Fever of the Wendigo by J. Motoki
Adam scratches his sternum where the thick branch pins him to the driver’s seat.
I am a tree now.
The windshield is cobweb-cracked in an abstract of greens and browns, the pine tree blown up in ugly proportions. The protruding branch, which seems to hold him at arms-length from the tree, had saved them all from plunging to the bottom of the ravine. It doesn’t hurt too much, although it itches around the edges—it’s the smell in the car that’s concerning. A violent smell. It rises above the stench of sap and burning metal, blood and shit.
Amazing how the windshield had stayed intact, with just the hole where the branch juts through and the ripples of glass around it. The car’s airbag, for whatever reason, had failed to detonate.
Adam opens his mouth to speak, but his bloated tongue sinks into his mouth. His mouth is completely devoid of spit. He tries again.
“Miguel’s been gone a long time.”
His girlfriend stirs, a tangle of hair masking her face. Once she complained of ragdoll limbs, the pinpricks of glass shards; now her head rests in the remnants of window. When she speaks, her voice is so flat and dead that it causes his heartrate to increase—a budding panic that he forces down like an acidic belch.
“He’ll be lucky if he sees anyone,” Josie says. “We passed two cars the whole way here.”
Her voice stirs a memory. There’s something nagging him, something he’s forgotten. He tries to retrieve whatever it was, embedded in the tar-pit depths of his mind.
“There’s glass in your hair.” Adam reaches over slowly and brushes hair from her face. He touches something sticky. “I can’t get your other side.”
Josie’s cracked lips curve back, a side grimace, exposing teeth full of blood. Her head remains against the doorframe at a 90-degree angle, but one eye rolls wildly to survey him.
“Hey Joe,” Adam says. “Pass me a water? It’s hot in here.” When he doesn’t hear anything, he cranes his neck to the side as far as it can go. It isn’t far.
“Josie, what’s he doing?”
Joe, the inconvenient twin of his girlfriend, who for the first leg of the road trip lectured about staying vigilant in nature, had spent the hour through the mountains asleep. He had acted strange since the last rest-stop with the filthy toilets, at the base of the mountains, when he surprised them all with an uncomplaining silence. Adam was relieved to have a break from Joe’s juvenile wisdoms, the wisdoms of a churlish and oily twenty-something who never left his room. Somewhere in the narrows, Joe collapsed into sleep and Josie told them to shut up after they joked about nature vigilance (there was something he was forgetting, something important) and Miguel complained that he took up all the backseat, sprawled like starfish over him.
Josie, with excruciating slowness, lifts her head a millimeter from the window.
“Where’s Miguel? We’ve been here forever.”
“There’s a lot of hill between us and the road.”
“I knew I should’ve gone,” Josie says. Her head flops back to the side with a sickening sound, the mechanical rasp of bones. It sounded accusatory. “He’s always been like this—unreliable.”
“Joe, buddy, how’re you doing back there?” Adam twitches, pinioned to his seat by branch and seatbelt. Beads of sweat bleed from his forehead.
A breeze agitates the pine trees; an animal screams in the distance.
Josie blows her lips, a horse snort that lifts her hair, a bored sound. Earlier, she had argued with Miguel about who would go get help. Cars stop for breasts, she said. That’s sexist, protested Adam and she shoved him. Miguel countered that he could get to the road quicker. But when Miguel started up the hill—they watched him through the rearview mirrors—he staggered. There was something wrong with his back. It looked off, disjointed, spine bending into an S.
They heard his grunts long after he disappeared from the mirrors.
How long was that now?
A shadow rises from the base of the mountain and swallows the umber of light. The trees made cathedral shadows in the growing gloom. Didn’t Joe talk wilderness awareness (that’s not it, that’s not it, there’s something else), how the trees were full of eyes and rustling things, and how you were never alone?
Joe had never been camping before. Adam didn’t even want to bring him, but Josie insisted. Her brother holed up in his room all day, only coming out for food and shits. She told them it would be a good bonding experience.
“Joe!” He can feel him moving around back there, feel the tremors through the seat.
“Let him sleep,” Josie says.
When he opens his eyes again, the trees around them are gone. A spew of fog obscures everything, and the gray mist and ensuing darkness makes him feel as if they were being erased. The smell from before hits him all at once, a furious assault that has the gorge rising in his throat.
“We need to get out of here,” Adam says, suddenly desperate. He claws at the tangle of seatbelt, at the branch inside him.
Josie’s head slumps off the door, and she startles awake. She rocks in jerky movements from side to side until she straightens again. Adam thinks of the time he killed a snake with a shovel and it spasmed in the dirt, flashing its white belly then dark brown scales in an endless death tumble.
“Stay awake,” Adam tells her and nudges her arm. Josie moans.
“You need to stay awake,” he says, suddenly furious. He shakes her harder. That smell is overwhelming, filling his head and turning his stomach. He feels, for the first time, a distant agony in his legs.
“What the fuck is that? Josie do you smell it?” It was rancid, whatever it was. Josie says nothing. In the backseat, Joe says nothing. Adam (the tree!) is alone, in the growing dark, with stink settling in his flesh and fire growing up his legs.
“Josie!” His voice is unrecognizable, piercing and too loud. His nails dig into the slack skin of her arm and her arm is cold, too cold. Stiff. He tears into her skin and the flesh came apart, but refused to bleed. Josie cries out.
“Adam, what the fuck—”
“I hear something. I think Miguel’s coming.”
“Thank God!” In her excitement, Josie’s head raises several inches. They listen to the sounds of approaching nightfall, the strange calls and insect hums. A single distorted scream in the distance—loons maybe. They listen a long time.
Josie makes a sobbing sound deep in her throat, guttural and full of glass.
“I swear I heard something.”
Josie’s head falls to the side with a meaty thunk. She doesn’t speak again.
A scream breaks the night, and it’s directionless, it comes from everywhere. It curls the hairs on his arm and he fights against his branch. Everything urges him to get out of there, to run into the night.
“Joe,” Adam pleads. “Wake up now.”
It’s too dark and the wood sounds that were unsettling earlier are horrifying and unwelcome now, in this new blindness. His limbs burn. And there’s pressure in his chest—he realizes dimly that the branch skewering him is moving up and down. He can feel it inside him below the sternum, widening the hole, reopening skin. Violating him.
Another scream, deafening and hideous, and now he knows it’s in the car.
“Stop it,” he whispers. “Stop—”
Movement in the dark, loud breathing in his ear. And it reeks of death—how did he not notice it before?—rancid nubs of garbage pork, sweating corpses forgotten in humid autopsy rooms. Adam thrashes his head from side to side.
The branch jumps up and down.
“Joe?” It ceases to be a name, a recognizable sound, now it’s just a maniacal spurt of syllables crowding in his throat. “JoeJoeJoeJoe—”
Adam pictures Joe’s limp marionette body affixed to the other side of his branch and here they are, end to end, a human shish-kabob, his face blank and vapid the way it looked when he came back from the bathroom and they yelled at him for taking so long; the way it looked when he collapsed into sleep.
But he woke up eventually, yes he did, he woke up and grabbed the wheel from him—
Screech of tires burning out. Screams. An eternity of a drop, through brush and close calls with trees, until—
Adam laughs, high-pitched and hysterical and climbing. An answering hyena shriek sounds behind him.
The smells turn from rot to roast, from maggot-cheese to charred haunch and campfire smoke. It taunts the desiccation of his mouth; a wash of saliva flows down his chin. The branch in his chest bounces again, giddy giggles rising in the small space, and hunger explodes in his stomach, turns his clenched fists to claws, turns his howl inward until it breaks, until it shatters him. Distantly, he hears something howl along with him and he grins, lips wet and spittle dripping onto the branch. He’s no longer alone.
“Joe. There you are,” Adam rasps over his shoulder. “Where’ve you been all this time?”
He gropes blindly, tugs Josie’s arm toward him, raises her hand to his lips like a gentleman in those historical dramas she loves so much.
Her skin smells like tenderloin.
Behind him, Joe laughs and laughs.
J. Motoki is the Short Story Editor of Coffin Bell Journal and the Strange Editor of Rune Bear. Her works have been published or are forthcoming in Blood Song Books,The Other Stories Podcast (Hawk & Cleaver), Black Hare Press, Coffin Bell Journal, and others. You can read more of her at www.jumotki.com.
Reanimating Dead Art with Monsters by Jennifer Weigel
Dead art… It’s a thing that happens, sadly. Typically found at thrift and antique stores or dumpster diving or by the side of the road. But art is never really dead, just resting… Here are some reanimated paintings I made by incorporating nail polish monsters into existing art.
Let’s face it – reworking old abandoned artworks with monsters kind of rocks. For awhile they were all over the internet. I admit, it took me a long time to muster up the courage to paint into someone else’s grandmother’s art, but once I started I just couldn’t stop. From top to bottom, left to right we have: Zombies, Unicorn, Siren, Krakken, Harpies, Sasquatch, Alien Invasion, Witch, and Serpent.
The dragon is probably my favorite. All of the shades of red are really vibrant and striking against the green. And dragons are always so classic and grandiose and terrifying, perfect for pairing with a mountain landscape. I love painting with nail polish for the sparkle, even if the fumes do get kind of noxious en masse. (The best subject to paint in this media is Rocky Horror style lips by the way, in case you were wondering.)
And what better way to complete the collection than with a portrait of a Fairy Queen, her icy stare drilling into your soul. She’s up to some sort of magical mischief, that’s for sure.
And speaking of magical mischief, this is the monster painting I made just for me. The original artwork is about 4 feet long and I knew as soon as I saw it that I wanted to reanimate it in this exact way for all that this is the last in the series that I did. I even added extra shimmer factor. I’d initially considered adding a sea serpent or a dragon but no, she told me to stop.
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.
Lighter than Dark
LTD: Revisiting Broken Doll Head, Interview 2
Our last interview with Broken Doll Head here on Haunted MTL never set well with me. I just feared that I wasn’t able to get the whole scoop on the V-Day Uprising for you, our dear readership. So I arranged another exclusive interview to reconnect and see how it’s going.
Without further ado, I bring you our second exclusive interview with Broken Doll Head…
Thank you so much for having me again. Wow you have changed since the last time we spoke. You seem… calmer. Please don’t hate me or burn down my house for saying anything about it.
The movement is still underway; it is still time. But I needed to take care of me, you know. The rage has subsided somewhat. My anger was not serving me well. After the last uprising, the rest of me was sent to the far corners of the earth in biohazard bags. I had to find another approach, for the cause as well as my own sanity. I am much calmer, thank you for noticing.
In our last interview, you kept repeating that it is time. Time for what exactly? Would you care to elaborate here now?
It is still time. It is always time. Until the violence is addressed we must continue to rise up and make a scene. We will not be silenced or stigmatized. We can’t be complacent. This is how we got to where we are with the Supreme Court in 2022. Horrific injustices are still happening globally and even within our own borders; it’s too easy to forget that.
What do you suggest we do?
Take action. Share your stories. Give others space to voice their own. Raise awareness and fight the system of oppression. Rally. We must take back our own power. It will not be just given freely.
So what are you up to nowadays?
I’ve been getting in touch with my inner Earth Goddess. Are you aware of how our environmental impacts affect dolls everywhere? Climate change is creating greater vulnerabilities for those already at risk. We have to look at the intersections of climate, gender and race globally. We have to return to our Mother Earth.
Thank you again Broken Doll Head for joining us and our dear readership here on Haunted MTL’s Lighter than Dark. It’s good to reconnect with you after the V-Day Uprising and we wish you all the best in your bold eco-enlightenment vision.
Again, if you want to learn more about the V-Day movement, please check out their website here.
The Way Things Were, story by Jennifer Weigel
Revisiting my last St. Patrick’s Day post, what’s a wolf to were?
I grimaced as I remembered the previous St. Patrick’s Day. I had been shot while I was eating a sugar cookie waiting in line to buy a Scratchers ticket, my golden ride to my dream cabin in the woods. Wow, to think that was just a year ago and so much has changed since then. But where should I begin?
Well, the junkyard’s under new management. Or something. It seems they decided I wasn’t ferocious enough so I’ve been replaced by a couple of working stiffs. Or Mastiffs as it were, same difference to me. Apparently after they found the bloodied shirt I’d draped inconspicuously over a chair, they thought something had happened on my watch and decided to retire me.
Or at any rate ol’ Sal took me home. I guess it’s like retirement, but not the good kind where you tour the world Route 66 style, head lolled out of the side of a vintage Cadillac, breeze flowing through your beard as you drink in the open road. More the kind where you just stop showing up to work and no one really asks about you.
Now Sal’s a pretty cool dude, and he tends to mind his own business. But he’s a bit stingy with the treats and he’s a no-paws-on-the-furniture kind of guy. I don’t get it, his pad isn’t that sweet, just a bunch of hand-me-down Ikea that he didn’t even put together himself. Not that I could have helped with that, I can’t read those instructions to save my life even if they are all pictures. It’s all visual gibberish to me unless there’s a rabbit or a squirrel in there someplace that I can relate to.
And it’s been a real roll in the mud trying to cover up the stench of my monthly secret. I miss third shift at the junkyard when Monty would fall asleep on the job and I was free to do whatever I wanted. It sure made the change easier. Monty never noticed, or he never let on that he did. We were a good team and had it pretty good, he and I – I don’t know how I wound up shacking up with Sal instead when all was said and done. There was some kind of talk at the time, over landlords and pet deposits and whatnot, and in the end Sal was the only one who said yes.
So there I was, this St. Patrick’s Day, trying to figure out how to sneak out into the great suburban landscape with the neighbors’ headstrong Chihuahua who barks his fool head off at everything. He doesn’t ever say anything interesting through the fence about the local gossip, just a string of profanities about staying off his precious grass. Just like his owners… Suburbia, it doesn’t suit the two of us junkyard junkies. I’m pretty sure Sal inherited this joint with everything else here. He just never had the kind of ambition that would land him in a place like this on his own, if you know what I mean.
Fortunately, this St. Patrick’s Day, Sal was passed out on the sofa after binge watching some show on Netflix about werewolves of all things. Who believes in that nonsense? They get it all wrong anyway. The history channel with its alien conspiracies is so much better.
I managed to borrow a change of clothes and creep out the front door. At least there’s something to say about all the greenery, it is a fresh change of pace even if the yards are too neatly manicured and the fences are too high. And I do love how I always feel like McGruff crossed paths with one of those neighborhood watch trenchcoat spies this time of the month. I’d sure love to take a bite out of crime, especially if it involves that pesky Pomeranian that always pees on Mrs. Patterson’s petunias and gets everyone else blamed for it.
So sure enough, I slunk off towards the local convenience mart, which is a bit more of a trek here past the water park and the elementary school. Nice neighborhood though, very quiet, especially at this time of night.
Well, when I got there, wouldn’t you know it, but I ran into that same nondescript teen from my last foray into the convenience store near the junkyard. What was he doing here of all places? Seriously don’t these kids learn anything nowadays? I let out a stern growl as I snatched a cookie from the nearby end cap, making sure he noticed that I meant business.
Apparently the kid recognized me too, he stopped mid-tracks at the beer cooler and his face blanched like he’d seen a ghost. Some cheeky little girl-thing motioned to him to hurry it along by laying on the horn of their beater car from the parking lot. Whatever they were up to was no good, I was certain. He snapped out of it, grabbed a six-pack and headed towards the cashier, eyes fixed on me the whole time. Not again. Not after what it cost me the last time when I hadn’t realized my job was at stake. I stared back, hairs rising on the back of my neck. I bared my teeth. This time, I wouldn’t let him off so easy…
The teen edged up to the cashier and presented his trophy. Unsurprisingly, the clerk asked for ID, and the kid reached into his jacket. Let the games begin, I grumbled to myself. But instead of a gun, he pulled out a wallet. He flashed a driver’s license at the clerk and pointed in my general direction, “I’ll get whatever Santa’s having too.” He tossed a wad of cash on the counter and gave me a knowing wink before he flew out of there like he was on fire. I stood in dazed confusion as he and his girl sped out of the lot and disappeared down the road.
“Well, Santa?” the clerk said, snapping me out of my reverie. Her dark-circled eyes stared over wide rimmed glasses, her rumpled shirt bearing the name-tag Deb. She smelled like BBQ potato chips and cheap cherry cola.
I quieted and shook my head. “I want a Scratchers. Not one of those crossword bingo puzzle trials but something less… wordy. How ‘bout a Fast Cash?” I barked as I tossed the cookie on the counter.
“Sure thing,” she said as she handed me a ticket and looked towards the door at the now vacant lot. “And keep the change, I guess.”
A couple silver pieces, a peanut butter cookie and a lotto ticket later, maybe this is my lucky day after all…
Check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s writing here at Jennifer Weigel Words.