Dani was the first down the stairs into the main shopfront. As though she already knew the situation her eyes darted toward the front doors. One of the undead had put its weight onto the glass and, almost as if the world had slowed down, Danielle heard each crack as rotten flesh slapped at the door. Dani turned toward the counter and saw Sandy crouching behind it – her screams of terror echoing in the room.
As soon as Bob’s foot hit the ground at the bottom of the stairs, the glass shattered and the ghoul’s decaying body began to stumble into the building. Dani froze for an agonizing moment, her hands empty of anything remotely useful. Within that moment Bob had thrown his full weight toward the walking corpse and pinned it against the door frame. The sound of glass shards ripping through flesh was discernible among the moan of the ghoul, the crunching of glass below Bob’s slippered feet, and the sounds of the old man struggling to muscle the ghoul out the door.
Dani snapped out of her brief daze and scanned the room. As soon as she saw a letter opener on the counter she dove for it and whipped toward the direction of Bob and the dead bastard.
“BOB-MOVE-YOUR-HEAD-” bellowed Danielle in a single breath.
Bob grunted and pinned the ghoul with a stiffened pair of arms against the door, putting space between his head and a jaw full of gnashing, rotten teeth. Dani took one powerful overhead swing and wedged the letter opener deep into an undead eye socket.
The gnashing of teeth stopped and the ghoul hung limp.
“Jesus Christ,” Dani whispered.
Bob took a few awkward steps to the counter, toward a sobbing Sandy, and put his weight on the faux-marble surface.
“Jesus Christ…” Dani repeated.
She turned to Bob. “Are you okay? Did you get hurt?”
Bob smiled. “I’m just outta breath, baby girl,” he glanced over the counter, “You okay, Sandy?”
Sandy rose from behind the counter and nearly stumbled back into a cabinet in the process. Her eyes were wide – so incredibly wide. It was as though she had not seen one of these things up close, Dani thought.
“I’m fine, I… thank you. I just…”
Dani turned back to the corpse and snatched the letter opener from the eye socket. She flicked some thick, blackened blood from the tip of the blade out the shattered door.
“We need to do something about this door, Bob,” she said.
“In a minute,” Bob slid down along the front of the counter, sitting, his legs outstretched, ‘I’m not as strong as I let on.”
Dani stifled a laugh as Bob winked at her.
Sandy seemed to be recovering well enough. “You’re right, Danielle, we need to do something about that door.”
Dani inspected the damage. “Do we have some way of blocking it up?”
Bob coughed. It was the flemmy, deep reverberation of a lifelong smoker. “Not without digging around in the units, and I feel like we need this thing sealed up double-time, kid.”
Dani peered around the room then finally turned her gaze outward. There were no other figures in sight, but there was a moving truck. One of the rentals.
Dani stepped over the corpse in the doorway and stepped into the parking lot, staring at the front facade of the building. There was no awning in the way.
“We can park a truck in front of it, close enough that one of those things can’t wedge its way in…”
Sandy sounded skeptical. “Would that work?”
Dani shrugged. “It’s the best solution I can figure out right now. We could block off the space under the truck with some boxes or a bookshelf.”
“Dani is right. It’s a pretty quick solution to give us a bit of breathing room.”
Bob rose to his feet and stepped out to the parking lot. He looked at the facade and turned to look at the moving truck inside the storage facility.
“This can work. Just gotta gun the genny and park that son of a bitch right along the front here…”
Sandy refused to step any closer to the corpse than a couple of feet away. She peered out into the lot at Bob and Danielle. Dani wondered how Sandy had made it this far.
Dani saw Sandy stumble backward against the counter. “There’s another one!” she shrieked.
Dani and Bob both scanned the area. Bob was the first to see the ghoul, tapping Dani’s arm and pointing to it. The pair made their way back toward the building. Bob grabbed the letter opener out of Dani’s hand and pushed her toward the door.
“Kid, get the truck. I’ll get this one.”
Dani stepped into the shop and saw Sandy ready to bolt upstairs.
“Sandy, where is the key?”
“I need the key to the moving truck.”
Sandy paused for a moment. Danielle could have sworn that she saw her eyes dart back upstairs. Sandy grunted and dashed over behind the counter to a cabinet and swung open the door. Inside the door were dozens of keys on hooks. She scanned the rows with her finger, grunted again, and dashed to the counter to open a drawer.
Danielle focused her attention on Bob, who strode over towards the ghoul. She saw it pick up its pace as the old man approached. He marched right toward it and shoved it to the ground. He placed a foot on its sunken chest and stomped down.
He was a man who had killed before… long before the apocalypse. It was the way he carried himself. It was more than stories from an old man.
Danielle was relieved to see the letter opener plunge down deep into the skull of the monster. Bob fell to the ground, exhausted. Her heart caught up in her throat when she saw that Bob didn’t stand up right away. Danielle could see the fatigue wracking him, his chest heaving from the strain.
“I’ve got them,” Sandy shoved the keys in Dani’s face, “hurry up.”
Dani bit her tongue as she turned her attention back to the parking lot. She caught some slight movement in the distance. Bob was still grounded, puffing away on the concrete next to the corpse. Dani stepped out toward the doorway and squinted her eyes toward the evening sun. Two more figures approached with the lumbering gait she had grown so used to seeing in the new world.
Dani turned to Sandy. The older woman’s face had gone pale. She had seen them as well. Dani moved over and placed her hand across Sandy’s mouth. Sandy’s eyes were wide in confusion.
Dani had a plan.
Thank you for reading the fifth installment of the Haunted MTL original series, The Dead Life. Please share your thoughts about the story with us.
Some Bewitching Line Drawing by Jennifer Weigel
This month we are going to explore more fun marker art from Jennifer Weigel, starting with black and white line drawing. Jennifer is getting ready for her big Life Is Brilliant solo show in March and has snuck in a few spookier themes, so she wanted to share them with you here.
The magic is strong in this Witch Way line drawing with its fun witchy head-topper, complete with striped hat band and star dangle. No self-respecting wizard’s ensemble would be complete without it.
And now the adorable Kitty Witch will don the Witch Way hat and cast a spell of cuteness on you. You gotta wonder just how the hat stays on but best not to question these things. We all know it’s magic…
The devil is in the details in this Not Today Satan line drawing, and boy is he pissed!
This She Devil is just plain goofy. Maybe she’s coyly playing innocent; it’s not a look most devils can pull off, seeing as how innocence really isn’t their schtick…
This little spider came down to your tuffet to remind you to Hang in There. She is very well-intentioned and is only looking out for you. I guess maybe she’s not so little though, she is an Argiope after all…
LTD Tripped Out Motivational Posters
Tripped out… in case you just couldn’t get enough of Everything Everywhere All at Once and the return of the infinite bagel with EVERYTHING on it…
Artwork description: kaleidoscopic image of pink hairy horror (This is actually a fink fuzzy frond plant not unlike a Cockscomb but with longer thinner flowering feelers rather than the fuller protuberances you see on a full-bodied Cockscomb plant. I have no idea what it was, but it was very odd so I had to snap a photo.)
Image text reads: Mixing Magic Mushrooms & Peyote Just remember: once you open that Pandora’s box, you’re never going to get the pink hairy tarantulas back in it…
Artwork description: kaleidoscopic sunflower backlit by the sun with text and rainbow eye overlay
Image text reads: Eye See You Eye See All (in circle text so you can start and end reading wherever). In an ideal context this would be printed in the bottom of your tea mug or on a record that can slowly spin.
For more crazy tripped out fun, check out Weird Al’s post on Craig’s List…
The Elves Reunion, a short story by Jennifer Weigel
I had heard tale that The Elves dwell in these woods. Many underestimate The Elves; they have a fondness of heart for Tolkienesque Middle Earth fantasy stories and tales where Elves are the most highly civilized, virtuous and intelligent. They forget that those are just myths, save for The Elves being cunning. Remember that the Pied Piper was an Elf, and the children he took were not destined for such a glorious fate.
My sister lost her firstborn to The Elves. She hadn’t noticed the Changeling until it was too late. Her baby had already long since been stolen away. She was so distraught she refused to eat or speak. She locked herself in her room. Or my family locked her into it as she succumbed to the madness. Such are the ways of the family, for all of our protection. We never question but follow as expected, as a means of self-preservation. It has kept us all alive.
But I couldn’t get the sinking feeling out of my stomach; the grief became too overwhelming. That is why I came here. I know I will not be able to rescue the child, nor my sister. But I seek to avenge their meaningless deaths. To ensure that it doesn’t happen again. My family will never act. I am tired of the Village Elders just shrugging these things off in hushed whispers and badly shrouded secrets. It happens time and again. We are all expendable. They never do anything.
So here I am, in the Elven wood. Alone. As soon as my family figures out that I’m here, they will disown me. They probably already have. Again, it is for our own protection. I’ll be just another casualty of The Elves. Everything is so structured, so regimented. Anyone who dares act in opposition to the rules vanishes. We are all so afraid.
I lay in wait. It’s just a matter of time before the portal appears. The Elves use the portals to travel across time and space. They appear where and when they wish. But this time, I will go through first. I know not what is on the other side, just that the portals allow only one to traverse in each direction. We will trade places, if only for a moment until another portal forms. Hopefully that will be enough time.
The trees shift and morph. Falling leaves drift slower and slower towards the ground. There is a stillness that I cannot fully express. My breath hangs heavy in the silent air. There is no sound, no smell, no taste. It is time. The hairs on the back of my neck and arms rise. I can sense the opening forming. There is an uncanny familiarity in this moment, as if I have been here before.
As soon as the portal opens, I dash through. But something isn’t right. No one came through from the other side. Or did they? I cannot tell. I am alone, in limbo between states of existence. The world spins around me. I can feel the drift. Is this what death feels like? Cold unbroken silence? I feel distant eyes upon me everywhere, all around me, in the trees, the clouds, pinpoints of light that shimmer through.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. Maybe this is all according to plan. But who was orchestrating the exchange? My idea was only half formed in those passing pensive moments I am able to think for myself, few and far between. My family, the Village Elders… no one allows time for freeform thought. I hadn’t considered what would happen after the portal exchange. I never really got past step one.
A voice greets me from the trees. It is hauntingly familiar but seems only a distant memory.
“I’ve been expecting you.”
The world slowly comes into focus. Clarity restored, the leaves circle me in an embrace. My sister emerges, her dark eyes smiling. She cradles the baby in her arms.
“You made it. You escaped,” she sings.
“I didn’t see anyone,” I retort, skeptical. I hadn’t recalled having seen any Elves, dark nightmarish fiends that they are, wild, unkempt, uncouth. Savage beasts like Pan or Krampus. Is this an illusion? My sister seems so lifelike, so much herself. She is the joyful young mother I had known her to be. Filled with love and laughter. Light dances about her, and she shimmers.
“Not in passing,” my sister clarifies. “You have been living among them your whole life. I had done so as well until the baby was stolen. My heart broke; I had to follow after. That was when I learned the Truth.”
“Why do you think we are so sheltered? Why are we forbidden to do anything? They do so to protect us from the Truth about who and what we are,” she continued. “We’ve spent our lives evading that which we truly know ourselves to be. We were the stolen ones, not the other way around…”
I notice that the portal I came through is still open, reinforcing my idea that no one had passed through the other way. It is as if the portal was opened specifically to call me through. My sister extends her hand, beckoning me to join her. There is a gleam in her eye I cannot pinpoint. She seems happy, but something still isn’t quite right. I’m still uncertain why I am here, in this time and place, as if destined to be present in this moment, in this decision.
The Village has fallen away to the woods. There are no breadcrumb trails to follow home. The idea of home itself seems distant like yet another illusion. Nothing makes sense anymore. I am unsure whether I am coming or going. Two paths lay open before me. Which shall I take?