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Chris Dean sent us in a bit of short story mastery. The imagination of our own souls is what drives this one – Jim

Silly Fool

The room had a metal door and no window. Harsh white light spilled over gray surfaces. Two bunk beds hung from the wall and what appeared to be a toilet and sink sat beyond them. Photographs taped to the wall and ceiling attested the cell’s occupant was a family man. He was up top, snoring.

The young man sat on the bottom bunk. Hard. Everything about this place was hard and cold. He might have to spend years in places like this. Decades. He buried his face in his hands and stifled a sob.

Why had he killed her? How could he have acted that way? An image of a deathly-white body at the bottom of the stairs flashed and he shuddered. Poor Susan. She hadn’t deserved to die that way.

The man in the top bunk woke and dangled his legs. His orange jumpsuit was dirty. He brushed back a dark tangle of hair. “You know what time it is?”

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The young man was suffering from arrest-shock. The concept of time escaped him.

“We eat at five. How long till five? You know?”

The young man panted, “It might be five.”

“It’s not five or we’d be eating. Name’s Paul. I’m here for violating a court order. I lost my job and couldn’t pay child support. The judge is a hard ass. She gave me four months.”

“I’m Fern Harper.”

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“You just get here?”

“I just got arrested. They said it was for parking tickets.” But how could that be true? The police didn’t arrest you for parking tickets. Someone had found her body and they were just playing him. Any minute, they would have him in a room and they’d be screaming her name at him.

“I read in the paper, the city has zero tolerance now.”

“What?” Fern’s heart skipped.

“Since they’re broke, the city started busting people with more than a hundred dollars in tickets. You just got to pay the fine.”

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“You read this in the newspaper.”

“Sure enough.”

This was fantastic. “I think I owe about two hundred. I can pay it.” He could get out of there and dispose of the corpse. Like he should have done earlier. Leaving Susan that way was terribly untidy.

There was a clink and a little window opened in the door. “Harper?”

He went to the door and leaned over. “I’m Fern Harper.”

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The guard held a clipboard. “You have one hundred and eighty-six dollars in unpaid fines. Court costs’re sixty-five which comes to a total of two fifty-one. You had a debit card in your procession at the time of your arrest. You have the option to pay with that card.”

“I can?”

The clipboard with attached pen pushed through the window. “Just put your pin number down and sign at the bottom.”

Fern followed instructions. He passed the clipboard back. “How long will I have to wait?”

“Bout an hour.”

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Two hours later, he was walking back to the Torino. For one terrifying instant he imagined that he had lost his keys in jail. His nerves were just shot. Worrying about getting caught, and the guilt. He had to get rid of that body. Then, he would be able to relax a little.

It would be hell moving her body and he drove home slowly. He felt miserable. Why had he done it? Had she done something so wrong that he had the right to do what he did? He gripped the steering wheel and cursed. That was the problem! He didn’t really know the truth.

He passed the little park, her spot, only a few blocks from the house. His hands trembled. Fern hated feeling so helpless. She was gone and he would never get his answers. Why hadn’t he questioned her before he threw her down the stairs? 

If A: Susan was a tramp who did everyone in the office, then Fern’s actions had been justified. If B: She was a sneaky bitch who had a password on her phone and disappeared for hours at a time without permission, then again: he was justified in losing his temper. This whole thing—all of it!—it was her fault. She was a silly little fool!

Yes, he was justified, anyone could see that. That the stairs were present at the time of the incident was coincidental and beyond Fern’s control. He regretted that the stairs had caused her death. But it wasn’t his fault. In a court of law, Fern was certain he would be exonerated, if it ever came to that.

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He pulled into the driveway. Damn, the house seemed quiet now. He would miss her, wouldn’t he? He would miss the sex. God, she had a nice body. What a waste.

He needed a drink and went inside. The whole house was deadly quiet. Rushing through the foyer and into the hall, he averted his gaze from the gruesome sight on the bottom landing. He ran to the kitchen and gulped Windsor straight from the bottle.

The world grew dark outside the windows while he sat at the table and decided how to dispose of his dead girlfriend. The whiskey helped. His plan involved a chain saw and several large plastic bags, neither of which he had. He would have to wait until morning to go to a hardware store. This meant Fern could A: step over her to go sleep upstairs, or B: sleep on the couch, ten feet from a dead body.

He cradled a water glass full of booze. He found his feet and shuffled down the dark hall. Curious, he guessed. He wanted to know how much it would shock him. It didn’t really shock him at all. He only felt loss.

Fern couldn’t see her face. Her dress was a tumble of blue and green, but she was laying under that cabinet almost as if she were only sleeping. He blew out a breath; the cabinet was an antique, filled with her mother’s knitting and her father’s military memorabilia. It was like Fern had brought them all together again. Maybe her death was destiny.

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He shuffled closer, staring. Her body still looked good. If he was a perv he would be doing her right now. There was no way he could do that, but she sure looked good.

Something happened and he froze. Had her leg moved? Had he imagined—? He leaned closer. Oh god, she was breathing!

He dropped his glass. She shifted away from the cabinet and propped back against the wall. Dark strings of hair hung over her swollen cheek.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

“You could have killed me, Fern. All because of your petty, petty jealously.” 

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“I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“You never mean it! This time you went too far.”

He edged into the living room. “What do you mean by that?”

“I’m calling the police.”

“I can’t let you do that.” He searched in the dark until he found the log on the hearth. Perfect weight and it even had a little nub to hold on one side. He hefted it. Perfect.

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“You’re not going to stop me.”

“I can’t let you hurt me.” He raised the log and stalked toward the stairs.

The cabinet door—it was ajar. She had gotten in it and there was something in her hand. Her father’s gun. Fern began to beg, beg for his life, but something in her eyes told him he was wasting his breath. She wanted to do this. The hammer cocked back and the revolver fired. It made a very loud noise inside of the house.

Chris Dean travels western America as a truck driver and this writer adores Yellowstone, the Klamath, and anyplace sequoias touch the sky. Chris’ work has appeared in Aurora Wolf, Page & Spine, and other publications.

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Original Series

Nightmarish Nature: Something Rotten, Flesh in Flowers

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

Fungi

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

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

Plants

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vampires Among Us

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Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps

Cannibalism

Terrifying Tardigrades

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Reindeer Give Pause

Komodo Dragons

Zombie Snails

Horrifying Humans

Giants Among Spiders

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Original Creations

Dirty Clean Sweep, a Short Story by Jennifer Weigel

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

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

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

Dirty Clean hand sanitizer out and about
Dirty Clean…

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

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

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

Clean Dirty hand sanitizer out and about
Clean Dirty…

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

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

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

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

If you enjoyed this tale, here is another creepy story about cleanliness. Feel free to check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.

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Original Creations

More Nail Polish Paintings by Jennifer Weigel

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

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

Top left: Blue Fairy, originally painted by M Wadorf

Top right: Pegasus, originally painted by Edie Babb

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

Bottom middle: Fairy, originally painted by SD Janz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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