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What a delightful tale coming from the mind of Christa Planko. It reminds me of the games my cousin and I used to play in a haunted house somewhere in the Northwoods. But they weren’t games for Corey and the gang, were they? – Jim

The Shutterbug

              “Do you think this is a good idea?” Jeremy hesitated at the bottom of the warped wooden stairs. His three friends already stood upon the creaking porch.

              The shortest, stockiest of the boys swept the cobwebs out of his way as he led the pack toward the front door. “What he means,” Corey said. “Is ‘do you think we’re a bunch of wussies?’”

              “Hell, no!” chimed Randy and Raymond in unison. They were identical twins and always in sync.

              “I’m not wussing out!” Jeremy cried. “I just don’t want to get busted for trespassing. The cops patrol the streets on Mischief Night, you know.”

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              “So, we’ll keep extra quiet,” Corey said. “Now shut up and follow me!”

              Jeremy gulped and climbed the rickety steps. The boys stood by while Corey picked the lock. Slowly, he pushed open the door. It moaned on rusty hinges.

              “Quick, guys!” Corey ushered the boys in and shut the door behind them. Their flashlights immediately scanned the dusty room. Nothing but a few pieces of furniture draped with sheets—a sofa, an armchair, a coffee table. Otherwise, the house stood as vacant as the day it was abandoned.

              “We’re here again why?” Jeremy asked.

              “To see the room where it happened,” Corey said.

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              “Um…where what happened?”

              “I’ll tell you all when we get there,” Corey’s flashlight illuminated a staircase. “This way!”

              He mounted the stairs, bravely leading the way. Randy and Raymond prodded each other to go first.

              Corey paused halfway up the stairs and spun around. He frowned. “Come on!”  

              Jeremy shoved the twins from behind and they squeezed up the stairwell, side by side. They followed as Corey ventured up the second-floor hallway. He shone his light into each room, passing each one by until he came upon the largest at the end of the hall.

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              “This is it!” he cried. “The master bedroom. This is where they found her.”

              “Found who?” Jeremy asked.

              “Shirley Sugg,” Corey whispered. “The Shutterbug!”

              “Oh, we know this story!” Randy elbowed his brother in the ribs.

              “Yeah, but we thought it was just an old tale,” Raymond added, clutching his side.

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              “What tale?” Jeremy asked. “Someone please tell me already.”

              “It was told to us as an old rhyme,” Randy started. Then he and his brother chanted in unison:

Shutterbug. Shutterbug.
Shirley Sugg was a shutterbug.
Photography her only role,
she captured your photo, then captured your soul.
She carved your smile with a box cutter.
The Shutterbug will make you shudder.

              The boys all jumped as a rat suddenly darted across the floor, startling them.

              “OK, that was really creepy, guys!” Jeremy panted, holding a hand to his racing heart.

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              “Oh, it gets better,” Corey smiled. “I know the true story. Shirley Sugg was an actual person. This was her bedroom.” He propped a lantern on the bed and turned it on.

              The twins froze, then glanced about, trying to play it cool. Jeremy’s body shook with fright.

              “Check you out, bro!” Corey snorted. “You really are a wuss!”

              “Am not!” Jeremy snapped. He collected himself. “It’s just that it’s cold in here.”

              He shone his light around the room.

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              “Hey, look!” He snatched an object from a nightstand and turned around. “It’s an old Polaroid camera!”

              He held it up and aimed it toward them all.

              “Group selfie! Smile!”

              He pushed the button. Surprisingly, the camera groaned, producing a square, white photo. They stood around, watching as an image began to develop. Within minutes, their awkwardly smiling faces emerged.  

              “You shouldn’t have done that,” Corey said.

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              “Why not?” Jeremy asked. “We needed to lighten the mood.”

              Corey shook his head. “I didn’t get to tell you the story.”

              “Well, tell it already so we can all get outta here.”

              Jeremy crossed his arms and glared at Corey. Corey glanced from face to face, then began.

              “OK. So, Shirley Sugg was a local photographer about half a century ago. She was an oddball, but good at what she did. She never married and she lived alone—here.”

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              Corey observed the captive audience before him, then continued.

              “Over the years, she got stranger and stranger. She started walking around with a Polaroid camera, taking pictures of random things. Then one day, someone got in her way. That’s when she completely flipped out and went bonkers. They say she stalked the person afterward, then killed her.”

              For dramatic effect, Corey lowered his voice to a whisper.

              “When they found the body, it was posed in a chair, the mouth carved into a permanent smile. The ruined photo sat in the dead woman’s lap with her image scratched out.”

              Corey stared at the horrified faces before him. The twins whistled low in disbelief.

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              “That is one creepy story, dude,” Jeremy finally said. “But whatever happened to Shirley? Was she arrested?”

              “No,” Corey smirked, enjoying the fright he was giving his friends. “That’s the strange part. When the cops showed up at her house, there was no answer. So, they entered. What they found was Shirley Sugg in her bed in this room, dead. She had a huge grimace frozen onto her cold, dead face and a Polaroid on her lap. It was a selfie she took—in this very room, but her smiling face was missing from the photo. Instead, it fixed itself permanently onto her dead body.”

              “Christ!” Jeremy cried. He slowly backed up, bumping into the bed. He jumped. The Polaroid fell out of his hand, onto the bed. It landed image side up.

              “Holy, shit, guys!” he screeched. “Look!”

              Corey snatched the photo. The twins gasped as they looked over Corey’s shoulder. The photo showed the entire group with the exception of Jeremy’s face, now a white smear.  

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              “OK, let’s get outta here!” Corey said. He bolted out the door and down the hall, the twins immediately in tow, when a slam occurred behind them. The last sound they heard from behind Shirley’s closed bedroom door was Jeremy’s scream, followed by a maniacal laugh.

Devilish Author, Christa Planko

Christa resides in South Jersey—home of the Pinelands and the Jersey Devil. She is a medical writer by day with a passion for creative expression. Her poetry and short stories have been featured in several publications, including Jitter Press, Rune Bear, Tanka and Haiku Journal, and Every Day Fiction. 

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. williamdprystauk

    May 21, 2019 at 5:16 pm

    Great, old time, spooky horror fun!

    I want more!

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Original Series

AI Journey: Little Red Riding Hood, Part 1

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And as promised in Big Bad Poetry, we shall embark on our next AI journey, this time looking at Little Red Riding Hood. I had wanted to depict her as the Big Bad Wolf one and the same, although maybe not so big nor bad. But it just wasn’t happening quite as planned. All of these are based upon the AI generated art and prompts using NightCafe and then created as posters in Canva.

Little Red Riding Hood beautiful woman with red cape hiding her wolf face.  Sinister style, July 29, 2023
Sinister style, July 29, 2023

So I actually like this even better than my original vision, it is playful and even a bit serene (especially given the Sinister style). The wolf is just being a wolf. It’s quite lovely, really. But it wasn’t what I had in mind, so I revisited the idea later to see if I could get that result…

Little Red Riding Hood with wolf face, Artistic Portrait style, Aug. 1, 2023
Artistic Portrait style, Aug. 1, 2023

Well, that’s not quite right…

Wolf face Little Red Riding Hood, Artistic Portrait style, Aug. 1, 2023
Artistic Portrait style, Aug. 1, 2023

Yeah more of the same…

What part of wolf face don't you understand?, Hyperreal style, Aug. 1, 2023
Hyperreal style, Aug. 1, 2023

And as you can see this is starting to devolve quickly. Join us again next week to see how this continued to develop… And if you want to catch the last AI art journey, you can find it on Haunted MTL here. To see more such devolutions into AI generated art, check out the Will the Real Jennifer Weigel Please Stand Up? blog.

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Original Creations

Big Bad poetry by Jennifer Weigel

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So considering my recent revival of a wolfwere and his Lucky Days and Nightmarish Nature’s hostile humanity, it seems we are due for a visit from Little Red Riding Hood, or perhaps even Big Bad himself… Here’s a poem on the subject by Jennifer Weigel.


Over the river and through the wood
flashed the fleet-footed Red Riding Hood
on her way to her “grandmother’s” house.

When running past, who should she see
but just one of the little pigs three
cowering like but a tiny mouse.

“But my dear piggy, what do you fear?”
Red Riding Hood asked as she slunk near,
teeth hidden under a sheepish smile.

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The nervous small pig looked up in fright
and decided that Red was alright,
missing the subtle clues by a mile.

“The Big Bad Wolf, that horrible beast
upon the other wee pigs did feast!”
the last little pig said with a squeal.

Red Riding Hood laughed with a great growl
and threw back her heavy long-robed cowl,
in a vast terrifying reveal.

For she was really the wolf Big Bad
hidden beneath the cape that he had
stolen from Red Riding Hood at point.

“And now I’ve caught you too my pretty
and surely t’wouldn’t be a pity
if I gobbled you up in this joint.”

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T’was then the wee pig leapt to his feet
And cried, “Big Bad Wolf, I shall defeat,
for I am no ordinary swine!”

The little pig also wore sheep’s clothes
spun in spells every woodland witch knows;
Old Granny herself was quite divine.

“Now give me back my granddaughter’s cape,
before I grab you by your ruffed nape
and send you pig-squealing down the road…”

The wolf dropped the cape and ran, that cur,
but Granny was swifter and hexed his fur
and the wolf she turned into a toad.

Thus the moral of this story goes,
when in the woods, no one really knows
what sheepish sheep’s clothing is a ruse
that big bad wolves and old witches use.

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So this is actually an intro to my next AI art journey with NightCafe which developed from me not getting the results I wanted (Little Red Riding Hood herself as a wolf). Here’s a preview with Eric’s versions as he is much more literal in his prompting than I am, but where’s the fun in that? 😉

Prompts (from left to right) in Dark Fantasy style, executed Aug. 1, 2023:

Bipedal wolf in Red Riding Hood’s cloak

Bipedal wolf in Red Riding Hood’s cloak close up portrait

Bipedal wolf in red cloak close up portrait

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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Original Series

Nightmarish Nature: Horrifying Humans

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So we’re going out on a limb here in this segment of Nightmarish Nature and exploring one of the most terrifying, most dangerous, most impactful species to walk this planet. I’m talking about us of course. Sure, as humans, we may not seem all that horrific to ourselves, but to many other creatures we have been a force of nightmares.

Humans male as drawn by Jennifer Weigel
Humans male as drawn by Jennifer Weigel

Why are we terrifying?

Humans are among those species that engage in massive modifications to our environment to serve our needs, like beavers who dam rivers, elephants who eat all of the new growth scrub to keep the savannahs tree-free, and so on. Yeah, all creatures have some impact on their surroundings, but some take it up a notch, and we do so at an order of magnitude higher still. And we have gotten so good at it that we have managed to exist and thrive in places that would otherwise be inhospitable. We are outwardly adaptive and opportunistic to the point of being exploitative. We are the apex predators now.

Sabertooth cowering as drawn by Jennifer Weigel
Sabertooth cowering as drawn by Jennifer Weigel

We have forced many creatures into extinction, intentionally and not, and have sped up these effects enormously. The National Audobon Society chose the egret as its symbol after it made a comeback from being hunted to near extinction, and it was one of the lucky ones. Many weren’t so lucky, especially if they came in direct conflict with humans, such as wolves and the big cats who were in direct competition, or those who were really specialized in really specific niche circumstances that we pushed out of the way. And this is in only a very very limited scope of our earth’s history, and has since been even more ramped up with industrialization.

Humans female as drawn by Jennifer Weigel
Humans female as drawn by Jennifer Weigel

But humans aren’t all bad are we?

Depends on who you ask… We have created all sorts of incredible opportunities for some species too. Take mice for example. And coyotes. And kudzu. And a whole host of animals whom we’ve domesticated, some of whom wouldn’t have continued to exist otherwise or certainly wouldn’t exist in anything resembling their current forms. And the most massive extinctions occurred long before our arrival, when the earth was still forming and underwent rapid catastrophic changes and swings, decimating critters as they were trying to get a foothold. Nothing is constant except for change; that has always been true.

Wolf begging for cheezborger drawn by Jennifer Weigel
Wolf begging for cheezborger drawn by Jennifer Weigel

So it isn’t my goal to get all eco-con​scious and environmentalist here. Just that I feel if we are going to explore some of the more terrifying aspects of nature, we need to look in the mirror. Because if a consensus were taken right here, right now of all living beings globally as to what is among the most terrifying creatures among us, I’m sure we’d appear on that list.

If you enjoyed this closer-than-kissing-cousins segment of Nightmarish Nature on Horrifying Humans, please check out past segments:

Vampires Among Us

Perilous Parenting

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Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps

Cannibalism

Terrifying Tardigrades

Reindeer Give Pause

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Komodo Dragons

Zombie Snails

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