Danielle rose to her feet and walked to the bedroom of the now-dead couple. She saw a pile of blankets strewn across the bed and floor and reached down to grab a bundle. Peering around the room, blankets piled into her arms, she saw a dark object wedged between the side of the bed and a bedside table. She’d come back to check on it after the immediate work was done.
Back in the living room, she layered two blankets over the remains. Blood began to soak into the fabric creating small spots of blotchy red, but for now, the horrid sight of the remains was gone. For good measure, she tucked the trophy under the blanket as well. She couldn’t handle the chunks of hair and brain matter coating the gold-colored plastic.
She didn’t know why, specifically, she had aimed for the head. Maybe she had heard something during one of those harried evening broadcasts of instructions, over shoutings of studio and radio crew. Maybe it was just that the skull was the source of all thought. All she knew was that so far that it had worked out for her, twice.
Aim for the head.
It was obvious now that she needed something more effective than a trophy if she wanted to get anywhere safely. She needed a gun and she knew exactly where her dad had kept it. But getting there would require something else to defend herself in the meantime. A kitchen knife would work in a pinch, but there had to be something else… She snagged a knife from a drawer in the kitchen. A knife would be light, but not a lasting solution. It had best be something she should get used to holding for a while but still fairly heavy.
She searched around the neighbors’ apartment. There was little of practical use, but she mulled over the possibilities of each and every bludgeon, poker, or blade she stumbled on. So many things that were part of everyday life that she never would have thought of as weapons were now game… each one would be ranked by their effectiveness as she moved from space to space in the cramped two-room apartment.
She returned to the bedroom of Julie and her unknown boyfriend and checked under the bed, seeing nothing but shoeboxes. Pickings had been slim thus far. She sat down and leaned against a cheap cabinet that sat against the wall, staring at her haul of coat hangers, kitchen knives, and sporting goods. Remembering earlier, she turned her gaze to the bedside table and saw something red tucked between the bed and the table. Danielle reached her hand between them and grabbed at something heavy.
The weight was reassuring. The crowbar became the first step in the plan. She needed a gun, but rather than search apartment after apartment for one, she needed a sure thing.
Her family’s storage building was exactly where she would need to go.
She stepped out of the apartment with one heaping backpack weighing her down and digging into her shoulders. It was a hiking backpack she rarely used and had always griped about the cost, much to the annoyance of her friends. It only took the fucking apocalypse to make the backpack worthwhile.
The backpack had a pair of aluminum rods along the spine, connected by a plastic handle where she strapped her sleeping bag. Over her shoulder, she had a messenger bag that used to carry her school books, but now carried whatever food she could scrounge up. Across her other shoulder, she had two gallon bottles of water, strapped together with a belt drawn tight. The belt loop was wrapped with a dish towel for padding, but it did very little to ease the burden of the weight. She also has a small collection of luggage and bags at her feet, ready to be put into the trunk of her car, if it still ran.
She took some sheets and used them to lower her extra supplies to the floor below, as the stairs were demolished. Each deposit of cargo was done as silently as possible to not alert any Ghouls in the area. Supplies staged below, she lowered herself from the demolished stairwell and peered around, wary of any movement. Safe, for a moment, she took a look at her apartment that loomed above her, next to the makeshift tomb of her unlucky neighbors.
It was time to go.
Her car was not blocked in, thankfully, and she had not encountered a single ghoul on her two trips to get her supplies to the car. The back seat of the Focus was jammed with what she had brought and she slid her hiking pack into the passenger seat. She opened the driver’s side door, took a deep breath, and turned the ignition.
The car sputtered but didn’t turn over. She almost began to cry in frustration but she straightened in her seat and tried again. After a couple of tries, the engine rumbled to life.
She laughed, nearly startling herself with how loud she had been. She’d been quiet for what felt like weeks. It felt strange to make a noise above a loud whisper.
Her tank was still relatively full, thankfully. It was more than enough to get her to where she needed to go, only a couple of blocks away. She would drive down, break into the office, grab the gun, and get back into the car and drive the fuck out of town. It was the best plan she had and it seemed effective enough for now.
She took the Focus into reverse, then to drive, through instinct. She rounded the corner of the cross-like lane that divided the apartments, dotted with parking spots, abandoned cars, and a few grim remains. Ahead she saw the gate that opened to Acacia street was a mess; a couple of cars were piled up against an ambulance. It would be too much to move them.
She noticed a pair of figures awkwardly wedge themselves between the detritus and start moving toward her. She kept calm and reversed, noticing a single ghoul in her rear-view mirror. Taking a breath, she reversed back into her lane where she had come from, and instead made a right, rolling past the decomposing creature. The clumsy shambler bounced off the corner of the Focus and fell to the ground in a heap. She made another right to the other exit that led to Howard street and was relieved to see no cars were blocking it. The gate, however, was partially torn down and leaning into the apartment complex. It would be dangerous to drive through. It had to be moved.
The ghouls behind her were still shambling awkwardly in her direction as she rounded the corner. She rolled the Focus forward enough to park. Danielle took in her surroundings again, and not immediately able to identify any of the undead around her, stepped out of the Focus, crowbar in hand.
The young survivor made her way to the gates and hooked onto one end with the crowbar and began to pull at it, trying to pull it out toward the grass outside, like opening a door. The metal creaked and buckled, but the gate was being stubborn. Frustrated, her temper got the better of her and she pulled hard enough to rattle the gate loudly. She stopped, panting, angry, and nervous.
She heard the moans of approaching ghouls from behind.
Thank you for reading the second installment of the Haunted MTL original series, The Dead Life. Please share your thoughts about the story with us.
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.