I know that was a strange and long lead in to this Muppets segment of Pigs in Space, but it’s an homage to the movie Alien in typical bad-pun dad-joke Pigs-in-Space fashion. Sure, it does contain a lot of the same tired tropes we’ve come to expect of the series, but it also hearkens back to the olden days when Jim Henson was still involved. So sit back and enjoy the Bizzarro ride.
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…
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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…?