“Strzyga” by Tabatha Jenkins
The halfhearted glow of the bathroom light pushed the veil of darkness into the corners of the room so that she could see the fullness of her body. Running her hand around the curve of her abdomen, her fingers naturally fell into the grooves of her stretch marks. So many times she had wished that this was all a dream, until the reality of it began to peek out from under her shirt. She cursed herself, him, and the innocent consequence she wanted so badly to be rid of. When people in her neighborhood found out, they made a point to remind her that she had made her bed and that she should lie in it. But how could she regret relishing the sweet comfort of the smell of his skin? She couldn’t quite declare it love but she at least wanted the chance to find out for herself.
All of that changed the minute she saw the positive, +, emerge in the tiny square of her pregnancy test. Suddenly, a mass of pressure of expectations flooded both of their minds and their hearts, suffocating the warm glow of possibility. She couldn’t blame him for taking off; there were times where her legs felt shackled to the floor, and she wished she would’ve went with him. But more than anything, she wished for their baby to not exist. Why she should be the one left behind?
Removing her hand from her stomach, she reached up to the sides of her face. In her mind, she repeated her wish over and over until she was almost meditating. But every time she could almost see the color in his eyes, she felt a kick to her ribs. Only now the kicks grew stronger. Fingers gripping the counter, she cried out with each impact. This continued until she finally fell to the floor. Panic clogged her throat when she saw the ribbons of blood streaming down her thighs. Pulsing waves of fire seemed to be engulfing her insides.
Her legs couldn’t support her enough to get to the door, and she didn’t have a cellphone to call 911. All she could do was clutch her stomach and try not to vomit or pass out. She managed to crawl onto one of the soft rugs, using an old folded towel as a pillow as the kicks evolved into a level of pain she had never felt. She didn’t even realize she was screaming until her voice broke. Soon she felt the urge to push, fear and confusion dissolving her resistance. Was this a miscarriage? She suddenly realized that along with everything she felt, she also felt a bit hopeful. She was hopeful that, if this was a miscarriage, she wouldn’t have to watch another life affected by forced choices, breeding a resentment that slowly destroys love.
She froze as she felt a mass move from inside her body. Her veins began to darken as if someone had filled her with ink. A chill ran down her spine as she leaned over just enough to see a decaying, black limb emerge from her body, almost slithering out. She closed and again wished that this wall a dream, her inner voice screaming out her thoughts. But she couldn’t ignore the ripple of pain she felt when the limb grew into a shoulder, the grisly strands of hair, or the misshapen head as the black mass forced its way out. The arms were spidery and covered with a single layer of putrid skin that resembled curtains. The fingers were curled nearly into a fist, hiding nails that were as sharp as blades. The festering brain running on hatred rooted too deep to remove.
Her body began to struggle as more blood drained from her veins and into the narrow pathways of the bathroom tile. She barely felt the rest of the birth as she laid flat on the floor, staring only at the ceiling. Finally, she felt the feet leave her body. Many times she had imagined what her baby’s cry might sound like; would she feel the need to rush to their side? Would she sigh and reluctantly go to check on her? But she never imagined how she would feel if she ever heard the deafening shriek she now heard echoing from every corner of the room. She felt no motherly compassion, no sympathy, and no urge to comfort. She only felt the familiar urge to run that she had for so long. Only now she knew she could never run fast enough.
The mass’ shadow grew in length as she watched it stand and stretch it’s crooked spine, shaking then turning toward her. She saw the disfigured face with pair of wide set, yellow eyes that seemed to be nearly absorbed in the face. The mouth had a bad overbite which exposed the rotting teeth. She couldn’t convince herself this was a dream; she couldn’t even convince herself this was human. The creature was just tall enough to look down at her face, and she saw more clearly how the skin seemed to have been nearly spun from the skull. She saw the arm reach up into the air, stretching out the hand of knives. With another shriek, she felt the knives slice open her abdomen, and then the abrupt plunge of her insides. And as she felt the numbing wave of death spread through her body, she recalled the love she felt while falling asleep in his arms.
Tabatha Jenkins graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing. She has been published by the Adelaide Literary Magazine, Helen Literary Magazine, The Write Launch Magazine, The Scene & Heard Journal, The Bookends Review, Havik Literary Magazine, Gravitas Literary Magazine, Foliate Oak Magazine, and High Plains Register. She still currently resides in southeast Arkansas with her fiancé , her dog, JP, and her cat, Cayde-6. You can learn more at her personal website: tabathajenkins.wixsite.com/tabathajenkins.
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.