Chris Dean sent us in a bit of short story mastery. The imagination of our own souls is what drives this one – Jim
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?”
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.”
“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.”
“You read this in the newspaper.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
“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.
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.
Movies n TV
She Wolf, Art by Jennifer Weigel
So this isn’t a review but more just some thoughts…
I have to admit that I actually like the She Wolf music video by Shakira.
Maybe partly because my Zumba group back in the day used to dance to it with all of us cautioned to not to look up the music video for fear it would be too risque or something… (The Zumba dance to this was one of my favorites, and I loved our group of mostly 60+ year old retirees for all that some of them did act surprised at these things, whether or not they actually were.) Or maybe partly because it reminds me of Madonna’s Express Yourself, or by extension the famous dance scene in Metropolis directed by Fritz Lang.
It’s a guilty pleasure.
The ways these things evolve and stay the same over time fascinates me, especially how the messaging and movement change, and yet stay the same.
Anyway, I created this artwork based upon the She Wolf video and song, incorporating a Hazelle puppet head atop a modern Barbie doll body. I don’t recall what happened to Barbie’s actual head though I’m pretty sure I needed it for another project. (Technically I needed the body for another project too, and this was just a stopover.) Years ago this piece found itself part of the Women’s Caucus for Art website as one of the chosen artworks for the year. I was going to try to write something to go with it for Haunted MTL but instead I thought I’d share it as a lead up to my revisitation of my werewolf story from St. Patrick’s Day last year.
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.