The darkness within the building, even with the daylight pouring in through the windows, was intimidating.
Edgar took point, carefully stepping on the layer of broken glass in an attempt to muffle as much of the crunching as he could. There was little to be done and he paused, frustrated. He finally gave up and made his way toward the carpeted floor, wincing at the sound of glass beneath his heavy feet.
The store had the scent of mold and mildew. Edgar watched a light cloud of spores and dust puff into the air as he stepped onto the carpet. Dani and Jimmy entered and the three of them overlooked the darkened store. Many of the shelves were bare from a combination of looting or spillage onto the aisles.
Jimmy grabbed one of the carts and wriggled it from the collection between the entrance and exit doors. The sound of clashing metal gave everyone pause. They all held their breath, wary of any telltale moans of the undead, but heard nothing in response. Jimmy shrugged and grabbed another two carts from the tangled rows.
He rolled the cart slightly, making sure the wheels weren’t jammed. He looked at Dani and Edgar. “I figure we can load up everything we can, fill the car, and then stash these elsewhere. Sound good?”
“That can work. Just grab anything helpful,” Dani added.
Edgar took one of the carts which looked overly small compared to him. Not that he was incredibly tall, but his thick frame tended to dwarf anything near him. He began to wheel his cart away but turned back to Dani and Jimmy.
“I’m going to hit the food area. See what canned stuff is left.”
Jimmy nodded. “I’ll go to the pharmacy and see what is left.”
Dani began to roll her cart down one of the aisles. “I’m going to poke around in the stockroom, then. Maybe that didn’t get hit as hard by scavengers.”
“Wish we had some walkies or something,” Edgar added.
Dani nodded. “There may be some in the back. We’ll see.”
The three survivors wheeled off in search of supplies.
Jimmy grabbed everything he felt was potentially useful from the shelves leading toward the pharmacy itself. It was mostly off-the-shelf supplies and medications. He weighed the importance of antacids in his mind, shrugged, and threw the few remaining bottles into the cart. He had also found a pair of canvas totes in the seasonal aisle on the way and had them slung over his shoulder. He could stand to carry a couple of bags of goods if the cart proved too full.
Given the state of the store that was unlikely. Pickings were slim. Bandages, cough medicine, and typical cabinet supplies were certainly diminished. Painkillers were virtually non-existent. He did manage to find a couple of bottles of aspirin and some ointments. Anything at this point was a stroke of luck.
He paused for a moment, looking over the meager haul. What Jimmy hoped was that he could convince Edgar of the plan to stay in Emmett. The idea of heading to San Diego was a lost cause. It had to be. Maybe enough supplies would convince him to stick around.
He stopped pushing the cart when the wheel hit a metal shelf that had been pried from the shelving unit. The clang made him wince, but he heard nothing after. He bent down to clear the shelf and caught a glimpse of a feral cat resting on a bottom shelf, hiding between a couple of bottles of hydrogen peroxide.
“Hey, how are you, little guy?”
He set the loose shelf against the unit and turned his attention back to the cat. “You gonna help me out?”
The cat’s eyes were wide. Clearly, the world had not been kind to it since the dead rose. Jimmy wondered if the ghouls were eating animals. He hadn’t seen anything like that, yet, but it was always possible.
He shook his head. He didn’t want to consider it.
He thought for a moment about trying to take the cat with him. There was no point, not now. Maybe he’d bring a towel and a plastic carrier from the storage units next time he came back to the store. Not that there’d be a guarantee the cat would be there, though.
He sighed, clicked his tongue, and gently reached for a bottle of hydrogen peroxide. The cat yelped and hissed, swiping at his hand but missing. Jimmy instinctively retracted his hand. There was no sense in dipping into the peroxide, yet.
He extended his sneaker out toward the bottle and knocked it onto the ground. The cat lept out from the shelf and darted down the aisle with a dramatic howl, knocking down a wire rack as it rounded a corner. The rack clattered loudly as it hit a shelf and then the floor.
He shrugged and grabbed the peroxide bottles, placing them in the cart.
Edgar dutifully grabbed whatever dented can he could find. Any box, plastic bottle, crinkling package, and aluminum case found its way into his cart. And yet his cart was maybe half full by an optimistic estimate. Still, it was more food he had seen in days, and if most of it was good they’d eat well with a little rationing. Not that he had intended to stay all that long. He’d already begun earmarking his haul for stuff he could take with him on the road.
Jimmy was adamant about sticking around town; San Diego was a “kill box,” he argued. Edgar wondered what the skinny redheaded fuck knew about “kill boxes.” Edgar’s Papá had been in Desert Storm. He’d seen some real shit. Edgar knew more about the idea of a kill box second-hand than his tweaker friend ever did.
Edgar peered down at a burn-mark on his hand. He knew a lot about the results of a kill box, he thought. His papá’s anger was an example. That was why San Diego was important. Papá was there, with Mamá, Ttía, Abuela, Angel, Mari, Maria… La Familia. They were around. Papá had to keep them safe. He was a tough son of a bitch.
Edgar grabbed a couple of likely stale single-serving bags of tortilla chips from a pile of broken bags and loose chips. A nearby rat squeaked as he ripped the bag away. Edgar snorted. “Good times for you, eh?”
The rat did not respond.
He wheeled his cart further into the next aisle, which seemed to be sodas and drinks. There weren’t many cases and bottles left.
Edgar agreed that there was some sense in Jimmy’s plan. The storage facility had proven pretty safe and there was certainly room enough. The plan to reinforce it also seemed like a good idea. But that was fine for everyone else. They didn’t have their own people waiting for them.
Edgar paused for a moment, staring at a can of soda that was standing alone on a shelf, a thin layer of dust dulling the shiny aluminum top. What was it about the soda? He stared at the can a moment longer and realized he had seen it just a few minutes ago in the car. It had tumbled out of the bag in the passenger seat and onto the floorboard. It remained there, undisturbed for weeks next to the thrashing, undead mother.
He thought about the car, what the woman’s final moments must have been like, and the baby in the back. He could have sworn he’d seen something move under the overturned child’s seat. Edgar’s breath caught in his throat for a moment and he let out an ugly half-choked gasp. He felt tears coming on and quickly wiped his eyes with his massive forearm. He punched himself in the side of his head for good measure.
The stockroom seemed mostly untouched. Most of what was inside were still packaged as it had been when they arrived. Dani was excited about the potential of it all. They could come back with one of the moving trucks.
The small forklift also seemed promising. Maybe that could be useful. She had no idea if it ran on gas or electricity, but the ability to move large things around might make it easier to build a reinforced wall at the storage yard. This trip turned out to be a lot more successful than she had hoped. It was just a matter of planning.
The thunk of a cardboard box onto the concrete floor broke Dani’s concentration. She spied the box, slightly bent and battered, and looked up the high shelves that made up the wall of the storeroom. On the second tier, maybe about eight feet from the ground, she spied the source of the disturbance. A wide-eyed woman and a teenage girl stared at her. The girl’s brow was furrowed in concern while the mother’s eyes were shockingly wide and bloodshot.
Dani raised her hands up in a peaceful gesture, but did not release the poker. “Holy shit, are you two… okay?”
Neither responded. Dani looked into the mother’s eyes and tried to follow her gaze. Dani hadn’t noticed anything alarming until she felt the weight of the fireplace poker in her own hand.
“Oh, right,” she whispered.
Dani bent down, placing the poker on the ground and scooting it ahead of her with her foot. The scraping of the metal on the concrete was uncomfortable in the echoing stockroom. “Look, I am just here on a supply run. Do you need help? Do you have someplace to go? My name is Danielle, but you can call me Dani.”
Dani waited for a response. The girl looked at her mother for a moment, who sighed and finally blinked.
The girl spoke first, her voice was low and hoarse. “We’re trapped here. There’s one of those things in the store and my mom’s leg is really hurt.”
Dani glanced around the stockroom. “I haven’t seen anything? Maybe it wandered off? How long have you two been in here?”
“I think about an hour,” the woman replied.
Dani kept her distance, not wanting to intimidate them. She raised her hands up in an open gesture like she was surrendering. “Where did you last see it?”
“There’s an office, around the corner,” the girl whispered.
Dani peered behind her and saw the corner that led to the presumed office. She turned back to the two women and held her finger to her lips to signal them to keep quiet. She picked up the poker from the concrete as carefully as she could. She was worried about the noise that she had already made, surely if something was there, it was alert by now.
She sighed and started toward the corner. The loading doors ahead rattled slightly, probably from the wind. Or maybe a ravenous ghoul just on the other side.
It was hard to tell these days.
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…
Cravings Part 2, story by Jennifer Weigel
If you missed the beginning of this pregnancy horror story by Jennifer Weigel, you can catch Part 1 here.
Jayden’s stomach turned. Who or what was this creature standing before him, and what had it done with his wife? Claire proceeded to eat more than half of the jar of eggs in a fury of consumption; Jayden finally retreated to the office alone unable to watch any more. He heard a sloshing sound as she finished the jar and proceeded to drink the brine before retreating to the bedroom and crashing into their bed, presumably to pass out. Again. Later that night, he crept in to find her sleeping, clammy and sweaty, nervously twitching. Her body made the most abnormal guttural sounds as her internal systems groaned and sputtered. It was definitely getting worse. Jayden resolved to call Dr. Randolph the following morning; this had gone on for far too long already.
The next day, Claire awoke with a start from another bad dream that she couldn’t remember. Crying uncontrollably, she clutched her swollen belly, still ripe with child, and hurriedly exclaimed, “Blood sausage! I must have blood sausage!”
Jayden woke from his curled-up safe haven beside her and muttered, “Wha… What is that? I’ve never even heard of such a thing.”
“Go!” she snapped. “I’m starving. Go now! Return with blood sausage.”
Jayden staggered over to the dresser, threw on some clothes, shuffled into his waiting shoes, and gathered himself to duck out the door in the well-practiced gesture he’d become so accustomed to. “I’ll stop on my way home from work, I guess,” he mused, making his own plans. Claire seemed to settle down a little as she woke further, but it was little consolation.
“Thank you Sweetcheeks,” she said. “You’re the best.” She blew him a kiss.
While at work, Jayden managed to secure an appointment with Dr. Beth Randolph, Claire’s primary physician since before he had known her, for later that day. He took off early and rushed home to gather his unwilling wife. She was going in, whether she liked it or not.
He opened the front door and peered inside. The house was dark and quiet, as he’d come to expect. He crept in and stole upstairs to the bedroom to rouse Claire from sleep. He’d tell her where they were going once he got her in the car, no sense in making this even more difficult than it already was. Unsurprisingly, there she was, a shadowy form hunched over in the bed, her back to him with the covers pulled up over her eyes. He peeled away the comforter and blanket to reveal a tangled mess of white knitted yarn; Claire was nowhere to be found. He looked around, trying to focus on the darkness of the bedroom that enveloped him. That unsettling feeling had returned, like he’d had at Maresh’s shop, sinking into his gut. Claire was here idling, watching, waiting; he could sense her presence sizing him up as if she could read his mind and was on to his plan. But why was her company so disconcerting? This was still their house, their home, their lives intertwined… Jayden felt his trust ebb, spine tingling sensing danger.
“Hey there Sweetcheeks,” Claire’s voice echoed from the darkness of the closet. “Do you have something for me?” She emerged into the room, her eyes wide, frothing slightly at the edges of her mouth. Tiny bubbles of drool burst forth from her quivering lips and trickled down onto her chin.
“I couldn’t find any… blood sausage… whatever that is,” Jayden lied through his teeth. He hadn’t even gone to the store. Claire should never have expected him back at this hour; apparently she didn’t even know what time it was. But that seemingly wasn’t a concern. She wasn’t herself. Something about her fragile frame, the way she rocked from side to side, reminded him of that crazy old witch doctor Maresh. He finally managed to connect the two; it was as though she were possessed. It was imperative that she saw Dr. Beth Randolph as soon as possible, if for no other reason than to sever ties to that crazy old hag and hopefully start to snap out of it. He simply had to get her to that appointment.
“No blood sausage!” Claire shouted, becoming more and more agitated. “No… blood… sausage!” Her breathing became less regular and her body shivered all over as she hulked towards him. “I am sooo hungry!”
She lunged towards him, stumbling into his arms and collapsing towards his feet laughing maniacally. Jayden reached for her instinctively, to lower her to the ground gently, and felt something sticky and warm envelop his hand. Feeling lightheaded, he glanced down as he fell to the floor beside her. Protruding from his gut was a long silver thread, no something pointedly metal and hard, oozing thick oil sludge all around. Not oil, blood. His blood. Claire continued laughing, her lightning-fast fingers quickly and methodically ripping their way into his tattered shirt and worming around within his wounded frame to pull forth bits of viscera, which she wrung in her hands and smeared up and down her arms and torso. As Jayden passed out, she mouthed each of her fingers in turn, sucking the precious liquid off of them one at a time, before she began to feast on his entrails.
Claire’s belly was finally full. The baby developing within squirmed and settled, as if finally satiated. She swiped a stray bit of flesh from her bosom, licked it off of her fingertips, and heaved a sigh of relief. Miracle Madame Maresh Meliasma was right; she just needed to get to the root of her cravings.