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To help fill your summer reading needs, I’m doing another long-form story series like my Feeding Frenzy story from last year. This story is based on my life experience as an art school student, though perhaps with some embellishment. So without further ado…

***

Pauline found the Treasure Trove on her way to school one day, set back off the road a bit.  She thought it odd that she’d never noticed it before; she’d driven this strip of road every day for almost two and a half years.  And yet, there it was.  She pulled off the main road into the gravelly weedy overgrowth of the alleyway next to the shop and wandered around to the front.

It was the mannequins that had first caught her eye.  Majoring in fashion design, Pauline had always wanted one.  She owned a couple of simple dress forms, but they really weren’t the same.  There was just something special about a mannequin, a young Fiberglass model smiling gently at the poor, aging passersby who gazed upon the eternal beauty in the department store window.

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There were several stationed outside of the small antique store, welcoming would-be customers with their silent smiles and waving at the dirty, exhaust-fuming cars.  A rather effeminate Fiberglass man was strapped to a metal pole with a couple of black bungee cords, holding an American flag to attention towards the street.  He wore a sequined dress suit from the seventies, a slightly askew black Elvis wig that resembled a road kill lap dog, and a pair of dark rhinestone rimmed sunglasses.  A statuesque woman with a long, brown wig in a blue, flower printed dress waved at the passing traffic from behind him while a couple of static children wearing shorts and t-shirts laughed silently with wide frozen smiles from a bench by the door.

Pauline swung open the red door to the antique store and was instantly greeted by loud, operatic music and the clanging of a brass bell tied to the inside handle of the door to warn of incomers.  A heavy old metal cash register faced the door from its perch on a large mirrored glass case filled with knickknacks.  A voice called out from behind it, “Welcome to Betty Lou’s Treasure Trove.”  Pauline poked her head around the register.  An exceptionally large woman sat in a worn Papasan chair, her girth spilling over the round nest.  Awash in a boldly printed teal and magenta muumuu, she stared into a large oscillating fan as it twirled to face her.  A small television sat in abandoned silence beside the fan.  The woman turned to Pauline with a wide smile, “Thanks so much for dropping in.  I’m Betty Lou.  Just let me know if there’s anything I can do for you, hon.”

“Thanks,” Pauline peeped, caught somewhat off-guard by the sheer immensity of the woman hidden behind the glass cabinet.  “I’m just looking,” she called as she wandered off along the front window.

The store itself featured a bizarre mix of collectibles and junk.  Expensive, hand-painted dishware sat in an open cabinet in a back corner, surrounded by racks of vintage clothing.  Old, tattered quilts and bedspreads were folded over collapsing wire hangers on more metal clothing racks, next to a small bookcase heaped with metal tins half-filled with used kitchen spices.  Corrugated cardboard boxes and plastic milk crates lined the floor offering old, worn shoes and unkempt wigs like kittens at only three dollars each.  A short wooden bookcase housed an unbelievably large number of the same Perry Como record along the bottom shelf, while children’s dolls and toys were piled haphazardly on the top shelf.  And there were about a dozen or so mannequins scattered about: next to bookcases, watching over to clothing racks, looming over wig and shoe crates, and otherwise standing at attention in whatever space had been made available.

One particular mannequin caught Pauline’s eye.  She was little more than five feet high and balanced on her Fiberglass toes as if wearing heels despite being barefoot.  Her subtly made-up face and long, brown eyelashes held a steady, soft gaze to her feet.  Her lithe resin body twisted as if caught in a dancer’s pirouette.  Her head was crowned in a short auburn wig and she wore a bright green dress, probably from the late 50s, which brought out the subtly painted green highlights in her glass eyes.  She seemed alive, ready to complete her graceful turn at any moment.

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This was the one – Pauline knew it.  There was just something extra special about her that Pauline couldn’t quite place.  She simply had to have this mannequin, in all of her youthful grace and beauty, exactly as she stood in the little junk shop.  With the same auburn wig and the same bright green dress.  Pauline fingered the price tag, biting her lip, two hundred fifty dollars for just the mannequin alone.  Add another three dollars for the wig.  And yet another twenty for the dress…

“I see you like that one, hon,” a voice cracked through Pauline’s silent reverie.  Betty Lou stared at her from the other end of the junk shop, propped between the glass cabinet and a sturdy metal walking cane.  “I can cut you a deal on it.”

“Thanks, but I can’t,” Pauline replied.  “I’m just a poor college student.  And I’m pretty sure financial aid doesn’t offer any scholarships for mannequin purchases…” she hid her discomfort behind a tinny giggle.

Betty Lou hobbled slowly over, balancing on the cane with small trying steps.  She swayed back and forth as she moved, her body rippling into place with every footfall under its teal and magenta tent like a large, overfull sack of rice.  Pauline couldn’t help but stare as the large woman approached cooing, “I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse…”

Betty Lou circled over to where Pauline stood beside the bookcase of Perry Como records.  She gently slapped Pauline on the back.  Her immense hand barely even touched the girl, and her round fingers had the subtle feel of newly baked breadsticks.  “Why don’t you work it off, then?” Betty Lou proposed.  “I’ll give you fifteen dollars an hour towards that mannequin if you’ll help me get my shop in order.  That’s less than twenty hours for everything you see there.  You can drop by whenever you want.”

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“Really?” Pauline asked, exasperated.  She didn’t exactly relish the idea of making that many return visits to this backwash Treasure Trove antique junk store, but there was no other way she could even dream about purchasing a mannequin.  Especially not such a nice one as this one was.

“Sure thing, hon,” Betty Lou smiled an unnervingly wide, toothy grin.  “She was my first.  I just couldn’t help myself.  Now I’ve got a whole warehouse full of hundreds of them.  I’d rather this little gal went to a good home.”

“Wow, thanks so much.  But I couldn’t…” Pauline replied.  She gazed back at the mannequin’s graceful form, bright lifelike eyes, and subtle smile.  “I’ll drop by every Tuesday and Thursday after class – those are my light days.  I can do four or five hours at a time, depending on my classes…” she stared longingly at the mannequin, “I can’t wait to take her home.”

Mannequin feet in the air, detail from featured image with the writer
Mannequin feet in the air, detail from featured image with the writer
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.

Jennifer Weigel is a multi-disciplinary mixed media conceptual artist residing in Kansas USA. Weigel utilizes a wide range of media to convey her ideas, including assemblage, drawing, fibers, installation, jewelry, painting, performance, photography, sculpture, video and writing. You can find more of her work at: https://www.jenniferweigelart.com/ https://www.jenniferweigelprojects.com/ https://jenniferweigelwords.wordpress.com/

Original Series

Nightmarish Nature: Komodo Dragons

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This time on Nightmarish Nature, we are considering Komodo Dragons.  These awesome lizards are the largest in the world and are native to Indonesia.  The lizards don’t get to be full-sized without feasting on a lot of meat and are known to prey on animals notably larger than themselves, even including deer and water buffalo.  But honestly, they pretty much eat anything they can get a hold of, including smaller Komodo Dragons.

Tongue-tied Komodo Dragon drawing by Jennifer Weigel
Tongue-tied…

Beyond Bad Breath

If you’ve ever wondered just how far really bad oral hygiene can take you, then look no further.  Although the Komodo lacks the bite strength to employ strangulation as an attack strategy, like crocodiles do, it is a dangerous and formidable hunter.  Long assumed to be the result of bacterial infection, Komodo bites are outright deadly, and this is in part due to their thick viscous saliva.  It’s all about the spit, ’bout the spit, that trouble. Eat your hearts out, Rottweilers, you ain’t got nothing on this.

And Komodo Dragons rend their victims’ flesh with serrated teeth and saw into the muscle, adding to the wounds’ ability to fester. Because of course they do. If you want to see some horrifying pictures of how this plays out, you can read about it in this NIH National Library of Medicine account of a zookeeper attack and recovery, complete with full color images not for the feint of heart.  Just wow, what a meaty mess…

All about the spit Komodo Dragon drawing by Jennifer Weigel
All about the spit…

Bacteria Versus Venom

It has more recently been shown that Komodos, like other Monitor lizards, actually do possess venomous saliva, and that this can inhibit clotting and cause blood loss, paralysis, and extreme pain, symptoms previously believed to result from bacterial infection.  It’s possible that their bite contains some of both, and in reality the why doesn’t matter so much as the ewww factor.

So regardless of whether there is venom or bacteria at play, a Komodo Dragon’s bite is nasty nasty.  Like you don’t want any part of those so-called love nips, even more so than with sharks.  (Side tidbit: male sharks have a propensity for biting during mating, so female sharks’ hides are thicker to withstand this sort of engagement.  In fairness, sharks use their teeth to explore the world around them, so this comes as no surprise really.)

"Hey baby..." You look good enough to eat shark drawing by Jennifer Weigel
“Hey baby…” You look good enough to eat

If you enjoyed this bite of Nightmarish Nature, please check out past segments:

Vampires Among Us

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Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps

Cannibalism

Terrifying Tardigrades

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Reindeer Give Pause

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Original Series

Nightmarish Nature: Reindeer Give Pause

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So reindeer aren’t generally thought of as all that scary, unless you have elafiphobia.  But since it is the holiday season and they are among the most celebrated animals this time of year, here are some fun facts about reindeer and their deer kin that are weird and even a bit creepy.

Female reindeer also have antlers and continue to grow them during Christmastime, whereas the males shed theirs in November.  So the antlered reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh are girls.

Girl reindeer all dolled up and ready to go drawn by Jennifer Weigel
Girl reindeer all dolled up and ready to go

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Some reindeer make a clicking sound as they walk so they can stay together as they travel through adverse weather.  Better than yelling “Marco” (or “Polo” in response) around every bend…

Deer have very good night vision and reindeer can even see ultraviolet light, which helps them to spot predators and find food in the arctic.  Speaking of food, deer have been known to gnaw on bones or flesh (including that of humans) and even eat small animals like birds and mice.

Vampire Deer

Some deer species, like Musk Deer, grow fang-like tusks instead of antlers, making them appear vampirish. They use their tusks like other deer use their antlers, with males fighting one another during breeding season.  Tusks also come in handy when foraging for food and fending off predators.  Plus they really up the deer’s Goth presence…

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"Vampire" musk deer drawn by Jennifer Weigel
“Vampire” musk deer

And if you’re into teeth, upper canines among whitetail deer are rare and have been highly prized.  They’ve even been incorporated into prehistoric necklaces and royal jewelry, ‘cause teeth used as decorative accents are always a bit macabre.

Previously on Nightmarish Nature

So there are some fun, somewhat creepy facts about deer.  If you enjoyed this bite of Nightmarish Nature, please check out past segments:

Vampires Among Us

Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps

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Cannibalism

Terrifying Tardigrades ?

Oh, and in the spirit of the holidays, here’s the reindeer’s top pick for a Christmas song, Must Be Santa as sung by Bob Dylan

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Original Series

Nightmarish Nature: Terrifying Tardigrades

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OK so I lied. The dust hadn’t fully settled in Cozmic Debris, the space opry I’d written over the course of this month (you can catch up here with Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). In fact, it’s blown over into Nightmarish Nature for one last final huzzah…


The Last Chapter of Cozmic Debris

Kara-2-6000 had just signed on with the Voyager probe and was eagerly engaged in her first mission, en route to Mars with more components for the terraforming effort.  It seemed like a pretty simple gig, cleaning up the space dust that accumulates on the vessel after landing on the red planet.  She had been trained to keep her eye on her work and pay attention to details, that the dirt tended to collect in unusual ways in strange places, and that it was critical she contain and seal all of it to keep the spacecraft in proper working order.  She entrusted the computer to keep the vessel on track, as it was preoccupied with doing and never engaged otherwise.  No matter.  She’d never been to space before and the newness of it had her rapt attention.  What stories she would have to tell once she paid off her student loans and got her human body back, for surely Mars must be an exciting place…

Cozmic debris don't die, hanging out in space with tardigrades poop, artwork by NightCafe AI art generator
Cozmic debris don’t die, hanging out in space with tardigrades poop

And now for Nightmarish Nature…

So, this time on Nightmarish Nature we’re visiting Terrifying Tardigrades… Wait, seriously who comes up with this stuff anyway? Tardigrades are actually kinda cute, at least in the nerd fandom sense, and are remarkable in their ability to survive and withstand crazy adverse conditions. For all that the AI art generator doesn’t seem to have much of a clue what their anatomy is like, they really don’t do anything that scary, unless you’re a yummy little single celled critter that lives in moss in which case pretty much everything has it out for you… Oh, I see that the Cozmic Debris space opry usurped this segment. May as well run with it then.

Confused tardigrade wondering why they appeared on Nightmarish Nature, drawing by Jennifer Weigel
Confused tardigrade wondering why they appeared on Nightmarish Nature

So what’s so terrifying about tardigrades anyway?

So I don’t actually have much to say about tardigrades except that they started this whole crazy journey here on Haunted MTL. A Facebook friend posted a link to the Ze Frank True Facts video on them (linked here if the below video doesn’t load), and I was instantly hooked. It’s a great series and is part of the inspiration behind Nightmarish Nature here on HauntedMTL. So if you like learning about all kind of crazy animal facts and nature weirdness, feel free to check it out. I will mention, the show contains adult themes and is designed for (im)mature audiences, so keep that in mind as you foray into the freaky side of nature, literally.

And if you want to go further down the rabbit hole exploring True Facts, my favorite episodes of all time are Pangolin’s Posse and Freaky Nudibranchs. Help the Bats is also a fave.

To more of my Haunted MTL series on Nightmarish Nature about things that are a bit more terrifying, please feel free to revisit previous segments here:

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Vampires Among Us

Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps

Cannibalism

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