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.
Nightmarish Nature: Vampires Among Us
This is the kickoff to a new series exploring nature that is kind of horrifying, at least in ways. Our first subject is Vampires Among Us. There are lots of animals named for vampires, sometimes due to folklore and sometimes for their appearance (like the Vampire Squid), but most of these animals don’t have blood sucking tendencies.
Bats & Birds
There are legit vampire leaf-nosed bats in Central and South America that drink blood. They feed on mammals and are often shown to feed on livestock. They’d be kinda cute if they weren’t so creepy. There are also vampiric birds: some finches in the Galapagos have developed the taste for blood of other birds, mainly seabirds that flock to the islands to raise their young.
Leeches & Lampreys & More
And then you get into leeches and lampreys and other denizens of the water that are known to attach themselves to larger creatures and drink their blood. Leeches were even believed to have medicinal value (and still are in certain circumstances). And there are also numerous plants that are known to be parasitic and feed on other plants, wrapping their roots or vines around others to steal nutrients.
Now I’m going to drift off into the realm where this becomes truly horrific. Spiders. Now, spiders aren’t vampires per se, seeing as how they actually kill their prey – they don’t just feed off of it while it remains living and wanders about its business. But because of their structure, they cannot eat solid foods, so they have to inject their prey with enzymes to liquefy it so they can slurp it out like a protein shake. That’s sort of vampirism on steroids if you ask me, just the kind that no one is coming back from.
But let’s get back on topic. Now let’s consider mites and ticks and fleas and mosquitoes and the like. Some drink blood for their survival; others do so as part of their reproductive cycle (like mosquitoes which otherwise eat fruit and nectar but need the extra protein from blood to grow their eggs).
Ticks need to feed on blood once at every stage of their life cycle and can pick up diseases along the way (like Lyme Disease) but don’t always do so. Different ticks are more likely to come in contact with different things and often humans are not their preferred meal but they are opportunistic and will feed on whatever is available when necessary. Symptoms of illness from tick bites may take years to develop and can have really weird side effects (like the allergy associated with Lone Star Ticks which makes a person unable to consume mammalian flesh).
Anyway, here are some brief glimpses of vampirism in nature. Thank you for joining us for Nightmarish Nature and may you avoid getting bitten by any true vampires among us… And I still think spiders take first place in the creepy eating category here, even if they aren’t technically vampiric.
Buried Treasure by “Dread Pirate” Jennifer Weigel
This story came to me in a sort of roundabout way from a rather unusual source. So I thought I’d share it with you, dear readership, and see if you can make heads or tails of it. – Jennifer Weigel
Dread Pirate Rum Tum Tugger could tell this was the right spot.
The site, beneath the sweeping limbs of the Live Oak, Spanish Moss swaying gently in the breeze, was a perfect match to the crude map he had bought off that soothsayer Deuteronomy.
The earth moved easily, as if it had been excavated previously. He dug in with greater fervor with each swipe. The sandy soil gave way to reveal something hard. He scooped and smoothed the remaining detritus from the surface as he uncovered a box.
The carton was simple.
No markings; no ornamentation; no writing. Just a plain cardboard crate, brittle from having been buried for so long but still sturdy. He hoisted it from its burrow.
“Ha HO!” he shouted to the passing breeze, rousing a small cloud of birds that erupted from a nearby thicket. They captured his attention for a moment, but he quickly refocused and returned to his task.
The box was locked but no difference.
Any self-respecting ruffian like himself could pick a lock in seconds. And he did so with panache, as was his way. He pried the lid open and licked his lips.
Inside was the legendary Kernel of Eternal Life, a small sparrow’s heart, still beating.
Artwork description: Myself as Dread Pirate Queen Miss Kitty wearing black bell sleeve shirt and black vinyl skirt with strapping leather belt over leopard print shirt and tights, with strapping leather boots, pirate head wrap and leopard cat ears.
Image text reads: Purr! Avast ye mateys, Dread Pirate Queen Miss Kitty invites ye to check out her booty stash and dig ye up a dungbie prize. Seek ye some buried treasure! Just grab ye a plastic litter scoop and dig… dig… dig… to ye heart’s content.
I created this image for a promotional poster for a performance piece in a charity art show in which I, as Dread Pirate Queen Miss Kitty, hawked a carnival sideshow style sidewalk installation. For a mere $5 donation to the animal shelter the show supported, gallery goers could dig around in a kiddie pool full of litter to find a prize: a cheap plastic trinket from the dollar store. I had some takers, including one kid who seemed to really enjoy the digging and whose parents were all in, saying “You know, you can totally do that at home too.”
For more cat antics, we invite you to read C-2747’s logbook here on Haunted MTL. 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.
Queen of Everything Mother’s Day Wishes
Happy Mother’s Day to the Queen of Everything… nothing gets by you.
Artwork description: A Happy Mother’s Day card featuring a picture of a Nefertiti doll with swooping hair, glitter makeup, and elaborate gold and blue headdress and evening gown.
Image text reads: Happy Mother’s Day! You are the Queen of Everything and you shimmer brighter than the twinkliest star in the sky. Stay sparkly and shine on in your magnificent glitter bombasticness. You ARE truly everything everywhere all at once and you’ve seen and heard it all. Eyes in the back of your head and superpowered hearing mean we can’t get away with much no matter how hard we try. So Queen on and rule over home in sparkly sentinel.
And may this be a testament to why us kids shalt never get you out of bed too early or run amok while you are getting ready to start your day… Because being the Queen of Everything takes planning and preparation…
Feel free to check out this Mummy Dearest Mother’s Day card from 2021 here on Haunted MTL.