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“Revenge of the Roses” by Linda M. Crate

He called them his roses. The girls that he slaughtered. Their remains were never recovered from the swamp. He only kept the bones of their pointer fingers as a souvenir and these he kept so well hidden that even his wife didn’t know about them.

She was a trucker so she wasn’t always around which made it easier for him to abduct these homeless teens and prostitutes. Especially when he lived out in the middle of nowhere.

He grinned nastily, leering outside at the little pocket of yard he had that wasn’t surrounded by swamp. Devin Cox read in the paper that morning that the parents of his first victim he had taken had just passed on. Wasn’t that a shame? At least they wouldn’t be lonely when they got to heaven, he thought.

Devin had ninety nine roses so far. Today he was planning on make it one hundred.

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His wife, however, had surprised him insisting that she was home for the weekend. Devin felt sheer annoyance at this fact, but he hid it well.

Their grown children never came to visit as they were too busy building lives of their own so he was rather used to being alone. He couldn’t understand why Melinda had to screw that up for him.

“You seem upset, is everything okay?” Melinda asked.

“Just a shame. That girl that went missing thirty years ago…her parents died today. I can’t help but think what I would do if something happened to our daughter.”

“Oh, how awful! Maybe they’ll find her…for the sake of her siblings. They seemed rather distraught that she disappeared. It was right when we moved out here, remember?”

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“I do,” he answered. “But it’s been thirty years, Melinda. I doubt they’ll find her.”

“Maybe not,” Melinda sighed. “I’m not feeling well, so I think I’m going to spend some time reading, okay, honey? You wouldn’t mind that, would you?” she asked.

“Oh, no. I’ll go to the store and buy something for you…?”

“No, no, I’ll be fine,” she laughed. “I’ll be fine.”

Devin grinned. “All right.”

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She mistook his evil grin for a mischievous one. “I said I wasn’t feeling well, Devin. Not now,” she chuckled.

“Of course, I’m sorry,” he remarked, but he wasn’t sorry in the least. Devin thought that there was no more fitting a crown than making his wife his 100th rose. Not his last, of course, because there were so many years that he still had left…but she ought to be remembered in some way, right? To be his hundredth flower was more honoring of a title than to be his first, he thought.

Devin considered waiting until his wife was on the verge of sleep before concocting this horrible cocktail that would end her life. He wasn’t sure what he’d do this time. Sometimes he liked to strangle them but other times he liked to stab, and he never used a gun because it would leave too much of a mess.

He learned that the second time he had gone about this nasty business. He had just narrowly escaped being arrested. They pinned her death on the boyfriend although they’d never found the gun.

Devin made sure they never would, either, when he tossed that gun at the bottom of the swamp.

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He sat in his chair as he waited, blinking as he snored himself awake. When had that happened, and what had woken Devin up. He glanced over at an ethereal being who didn’t speak. She just glared at him.

He rubbed his eyes, and she was gone.

Ah, that was nothing. Just a trick of the mind. Well, he’d be damned if that would deter his plans for the evening.

“Devin,” a voice whispered.

It reminded him of that girl that had died thirty years ago.

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Now is not the time to be cracking up, Devin, he thought aggressively to himself. He shook his head, clearing his mind of that girl and her blonde hair. The way she had screamed when he bit into her leg hard enough to make her bleed. The way her blood tasted when he licked it off his knife after slashing her throat. He had disposed of her body in a different swamp than the one he was so accustomed to now. No one had ever found her.

She had looked a lot like his wife except her eyes were blue instead of brown. They had the same freckles, the same pale skin, and almost the same smile. The girl had said something to him that had set him off.

Devin could still remember her smug smirk. “Men were just put on this earth to serve women,” she had said. She was just teasing, but it reminded him so much of his wife and her insistence that she was always right that he flew off the handle and he had decided she had to go then and there.

Oh, how she had screamed! He relished it even to this day. She didn’t even know what kind of monster she woke in him, that foolish girl.

Devin smirked again.

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“We’re going to knock that smirk right off your face.”

Devin looked around. Who or what was that? He shivered, rubbing his arms. This was getting a little ridiculous. Why was he getting so spooked? Obviously, he was still having some weird dream. He needed to get over it. Otherwise he’d miss his opportunity for his hundredth kill. He wasn’t about to allow that to happen.

He walked into the bedroom where his wife was still sleeping. Devin knew that he had to act quickly.

Any wrong move and she could instantly wake. He wasn’t going to allow that to happen. He looked at the bed-sheets and blankets and thought of a horrible idea. He could smother the life right out of her. Shouldn’t be too hard, right, considering he was stronger than she was.

“Ninety nine roses is far too much for you,” hissed a voice.

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He half-expected it to be his wife, but it was not. A pale girl with black hair glared up at him. She looked small enough to be a girl, but she had been a grown woman and a mother. Her only crime was agreeing to get in his car.

“SHUT UP OR YOU’LL WAKE HER UP!”

“Devin, what’s going on?”

“Nothing, Melinda, just go back to sleep.”

“Are you all right, Devin?”

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“I’M FINE!” he roared.

“There’s no need to shout at me for simply asking a question,” Melinda said, grumpily. “Maybe next time don’t walk into a room shouting at yourself if you don’t want people to ask if you’re all right,” she snapped.

“I never asked for your attitude, woman!”

“Nor did I ask you for yours,” Melinda retorted.

“Just ignore him and walk through this door,” came another voice.

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“Who, who are you?”

“No one that will harm you. Our business is with your husband.”

“My husband?”

“He murdered us.”

“Murdered?! Devin?!”

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“I did, and I’ll kill you, too, Melinda,” Devin shrugged.

“We won’t let you do that.”

“Ninety nine roses is too good for you.”

“Go through the door.”

Melinda disappeared through a door that Devin couldn’t open. He wanted to thunder after her, and get his hundredth rose.

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“WHERE DID YOU TAKE HER?!”

“Somewhere where you cannot harm her.”

“Yes, somewhere where she will never have to fear for her life again,” another woman answered.

He saw that he was surrounded by many ghosts. All of them must of been the women that he had killed through the years.

Devin felt the hair on the back of his arms and neck stand on end. What was going to happen to him?

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“We won’t let you die without suffering first.”

“Wait, what? Ghosts can’t kill people.”

“Maybe not with our hands but we can still kill you,” sneered one of the women.

“Yes, we can still kill you,” they crooned in unison.

“No, I won’t be killed by a bunch of women!”

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“Why is it so offensive that we’re women? You don’t seem bothered by the idea of us killing you, but the idea that we’re women. You perceive us to be weaker, don’t you?”

“Of course you are! Everyone knows that.”

“We’re the ones that birth the children, deal with periods and menopause, and have to deal with hormonal imbalances whilst expected to be strong as a horse, have the face of a young girl, and be expected to perform in bed whenever our husbands should have want of it. Women shouldn’t still be fighting for their rights!”

“But because of misogynist pigs like you, they are!” chimed in another voice. “Women are people. Not property or objects, and we certainly weren’t put on the earth for your entertainment. We have hopes, dreams, and ambitions of our own.”

“We won’t allow you to collect another rose.”

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Devin scowled, glaring at all the ghosts around him. This was some great delusion. It had to be! Yet every time he pinched himself, nothing happened. It was as if he was rooted to this reality even if he didn’t want to accept it was truth. What was going on?

He ran, but one tripped him with his a nail which tore up his sock and caused his foot to bleed. He fell, smacking his face off the hardwood floor.

Another hit him upside the head repeatedly with his wife’s knitting needles.

Yet another ghost whistled so shrilly that he felt as if his ears were about to explode.

“Stop it! Have mercy!”

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“We’ll have as much mercy as you showed us: none!”

The horrible cackles that followed afterwards made his ears ring so loudly that it thundered after him as he attempted to crawl out of the room. One of the ghosts knocked over a pitcher of water from his wife’s bedside counter, drenching his hair and face.

Then suddenly there was nothing. Devin blinked. Had they given up on him? Was his haunting finished? He didn’t know.

All he knew was that he must be losing his mind. He used the edge of the bed to pull himself up on, and saw that his wife wasn’t there. The door she disappeared into was gone, as well. Crawling towards his face was a black spider.

He yelped, killing the beast with one of his wife’s shoes that was handy beside the bed stand. It, too, was covered in water, and it was hard to grab onto, but he had managed the feat of smashing the beast. He had always hated spiders. They were gross and creepy no matter what anyone said about their benefits to the environment, he couldn’t abide by them. Bats could eat the insects as far as he were concerned. Blast those confounded creatures!

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There was a humming he heard, and he blinked, slowly pulling himself to his feet. He followed after the humming sound hoping it was something that he could make stop because it was making him feel uneasy.

It was coming from the kitchen.

All of a sudden a frying pan came and hit him in the face. As he was falling from the impact of the blow he grappled with the table cloth managing to successfully pull all the contents of the table off as he fell. A chair hit him square in the chest after he had fallen hard on his back.

“Hello, Devin.”

“I think the small potatoes are baked, it’s time to hit you were it hurts.”

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Devin blinked catching a knife in mid-air before it could hit him in the groin. These ghosts were no joke.

“I don’t deserve this.”

“Yes, you do.”

“It’s the revenge of the roses for everything and everyone you took from us!”

“You deserve to die.”

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He was suddenly reminded of his father who had grabbed him by the scruff of his neck once and uttered those same words.

“BE QUIET, YOU STUPID HUSSIES! YOU DESERVED TO DIE! LEAVE ME ALONE! GET OUT OF MY HOUSE AND GET OUT OF MY HEAD.”

“No,” was the simple response given by all those voices in unison.

He felt as if his head might explode.

Managing to get back on his feet again Devin ran as fast as he could back to his room, and locked the door. He put his back to the door, panting hard.

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He felt the knife slam into his heart from behind, he looked down at his chest where blood blossomed like a flower on his chest. He noticed that it was forming in the shape of a rose.

“The hundredth rose,” one of the ghosts mocked scornfully. “May you rest in pieces but never in peace.”

Their was mocking laughter in his ears. As he laugh dying he felt tears falling from his eyes, but his arms were too heavy to wipe them away. Everything was fading into cold blackness. A void without a name.

Linda M. Crate’s works have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies both online and in print. She is the author of six poetry chapbooks, the latest of which is: More Than Bone Music (Clare Songbirds Publishing House, March 2019). She’s also the author of the novel Phoenix Tears (Czykmate Books, June 2018) and two micro-poetry collections. Recently she has published two full-length poetry collections Vampire Daughter (Dark Gatekeeper Gaming, February 2020) and The Sweetest Blood (Cyberwit, February 2020).

Linda M. Crate, author.

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Original Creations

UFO Bizzarro, a graphic journey with Jennifer Weigel

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In the surreal graphic journey spirit of Departure and Drive By alien encounter, I bring you UFO Bizzarro, coming in for a landing…

The Landing

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?

alien creature looking down upon you inside of the UFO
alien creature looking down upon you inside of the UFO

Alien Encounter

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…

Muppets Pigs in Space homage to alien

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.

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Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.

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Original Series

Nightmarish Nature: Terrifying Tardigrades

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


The Last Chapter of Cozmic Debris

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

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

And now for Nightmarish Nature…

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

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

So what’s so terrifying about tardigrades anyway?

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

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

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

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Vampires Among Us

Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps

Cannibalism

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Original Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shit,” Trent muttered.

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“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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.
Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.

Please feel free to check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.

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