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“Victim #2: The Dickhead” by J.M. Brannyk

Morgana woke up first and already showered, smelling like soap and desperation, when she roughly shook me awake. In the darkness, the flecks of green in her eyes reflected back my own sweaty, terrified face. I blinked and tried to gather where I was and what was going on.

“We need to go soon,” she whispered, even though we were the only ones in her room, “Can you survive without a shower?”

I cracked my bones back into order and sat up slowly like an old man in the morning who had forgotten what he was supposed to do that day. It was feelings that trickled back instead of thoughts. I had a vague sense of urgency and horror that stuck in my dry throat. The urgency became stronger as she helped lift me to my feet and murmured, “Alex, go get your EMT bag. Hurry, please!”

As I stumbled to my room, I felt guilt and more exhaustion. Anger swooped in, but never landed, just circled above me. Each step made me more tired. I pushed things around for my bag before finding it on the kitchen counter. I shed my clothes and put on new ones that weren’t exactly clean, but didn’t smell like a few people had died in them, including me.

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When I stumbled back into her room, she pulled me out and dragged me with her.

“We have to go now,” she hissed and her hand clutching my wrist was so tight, I knew that each finger was busy bruising my wrist. I didn’t argue since I was just trying to keep up mentally and physically. My feet were flying out in a flurry just to keep up, like a little kid being pulled and stumbling over his shoelaces and his own stupid feet. The huge bag on my back encouraged gravity and my own awkwardness to crash into the cement. The only things keeping me up were my sleepy determination not to break my face on the ground and Morgana’s insistence that I keep following her.

Morgana led us to some sketchy areas. I tried to be as quiet as possible, but my lungs cried for air and my muscles cried for a comfortable chair and to never be moved again. Nothing eased or soothed the aching, even the wind was nearly rejected by my lungs. Graciously, she propped me up on a wall and said quickly, “Stay here. Just play along.”

She spoke so fast, my brain finally caught up when she went into the slimy mouth of a bar. I rested against the muddy brick wall, closing my eyes and hoping that my bag wouldn’t get mugged from me. The cruel combination of standing and the cold air woke me up. As soon as my mind began to defog, I realized what we were doing and my hands started to shake. I sloppily kicked against the wall to expend some nervous energy. 

At any moment, she would have a bloody stump that used to be a person that, in some magic way, I needed to make back into some semblance of a human.

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When she walked out with a living human with all his parts and pieces, I overclocked my anxiety. This wasn’t in my head plan. I didn’t think I had to see victim #2 as a person, especially a douchebag with his arm around her, like he owned her, marking his fucking territory, when I’m the one who was building her a goddamn van and came out in the middle of the night to save his ass. The least he should have done was show me some damn respect. I was fuming.

“Is that him?” The asshole scoffed and he was the kind that had the gelled hair, white teeth, unstained shirt, and matching pants. A hypocrite and worse, a bully. His large brown eyes sized me up in a second and any pride or respect that I may have had in his mind was instantly deleted, and all that was left was the impression of something softer than a fart and less noticeable.

I didn’t even feel like saving this prick.

“Yeah,” she smiled to me in a very forceful, very play-along way, “That’s my boyfriend.”

“No wonder he wants to watch someone fuck you,” he laughed and she playfully punched him.

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“Hey, he’s a great guy–“

“Just not enough to satisfy you, huh?” He flirted in front of my fucking eyes.

I have been insulted before. I probably have an honorary degree in it at some college. I have had my girlfriends stolen before (usually by my oldest brother) and I’ve dealt with it. But to be put in an awkward position by my girlfriend to where I’m belittled to my face, under the pretext that I was going to watch a smegma-sucking panty-gobbler bone her against a filthy wall while I stood in wonder and wished to be half the man that he was — yeah, that’s a fucking no.

But I didn’t leave because, bottom-line, I’m a pussy and even more so, I’m passive-aggressive. There would be a time when I’d be angry, sullen, and sulky — where I could jab little barbs into her until I felt better about myself and she felt worse about herself and we could break even. I didn’t need to be like that asshole, I didn’t need to feel better than someone else, didn’t have to step on them to get my jollies. I just have to feel at the same level.

“Who said that you could satisfy me?” She teased and walked over to kiss me quickly, whispering in the cover of my lips, “Just do this. One time. I need it now.”

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I kissed her back, not possessively, because I knew what was coming, what was mine, and what the next day was going to bring. The angrier I became, the cooler I felt, until it was a very thin line of hatred directed his way as he started sucking on her face.

She played along, but she wasn’t toying or charming like she was when we were in bed and half-naked, with my lips almost smiling and her mouth floating closer to mine. There was a different kind of sexual energy between them, but, at the core, hers wasn’t sexual at all. It was frightening. I knew I was seeing her at her worst as she pushed him hard against the wall, hard enough to jar him.

“Woah, baby, be–“, he tried to laugh off what could have been a concussion, but her mouth latched onto his and refused to let go.

My stomach rolled over and my nausea grew as I watched her lips pull back and mark a messy trail from his face to his neck. The ruby lipstick smeared wildly across his skin in bloody little footprints. The closer she came to his neck, the faster my heart trembled, keeping a step in front of her mouth. My legs threatened to give under and I reached out to brace myself against the wall. The moment was getting so hot and close, my mouth filled with excitement, tingling against my gums and stiff jaw.

And then it happened. 

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I felt out of myself, like watching from the screen of my computer. His eyes grew wide and threatened to pop, his face flushed and the veins rose to the surface, clawing their way up. His mouth opened wide, but only short puffs of breath passed through. His hands tried to push her away, but she clung on. I couldn’t see her face, just the whites of her hands as she held him tighter by the back of his skull. 

He moaned quietly and his legs slowly bent. She kneeled with him and they landed softly on the ground. He moaned again and his large eyes were glassy and wet.

I couldn’t watch any more, but could still hear him wriggle against her and gasp out. I pulled out a freshly rolled cigarette that I had hidden in my jacket and lit it. God, I needed something that night to ground me and tell me it was going to be fine. It was either the forgiving arms of vodka or the jittery push of nicotine and the cigarette was all I had.

I listened to an empty can of beer roll away, pushed by the momentum of his spastic jerking. His breathing jutted painfully into the alley, becoming uneven, and promised to collapse the whole thing — each lobe of the lungs just caving in under each breath. Her mouth sounded busy and when he quieted down, I could hear the long suction smack of her lips sucking up his blood. I puffed away and soon, I was pulling out the last cigarette I had hidden, and thrusting it in my mouth. I moved it side-to-side with my tongue to distract myself. 

“I’m done,” she wetly announced, snapping her head away from his neck, and darted away from him. 

He hit the ground in a damp thump and didn’t move. There was a moment of tension between us as I looked to her smeared face and she painfully ripped her eyes away from the contact. Each sound was amplified in the alley and each step I took sounded like the drum solo of a very distracted and inexperienced drummer. As I rolled him over, each tap of her heels made my heart flinch briefly. His face was lifeless and with hesitation I started to work, opening my bag as quickly as the zipper could open its enormous mouth.

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As I dug my fingers into the guy’s neck, finding the artery between the slick meat of his shoulder, I began to feel sorrier for him. He was an asshole, but he was essentially innocent. He was gullible and his lust was his downfall, as it’s been mine so many times before. The more I fought to save something left of him, the more I felt like I should have been the one in his place, We were so different from each other – I had gone to bars often to make an ass of myself and maybe get laid by someone even more pathetic than me. When you’re drunk, you have more freedom to be the person you’re not. You have an excuse to be whoever the hell you want to be – whether that’s a cocky son-of-a-bitch in that guy’s case, someone more interesting and fun in my case, or someone who can control the world in my brother’s case. 

The alcohol was working against him physically. If he hadn’t had so much to drink, I wouldn’t have been sweating into the poor guy’s ripped-opened skin, hoping that he would stop bleeding.

Morgana was good – keeping her distance from me. I hardly knew she was there. I could concentrate without interruption of being asked how long it was going to take or to hurry because someone was coming. She calmly watched from a rare shadow by a dumpster. Finding a cove away from light, I heard her lean against the wall and inhale deeply.

“We need to call someone,” I said, finally pulling back and setting him against the wall.

“They would track us,” she murmured behind me.

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“Not if I jam the call,” I answered and threw her a rag to clean up with. It wasn’t pretty, still smelled like grease, but she used it as soon as she caught it.

“Will he be ok?”

“No, not if someone more…professional doesn’t come soon.”

“Oh,” she sighed out and even the one syllable broke into two under the weight and gravity of the mention of death. I wanted to hug her and say stupid things I couldn’t ever mean, but I wouldn’t mean them, so I didn’t do it. I didn’t want to give her false hope.

“Where do we call?” She asked.

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“I’ll call,” I told her and lifted the bag to her, “Take this and go home. I’ll be there later.”

“I want to do something,” she said, her teeth not quite biting her lip, but holding it, and I felt somehow better just watching that sign of restraint. “I don’t like just waiting around.”

“You’ve already done enough,” I told her and–no, no, I didn’t mean it like that at all. But as soon as I said it, she yanked the bag and walked away. 

I stood gaping at my own stupidity — she didn’t look back. She walked with purpose and pain.

And I was all alone to deal with the dying dickhead.

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J.M. Brannyk lives in constant duality, like a tossed coin, but is steadily adjusting to the movements. They study geology and other nihilistic interests. Surprisingly, there’s a romantic side that’s hard to kill.

J.M. Brannyk, author.

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Original Creations

UFO Bizzarro, a graphic journey with Jennifer Weigel

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

The Landing

The UFO draws closer, its shiny metal form spinning high overhead. As it approaches, points of flickering light begin to come into focus, shining down like a hundred incandescent bulbs rotating and swirling around its mid-point. The beam falls upon you, unsuspecting soon-to-be abductee. It creates a sort of strange void, mesmerizing you while pulling your body towards its center.

What foul and terrifying beings lurk in the cavernous belly of the strange space vessel? To what dark recesses of the universe are you doomed to travel? Your body hangs limply in the warm sucking light as you ascend into the shiny metal saucer. You disappear from view, lost within the recesses of the UFO. A switch is flipped, the lights abruptly darken, and the spacecraft shoots across the night sky.

You awaken on a metal table. A bizarre alien creature looms overhead. But what is it?

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

Alien Encounter

Is that a… space swine? Did someone put lipstick on a pig? But only the porcine parade of Miss Piggy paradigms would come up with something this surreally swinish. Oh, wait…

Muppets Pigs in Space homage to alien

Yeah, yeah – I know that was a strange and long lead in to this Muppets segment of Pigs in Space, but it’s an homage to the movie Alien in typical bad-pun dad-joke Pigs-in-Space fashion. Sure, it does contain a lot of the same tired tropes we’ve come to expect of the series, but it also hearkens back to the olden days when Jim Henson was still involved. So sit back and enjoy the Bizzarro ride.

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

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Original Series

Nightmarish Nature: Terrifying Tardigrades

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


The Last Chapter of Cozmic Debris

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

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

And now for Nightmarish Nature…

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

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

So what’s so terrifying about tardigrades anyway?

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

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

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

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Vampires Among Us

Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps

Cannibalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shit,” Trent muttered.

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“It’s okay, I’ll go willingly,” Ayarvenia whispered as she sucked herself into the ready containment unit and locked it.  “Wait it out and release me again later.”  She winked and settled into static suspension.

The camera eye scanned everything: the waste containment unit, the dust, Trent-2-6000…  Trent froze and tried not to appear guilty.  “Dust-Buster, you have one and only one job aboard this vessel.  You are not doing that job.  There is more dust here now than there was a week ago. You have failed,” the computer droned on.  “The penalty for failure is… the airlock…”

“Wait, what?”  Trent shouted, exasperated.  He hadn’t even realized that was a thing.  Yet another gripe for the school career guidance counselor…

“Oh no, not again,” Ayarvenia whispered.  “I won’t let them take you, robo-boy Trent Just-Trent.  I don’t want to lose you, not another one.”

“Silence!” the computer screeched.  “You have sealed your own fates.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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