“What you interested in?” the elderly owner of Lucky Lanes Bowling asked. “Mister…”
“Giddens. Call me Jeff.”
“Well, Jeff, I got Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Asteroids, Donkey Kong Junior. Think I even got Defender back here. They just need a few repairs.”
He unlocked the door to a musty room crammed with broken bowling pins, chipped balls, and piles of tattered tacky shoes along with several dead arcade cabinets, pinball machines, and claw cranes draped in thick opaque plastic.
“I got all those too,” said Jeff. “Mind if I look around?”
“Knock yourself out. I’ll be right out there if you wanna make an offer. Not like you can stick one down your pants and take off, right?”
The old man left. Jeff peeked under the plastic at cabinets he already had back home: the aforementioned Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Asteroids, Donkey Kong Junior, and Defender as well as Galaga, Popeye, Galaxian, and Rampage.
Then he laid eyes on an all-black cabinet with no artwork whatsoever except for the name in gold on the front in an ancient Latin font: LVCRVM. He’d never heard of it, and Jeff knew of practically every game, arcade or otherwise, in existence. He hunted for a manufacturer name, Atari or Namco or Konami, but couldn’t locate one.
On his phone he Googled “LVCRVM arcade” and “LVCRVM video game.” No results. Well, Google always spat back search results, though none of value in this case. He remembered learning at some point that Romans used the letter V instead of U, so he tried “Lucrum arcade” and “Lucrum video game.” Zilch.
Out front at a cubby shelf of bowling shoes, the owner was spraying disinfectant into a pair when Jeff cleared his throat.
“Any luck?” the man asked.
“Yeah. The one called… I think it’s pronounced ‘Lucrum.’”
“Lucrum?” The man set down the spray can and scratched his gray-stubbled chin.
Jeff had to be careful. If this guy figured out he had a machine even the internet didn’t know about, something potentially worth thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars, Jeff would walk away emptyhanded.
“Yep,” said Jeff. “I’ve seen tons of them all over eBay, but I can never seem to snag one. I’ll be glad to take it off your hands for… $700. My pickup’s right outside. I’ve got hand trucks and everything.”
Jeff waited for him to whip out a phone or laptop and check online for the going price of a nonworking Lucrum cabinet, only to discover what a rare find he had.
Instead, the man nodded. “Make it $900, and I’ll help you load it myself.”
Jeff didn’t think the bowling alley owner could offer $200 worth of help loading anything into a truck, yet he didn’t want to risk the offer.
“Deal,” Jeff said, and the two shook hands.
* * *
That evening after putting in a new power supply, replacing a couple fuses, repairing a few frayed wires, and giving the whole cabinet a good cleaning, Jeff plugged it in, and Lucrum hummed to life. He stood back as the monitor blinked on, displaying “LVCRVM” in all capital block letters that resembled stony pillars. Below the title, “Insert Coin” appeared.
Jeff pushed the machine against the wall beside Galaga in the extra bedroom he’d designated as his arcade room. He fished a quarter from one of the coin cups he kept around and slipped it into the slot, and the game prompted him to enter his initials. Usually, a game asked you to do this only after you lost all your lives, not at the beginning. He almost entered the three letters he always had as a kid, ASS, but instead put in JMG.
His initials were replaced by “Level 1… Ready?” Without Jeff hitting any buttons, the text disappeared and a small pixelated character with a faceless white head, red shirt, blue pants, and red shoes walked into view in the lower left corner surrounded by blackness. Soon the setting began to form around him. Jeff expected something like ancient Rome, that he’d have to battle through mythological creatures like minotaurs and harpies and centaurs or perhaps face off against gladiators in a coliseum. Instead, the character stood in a modern nighttime cityscape: a starry sky and full moon, skyscrapers with lit windows, storefronts with neon signs, parked cars, sewer grates. Jeff was mesmerized, not because the 80’s graphics were so astounding but because this was a game he’d never seen—had never known existed.
He snapped from his hypnosis when a gigantic green “GO!” flashed briefly on screen and sinister staccato synthesizer music began. Jeff grabbed the joystick and made the character run. Two round red buttons to the right of the joystick had nothing written above them to let the player know what they did. Having played video games for more than two decades, Jeff was certain that one button would make the character jump. He tapped the left button, and the character leapt over an open manhole.
He dashed forward and hurdled deadly obstacles, from more manholes to speeding cars, rabid dogs, and mutant rats. As the ominous 8-bit music’s tempo increased, a pixelated man with a gun popped out from a skyscraper window and fired an oversized round bullet. Jeff tried the other button, and his character ducked safely under the projectile. So, one button was jump, the other duck.
With years of honed gaming reflexes, Jeff zipped through the rest of the level. Two minutes later, his character approached a large bag with a dollar sign. The character held it overhead, like Link acquiring the Master Sword in The Legend of Zelda, and “$100,000!!!” flickered in bright green above him. A victorious synth fanfare replaced the menacing music.
Then everything cut to black, and “Play Level 2 Tomorrow…” appeared.
“Tomorrow?” Jeff scoffed. He’d never seen a game that didn’t immediately start the next level. The point of arcade cabinets was to pilfer quarters from teenagers’ pockets. He inserted another quarter and hit both buttons. Nothing. He plunked in five more quarters. Still nothing. Jeff pulled the machine’s cord from the wall, waited thirty seconds, and then plugged it back in.
Instead of the game restarting, the display still read “Play Level 2 Tomorrow…”
“Okay, Lucrum,” Jeff said. “Tomorrow.”
* * *
The next morning as Jeff left for work, he tripped on something outside his front door. On his welcome mat sat a large canvas bag tied with black string. Printed on it was a dollar sign, like something from a cartoon—or a video game. He reached down apprehensively as though it might contain a rattlesnake, picked it up, and squeezed it. Whatever was inside felt like paper. Thick paper.
Jeff didn’t open the bag outside. He went in, locked his front door, untied the string, and dumped the sack’s contents onto his den floor. Ten stacks of crisp $100 bills tumbled out, each wrapped in a yellow and white paper band with “$10,000” printed on it. There at his feet was $100,000.
It had to be counterfeit. He flicked through the bills of one bundle with his thumb. They seemed real enough, but what did he know? He’d never seen counterfeit money. It was supposed to look real. That was the whole point. He’d seen enough movies and TV shows where conmen would hand over a briefcase full of cash, and in it was a bunch of fake bills or even blank paper with a few real bills on top, so he flipped through each bundle. No blanks. All real-looking.
Jeff thought of the Quick Stop, the convenience store on the way to work. He stopped there sometimes for coffee and a donut, and he’d occasionally seen the cashier swipe a marker—one of those counterfeit detector pens—on customers’ money. He tugged a random bill from the middle of one stack to test.
* * *
As Jeff pulled up to the Quick Stop, he crumpled the bill a little before leaving his truck. He went in and lurked the aisles until the two customers paid and left before approaching the counter and producing the wrinkled bill.
“I found this on the street outside my house,” he said. “If you’ve got a counterfeit pen thing, would you mind checking it for me before I try spending it?”
The cashier, a short woman with curly salt-and-pepper hair, narrowed her eyes. “Take it to a bank, mister.”
“Ma’am, if it’s real, I’ll buy something and you keep fifty. If it’s fake, I’ll give you twenty for your trouble. Please.” Jeff showed the cashier the corner of a $20 bill in his wallet. “I know this one’s real.”
She continued to eye him suspiciously as she poked a button on her register and took out the pen. She swiped the $100 bill, then held the bill up to the light.
“Your lucky day, honey,” she said. “It’s real.”
“I been working here ten years. I’ve seen fake money. This ain’t. Now what you gonna buy?”
“American Spirits,” Jeff said. “The bright green pack.”
The cashier stuck the hundred in the register and slid the cigarettes across the counter along with Jeff’s change, minus the $50 he promised her.
Jeff took the cigarettes, leaving the money. “It’s your lucky day. Keep all the change. I feel like my day’s gonna get even luckier.”
“Well, bless you,” said the cashier, scooping the change off the counter before this weirdo decided he wanted it back.
Jeff left the store in a daze and sat in his truck staring through the windshield. Five minutes later, he cranked the engine and exited the parking lot in the direction of his house.
At home, he called his supervisor in the IT department of DeKalb County Technical College and said he was too sick to come in. Jeff hung up before his supervisor could protest. He’d made $100,000 overnight. Well, $99,900 now. Almost twice his yearly salary. And he planned to make even more.
He put on jeans and a T-shirt, then went to Lucrum. Its display had changed: “Play Level 2 Today… Insert Coin.” Jeff inserted a quarter. After “Level 2… Ready?” left the monitor, the character strolled into view. A storm now ravaged the city. Rain pelted the street, lightning cracked and temporarily turned everything white, and synthetic thunder rumbled from the speakers.
“GO!” flashed, and the ominous music began.
Jeff guided his character from left to right, hopping over potholes and cars and rabid dogs and giant rats. Level 2 had more of everything, all moving faster, yet Jeff’s reflexes kept him alive despite the frequent blinding lightning strikes. More gunmen shot from windows, two quick bullets in succession now instead of one. Still, Jeff ducked, jumped, and dodged his way down the tempestuous street without dying.
Then came a manhole larger than the others, and as Jeff attempted to clear it, a purple alligator head sprang up and gobbled his character in one chomp.
“Dammit!” Jeff said.
In the monitor’s top right corner, “LIFE 3” became “LIFE 2.”
The game restarted him at a point a few seconds earlier. When his character neared the large manhole, Jeff was ready. With the joystick held to the right, he tapped the jump button, and as the character began to leap, Jeff flicked the joystick left. He switched directions midair and landed to the left of the manhole as the purple gator snapped its jaws on empty air. The alligator slowly lowered its head, and Jeff seized the opportunity to lunge across.
Just beyond this were two money bags. The character lifted them both, one in each hand, as the victorious music erupted and “$200,000!!!” sparkled on screen. Jeff pumped his fist in the air.
The victory song finished, and “Play Level 3 Tomorrow…” appeared. Jeff stepped back, his normally steady hands quivering like his aunt’s Chihuahuas. In four minutes, he’d made the equivalent of four years’ salary. At least, he hoped so. What if the whole ordeal had been a huge coincidence? Someone, maybe accidentally by a drug cartel or intentionally by an eccentric generous millionaire, had randomly dropped that money on his doorstep. Lucrum was just another ordinary arcade cabinet, albeit a rare one. He wouldn’t know for sure until the morning.
In his bedroom, Jeff took several bills from one of the $10,000 bundles and returned the rest to the bag, which he stored under his mattress. At some point, he’d have to figure out what to do with this money as well as the cash he should receive in the morning. He didn’t want IRS agents to come knocking. For now, though, he was going to celebrate.
He donned a coat and tie and drove to Bushnell’s, the most upscale steakhouse in town, and ordered a glass of their priciest bourbon and their largest T-bone plus a lobster tail. After dessert and a second bourbon, Jeff paid his bill and left the server a 300% tip. On the drive home, he smoked an American Spirit and blared Rush’s “The Big Money” while singing along at the top of his lungs.
At home, Jeff had another smoke outside. He couldn’t stop staring at his welcome mat. How had the money gotten there, and how was more, hopefully, going to arrive in the morning? Would it materialize from thin air? Was a black sedan going to swerve into his driveway, lower a tinted window, and its driver fling another bag at his door?
As Jeff considered sitting by the front window all night, he recalled what his mom once told him when he still believed in Santa Claus and wanted to wait up on Christmas Eve by the fireplace so he could see jolly old Saint Nicholas with his own eyes. She’d said, “Santa skips the houses of kids who try to stay up to catch him coming down the chimney. You don’t want that, do you?” Jeff had vigorously shaken his head and retreated to his bedroom, wondering if his mom was telling the truth and if he should sneak into the dark den to catch a glimpse of Santa anyway. He couldn’t muster the courage. He didn’t dare risk Santa skipping his house.
What if staying up all night to sneak a peek of Lucrum Claus, or whoever it was, would make him or her or it skip his house?
Jeff tossed the cigarette butt into the yard and went to bed.
* * *
Eight a.m. That was the time Jeff had decided on. He woke throughout the night, yet each time he somehow managed to go back to sleep. Around six, though, he lay awake watching the light through the slats in the blinds brighten from dark purple to pale blue to radiant yellow. Eyeing the digital clock on his nightstand, he gripped his sheets so he wouldn’t get up until the numbers read 8:00. The moment they did, Jeff skittered out of bed.
At his door, he froze. When he opened it, there wouldn’t be anything except his welcome mat. He knew this with a sinking certainty in his gut. Jeff almost went back to bed, but he had to look. So, he opened his door.
There sat two canvas bags with dollar signs.
Jeff poked them with his foot. They were real. He grabbed the sides of his head and bit his lower lip to keep from cackling like a madman. He had over a quarter of a million dollars. Inside the house, he glanced in them to be sure each bag held $100,000 and hid them under his mattress with the other. Then he called his supervisor and quit.
That day, he breezed through Level 3 without losing a single life. The street was swiss-cheesed with manholes and bombarded by a frenzy of cars, dogs, and rats. Gunmen, firing barrages of bullets, filled the building windows. Every ten seconds, lightning whited out the screen. Jeff utilized his jump-back strategy from the day before at the level’s end where there were not one, not two, but three huge manholes back-to-back-to-back hiding ravenous purple alligators.
The next morning, Jeff gathered the three canvas bags from his doorstep. He didn’t even open them. He added them to the collection, now totaling over half a million dollars.
Time for Level 4. Jeff dropped in a quarter, cracked his knuckles, and waited for Lucrum to give him the “GO!” command. The ensuing onslaught was nearly seizure-inducing. Lightning, dogs, thunder, bullets, rats, gunmen in the skyscrapers, gunmen in the cars, manholes aplenty with purple gators in all of them. Only a minute in and Jeff’s heart was pounding as furiously as the music’s frantic beats.
The moment after he vaulted over a careening car while simultaneously ducking in the air to avoid bullets fired by a man in the back seat, a lightning bolt struck him. His character collapsed on the street with pixelated smoke rising from his charred remains.
Jeff pounded the cabinet. “Shit! Shit! Shit!”
A lifetime of playing arcade games had taught him they all eventually became unfair, some unbeatable, at a certain point. The aim, of course, was to keep you pumping in quarters. Why would Lucrum be any different?
The number next to “LIFE” changed to 1. The game restarted. Jeff grasped the joystick and poised his right forefinger and middle finger over the two buttons.
It was real. He’d gotten real money for each level. Now he was down to one life. What would happen if he died again?
Jeff yanked the cabinet’s plug from the wall. He had plenty of money to last him the next several years. Why test his luck? He should quit while he was ahead, right?
He ventured back to Bushnell’s where his server from before, eyes lighting up, shoved the hostess aside and dragged Jeff by the hand to a table in his section. This time Jeff ordered the filet mignon with a side of three bourbons. He left an even more generous tip and drove home so tipsy he nearly ran over someone in his driveway. Jeff spotted the person at the last second and cursed as he stomped his brakes. His pickup jerked to a stop inches from whoever it was.
With three bourbons in him, Jeff couldn’t seem to focus his eyes on the tall figure in the headlights. Jeff cut the engine and got out. His truck’s automatic lights stayed on.
“Hey, buddy,” he said. “You shouldn’t go standing in people’s driveways at night.”
“JMG?” the silhouette said in a buzzing, monotone voice that didn’t sound quite human.
The closest thing Jeff had ever heard to it was an uncle of his he met only once at a wedding when Jeff was eight. This uncle had lost his larynx to throat cancer and used a device like an electric razor, which he held up to his throat, to speak. When the uncle had tried talking to him, the robotic voice sent Jeff running away crying.
“Arrre yyyou JMG?” the silhouette asked.
“I’m calling the cops, so you better get outta here, all right?”
“Yyyou ssstoppped ppplayyying.”
“Yyyou cannnot ssstop ppplayyying.”
Jeff took out his cell and dropped it. He found it and was about to dial 911, but the man was gone. The vehicle headlights had gone dark, so Jeff shined his phone’s flashlight around the driveway. He circled his pickup as well as the entire yard, even peering behind the bushes.
His front door was unlocked. Jeff couldn’t remember if he’d locked it when he left. He removed the coat and tie he’d put on for the steakhouse and crept from room to room, but the stranger wasn’t hiding anywhere. In the arcade room, Lucrum was plugged in. Not only that, the power cord itself had been replaced. Now, instead of a regular rubber-covered cord, there was a shiny metal one. The new plug had also been soldered to the wall socket. Whoever had done this—the silhouette man, he supposed—wanted to ensure Jeff couldn’t unplug Lucrum again.
He didn’t want to look, yet he knew he had to. On the monitor was “JMG, you CANNOT stop playing until you have 0 lives. Ready to continue?”
“Screw this,” Jeff said.
His toolbox was still nearby from when he’d repaired the cabinet. He grabbed the hammer, dropped to his knees, and started hacking the claw end into the drywall around the socket. He got in five good whacks before a long-fingered hand fell on his shoulder and his entire right arm went limp. The hammer thumped to the floor.
Jeff knew it was the same person from the driveway even before he spoke in that dreadful voice. In the room’s light, Jeff could see him more clearly. At well over seven feet tall, he wore a crimson trench coat that stretched to the floor, and his arms were much longer than a normal person’s, his gloved hands hanging well past where his knees would be. The coat’s collar was flipped up and he wore a wide-brimmed crimson fedora, so most of his face was hidden. What Jeff could see was black and featureless, the face still a silhouette even in the light—like a blank arcade screen.
“Yyyou mmmusttt ppplayyy, JMG,” said Silhouette Man.
“And if I don’t?”
“Thennn yyyou wwwill fffeel painnn withouttt dyinggg. Pppain beyyyond cccomprehensssion.”
Silhouette Man reached out a spindly arm and touched Jeff’s forehead with a seven-inch gloved forefinger. Immediate and immense pain shot through Jeff’s entire body, as though his every muscle, organ, bone, nerve, blood cell, and molecule were doused in kerosene and roasted with a blowtorch. Jeff crumpled into a fetal position.
The anguish was gone as quickly as it had been inflicted on him, yet Jeff lay on the floor for a minute, his eyes clamped shut and his mouth open in a silent scream.
“Nnnow are yyyou rrreadyyy to cccontinnnue, JMG?”
To make sure Silhouette Man didn’t give him another agonizing jolt, he croaked, “Yeah… Okay… I’ll play.” Jeff clung to the cabinet and pulled himself to his feet.
“Rrreadddy?” said Silhouette Man.
“Ready,” Jeff said, inserting a coin. His hand trembled slightly, but between Silhouette Man’s nightmarish voice and presence, not to mention the excruciation he’d just endured, Jeff was sober. He was ready to play his character’s last life, to play for his own life.
The game started his character at the exact spot in the stormy cityscape where Jeff had left him. Instead of Lucrum telling him to go, Silhouette Man said, “Gggo.”
Jeff leapt over the speeding car, dodging the gunman’s bullets and the lightning bolt. Level 4 threw everything at him: cars, bullets, manholes, rats, lightning, alligators. He evaded it all, even as Silhouette Man loomed behind him making a low churring that grew louder, as though he were feeding on Jeff’s adrenaline, until it sounded like a nest of irate hornets.
The last thing he faced was a version of Silhouette Man himself, complete with a black face and crimson fedora and trench coat. The pixelated Silhouette Man swiped at Jeff’s character with long arms that ended in neon green claws. After a few feigned attempts, Jeff pounced past him, where his character hoisted a briefcase with a gold dollar sign on it as the fanfare chimed and “$400,000!!!” shimmered on screen.
Sweating profusely, Jeff steadied himself by clutching the cabinet.
“Vvverrry gooddd,” said Silhouette Man. “I tttrussst I wwwill nnnot havvve to vvvisittt yyyou againnn, JMG. Yyyou mmmust kkkeep ppplayyying.”
“Until I have zero lives,” Jeff said.
Jeff stared at “Play Level 5 Tomorrow…” for a full minute waiting for Silhouette Man to say something else, but the room was silent. Silhouette Man was gone. In his place was a briefcase with a gold dollar sign. In it was $400,000. Jeff had a million dollars now, minus his two trips to the steakhouse. He emptied the briefcase into a duffel bag, then threw in the cash from under his mattress. He didn’t pack clothes. He could buy a new wardrobe wherever he ended up. He was driving straight to Atlanta and taking a redeye flight to… Well, he’d decide where when he got to the airport. The most important thing now was to leave his house.
He shouldered the duffel, grabbed his truck keys, opened the front door, and came face to black, blank face with Silhouette Man. He considered lying—he was simply going for a late-night fast food run or something, but who made a late-night fast food run carrying a fortune in a duffel bag? Plus, even if he wasn’t holding the duffel, he was sure Silhouette Man would know he was lying.
“Yyyou wwwill ppplayyy Levvvelll 5 tommorrowww, JMG. Yyyou wwwill ppplayyy untilll yyyou hhhavvve zerrro livvvesss.”
“How many levels are there?” Jeff asked. “Is there an end, or is it one of those games that’s impossible to beat?”
“Ittt is nnnottt impppossibllle,” said Silhouette Man. “Therrre are fffifty levvvellls.”
“Fifty,” Jeff whimpered. “How far… How far has anyone ever gotten?”
“A mmman onnnce maddde it ttto Levvvelll 13. Tommorrowww yyyou wwwill ppplayyy Levvvelll 5. Gggoodddnighttt, JMG.”
Jeff closed the door and dropped the duffel. So, he would play Level 5 tomorrow. He had no choice. The question was, would he play to win or to lose? If Silhouette Man was telling the truth, Jeff needed to beat forty-six more levels, each exponentially harder than the last, and he had to do it with only one remaining life. Or he could start Level 5 tomorrow and dive into the first alligator’s jaws or in front of the first car or in the path of the first bullet. Get to zero. See the words gamers normally dreaded: Game Over.
Scott Hughes’s fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Crazyhorse, One Sentence Poems, Entropy, Deep Magic, Carbon Culture Review, Redivider, Redheaded Stepchild, PopMatters, Strange Horizons, Chantwood Magazine, Odd Tales of Wonder, The Haunted Traveler, Exquisite Corpse, Pure Slush, Word Riot, and Compaso: Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology. His short story collection, The Last Book You’ll Ever Read, is forthcoming from Weasel Press in early 2019. For more information, visit writescott.com.
Into the Deep Woods 1, an October AI journey with Jennifer Weigel
I am embarking on an AI journey using NightCafe to illustrate this graphic story based on a dream I had awhile back. I am also using Canva, so here’s to learning more online systems of image dissemination and propagandizing…
I will include some of the original AI generated images with each piece along with a bit of the dream that inspired it. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Artwork description: Overall layout: Lightning strike through the corner into obscure clouds and map-like graphic in gray tones sets the mood for Into the Deep Woods.
Part 1, Art: AI generated image of a girl with reddish hair dressed in a robe of some sort and holding a staff. A similar girl in soldier garb fades behind her. Edited in PhotoShop.
Part 1, Text: 1.) Two sisters entered the woods, one a soldier and the other a witch. Only one lived. 2.) The young witch had picked up a bit of magic as she and her sister fled into the deep woods to seek the old witch… They were tired and alone, this was their one and only chance… 3.) The war raged on all around as the Nazis drew closer…
Prompt (Horror): Portrait of soldier girl sister
Prompt (Horror): Portrait of witch girl sister (Evolved from soldier girl)
Prompt (Horror): Soldier girl sister hit by lightning (Evolved from soldier girl)
As mentioned this series is based on a dream that I had awhile back. The two girls first enter the woods to escape the Nazis. In my dream there were initially more soldiers with them who perish due to the war or hazards in the woods. It wasn’t unlike Pan’s Labyrinth but on a much smaller and more intimate scale.
It had been awhile between having the dream and creating this story to share with you. And I quickly learned that the term “Nazi” is prohibited by the AI art generator interface. So there are some changes that have been made, but hopefully you can still follow along. The time and place are not as relevant to the overall anyway.
Nightmarish Nature: Cannibalism
Let’s return to explore more Nightmarish Nature, shall we? This segment focuses on cannibalism, as we generally find it icky / taboo and because it’s more common than you might think. There are many different reasons that different creatures engage in cannibalistic practices. Energy waste doesn’t last long in nature; gaps are filled as things evolve to utilize whatever resources are available to meet their own needs. C’est la vie (light up another cigarette). In any case, the challenge to the cannibal lies in determining kinship and not accidentally erasing their own line or progeny, thus decreasing their likelihood for survival over generations. Oh, and in avoiding those pesky prion diseases…
Resource Driven Cannibalism
Resource driven cannibalism can occur when competition for resources is high. This may be due to scarcity, with individuals taking to eating each other to avoid themselves starving to death (with those consumed either still alive and killed to this end, or eaten after death of other causes). Or it may be outside of the cannibal’s control, considering the spread of Mad Cow Disease from feeding beef meal harboring the prion disease (and parts from other mammals like sheep) to growing cattle to save money, ’cause it’s not like the cows were allowed to order whatever they wanted. Or it may be due to direct conflicts with other groups of the same species, either due to competition for resources, mating rights and/or territory. These behaviors have been noted in mostly male chimpanzees raiding other groups, which have even been documented as all out wars against other males in neighboring bands, campaigning to eradicate all outside of their ranks.
Thinking about chimpanzees, males are also documented to gang up on alpha males seen as too controlling or sadistic, with groups of younger males attacking and rendering the alpha male to pieces, often consuming his flesh and blood in the process. This can upend established hierarchies to replace them with new structures, for example with a new male taking on the role of leader. But cannibalism can also be used to reinforce existing hierarchies, as seen in African Wild Dogs wherein the dominant pair will kill off any offspring that other dogs may have birthed so that the pack will focus on raising only the alpha pair’s pups, thusly reestablishing and enforcing social structure while ensuring the best survival chances for the pups raised by channeling all resources to the one brood.
Infanticide & Filial Cannibalism
Like African Wild Dogs, other parents may also eat their offspring, or better yet their rivals’ offspring. Stillborn or unhealthy offspring may be consumed, or just any that they can get their hands on at birth. (Again with the young male chimpanzees…) Some creatures enter into cycles wherein smaller individuals are more vulnerable to predation by larger ones both within and outside of ones own species, as is seen among many fishes with eggs and smaller fishes playing an important role as prey to larger ones. Other creatures may engage in these practices to reduce competition (for themselves and/or their offspring) and/or increase opportunities to mate. Male cats are notorious for killing kittens that are not their own in order to bring females into heat again sooner, potentially increasing the likelihood of mating with said females themselves while decreasing future competition. Win-win! Female cats must take great care to hide their kittens in order to protect them from males as much as other predators, and can have kittens by different fathers within the same litter in order to increase their kittens’ overall survival as a group with father cats more willing to accept kittens when their own kin are present.
Mantids and spiders are especially known for sexual cannibalism, with larger females consuming males during copulation, but this is not always linked to vast size differences and does not appear in every species. Females who engage in this practice may have healthier eggs in larger clutches, thus increasing the survival likelihood of more of their offspring. Sometimes the risk to the male suitor of being mistaken for another species by an aggressive would-be mate is high, and various rituals have developed within certain species to help avoid such mistakes and entice the female to mate. Male spiders are known engage in elaborate dances, movements, tapping and silk spinning rituals to avoid being eaten pre-copulation or at all. It’s a hell of a lot more involved than a good pick up line and a well-timed drink, as you can see here.
If the above video doesn’t load, you can find it on PBS YouTube here.
Thank you for joining us for another exciting episode of Nightmarish Nature. If you enjoyed this, please feel free to check out these previous segments:
Revisitations: The Devil Went Down to Georgia
So I’ve been working on more painting into found art (as seen here before) and I thought I’d share a newer one, based on the song The Devil Went Down to Georgia by Charlie Daniels. But first let’s make like my She Wolf post enjoy a couple variations of the song, shall we?
First we have Charlie Daniels, the writer of the song which was inspired by the beautiful poem by Stephen Vincent Benet titled The Mountain Whipporwill. You can read the poem on Your Daily Poem here.
Then we have to watch my favorite version, the animated music video by Primus. I know there are claymation-haters out there who find the effect bit too “uncanny valley” but how can you not just love those chickens?
Anyway, without further ado, here is my painting, incorporated into a found still life, original signed L. Harady.
Here The Devil is defeated, crushed along the lower edge of the artwork beneath the fiddle and lamenting his loss. The bow jabs into his sneering nose as if to add insult to injury, but his eyes still glow, alight with the prospect of coming back for another round. (They actually do glow, I have acquired some blacklight reactive nail polish to use in these pieces now.) I suppose I may go to Hell for this portrayal (or for defiling yet another painting) but alas, such is the price of art sometimes. I guess I’ll add it to the list…