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Day 17

The “office” was just a small box of a room, not built into the original construction of the pharmacy but rather a prefabricated addition. It was ugly, too, the walls made up of plywood treated to look like it was made of boards, and the frames being exposed metal. It was a cramped, thin-walled cube slapped into a musty warehouse.

There was no sound as Dani had approached and she had begun to grow nervous. Had the ghoul wandered out into the store, or was it lying in wait? What about the door out to the back alley? Had it pushed its way through, somehow. The lack of knowledge irked her. The lack of control quickly became the worst part of the apocalypse.

She paused at the door of the office. Things were quiet and the inside was darkened. The door was ajar, slightly, and a foul stench wafted out from the crack of the door and the frame. She didn’t approach closer, or dare put her face near enough to look through.

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“Is it in there?”

The quiet voice of the teenager behind her made Dani practically jump out of her skin. She whirled around and saw the teen standing here, cringing slightly. Dani furrowed her brow and wildly waved her free hand to shoo the girl away. She acquiesced, her eyes wide.

Dani took a step closer to the door and rest the point of the fireplace poker against it. She gave it a brief shove, but the door didn’t move inward much. Something was blocking it.

Shit. Shit.

She tried again, giving it a harder push, but the resistance was so great the tip of the poker slid across the plywood and hit the frame with a clang. Danny retracted her weapon and took a step back, listening. Something began to move inside and in a moment the door clicked shut.

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“Did it just close the door?”

Dani turned back at the girl. She shook her head. “Not on purpose… these things are dumb. Really dumb.”

“So it can’t get out?”

Dani shrugged as she gazed at the office. “Probably not, but I still need to get in there,” she turned back to the teen, “you should keep an eye on your mom for a few minutes. I’ll take care of this.”

The girl trudged away as Dani turned her attention toward the office. The first step was to open the door, but now there was definite shuffling going on behind it. Within an instant, a bloody and rotted hand slapped against the thing pane of glass that served as a window and then the rest of the ghoul rolled into view.

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It was thin, most of these things were, and skin hung loosely from its torso. The shirt was once a blood button-up, but now it was mostly dull and grey with deep brown stains down the neck and chest. A moldy green and brown striped tie hung loosely from the creature’s neck. The face, or at least what hadn’t slid off from the skull, had the faintest trace of a mustache and the top of the head had thin patches of hair. On the hip was a walkie-talky in a holster.

The ghoul was far enough from the door she could open it and then step back to regroup. She grabbed the doorknob and gave it a turn, only for it to rattle ineffectively. The office was locked. Of course. What were the options? She watched the ghoul trace her movements at the window. It slapped at the glass which rattled loudly given the quiet of the storeroom. It wasn’t strong glass at all but breaking glass was noisy. She scanned for a key nearby but saw nothing. There was no choice in the matter.

That is when she heard the click of the doorknob.

The ghoul was still at the window, far enough away from opening the door, but somehow the knob had turned. Not missing a moment, Dani kicked the door open. It slammed against the wall and the ghoul, who had been tethered to the knob by a lanyard and keyring, flew back into a filing cabinet and collapsed into a heap. Dani took two huge steps into the darkened office and put all her weight into driving the poker deep into the ghoul’s eye socket. The ghoul flailed a bit as the poker stirred the brain matter within the skull and after a few moments of vigorous stirring, it was now completely still.

Dani dutifully pulled at the poker from inside the skull, but it became wedged on bone, likely the orbital of the skull. She gave it another tug, but still no motion. Annoyed, she placed a foot on the former manager’s chest and grabbed the handle with both hands. After a mental count of three and a deep breath, she pulled with all her might.

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The poker ripped free from the skull, arcing a trail of blood. brain and shards of bone in the air as she lost her balance. The poker traveled full speed back behind her and shattered the tiny office’s window. Noisy cracking and splintering echoed in the storeroom. The poker’s hook lodged itself on the frame and rocked violently before clattering on the plywood floor. Dani studied the window, and just beyond she saw the teen who was overlooking the chaos. Gore dripped down the shards of glass that still remained lodged in the window frame.

“Gross,” she said.

Edgar stood near the front of the store staring out at the parking lot. His cart was as full as he could arrange. Anything that seemed edible or not damaged beyond being safe to eat was piled in, There was no ordering to the stacks, and he’d considered going through and making his assemblage less chaotic. Ultimately, it didn’t matter.

Beyond the parking lot, he noticed a gas station kitty-corner from the pharmacy. The place had clearly been hit by people for whatever gas they could find. Was there any more left? he wondered. What had really caught his attention, however, was the sight of a ghoul tangled up in a seatbelt, attempting to escape the opened door of a sedan. The bastard didn’t have enough sense to unbuckle the belt or even twist its own body in such a way that it could free itself. It simply would extend itself and the belt as far as it could go before the belt automatically retracted, pulling it back into the car, violently. Each time a limb or its head would bash against the frame, at least from what Edgar could see from this distance.

Eventually, Edgar figured, the thing would eventually saw itself free from the car from the constant friction of the belt.

“Fuckin’ crazy,” he mumbled.

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“What is?”

Jimmy rolled his cart toward the door, not full, but still, a fair amount of medical supplies rattled inside.

“Those things. I’ve been watching this dumb dude across the street trying to get out of a car.”

Jimmy set the cart aside and squinted into the distance. “How the hell are your eyes so good?”

Edgar shrugged. “How are yours so goddamn bad.”

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“You saw my glasses got smashed, right, asshole?”

Edgar smirked. Jimmy paused a moment, staring into the distance, and then huffed.

“Fuck it. Gonna grab some pairs from the pharmacy, I think there may be a couple left.” He whirled around and made his way from the front entrance, “be back in a minute.”

“Make sure they look good, some nice bifocals, maybe,” Edgar said.

He turned to see Jimmy walking into the darkness, his arms raised above his head, his middle finger higher. His friend vanished into an aisle. Edgar turned back to the entrance and continued to watch the ghoul. It snapped back again, the back of its head smashing into the door frame in what seemed like a black mist. It slumped behind the door for a moment. There was no movement and Edgar wondered if it had finally bashed its own brain in.

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A moment later, a familiar figure rose up from behind the door, wriggling, and thrashing. After some struggle it finally untangled itself from the seatbelt, taking strained, wobbling steps from the car door.

“There you go,” Edgar muttered.

The ghoul hit the curb of the gas mart and smashed into a wall, scrunching up like a sack of rotten meat and sliding down the surface.

“Hey, are you Edgar?” asked a whispered voice.

He glanced to his side at a teenage girl, her brown hair was a tangled mess. She looked at him and shrugged. She made her way to one of the shopping carts in the corral and started to pull it loose from the others.

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“Dani said you can help carry my mom to the car.”

The Dead Life is a Haunted MTL original fiction series.

David Davis is a writer, cartoonist, and educator in Southern California with an M.A. in literature and writing studies.

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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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Original Creations

Bloody Mary or More Doll Costuming by Jennifer Weigel

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So I came upon a Liv doll with no wig and decided to make her a mourning ensemble. The result was so reminiscent of this Bloody Mary music video based on the Lady Gaga song, by Ruben Samuel Cortez for his film school final (not the Wednesday TikTok remix, though that is also fun) that I simply had to share.

Costumed Liv doll to Bloody Mary by Jennifer Weigel
Costumed Liv doll to Bloody Mary by Jennifer Weigel

The outfit is made up of really fancy thick black lace leftover from a skirt I decorated for a party and an old translucent black handkerchief. It really reminds me of the table dancers in the music video but black instead of white (though it also alludes to some of the other outfits too, and Wednesday’s dress from the TikTok remake).

Close up of Bloody Mary doll's face
Close up of Bloody Mary doll’s face

I love the detail on the eyes on these Liv dolls, which are embedded and not painted on.

Closer still...
Closer still…

The Liv dolls’ eyes are just so lifelike. I think this is what attracts me to the Rainbow High dolls too, and why I had to turn the Makeover Failfix 2Dreami into Lady Amalthea of The Last Unicorn…

Failfix 2Dreami as Lady Amalthea from The Last Unicorn (not scary but one of my all time fave movies and I love how this doll turned out so I'm posting her here anyway)
Failfix 2Dreami as Lady Amalthea from The Last Unicorn (not scary but one of my all time fave movies and I love how this doll turned out so I’m posting her here anyway)

If you want to check out more of my altered dolls, I have posted several to Haunted MTL here:

Fashion Zombies

Heartbreak Hotel

Mummy Dearest

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Catharsis

Fairy Wands

She Wolf

Queen of Everything

More Altered Dolls

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Krampus

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.

Oh and here’s a bonus photo of the skirt that I got the lace for originally, titled Kiss My A$$.

Portrait of the artist, dressed for a Blue Jeans and Bling party
Portrait of the artist, dressed for a Blue Jeans and Bling party

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