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“The Grand Finale” by Liam Moran

I’m one of the few who can honestly say they were there when the big change happened in the literary community. There were eighteen of us to be exact; most of us came alone. Several others will tell you they were there and recount their stories. Ninety-nine percent of the time they’re full of shit. But I’ll tell you how it started. I was there. I saw the truth.

            We were in this dive bar called The Starving Artist. It got its name from a pair of friends—one wannabe writer and one wannabe actor—who realized they’ll never support themselves on their coveted jobs, so they opened a bar with a suitably self-deprecating name. The actor died of an overdose a few years back, so only the failed writer runs the place now.

            But when they first opened it, and to this day, they wanted to make it unique, so in the corner of the bar was a stage where people would do standup or read their short stories or poetry or grab an acoustic guitar and sing their sorrows. Every once in a while, someone would try an incredibly low-budget play. No one really listened to anyone who was performing that much, unless the performers brought friends. Typically, the people would mull over what they hate about their lives and drink away their sorrows. Occasionally they’d listen for a minute or two, but then go back to their own business and order another drink. When you performed you neither did nor didn’t perform in a way. I, personally, wouldn’t count it as performing. There wouldn’t be any applause. There wouldn’t be any boos. Nobody listened after all.

            The place was dark. On the walls you could see the bookshelves the owner put there, but from more than five feet away you couldn’t read what the titles of the books were or who the authors were. The place stank of stale booze, body odor, and cigarettes. A hazy fog of smoke hung thick in the room.


            Out in the back, behind the dumpster, there was usually someone pedaling drugs ranging from low-grade pot to black-tar heroin. It was a hotspot. Everyone knew, but none of the patrons said anything. They weren’t affiliated with Sammy or his staff, but Sammy figured a man’s got to make a living, whether through the honest way or not.

            Anyway, it was at this hole-in-the-wall dive bar where dreams go to die, that I was tossing back my fourth or fifth Tullamore Dew when this guy comes on stage shaking, but with emotion, not fear. His eyes were fearless if I’ve ever saw it. He spoke as though it was hard to talk—his voice cracking and everything—with his eyes wet with tears. Good poet or not, I had to give it up for this guy’s stage presence.

            He said his poem was called “The Grand Finale”. Then he started to read. It wasn’t all that good; it was a little too melodramatic for my taste, but his presence was gorgeous. I truly believed he believed in his shit. The content was a subpar depressing poem about a man questioning if he wants to end his life or not. We’ve all heard these types of poems a bunch of times, but his presence: my God!

            He was shaking and choking on his words. It was hard to see because it was so dark and there was such a thick cloud of smoke in the air, but I think he managed to squirt a tear or two out. This guy may not be the best poet, but I figured if this doesn’t work out for him, he should definitely try acting.

            So he rambled about being friendless and how his family turned their backs on him and he lost his faith and all that whiney-shit. But the tremoring, the redness in his eyes, the forced cracking words being pushed out of a dry throat, the pauses for him to swallow back tears; now that was the real show. That was the real art.


            My belief in his fearlessness started to change a bit. Something about him made me think that he was in some way scared—just not about performing. He had no issue with that, but there was something else that I just couldn’t figure out.

            I ordered my fifth or sixth whiskey and watched this man bare his soul. I took a few hits from the drink and soaked in his performance.

            On his last stanza, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a gun. Nobody screamed, but slowly the room became silent and they focused on the man holding the gun. The man was straight up sobbing, and finally I realized what he was scared of.

We all said we didn’t know what was going to happen—some of us even managed to convince ourselves—but we all knew. We really did. But to interrupt such a performance would be a greater sin.

I can’t tell you how the poem began, or any of the lines in the middle, but I can tell you the last one; I’ll never forget it.


The man put the gun to his head and said, “And that is my grand finale.” He paused, choked back some tears and then croaked, “Goodbye.” Then he pulled the trigger and blew his brains out in front of the enraptured eighteen people.

Most people would assume that after such a scene everyone would scream and a chaotic Helter Skelter commotion would ensue. But at this poetry reading late in the night, there was nothing but serenity and admiration.

When it happened, everyone was silent. Nobody moved as the gunshot echoed in our ears. We held our drinks stationary and we sat there shocked. Then somebody started clapping. Another man joined him. Within a matter of seconds, we all were clapping and shouting our congratulations. It was beautiful. None of us had seen anything like it. A poem had to be honest if you gave it that kind of an ending.

The problem people had with poets—mainly poets who use poetry as a way to cope, which is most of them—is that they talk about their depression and hopelessness and despair, but nobody could fully know if this was true or not. As for that corpse that laid in front of us, nobody doubted his depression. Nobody doubted his hopelessness. Nobody doubted his despair. How could you? His body was still warm even though a quarter of his head was missing. He not only wrote about his pain; he followed through with it. He was the only real poet any of us ever knew.

The applause continued for several minutes even though nobody took a bow, and nobody was there to realize we were applauding them. But we did it for the art. We did it for the honesty.


The police and ambulance showed up. I always wondered why they even bothered calling the ambulance when the top of his head was missing. He shot a magnum revolver clean through temple to temple. I don’t think any EMT could fix that at that point. Even Dr. Frankenstein would need an intact brain.

One of the men who was at the infamous and seminal performance was a literary critic for a magazine. He wasn’t expecting to go there for a story; he was just grabbing a drink to not focus on life like the rest of us. But he found his story there and wrote a cover story on ‘honest realism’. It was realism all the way through. You don’t stop at an ambivalence to suicide or alluding to suicide, you go all the way. The literary crowd ate it up. We found out the poet’s name: Guy Sanders. Nobody heard of him before, but now he was the hottest name in town. Nobody knew anything else about him, and few people could quote more than one line that he had written, but he was a sensation. He built up a fan base and, over time, imitators.


It started off with people trying to make a name for themselves. Nobodies who saved up a particular short story or poem as their farewell, read it, and killed themselves to the sound of booming applause. The government wouldn’t allow public suicide, so they used a euphemism. They would say they were performing their ‘Grand Finale’, and everyone knew what it meant.

They sold out theatres—and these were nobodies—and people would camp outside to buy tickets to their suicides. They outsold the bigtime poets and authors, whether their fame came from being critically acclaimed or from commercial popularity, it didn’t matter. People didn’t want to see them; they’d much prefer to see a nobody slice their neck open or swallow a bottle of sleeping pills as they drift into nothingness. So the bigtime authors and poets had to join the fray if they wanted their legacy to stay relevant.


The ones who made a name for themselves previous to the spate of public suicides had an advantage. They would say they were doing readings across the country—the more popular ones went across the world—saying that this was their ‘Farewell Tour’. Performing their ‘Grand Finale’ was code for a stage event; but if they were going on tour it was, ‘Farewell Tour’. That was code that they would commit suicide somewhere on that tour. The benefit to this was they could drag it out and get more fame or money for this.

There was still a benefit for getting money. Even if you did die, you got to decide what happens with that money afterwards. Many writers are narcissistic people, so several of them chose to build monuments in their honor. Others chose a beneficiary, like a friend or family member. Whatever you chose to do with your money after you died was your business; it was up to the place holding the event or tour to follow through with it and obey your wishes.

The phrases started coming out. “Anybody who’s anybody in literature is dead.” “You have to be dead to be in this business.” A Time magazine cover read, “Can Death Breathe New Life into Literature?”


It was during this new and exciting time that I tried to climb aboard this train, only I didn’t want to die. Luckily for me, I had my brother who was a doctor, and my best friend was a plastic surgeon. The plan was set.


I gave my first performance of “The Grand Finale” and was shocked by how many people came. I’m embarrassed to say that I had stage fright. I felt envious of all those other performers who did this before me. Granted, if all goes according to plan, nobody will recognize me, but unlike me, they never intended to perform again.

So, I did my act, performed my “Grand Finale” and then downed a bottle of pills and felt myself drift into nothingness. By the time I lost my ability to move and felt myself drifting away, the curtain dropped accompanied with thunderous applause. I closed my eyes and it all went black.

When I came to, I inhaled in shock as I smelled burned hair. My chest burned and I noticed an AED machine hooked up to me. I was lying in the back of the van with my brother, Harry, leaning over me.

“Jesus, Chuck,” he said to me, panting only slightly less than I, “I thought I lost you.”

“Sorry to disappoint,” I said through deep gasps.


Harry inserted a syringe into a vein in my right arm and muttered, “To counteract the pills.”

“I’ve never been one for needles, but I think I can officially say I’ve made bigger sacrifices to make the big bucks.” I smiled.

“Fuck, you’re crazy,” my friend Reggie said from the driver’s seat. “I can’t believe I signed up for this.”

“It’s because you know as crazy as it might be, it’ll make all three of us rich as kings,” I told him.

“So what do we do now?” Reggie asked.


“You got the corpse?” I asked.

Hank unzipped the body bag next to me. The body was fresh—almost as if it rose six feet as soon as it went six feet under. The face that looked back at me was an almost uncanny resemblance of mine.

“Spooky,” I muttered. “Got to hand it to you Reggie, you’re a damn good plastic surgeon.”

“You’re a sick man, Chuck,” Reggie says. “And you’re helping to dig up the body next time. I’m not a superstitious man, but gravedigging at the dead of night can give anyone the creeps.”

“Come on,” I told him. “I’m already putting in most of the risk as is.”


Harry was checking my vital signs when he grunted matter-of-factly, “It would reduce the time of our highest potential of getting caught by a third.”

“So…,” Reggie said, “anyone willing to answer the question I asked earlier? What do we do now?”

“We drop dead-me off at the hospital,” I nodded my head over to the corpse beside me, “then we keep real-me hidden until they pay Harry, then we move, you change our faces, we change our identities, and then we keep doing it until we’ve all made enough money to never work again,” I said matter-of-factly.

And that’s exactly what we did. I put down my brother, Harry, as the beneficiary to my staged suicide, so we all waited for a check to come in the mail and eagerly waited to see how much it was.

“Seventy-eight thousand?!” I shouted. “I killed myself up there and they don’t even give me six digits?!” I paced around steaming and ranting.


Reggie piped in, “The problem is the pills. Nobody wants to pay that much to see a man slowly fade away. They need something more dramatic, realer.”

“Please,” I said. “The audience never knows which way one of these suicides will go, so the method isn’t the problem. Maybe it’s just bad luck. We’ll try this again and see what happens.”

So we changed faces, changed identities, and did it again—this time with a noose. I hung in front of the crowd for a long period of time with a makeshift knot to avoid complete suffocation. Unfortunately, our tying skills weren’t the best, so I did choke a bit on the noose. My limbs went numb as the curtain dropped and, as I saw my brother and Reggie hurrying toward me, I blacked out from the lack of airflow. Once they dragged me outside and the coast was clear, Harry performed CPR and, just like that, I was brought back to life.

I coughed and regained my terrified suffocated breaths. We got the check and it was up to a couple hundred grand. That’s when I realized this was going to take longer than I thought, so I devised a new plan.

After moving and changing my identity once again, I got a novel published, which was pretty easy now that a large percentage of writers have offed themselves. Now there’s less competition. So, I build up a bit of notoriety, and then I let it leak all over social media, that I will be doing my “Farewell Tour” in two years to this date. I also let rumors leak on the internet that it will be a bloody ending. I pump out two more novels in that time and then I begin my tour. This time we’re not holding back. The audience wants gore, so that’s what we’re going to give them.



I wait until the very last day of the tour so I can soak up as much money as I can. Now that the Grand Finale is finally here, and everyone knows this is my last opportunity to kill myself, the place is packed.

Now this is the payoff. This is what’s going to make Harry, Reggie, and I never have to work a day in our lives again.

So, I give my reading, and get to my Grand Finale. I think I’m overacting. The first couple of times it seemed easy to shake and mimic the emotion of the first literary suicide I witnessed at The Starving Artist all those years ago. But now, with two suicides already under my belt, I don’t feel as scared. I’ve become used to killing myself at this point.

I get to the end of my Grand Finale and then slit my wrists and just stare downward in the chair. The applause comes in slow, but then picks up and soon people are screaming and whistling as if they’re asking for an encore they can’t possibly receive.


I look upward for a second and realize no curtains are dropping. Why’s it taking so long?

The blood continues to pour out of me and onto the carpet as the crowd gets louder and louder. When is the curtain going to drop? I wonder.

My head grows faint, and the place starts to look dimmer. There’s a lot more blood than I expected. I start to fear I may have nicked a major artery. It’s harder to see. It seems foggier. For some reason I’m reminded of the smoke-filled ambience of The Starving Artist.

When it’s too hard to lift my head, I see Reggie and Harry sprinting right at me—clearly visible by the entire audience—and then I drift off.



I come to in the back of a van again with a blood bag in an IV hooked up to my arm. My brother’s bright red, surgically altered face shows pure panic as his usually calm and steady hands shake in terror while trying to suture up my wrists.

“His eyes are open!” He shouts over his shoulder, then turns to me. “We’re taking you to a hospital. We have no other choice. Just hang on!” my brother screams.

I try but can’t speak. I see a tear roll down my brother’s cheek.

“You think we’re still getting paid?” Reggie asks from the front seat.

“Shut up, Reggie!” my brother shouts.


“I just want to make sure it wasn’t all a waste, you know,” Reggie says. “In his memory.”

“Shut the fuck up, Reggie!” my brother shouts once again. Then he turns back to me and frantically chants, “Come on, Chuck! Hang in there! Come on, you can do it!”

My eyes get foggier and dimmer, reminding me about the dim, smoke-filled room where Guy Sanders gave the only performance anyone could remember from him.

I’m fading. I grow cold. I need to accept it. Whether willingly or accidentally, in a packed auditorium or alone in a hospital bed, we all give our grand finale sometime.



Liam Moran has been published in Coffin Bell Journal, Ripples in Space, and Haunted MTL, and his two novels, ‘Saving Fiction’ and ‘Love is Delusional’ are available on Amazon. Originally from Levittown, New York, he now resides in the suburbs of Chicago, where he enjoys reading, writing, and catching the Sunday games with some friends at a local sports bar, where he engages in his love/hate relationship with the Buffalo Bills. He invites fans to follow his Facebook page @LiamMoranAuthor or go to his website at and to feel free to message him if they so desire.

Liam Moran, author

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Original Series

Nightmarish Nature: Something Rotten, Flesh in Flowers



This time on Nightmarish Nature we will again explore some of the more fetid fungi and plants, this time focusing on those that imitate rotten flesh in order to attract flies. Among the best known of these are the Stinkhorn and the Corpse Lily or Corpse Flower. The Language of Flowers be damned, literally…


Many of the fungi in the Stinkhorn family erupt in mushrooms that reek of rotten flesh and sprout from a white sort of egg sac in various forms, the common type being a phallus like structure with a white body and olive head. The Beefsteak fungus resembles, well, a cut of beef oozing blood. And some mushroom bodies of the Clathrus genus bloom in elaborate lattice structures or devil’s tooth and devil’s fingers that resemble terrifying alien beings. These odoriferous fetid fungi grow in decaying wood material and use their stinky attributes to attract flies and other insects which will then spread the spores from their fruiting bodies. They truly look like something out of an outer space or aquatic nightmare.

Some various fungi that can reek of rotten flesh, drawing by Jennifer Weigel.
Some various fungi that can reek of rotten flesh.


Some plants also utilize pungent putrid odors to attract flies and other insects, in part to aid in the pollination and dissemination but also to attract insect matter for their own needs, to absorb the insects for valuable nutrients that they cannot otherwise obtain. The largest flowers in the world bear many of these characteristics, also being among the stinkiest. And some pitcher plants mimic rotten flesh to attract flies upon which they “feed”.

The Titan Arum of Sumatra and Indonesia is a plant that over time produces a huge flower somewhat resembling a calla lily but larger as the plant body stores enough energy to do so. While Calla Lilies are often used to symbolize rebirth and resurrection and can be associated with death, often in a funerary setting, the huge Titan Arum does more than that, strongly mimicking decaying flesh in order to attract flies. These flowers can grow to almost 8-feet tall and bloom for only about three days before wilting; they are a huge draw at botanic gardens when flowering because of the rare nature of the event and the remarkable presence that the flower has, in both size and smell. The US. Botanic Gardens has a page devoted to this plant here, where you can even track previous blooms.

Titan Arum flower as drawn by Jennifer Weigel.
Titan Arum flower as drawn by Jennifer Weigel.

Another noteworthy flowering plant is Rafflesia, a parasitic flower native to Indonesia and Malaysia that feeds on the liana vine and grows from a sprouting body bud into a huge flower over the course of five years. Its flowers, once finally formed, can grow to almost a meter across and resembles something out of a horror film. These too smell of death and decay to attract flies in order to cross-pollinate. You can learn more about these unusual plants on this video from Real Science here.

Rafflesia flower as drawn by Jennifer Weigel.
Rafflesia flower as drawn by Jennifer Weigel.

If you’ve enjoyed this segment of Nightmarish Nature, feel free to check out some previous here:

Vampires Among Us


Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps


Terrifying Tardigrades


Reindeer Give Pause

Komodo Dragons

Zombie Snails

Horrifying Humans

Giants Among Spiders


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Original Creations

Dirty Clean Sweep, a Short Story by Jennifer Weigel



Wendell was a germophobe. His obsessions with cleanliness extended far beyond the reach of OCD and even hypochondria, because for all that he was totally infatuated with his own mortality and utterly convinced that he was sick, it was his peculiar obsession with germs that eventually drove him to an insanity that doomed the world to an unexpected and dire destruction. For Wendell was the reason for the Clean Sweep.

When the COVID pandemic happened, it only increased Wendell’s fear, and his germophobia worsened significantly. He started meticulously waxing all of the hair off of his body, even his eyebrows, and would shower several times per day, using an abrasive pumice to slough off any dead skin that might otherwise accumulate and attract mites. As his manners and habits surrounding cleanliness became more and more rigid and involved, he left his house less and less for any reason whatsoever. He began to treat his home environment like a hospital or chemical facility and reworked everything to minimize debris, personally installing air filtration systems that rivaled some of the most sterile industry environments and cleaning everything constantly (he had once worked in HVAC and now no longer trusted anyone else to be involved in his efforts).

He took advantage of all of the delivery services, with packages coming to his back porch once weekly. He had everything on video camera and would scream at anyone who didn’t follow his explicit instructions through a small speaker in the ceiling. If a delivery-person didn’t first sanitize their hands with the supplied wipes and then put on latex gloves and booties before turning the door handle to drop their package on the specified table, they were yelled at and reported, and a bad review was left for whatever service had sent them.

Dirty Clean hand sanitizer out and about
Dirty Clean…

Wendell only order packaged foods, simple soups and cereals that would not come in contact with the world outside of their factory packaged settings. He meticulously researched processing plants to determine what he could and could not consume according to his own standards of cleanliness. When a parcel was delivered, he would leave it where it sat for two to three days time depending on the weather, all the while monitoring it. He would eventually suit up in a tyvek jumpsuit, goggled and gloved, and brave the porch himself in order to extract his needed food and hygiene supplies. Whilst there, he would spray and wipe down the porch, replenish the hand sanitizing wipes and latex gloves, and take everything that might have come into contact with the outside world out with his trash. The cycle would then repeat again a few days later. Every delivery included yet more gear to perpetuate his clean infatuation. More latex gloves, more wipes, more sprays, more tyvek suits… And every time his labors increased…

While Wendell continued to go about his business, ordering life necessities like soap and soup online, a slow and subtle change to his environment began to take over. It wasn’t obvious and, as he never put any distance between himself and his bubble world, he was unaware of the shift. It began because of a spore, well more of an anti-spore like blossoming of suddenly self-aware sterilization. No one really knows where it came from, or how it managed to get such a strong foothold, but perhaps it was because of Wendell’s meticulous cleaning habits. For this strange and unusual being, or beings as it were (for it was hard to tell whether there was a single individual or a number of them all acting under one consciousness), though unaffected by cleaning reagents and the like, had once been highly susceptible to bacteria and rarely survived at length when competing for resources with other species previous to its evolution in Wendell’s abode. But the bereft home was the perfect outpost for it to thrive, and it finally managed to gain a foothold. It grew rapidly and had soon infiltrated most every corner.


As mentioned, Wendell didn’t notice, or perhaps he welcomed the change. For this strange surface skimmer actually looked even cleaner than its surroundings, appearing as an even brighter less dingy white that almost seemed to glow. It embodied cleanliness, at least insofar as we have come to perceive the concept. And the more that it acclimated to its habitat, the more resilient it became, learning to alter its own surroundings to its gain by killing off any and all other life forms that stood in its way. When a small quantity of some bacteria or mite or other single-celled threat was introduced, say on a box surface or embedded in the cardboard, the newly evolved clean critter would attack and annihilate them almost as if it were itself composed of harsh cleansers like bleach and ammonia. It seemed to develop a memory for different organisms and found a way to destroy most everything. It steadily increased in size and became stronger and stronger.

Clean Dirty hand sanitizer out and about
Clean Dirty…

Finally, one day, it had grown large enough to determine that Wendell himself was a threat, for no matter how clean his environment or person was, he still harbored a myriad of organisms required to keep a human healthy and fully functioning. He was inherently dirty and had to be eliminated. And so the creature he had fostered at length, by providing a nearly sterile environment for its incubation, rose up and destroyed him. It did so while he was sleeping and so he had no awareness of what had happened; had he realized a blanket of seemingly sudsy foam was suffocating him he would have panicked thinking it was some sort of bacterial infection or the like. But he blissfully slept through his untimely death, and the aggressive new organism worked to dispel all of the unclean bits and detritus of his being.

After finally taking over the whole of the house, this new creature began to spread, much like a fungus or a rot, dismantling all in its path in order to leave a wake of clean sterile nothingness. Although it has been said that nature abhors a vacuum, somehow this void had become powerful enough to negate that and continued on its path of complete and utter destruction, leaving nothing living in its path. Before too long it had absorbed the two neighboring houses, and then the houses just beyond those, in a sort of reverse infection that defied logical explanation. The local health department and center for disease control were perplexed; these spaces seemed too clean to harbor such a deadly silent killer and yet something was slowly annihilating everything in its path on a microscopic level. It almost acted like a slow progressing chemical spill but yet there was no evidence of such either.

Before long, word had gotten out and samples had been taken and distributed across the globe. One of those samples was eventually leaked intentionally, as a weapon of mass destruction, and was unable to later be contained. The Clean Sweep was upon all and the world began to be disinfected wholly as it spread. Life was literally in the balance, slated to be eradicated and left to a sort of shiny surface devoid of substance. All was being cleansed, slowly but surely. What started with Wendell, whom would never be known or acknowledged as the source of this new terror, had grown to be much larger.

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.

If you enjoyed this tale, here is another creepy story about cleanliness. 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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Original Creations

More Nail Polish Paintings by Jennifer Weigel



Well, seems I’m at it again, with more nail polish paintings into found thrift store art. Why so many flowers this time…? Well a friend sent them and I just couldn’t help myself. They are so perfect for creepy fairy paintings. And for those of you who think fairies aren’t scary, you haven’t read much about the fey now have you?

More Revisitations nail polish paintings by Jennifer Weigel
More Revisitations nail polish paintings by Jennifer Weigel

Top left: Blue Fairy, originally painted by M Wadorf

Top right: Pegasus, originally painted by Edie Babb

Bottom left: Unicorn, originally painted by R Lovelace (After I painted this I realized I missed the opportunity to do a troll with a bridge and so I hope to do another along those lines in the future.)

Bottom middle: Fairy, originally painted by SD Janz


Bottom right: Dragon, original signed FZ, very sparkly with black-light sensitive eyes

And the most horrific of the bunch this time is this mermaid, who started as a weird bucket painting by Helen Miller… So, what’s in the bucket, Helen? Body parts? Fish? Plants not yet in bloom? I envisioned a trapped mermaid waiting to ensnare some unsuspecting land-goer, because no one would expect to find a mermaid there…

Mermaid in bucket, original by Helen Miller
Is this mermaid trapped in need of help or just trying to lure you close?

So I broke down and redid the unicorn to a troll. Apparently the troll was hungry… Anyway, here is the result. I am happier with it now.

Troll with toll bridge, original by R Lovelace
Hungry troll wants bridge tolls after eating innocent unicorn.

You can find more of my Revisitations art on Haunted MTL here, including links to even more nail polish paintings…

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.

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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