“The BKR Killer” by Eddie Brophy
On this atypical warm fall afternoon September 26, 1996, the juxtaposition between customer and clerk felt palatable. Case in point? The resonance of another rental being dropped into the return box at Movies on Video on Friday night.
Diane Murray’s response, “I just emptied the damn thing,” sounding like a broken record after a less than satisfying five years managing the establishment and the Pavlov Dog equivalent of someone desperately trying to covet an out-of-stock rental. Eight months into her pregnancy, Dianne felt more like a Macy’s day parade balloon (the compression socks didn’t help) as she waddled from return bin to the register to make sure the store’s system was updated so the next ravenous vulture could covet their copy of the latest Steve Martin dud. Varicose veins be damned, Dianne would make sure every single customer left the store with something that would only exacerbate the depression of their seemingly disappointing middle-class lives.
Since the past summer, the seemingly innocuous sound permeated the way tubular bells did with the release of the Exorcist in the 70s. A cresting wave of hysteria crashed down in cineplexes, sending theater goes fleeing from the first sight of the demonic possession on screen. An undertow of morbid curiosity had just as many people running into the proverbial burning building, undaunted by the odious stench of urine, vomit, and cinema issued smelling salts to revive those who had fainted during the picture. Alright, maybe that’s a bit hyperbolic-a recent string of video store clerk related murders did galvanize scores of morbidly curious onlookers to stake out video stores to see if their store would be next.
Before Dianne could return to her station behind the register, she was greeted by a line of voyeuristic onlookers who were curious if they are going to see a car wreck, while others are exiting with their irrational panic. Prior to the cumbersome weight of pregnancy (both literal and figurative) Dianne probably typically laughed it off due to her dark sense of humor (despite how polarizing, the film “Heathers” never left her staff picks shelf) however peeing her pants a little every time she sneezed made her a little more callous around people who seem excited about the probability of one’s demise.
“I. SWEAR. TO. GOD!” She sneered, “If BKR does drop a snuff film in here, I’m totally sending one of you bastards home with it!”
She then opened the rental box and smirked.
“And if you’re looking for Sgt. Bilko? You get what you deserve!” She scoffed as she scanned the case and placed it on the counter for another Friday night vulture to snag.
Dianne, glances down at her wrist watch and is annoyed that her relief still hasn’t shown up yet. She wouldn’t have any semblance of a break for another thirty minutes when one of her younger hires Isiah Thomas punched in for the evening shift.
Twenty minutes away, Isiah is crossing the street across from his high school and making his way to his new part-time job. While he is certainly aware of the controversy a video-store rental clerk killer had created in terms of jeopardizing sales, he is just happy to have all the hours that are now available once his more skittish co-workers abandoned ship. In fact, all the hours he is picking up elated his mother who is a single-working mom who saw more of the patrons at the restaurant she waitressed at than her own son. Next year, Isiah would have to start diligently applying to local colleges.
Her overtime espoused with his would make that less of a futile effort now that they might have the funds to afford the tuition. She also seemed aware of the stigma around her son’s job. This is what all the talking heads on every local news station could talk about day and night. After police found the body of a young female clerk in a dumpster behind the video store, the first headline hit in June. Something Isiah typically sees on episodes of America’s Most Wanted, or even Unsolved Mysteries, but unlike his two guilty pleasures this story took a turn for the macabre. Before the cops and reporters could really get into the details of motive or potential suspects. A week later another video store discovered another mutilated female video store clerk in their dumpster.
When the opener had arrived at the store to collect the deposit from the previous evening, she realized that one of the projectors was still on. Trivial right? Before she turned it off, she checked the VCR to see if the promo tape had been rewound to play the following day, but the tape was unmarked. After rewinding the tape, she decided (morbid curiosity) they she would play it back…who knows? Maybe the younger clerk is messing around and playing R-Rated movies during her shift (which is explicitly forbidden as printed in the company handbook) so if there is something funny going on, it should be reported. She found something alright, and it isn’t going to be an R-rated slap on the wrist. She discovered (at least at the time of this discovery) an actual snuff film. She didn’t want to believe it, but she recognized the young woman on camera…and it isn’t because of her previous credits as an actress it’s because it is the girl from the news.
Whoever murdered the young woman, had videotaped the murder and for whatever reason it was playing in this store’s VCR the night before. Before this clerk could was able to get her bearings, she noticed that the door to the back room was open and down the hallway. The door to the back of the store leading to the dumpster. That was open too. Her instincts told her to immediately call 911, but like one of those theater goers who waited for hours in December of 1973 to get a glimpse at something truly horrific…she decided to walk out through the back door. Isiah remembers the interview well because up until this broadcast he had never heard anyone share details that Craven or Carpenter themselves could have written for the big screen. The woman walked out to the dumpster to find the closer from the night before eviscerated and discarded like road kill.
The first murder gave the world this impression that (at least, on the surface) that this was going to be an isolated or even senseless arbitrary crime. Then more and more bodies started piling up as the summer progressed, each a young woman who was closing shop at her local video rental store. Now dubbed the Be Kind Rewind Killer (or B.K.R. Killer), he or she had a calling card that opened every grisly discovery. The weird part is there appeared to be no motive tying any of these crimes together other than the victims being young Caucasian women working at video stores, and this strange penchant for goading the women to run out of the store once they realized who would be waiting for them. That part always tripped Isiah up, if you knew the person was waiting outside? Why wouldn’t you just stay in there, until the person tried to force their way in? If that were Isiah? He’d stay in that store until the god damn sun came up if it meant saving his own skin or the lives of anyone working with him.
Anyway, the whole thing is probably just a stunt created by the cable companies to cannibalize the customers who became indignant over the new policy on late-fee charges. If the cable companies (who owned these news stations) could scare people from renting the old-fashioned way, customers would have no choice but to subscribe to their even more expensive cable packages. At least, this is how Isiah convinced himself to get through his shifts with whoever the closer is that night without being as equally skittish as they are.
After all, if it wasn’t embarrassing enough to be the skinniest guy in school…being easily frightened wouldn’t help matters. Mostly, because he was the only guy employed at his video store, so the closers were mostly young attractive girls who he didn’t want to look even more pathetic around. He continued stressing over the possibility of being put in such a situation because tonight he is working with Tiffany. Because of the number of other workers who abandoned ship once this B.K.R thing caught on like wildfire, Isiah and Tiffany often got paired up to work the night shift. While he harbors a very innocent crush for his co-worker, she just looks and smells like rejection. She always smells like that deodorant that inspired Kurt Cobain to write Nirvana’s most popular song, any time he caught a whiff of it made him introspective and completely unable to make a sound or carry on a coherent conversation with her.
This is what happens when you grew up without a father, he’d always think to himself. His mother didn’t have the faintest idea on how to raise a man, rather she chose to raise him as she aptly put “as a gentleman.” In sixth grade, Isiah made the mistake of telling his mother that his crush would be attending one of the school dances dressed as Belle (Beauty and the Beast was still popular that year) which immediately possessed her to make a Beast costume from scratch for him.
Isiah had already planned to show up as Freddy Krueger, but his mother was having no part of her son not making a romantic entrance to sweep this girl off her feet. So, there he was, starting his first year off in middle school dressed like an asshole whose costume no one recognized. Just the skinny, bowl-cut weirdo in tights and a cape…standing all alone across the cafeteria from his crush being escorted toward the stage where the DJ was set up by her football playing Beast. They slow danced to Vanessa William’s “Save the Best for Last.” Rejection sucked, and every time he smelled pink crush Teen Spirit deodorant or heard Vanessa Williams, he remembered the taste of saline on his tongue and how fog machines make his asthma act up.
Despite one of the most humbling moments to ever associate itself with Halloween, it was still his favorite time of the year. When he makes it to the shopping plaza where he works, he stares up fondly at the Brooks’ Drugstore logo hanging above the front doors. He chose not to adhere to the memory of that unspoken rejection and found elation through the smell of latex when you tried on one of the masks that the staff of Brooks always start putting on display by the end of August. He took solace in New England’s autumn foliage and couldn’t wait to binge on his favorite candy bars while he went home with a generous handful of horror movies that his manager had promised to set aside for him. That was the major upside to sharing a plaza with other stores. As he approached the store, he couldn’t help but lose himself in the scenery of what made Halloween so amazing.
Every store had a pumpkin, ghost, or skeleton displayed in their windows, small children were being led by the hand of their parents while they gleefully hopped up and down like little lunatics knowing that they had just purchased THE costume. Isiah removed the headphones of his Walkman cassette player and clicked the stop button. He wanted to take a break from the bleak ennui of the late Kurt Cobain screaming out post-mortem diatribes about how the music industry was a sham to think about what was still tangible. He wanted to forget about his daunting role as fodder for high school bullies, take a respite from his trepidation of what going to college meant to his relationship with his mother, and forget that he wasn’t completely overjoyed to work the closing shift with Tiffany.
Tiffany, for what it’s worth is Isiah’s “type.” She is the girl with the Lisa Loeb eye glasses, who dresses like Courtney Love from the baby doll dresses ight down to Mary Janes. She exudes a confidence about herself that doesn’t exist anymore than her quasi love of bands like L7 or Mudhoney. She will wax rhapsodic about Sonic Youth, and Babes in Toyland when you knew she was still rocking maxi singles by TLC, Marky Mark, or Mariah Carey. Phony musical taste notwithstanding, she hates her job at the video store and her attitude sucks. Isiah loves his job; he loves it because he can remember his grandmother taking him to Movies on Video as a little boy to rent movies or NES games.
Walking in, the aroma of freshly developed film and butter popcorn overwhelmed customers. Later, it would become a smell that Isiah would simply define as “what home smells like,” but there was a quality to it that felt like church. The way St. Mary’s smells like flowers and mahogany. Movies on Video had its own church smell. Tiffany didn’t care about how the store smelled, and her jaw didn’t drop when Dianne told them that they’d make popcorn and hide it under the register so the smell would encourage customers to buy confections and popcorn when they passed the displays before the register. Isiah loves video stores because much like his mother, Dianne, and Nirvana video stores harbor no prejudices, rather they aren’t prejudiced against Isiah.
The long walk from Franklin and Main street is a phantasmagoria of everything Isiah loves. Autumn leaves, children excited about Halloween, and Kurt Cobain memorial t-shirts on the backs of people who never talk to him, but he likes to believe he could find kindred spirit in. It smells like fireplaces and strawberry Jell-O (the Jell-O factory wasn’t far from the high school) and when you finally reach the store? Freshly developed film, popcorn, and Dianne’s 90210 perfume just make you feel like if you are lucky enough to call anywhere home? This is it.
As he enters the store, he can’t help but giggle at Dianne’s ruthless candor with the hapless voyeurs goading her already crazy pregnancy induced paranoia into a glorified mental breakdown. As he walks by her, he cracks:
“Another day in paradise, Di?” to which she playfully held up her ring-finger displaying the black on her mood ring. Their relationship is resembling that of a maternal older sister, and her very geeky younger brother she feels compelled to over protect. When Isiah reached the backroom, he saw a stack of tapes and a note. He didn’t want to waste too much time, but Di had promised to set aside some horror movies according to a theme she would choose. Isiah couldn’t help but laugh when he realized that they were all related to pregnancy or childbirth. “Rosemary’s Baby,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child,” “Village of the Damned,” but more importantly…she had set aside a copy of “Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers,” despite the fact that it had reached the floor.
The thing with working in video stores? Clerks can watch films in advance before they go out on the floor. Once they’re out? You must wait a month before you can get your hands on it. This make it fair for the customer to get a copy. Isiah started working after “Halloween 6” was available to clerks first. Dianne was breaking a big rule, and Isiah wasn’t quite sure why.
Despite this unusual managerial choice, Isiah made a point after punching in, not to waste a second before relieving his very pregnant and lovely manager from the mob of customers who couldn’t think anything better to do on a Friday night than harass video store clerks. When he approached the counter, Dianne was finally seated on a stool nonchalantly ransacking the confections displayed on the counter.
“Are you alright?” He cautiously asked.
She just smiled and shook her head.
“At some point, would you mind emptying that for me?” she pointed to the return bin which at this point was overflowing with returns. “Usually Tiffany does it at the beginning of her shift,” She then rolled up her sleeve and glanced down at her wristwatch. “Which started forty-five minutes ago.”
Isiah nodded, and made his way over to the bin when he realized that something had been jammed in the slot where the videos would typically be dropped.
“Dianne?” He spoke
“What is it?”
Isiah reached his fingers into the slot and his fingers were now gripped on something that felt like a kind of fabric. In fact, it felt like the fabric of his uniform, the one he couldn’t stand tucking into his khaki trousers because it always managed to somehow mess up his boxer shorts and he was always too self-conscious to readjust himself. Instead, he endured the obnoxious chafing and the feeling that not everything was in its right place down there. This was really the only major complaint he had about the uniform, well that and how he felt like he looked like a schmuck in khaki trousers. It reminded him of when his mom would drag him to the nearest Sears to get his pictures taken so she could give them out to relatives as gifts.
Always khakis, a checkered dress shirt, sweater vest, and bowtie made him look like a caricature of the average loser.Somehow, it didn’t seem to shock him when he was anointed with this title once he entered middle school. He gave two good tugs before pulled a uniform top through and glancing down at the nametag. Without even reading the name on the tag, Dianne immediately knew where Tiffany was as Isiah held the shirt up at her.
“Well,” she joked. “That’s one way to quit.” She sighs and stood up methodically from the stool and instructs Isiah to man the floor while she put in an additional four hours to her already ten-hour day. Isiah spends the next three and a half hours greeting customers, making recommendations, and helping the Friday night rush find their selections while Dianne does her best to keep the line moving in a fast and steady fashion. By 10:30 most of the store is cleared out, and Dianne looks like she has just competed in two Boston marathons while pregnant. Isiah approaches the counter for further instruction.
The nice thing about a lull in the store? Isiah can spend some guilt free time to browsing his favorite sections of the store, horror and science-fiction. He always makes mental notes of what display boxes he remembers from his childhood and would add them to the list of future rentals when he has a day off. The much-needed respite from mobs of customers is also something Di reveled in as it lets her sit behind the counter and rest her feet. Isiah is enamored with all the VHS display boxes; he treats them the way most people probably regard the work of famous artists displayed in museums. Isiah is absolutely convinced that good box art can sometimes be indicative of a great movie, take “Predator 2” for example?
The artwork is subtle, yet it teased a sense of dread with the ominous sky overlooking the city. Not as heavy handed as say “I Spit on Your Grave,” but exploitation films were a genre all their own. He realizes that perhaps he has spaced out a little too long as he can hear Di hollering from the other end of the store and signaling to him. He hates feeling like a space cadet, even more so when he feels like it is interrupting his responsibilities on the sales floor. When he approaches, the front Di motions to Sour Punch strings hidden behind the counter with a goofy smile on her face. Isiah shoots a teasing look at her, as if this probably isn’t the healthiest thing for a woman so far along in her pregnancy to be eating.
Being the good sport that she is, she shoots back a goofy angry face at him and motions around her body to show how large and miserable she is. Isiah nods and grabs for one of the confections.
“What do you think of my theme?” Di giggled, in between bites of candy
“You HAD to go with the pregnancy angle?” Isiah snickered
“If anyone can appreciate body horror, it’s definitely the Cronenberg guy. I mean you’ve rented Videodrome what, a dozen times since you’ve been here?”
“Hey,” he protested “I’ve also rented The Fly!”
“You ever see the sequel with Eric Stolz? Absolute heresy”
“Well look at you,” he smiled “I didn’t know you actually liked the movies we had.”
“Movies just remind me of my last boyfriend, Dakota’s dad. It’s hard to love something that goaded the love of my life to just up and leave to pursue a pipe dream instead of you know…raising his fucking kid.”
“What’s the 4-1-1 on him these days?”
“Managing a video store on the west coast”
Isiah was about to say something before she shot back with
“Shut up! I didn’t say West Coast Video…I said a video store on the west coast!”
The two break out in hysterical laughter.
“No, he was a good one. Its why I worry so much about you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t be that guy,” she warned, “You and your cardigan sweaters and flannel shirts. Kurt Cobain is dead. For the love of god, don’t see that as an opportunity to take the mantle. Grunge was antiquated the second it became a pencil. Wouldn’t you rather be you than try to live up to someone else?”
“Is that what he’s doing? Let me guess…in order? Spielberg, Scorsese, Landis, and Lucas?”
“That’s a deviation.”
“Well, babe. He did get his start in a video store,” she said in a mocking tone imitating her baby daddy.
“So, Tarantino is the Cobain of cinema. Now all the would-be filmmakers want to be like him. Is that what you’re saying?”
“Just, you’re a smart and sweet kid Isiah. Don’t put all your eggs in a very unreliable basket. You’re a great writer, has anyone ever encouraged that?”
“Only my mom, but like…any time I’d give her a poem for her birthday or Mother’s Day. Then again…she also cried anytime she watched the Thorn birds so I don’t know how reliable that is.”
“It’s true though, I’ve seen your work.”
“I didn’t want to admit this,” she joked “But I found SEVERAL drafts of what I assume are love letters to Tiffany in the waste baskets”
“I mean, I get it. Blonde. Skinny. Dresses like a librarian. Acts like a tough girl.”
“I mean, that’s not all.”
“Take it from me sweetie? Someone like her wouldn’t know what to do with you. She doesn’t even know what to do with herself.”
“I mean, I’m not looking for a wife.”
“Yes, you are. That’s exactly what you’re looking for. And at your age? Why? You have your whole life ahead of you.”
“To do what?”
“To…I don’t know, watch Halloween 6 and actually enjoy it no matter how bat shit crazy and terrible it is. To, write a book or a book of poems…to not get so sad about how you fit into high school that you try to fit in anywhere after it’s over.”
“I’m not sad…”
“You’re a mess,” she protested. “I get it, I was you in high school. How do you think I wound up with a child to a guy who left me to pursue his dreams and managed to get pregnant by another man who still drunkenly leaves voice messages about burning my house down while my children and I are still in it?”
“How’s that going?” Isiah sighs “Do you still have that restraining order?”
Di hangs her head and lets out an exhausted sigh.
“I didn’t mean to,” he corrected, “I mean…I didn’t mean to bring it up”
“No, it’s just…you meet a guy at a grocery store.” She begins, “Handsome, well put together and REALLY disarming. In that moment you never anticipate that one date will lead to two, two to a dozen more. Then a baby, then next thing you know he’s wailing on you and threatening to murder you and the kids.”
There is a pregnant pause due to Isiah’s inability to feel like he can comfort her.
“Oh hey, thanks for letting me rent the new Halloween! You’re not going to get in trouble for that are you?”
“I’ll just pull the pregnancy card,” she laughed.
The two are standing behind the counter continuing to share candy and banter, when Dianne can’t help but notice how lengthy this lull in the store has been.
“You know,” she spoke, “You can probably just head out…I can’t imagine it’ll get this busy again in the last half hour.”
Isiah shakes his head,
“Dianne,” he insists, “I realize I’ve never closed the store before, but you look like you could go into early labor any minute. Why don’t you head out, and I’ll cash out for the night?”
He isn’t sure if it is hormones, or just the gesture but Dianne immediately burst into tears and wraps her arms around her young co-worker. She then walks with him around the store and explains how the alarm system works and how to properly lock up with the sliding door that often sticks.
“Seriously,” she insists. “If you have ANY trouble…please. Call!”
Isiah walks her out the door and waves as he watches her get into her Hyundai and drive away from the shopping plaza.
By 10:59, Isiah has already cashed out and locked up the store. All he has left to do is turn off the lights when he heard a thump in the rental return box. For the first time all night he has goosebumps as he pulls out one of the hardcover cases and opens it. All it contains is a little piece of paper that reads “THERE’S STILL ROOM IN YOUR DUMPSTER.” Before he can even think of how to react, he hears a loud crash and all the electricity abruptly cuts out.
Then he realizes, Tiffanydidn’t quit. With his only breath his simply spoke,
“She’s in the dumpster.”
Upon this revelation Isiah is now climbing over the counter and as soon as his feet reach the floor, he only has one thing in mind which is find somewhere to hide until you hear this asshole breaking into the store. He has a better chance of getting out alive if the killer hasn’t anticipated someone thwarting that immediate thought to flee out the back door and directly into their trap. It will take them a few minutes to smash through the glass and make their way to the back office where he plans to hide. With the power cut, he doesn’t know if it will set off the alarms and prompt the cops to arrive, but this is certainly something the killer has thought about before he or she arrived. Anyway, the second he hears the glass shatter Isiah knows to run out the back and through the woods where he’ll eventually end up in the parking lot of his apartment complex. He is so grateful he lives behind the video store, while a quick escape from a serial killer wasn’t immediately considered upon being hired it certainly comes to mind as an added perk.
Attempting to navigate his way in the dark isn’t one of his strengths, after walking into several tables and walls he is waving his hands around erratically to find a table or something to hide under. He is massaging the surface of the table new hires typically sit at to watch the training videos and fill out the handbooks before they get hired. He crouches down and lifts his hands above his head to make sure he’s under the table and slides his scrawny frame underneath and waits. Isiah is now trying to subdue his heavy breathing, but a combination of adrenaline and the fact that the mad dash from the counter to the room is making his asthma act up. He remembers that he left his inhaler in his locker at school, which normally wouldn’t be a big deal as he has another at home. He just didn’t anticipate how stupid of a decision that was, then again, he also didn’t anticipate being at the mercy of a murderer during his shift.
He is stretching just a little bit, so his legs don’t cramp up and make it hard for him to run away if he hears a forced entry. He stretches his arms out just enough to feel the blood circulating and avoiding a potential pins and needle situation when the palms of his hands slide against the cold concrete floor and hit what feels like a pocket book. He assumes this much because its bulky, the texture feels leathery, and he can hear the faint rattling of zippers. His hands are now clumsily feeling around the bag to find the main zipper for anything that might provide him with a light so he doesn’t potentially knock something over and give away his location. He is trying his hardest not to make too much noise and as he finds the main zipper, he is pulling at it as delicately as he can, so it doesn’t make the obnoxious “Ziiiiiip” sound. He opens it enough that he can stick the tips of his fingers inside and feel around for something.
The tips of his fingers immediately massage what feels like the cellophane wrapping of a pack of cigarettes. Isiah has stolen enough smokes from his mom that he knew the texture of this object even in the dark. He is excited at the prospect that you can’t find a pack of smokes without a lighter. As he continues feeling around the purse, he feels something that resembles of a bic, and a leather wallet. He slowly coils his fingers around both objects like a boa constrictor and removes each item in his hand. He massages the tip of his thumb down the spark wheel pressing down on the ignition button which causes a tiny flame to emerge. He holds it over a wallet that is fastened together by a tiny snap. He unhooks it and immediately recognizes the face on the Massachusetts issued driver’s license.
“Dianne,” he whispered.
Dianne ALWAYS keeps her keys on the back counter but is always forgetting her pocketbook in the back room after her shifts. The second he laid eyes on her ID photo two things sprang to mind.
“She said she QUIT SMOKING” Isiah grumbles
The second? She didn’t have her license on her. Something she jokes about frequently is that she needs to stop leaving behind in the store if she goes into early labor and must drive herself to the hospital. The mind-boggling duality of Dianne, she’s still smoking while pregnant but doesn’t feel comfortable driving her automobile without having her license on her. Law abiding, but too addicted to consider fetal injury. While Isiah shakes his head, he reaches his hands back in the bag to see if she had anything else that might bring her back to the store and then he feels it. It is muscle memory at this point from his days of playing with cap guns and the few times his uncle took him without his mother’s permission to the shooting range. It’s a smith and western .45 six shooter. He also remembers the time that Dianne confided in only him that she had recently purchased a gun due to her ex’s threats.
Isiah has never been put in such a position before. He can simply wait out the inevitable and there is a small chance he might get out of the store alive but knowing that Di left her purse with her license and now a fucking gun in the back room? The second she realizes this (if she hasn’t already?) She’s coming back. There is a killer outside, and Dianne is coming back. What was the point of trying to get her out of the store to avoid danger, if she was going to come back to danger? Now the danger is fucking real and its waiting outside. Isaiah’s father died because Isiah didn’t speak up. He was little, but old enough that he could’ve screamed or done something to divert his father from doing the dumbest thing ever.
Isiah’s dad took him for a walk in his big wheel, there was a cop chasing after someone robbed the convenience store down the street. Isiah and his dad saw the pursuit and his father reacted as he typically did, he left Isiah and ran across the street to tackle the man so the cop could catch up and arrest him. When his father tackled him, the man unloaded a few shots on his dad killing him in cold blood. The tussle created enough time for the cop to catch up to the guy and take him down to the ground while disarming him, but Isiah’s dad died. Isiah’s dad died doing the right thing. If Di, pregnant Di is going to come back to the store? There’s a psychopath claiming there’s more room in the dumpster. Isiah shot up, gun in hand and held a lighter up in front of him making barely enough light to merit having it as it was only burning the tips of his fingers. He approaches the front door where a person wearing an executioner’s hood over a zip up black hooded sweatshirt, black Levi’s jeans, and what look like black work boots is stoically standing at the doors tapping the blade of his hunting knife against the glass.
Isiah hasn’t checked the chamber, but immediately raises both arms up and squeezes the trigger unloading several pops until he watches the man fall to the ground and seemingly to his death. Somewhere between the actual shots and the shattering glass both of Isiah’s ears popped. He lowers his arms down to his side where his left hand, now clammy from the combination of nerves and adrenaline loses grip of the firearm as it clangs down to the concrete floor. Isiah finally loses feeling in his legs and falls onto the ground on his knees. His intuition proved true, as he watches the headlights of Dianne’s shit box make their way right up to where the lifeless hooded body now lays.
Isiah immediately fell into a haze, but a few days later when he wakes up in a hospital bed his mother and Dianne both explain the details of the night to him. Tiffany did in fact quit by discarding her uniform in the return bin, she wasn’t in the dumpster. Earlier on in the day Dianne’s ex had broken into her home and was waiting for her to come off the afternoon shift planning to murder her. She knows this because of several frantic messages from a friend of his on her answering machine pleading with him to reconsider. When he realized that she must have picked up a double shift, he vacated the apartment and visited a local drugstore to buy the hood. Dianne had to make a stop by her mother’s house to pick up her oldest daughter, when the two arrived at their apartment she noticed almost immediately that her front door had been kicked in.
The two ran out of the complex and back to the mother’s where Dianne called the police, it was at her mother’s house that she realized she didn’t have her pocketbook on her. She planned to run in the store quickly to grab it and spend the rest of the night at her mother’s when she saw the dead body and the gun shots in the windows of the front doors. Her ex had arrived not long after she left and had been waiting for the store to close to make his next move. However, he didn’t cut the power. Someone crashed into the electrical pole across the street and most of the block lost power including the video store. Isiah didn’t kill the B.K.R. Killer, a combination of Jack Daniels, cocaine, and a telephone pole did. Turns out the B.K.R. Killer was a customer, and one who was also a registered sex offender.
He was at one of the pubs a town over from the store and confessed his crimes after knocking back a few whiskey shooters and snorting a few lines of coke before screwing out of the joint and stiffing the bartender he confided to. While in hot pursuit he lost control of the car and crashed into the pole, Dianne’s ex must’ve saw that as an opportunity…why focus on why guy killing his baby mama when the authorities could catch an active serial killer? So, he stood outside the store most of the night waiting until Dianne felt safe enough to leave. Two monsters died that night. Isiah tried not to overthink about the chances of it being fate or coincidence, he is just happy to be holding Dianne’s newborn baby.
“If it wasn’t for you?” She said, “We wouldn’t be alive today.”
She leans over and kisses him on his forehead and then fires him. Well, sort of.
“Isiah,” she laughs, “I’m pretty sure killing a customer, no matter how potentially dangerous still warrants immediate termination.”
“Am I really fired?” Isiah gasps.
“No,” Dianne laughed. “You’re going to college.”
She hands him an envelope that immediately causes Isiah’s mother to start sobbing.
“Tiffany says to call her when you’re discharged,” she says just before she winks and leaves with her newborn.
Isiah is very confused until his mother speaks up.
“All the Movies on Video employees in the state started something of a scholarship for you after they heard the story,” she answers. “Even if you didn’t get the actual B.K.R. Killer, what you did? They felt that you deserved to be rewarded for your bravery.”
Eddie Brophy is a poet and blogger from Massachusetts and has an MA in Poetry. His poems have appeared in Parnassus, Z Publishing’s ‘Best Emerging Poets in Massachusetts 2017’ and ‘Best Emerging Poets North East 2018’ ‘The Poet’s Haven Digest: Darker Than Fiction’ ‘Rhythm of the Bones: Dark Marrow: Issue Two’ and ‘The Penman Review’ You can read his previous publications and blog at: https://eddiebrophywriter.weebly.com/
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.