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The Rat by Ben Gartner

Marie DesJardin killed her husband with a shotgun, but it wasn’t murder; it was mercy.

Pierre DesJardin was a scientist, eager to make a name for himself. One of those young men who is smarter than the people hiring him, but who doesn’t have the patience to explain to them how their slow climb up the scientific ladder makes them stuck in the old ways compared to our modern “Fail Fast” era. Pierre was the high school student who mixed too much of the solutions together in Chemistry class to see what would happen, specifically when the teacher warned about straying from the directions. However, he’d inflate the proportions in the right and precise doses to elicit a bigger effect. His only crimes were anticipating the results his professors hadn’t.

“It’s sort of a quantum entanglement device, but uses a raw substrate to redraw the target matter,” he explained to Marie.

“A glorified three-D printer?” she teased.

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He smiled with eyes half-slits and the corner of his mouth turned up in a devilish grin. “Yes, a glorified three-D printer,” he responded, sarcasm dripping from his words. He loved her teasing, though it was part of the charade for him to pretend to be offended.

Marie perked her eyebrows and adjusted her glasses, then leaned back into the eyepiece of her microscope. Research into the mitotic processes of one-celled organisms was her specialty, and she was nearing completion of a paper her mentor, Dr. Gladstone, said had “great potential” for publishing by the scientific journals.

“You think too small,” Pierre chided, a bad joke at her studies.

“And pay the bills,” she whipped back, though turning to him, recognizing that may have hit too close to home. She was a paid professor at their University, while he was dedicated to research on a stipend that didn’t even cover their grocery bill.

The aroused attention he was giving her a moment ago faded and he turned away. “This device will transform how goods are transported around the world. Imagine—no roads, no cars, no planes needed to cart freight all over the world.”

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“We’ll still have those things for people.” Marie looked into her microscope.

Pierre’s cheeks simmered. “There’s no reason this couldn’t work for living creatures as well. Reconstruct them down to the exact atomic structure as had entered the machine.”

Marie snorted. “Then you could reboot someone from any saved state.” It was a question, though she often worded them as statements. She’d heard somewhere that women who speak every sentence as a question—even facts, and especially opinions—are perceived as weak. And weak, Marie DesJardin was not.

“I hadn’t thought of that application, but I don’t see why not,” Pierre stroked his chin. “Even make a clone of your current state. Oh god—” he shivered.

“I think you’re getting ahead of yourself, Pie.” Easy as pie, her cutesy nickname for him.

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Pierre didn’t hear her; he was rushing off.

He sped down the hallway, around the corner to the elevator, then down to the third floor physics lab. Inspiration had struck and he sat at his computer punching in edits to his equation. The magic flowed from his fingers and hitting the final Command+S to save his work gave him a jolt of electric excitement. He stood and looked at the big screen, hand over his mouth. He’d erased a third of what he had only minutes ago, but this new algorithm seemed more eloquent.

Nobel Prize eloquent, floated through his mind and he laughed.

Looking up and around the room, he found it deserted. As expected on a Sunday afternoon. He and Marie liked to come in together on Sunday afternoons. Married for seven years, Pierre had never experienced the seven-year-itch. He loved his wife. Her being a part of his life had only grown more and more comfortable as time went on.

A discovery like this might change everything though.

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He had to try it.

An object. He needed an object to try it on. Something small and simple for the first test. His mug, a simple white ceramic mug with the logo of the university that had been paying his sponsorship for six years.

“No results in six years is not atypical, Mr. DesJardin,” his grant supervisor had comforted. “But ten years and they’ll want some sort of return on their investment.”

He had to try it.

He’d gutted two countertop vacuum ovens for a transmitting and receiving device, wired into a power generator he’d borrowed from the Mechanical Engineering lab, and connected to his laptop via Ethernet cable. Another high-bandwidth fiber-optic cable connected the two devices. The transmitting machine would tear the matter into its basic building blocks—atoms—that would then transport across the fiber-optic bridge to the recipient machine.

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With the mug in one oven, Pierre closed the lid and initiated the vacuum seal.

When both oven lights green, Pierre swallowed and hit Enter on his laptop, executing his new algorithm.

There was a bright flash inside the sending device, followed by a cracking flash in the recipient device. The walls and door of the sturdy recipient oven bulged outward as if there’d been a tiny explosion inside. The green light had gone off, indicating the vacuum seal had broken.

Pierre ripped open the door of the device. A quick cloud of white vapor poured out, misting into the air. And there he saw it. His mug.

“Ha!” Pierre grabbed the mug. It was hot and burned his skin, leaving a white stripe down his palm and on his fingers. He recoiled and cursed, then grabbed some tongs and pulled out the mug.

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It was solid. It was whole. He turned it upside down and around and knocked it on the counter. It clunked with a satisfactory integrity that made Pierre punch another laugh out loud.

“I have to show Marie,” he exclaimed, then stopped. Something was off about the logo on the cup. It was backward. Hm, he thought, then dashed out of the lab.

A moment later, Marie was with him by the lab bench. Her eye first caught the mushroomed vacuum oven. “Oh, Pie, those are four thousand dollars.”

“Who cares, Marie?! The university will buy me a hundred more when I show them what I’ve done!”

“Show me, I want to see.”

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“Yes.” Pierre looked around the lab, saw another countertop vacuum oven on the other side of the room and was dashing over to grab it at a run. He couldn’t remember ever being so excited. Well, maybe except when Marie had accepted his proposal. But even with that, he knew her answer. This time, though he knew his math should give him this result, to hold the effects of what was nothing short of magical . . .

He plugged in the new oven. “What should we transport?” He looked around the room.

“The mug again?” she asked.

Pierre’s gaze lingered on a rat he could see through a window, in the lab next door.

“Pierre, you’re not thinking—”

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“No one will miss one rat.” He was moving toward the door.

Marie chuckled and sat on a stool, watching Pierre glide into the adjacent lab and “borrow” one of the biology-lab rats.

He stroked the rat’s fur as he inserted it into the breadbox.

“But the vacuum will kill it.” Marie put her hand on Pierre’s.

“I’ll time it just right so it’ll only be exposed for a few seconds. It’ll be fine, though maybe its ears will ring when we expose it to full pressure again.”

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“Goodbye, little rat.” She put her head down as if at a funeral and wiped a fake tear.

“Hello, Nobel prize,” Pierre said, smiling. He loaded up another sample of gel into the new recipient box and sealed it shut. “Wait.” His finger hovered over the button on the rat’s box to create the vacuum. The rat scurried around inside, whiskers twitching.

“What?”

“The heat. I forgot about the heat. When I pulled the mug out, it was hot.” He opened his hand to show Marie, the blister already puffy in a line down his palm and on the inside of his fingers. His eyes lolled up to the left as he thought about how to solve the heat problem.

“Ice?”

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“That’d cool it down quick, but it will still be hot from the explosion of reformation.”

“Looks like you have a stay of execution, little rat.” Marie bent down and tapped on the glass.

“Drat.” Pierre’s exuberance was gone and he was off into his mind, calculating and turning the situation over and over.

“Show me the mug,” Marie insisted. “I want to see it work!”

“I don’t want to waste this oven. I’ll—” He typed into his computer. Marie knew that distracted look.

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She smiled and kissed him on the head. “Check on you later.” He didn’t look up, and she left without another word.

Two hours later, with her own work wrapped up for the day and the October sun fading through the treetops, Marie went back to check on Pierre. “Let’s go get some dinner. I’m starved.”

Pierre didn’t respond, his hand running through his disheveled hair, a pencil between his teeth.

“Pierre!” she shouted from the doorway. He didn’t look up. “Pierre, let’s go—”

“Leave me!” he shouted, tossing his hand back dismissing her, without looking up. It wasn’t the first time he’d snapped at her like that and it turned her blood cold. Every time, afterward, he’d apologize and promise he’d change, but he never changed. People don’t change.

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She left without saying another word, slamming the lab door behind her, rattling the glass, wondering how much more she could take.

#

Pierre didn’t come home that night. It wasn’t the first time, so Marie didn’t wait up. The next morning, she called him on his mobile phone, but he didn’t respond. She didn’t leave a voicemail. Marie didn’t work on Mondays, and it was her day for errands, grocery shopping, the to-do of checklists, so she went about her chores, forgetting about her husband—until that night, when he didn’t come home for dinner.

She called him again, but still no response. Still later, while brushing her teeth, she typed in a text message to him, then erased it and plugged in her phone for the night.

#

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Pierre didn’t come home that night either. The next morning, Marie was worrying. He still wasn’t answering his phone.

“Selfish,” she said to herself, then cranked the keys in the ignition and headed toward the University. It was a workday, and they worked in the same building, so she debated if she should continue “giving him space” or if she should check to make sure everything was okay.

The decision was made for her. She parked her car and walked over to her building. Police motorcycles were parked in front of the entrance and yellow caution tape had been wrapped around the front. And now that she realized it, more sirens were approaching.

Marie hustled to the officer standing guard in front of the tape. “Officer, my husband is in there.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. No one is allowed inside right now.” His eyes hid behind mirrored glasses, his lips taut, brown cheeks pocked with old acne scars.

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“Well, can you at least tell me what’s going on?” Marie hoisted her backpack and leaned in, making it clear she wasn’t going to be that easy to get rid of.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. Please, just—” The sound of breaking glass from above cut off his words. They both looked up in time to see a desk floating through the air, smashing into the concrete and splaying out like a tired horse.

The officer jumped onto his radio. “Martinez, report.”

Static.

“Martinez, report.”

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Nothing.

“Shit.”

Marie backed away from the building, looking to the shattered window on the third floor, just in time to see a man—her husband—pull away from the open rectangle. It was her husband, wasn’t it? He had pulled away, with something over his head. She recognized the clothes, and she was sure he’d seen her. He’d looked toward her, though with that brown thing around his head, she couldn’t be sure. But she felt sure. Right?

Two more police cruisers and a large van with SWAT stenciled on the side pulled onto the grass near the front of the building. Soldiers rushed past Marie, her head spinning. She fumbled in her backpack for her phone, pressed the face of Pierre to call him. Straight to voicemail and she hung up.

“Pierre—” What had he done? What had happened?

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She rushed back over to the police officer. “Please, that’s my husband up there.” That caught his attention. “Tell me what’s going on!”

“That’s your husband up there?”

“I think so, yes. What’s happened?”

“Ma’am, come with me.” He took her by the elbow—with a little pinch—and took a step to escort her away, grabbing for his radio.

Marie twisted her arm free and bolted for the door. The tape prevented it from opening all the way, but it was enough for her to squeeze through. She sprinted past the elevators and slammed into the stairwell door. As she entered, she looked to the front door. The officer had entered and was talking into his radio.

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Up three flights of stairs two-by-two, her interval sprint training paying off.

She burst into the third-floor hallway and swerved her head toward the physics lab. Every window was smashed and spidered, the door ripped off its hinges. The sound of a helicopter broke her from her stare. She walked over to the open doorway into the lab, scanning with wide-open eyes.

“Pierre?” she said, a whisper, voice trembling. She could smell smoke.

From behind a lab bench, a paper airplane came soaring toward her. Given the chaos of the trashed lab, the broken glass, the tumult of the scene, the gently gliding kid’s toy seemed surreal. She watched it land at her feet. On one wing was a scrawled note.

READ ME

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“Pierre?” she called. No answer. The helicopter outside the window. She could see men looking through the scopes of rifles.

She picked up the plane and unfolded it. More of the bad handwriting, like a child or someone writing with their non-dominant hand, all caps.

GO AWAY. NOT SAFE FOR YOU. I DID IT, M.

It took her breath away to see her initial M. “Pierre!” She jerked toward the lab bench from where the airplane had flown. A squeaky, growling, inhuman sound stopped her in her tracks, making the hairs rise on her neck.

A black-clad soldier came swooping in through the broken window on a rope. He unclasped his harness and slung his rifle around, red dot dancing on Marie’s blouse, the man screaming something unintelligible in the noise.

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Marie stood shocked, noticed her hands in the air, the note held in one flapping in the wind created by the helicopter. The man approached, walking nearer to the bench that hid whatever had made that unearthly sound.

As he passed the spot, he did a double-take and swung his rifle toward whatever he’d seen, firing an automatic burst. But then his whole body dropped like something had pulled him down a slide or a trapdoor. Then a sickening crunch and then silence.

Marie stood there, hands in the air, the note flapping like a flag of surrender, her arms trembling, mouth ajar, eyes wide.

“Pierre?” It came out as a squeak, a question, something she heard as weak. She was weak. But no, Marie DesJardin was not weak! “Pierre! What is going on?!”

Suddenly, the body of the soldier flew over the counter, ricocheted off of the ceiling and landed at her feet. A bloodied corpse face down. A white sheet of paper was stuffed under a shotgun wrapped around the man’s back. Trembling, she pulled out the note.

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IF YOU LOVE ME, YOU’LL KILL ME.

“Pierre . . .” Water filled her eyes. “What’s going on?!”

Marie DesJardin knew how to handle a shotgun. She’d gone birding every year as a child, with her brothers and her father on their ranch in Idaho. This shotgun was shorter and fatter, but it felt familiar in her grasp.

“I’m coming over,” she said, stepping around the dead soldier. “But I don’t want—to kill you.” She snuffled through the words.

As she approached, a large vacuum oven caught her eye. It was against the wall, and had the same explosive, bubbled appearance as the countertop one in which Pierre had sworn he’d transported the mug. Only this one was large enough for a man to fit inside.

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“You did it, didn’t you, Pierre?” She half-smiled through her tears and her fright, stepping through broken glass and damaged laboratory equipment. “But something went wrong, didn’t it?”

She heard scuffling behind the bench and froze in her advance. “Something went wrong. And you’re hurt.” She could not swallow the lump in her throat.

“Let me help you, Pie. Let me see you.”

The terrifying screech sound jolted her senses. The helicopter swerved back into view, red dots appeared all over her blouse. A loudspeaker boomed, demanding she drop the weapon and put her hands in the air.

Without warning, she dropped like lead to the floor, on the opposite side of the bench from Pierre. They were both hidden from the helicopter, a thin island separating them.

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“Pie. Come on, it’s me. Let me help you.”

The scuffling, shuffling sound. He was moving toward the end of the bench. He was near the corner. All she had to do was go meet him. Or he could move a foot farther to the edge and she’d see him.

Marie looked over at the dead soldier and the thought flitted through her mind that she should have the shotgun up and aimed.

Pierre moved out from behind the bench into Marie’s field of view. She couldn’t look away from the horror, but she wanted to more than anything in her life. Her heart stopped, her breath choked out, the terror of what was before her wasn’t her husband. It couldn’t be. It was terrifying beyond anything she had seen or imagined could be.

It moved toward her, extending one clawed paw into the flooring and pulling its body along. The hideous arm was pink and bulbous with burnt skin and long deformed fingers, sharp pointed daggers at each end. It was Pierre’s body being dragged in shredded clothes, but the head pointed into a long snout, a bloody pink nose at the end, lips pulled taut over an elongated jaw, jagged yellowed teeth splaying out in every direction, sharp as knives, blood and gore hanging off stripped flesh down to the bone. His big rounded ears had cuts and slashes, dripping blood. Solid eyes like whetstone boring into Marie.

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The creature stopped only feet from her. Its slimy, thick whiskers twitched.

Marie came out of her stupor and screamed in panic. She could hear her cry go on and on. She couldn’t move her body.

The creature put its head down on the ground, its mouth moving and making a guttural sound. Like it was . . . like it was trying to talk?

“Pierre.” Marie finally heard herself say his name. The whoosh of other sounds came flooding back. The helicopter. The pop of a metal can rolling to a stop behind Pierre. The canister hissing a green cloud.

Pierre—the rat—trying to mouth a word. Like . . . “Kill” and “me.”

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Finally, Marie could swallow the lump in her throat. When it slid down, she was able to take a breath. The green fog hissing from the canister encroached and she knew the soldiers would be there soon.

“I’m proud of you,” she said. She thought she saw the creature smile, or maybe it was a gleam of recognition in its eerie black eyes. “You did it, Pie.”

She relaxed her shoulders, closed her eyes, and pulled the trigger.

Ben Gartner enjoys twisted tales that pull him out of his normal little world. More information at bengartner.com and on twitter @bgartnerwriting.

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Original Series

Nightmarish Nature: Assassin Fashion

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I thought about featuring some sort of Father Nature bit for Father’s Day, but having already explored Perilous Parenting I decided to focus on more creepy insects instead. Because we love creepy insects here at Haunted MTL. Thus, I present Assassin Fashion, featuring the Assassin Bug…

Assassin Bug drawing by Jennifer Weigel
Assassin Bug

Fashion Plates

Now I don’t know about you, but my first thought after snagging my prey and slurping out their dissolved innards is that I totally want to wear the dried up husk of their now lifeless body. Like that necklace made of nothing but shrunken heads. That is some first-rate fashion right there, and no one would dare to say otherwise lest they want to become a part of the dead-flesh coat… And this is exactly what the Assassin Bug does. Like a spider, it stabs its unsuspecting prey, turns it into a giant protein shake inside of its insectoid shell-glass, sips it out, and then attaches the corpse’s carapace to its ever growing collection atop its back.

Aside from being totally badass, these nightmarish embellishments serve a number of additional functions. They help the Assassin Bug blend in among its prey, masking its own odor and helping it to appear as a mass of insects that belong in or near the nest (especially among those more social networking creepy crawlies like ants and termites). In fact, it may even draw the attention of those clean up crews seeking to bury their dead, luring them in to become part of the body snatched horde. And the horrifying additions also act as a sort of armor and potential decoy for other predators like lizards and birds, who can end up with a mouth full of dead bug bodies rather than a bite of juicy Assassin Bug.

Wearing the Latest Trend in Dead Ant Bodies, drawing by Jennifer Weigel
Wearing the Latest Trend in Dead Ant Bodies

Kissing Sucks

And Assassin Bugs don’t just carry around one or two dead bodies, they may totally pile them up, as well as use other insects’ and plants’ secretions to their own advantage. Here’s a cool video from Deep Look that shows a partnership some Assassin Bugs have with Tarweed, keeping moth caterpillars from eating all of its flowers so that it can itself reproduce and spread.

Fortunately humans are too big to be susceptible… Or are we? There are also parasitic Assassin Bugs known as Kissing Bugs or Vampire Bugs that feed on mammal’s blood at night; they even act as a vector for other parasites that can cause disease years after feeding, which are associated with Chagas disease and are transmitted to mammalian hosts when the Assassin Bug poops while feeding and the host animal smears the poop into the bite when itching it.

pencil drawing by Jennifer Weigel
Pencil Drawing by Jennifer Weigel

So here’s a pencil drawing I did of a dead bug I found (I had a whole series of these back in the day). I hadn’t at the time known what it was, but it turns out to be an Assassin Bug. I wonder what its fashion sense was like…

So remember, if you want to be at the forefront of creepy horrific fashion, just look to the Assassin Bug for inspiration. If you’ve enjoyed this segment of Nightmarish Nature, feel free to check out some previous here:

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Vampires Among Us

Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps

Cannibalism

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Terrifying Tardigrades

Reindeer Give Pause

Komodo Dragons

Zombie Snails

Horrifying Humans

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Giants Among Spiders

Flesh in Flowers

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Original Creations

Goblins, a Short Story by Jennifer Weigel

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Revisiting the creepy faux fingernail art, I made a couple of goblins… They then ransacked my house. This is their story, as told by myself, Jennifer Weigel.

More faux fingernail art from Jennifer Weigel, featuring wide smiling mouth with red sparkly lipstick and faux fingernail teeth on textured green goblins background
More faux fingernail art from Jennifer Weigel

So it finally happened. My art came to life. And of course it couldn’t be one of the cute pretty pictures, like the sparkly unicorns or the cat drawings. No it had to be the faux fingernail goblins… Ugh. I first encountered them in the bathroom.

I see England.
I see France.
I see someone’s underpants!

Of course you do, it’s the bathroom. That’s totally the room for that. Remind me again why I decided to paint these little green monsters. Ugh. From there, they moved on to the kitchen.

We so tricksy.
We so sly.
We eats all the cherry pie!

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Did they have to eat ALL the cherry pie? Like seriously. But what can I expect, they’re goblins and they’re in the house. Ugh. And honestly they’re just plain gross.

I pick my friend.
I pick nose.
Just whose nose, do you suppose?

Get away from me you obnoxious, vile creatures! I can pick my own nose on my own time, thank you. Ugh. Oh, great, now they’re tearing up the living room.

We be goblins.
We be green.
We be making quite a scene!

No, not the sofa! Now there are little bits of fabric and stuffing flying everywhere. I can see you’re all too pleased with yourselves. Nasty critters. Ugh. Why can’t you just leave?

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I do mischief.
I do bad.
This best party ever had!

I did NOT agree to host your little shindig. Stop tearing up my house! All I know is, it’s about time you moved on to wreak havoc elsewhere. Ugh. Just get out – NOW!

We scare the cat.
We scare you.
We scare all, we care not who!

I may have brought these dreadful disgusting demons into being seeing as how I painted them, but I have no idea what brought them to life or why. What kind of cosmic miscalculation caused this? I need to know so I can avoid it in the future. Ugh. Goblins… need I say more?

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.

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.

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Original Creations

Faux Fingernails Art by Jennifer Weigel

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So I had some faux fingernails leftover from a costume based modeling session, from posing as Cruella De Vil for the figure drawing group… Here’s a teaser from that modeling session, before the horrible creepy art generation in the aftermath. If you zoom in tight enough, you can see my tiger fingernails, which kept trying to fall off constantly, reminding me why I hate trying to wear the things and why they (d)evolved into art.

Cruella De Vil modeling for figure drawing
Cruella De Vil modeling for figure drawing

My version of Cruella De Vil channels Glenn Close or the original animated character more than the recent Emma Stone variant, but they’re all delightfully devilish.

Anyway, I made this series of “Tiger Sharks” prominently featuring the same tiger faux fingernails, including those used in the Cruella De Vil costume. These “Tiger Sharks” also incorporated some pirate fingernails, because sharks and pirates are tight.

Pirate skeleton hand with faux fingernails
Pirate skeleton hand with faux fingernails

I couldn’t think of a better use for the pirate fingernails than adding them to this skeletal hand. I never actually wore these, they were too hard to come up with something to go with. But I do love the Beetlejuice vibe with the stripes…

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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