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Last time on Betty Lou’s Treasure Trove…

On her second visit, Pauline cleaned and organized old sets of dishes along their display, dusting everything as she rearranged it.  She faced a large plate or platter from each set towards the shop and stacked other pieces of the set in front of it to hold it in place.  As she worked, Pauline became aware of a low sobbing.  It was almost lost to the harsh wailing operatic trills piped into the small shop, but it was clearly audible.  Pauline turned quickly towards the source of the sound, straining to hear.  A hushed woman’s cries seemed to echo from the basement, down the dark rackety stairwell.

Dear God, that creepy man Chester has someone trapped down there, Pauline thought.  She stepped towards the stairwell briefly and then stopped in her tracks.  What if he was there?  He had explicitly said never to go downstairs and, if he had one poor hapless girl trapped there, he probably wouldn’t think twice before adding another…

Pauline glanced around the shop.  Betty Lou was sitting up front, motionless.  She had apparently fallen asleep in her chair, waiting for the brass bell tied to the door to ring and alert her to any would-be shoppers.  Chester was nowhere to be found.  The downstairs lurked, dark and unobserved.  Slowly, Pauline crept down the stairwell, slinking along the wall.  It ended in a tight hallway.  An open door straight ahead gestured into a small closet boasting a mop bucket, broom, and other cleaning supplies.  A closed wooden door to the left led under the main body of the shop.  The hushed wailing was louder now, emanating from behind the closed door.

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Pauline felt the doorknob.  It was cold and clammy, worn with age and use.  It turned easily, apparently left unlocked.  Pauline glided slowly into the room.  It was dark, save for a small work lamp clamped to the corner of a reappropriated office desk that had been left on, but her eyes adjusted quickly.  The room was a library of mannequin parts.  Everything was categorized and shelved on hardware store metal racks accordingly.  The lower level cradled an array of legs, some attached in pairs at the hip, others singly spilling over one another, loosely arranged in a pile.  A higher shelf held a tangle of arms.  An array of torsos sat motionless in the corner.

As she slid past the metal shelves, Pauline noticed a plastic bin with drawers of glass eyes, all sorted into pairs by color.  Chipped china bowls held various nuts and bolts, a small jelly jar of nails and other metal tacks among them.  Some cleaning and painting supplies took up one end of a shelf, their cracking paper labels faded and peeling beyond readability, along with several very used and notably rust-stained rags that reeked of strong chemicals and lingering funk.  The sobbing grew louder as Pauline approached the desk, an out-of-date office monstrosity of rusted metal painted to look like wood with a poorly maintained melanine work surface streaked with gouges, stains, and glued-on detritus.

A lone mannequin torso was perched on the desk, that of a strikingly beautiful young woman.  She seemed almost too real, eerily even more so than the elegant mannequin that had drawn Pauline to work in this creepy backwash in the first place.  Her Fiberglass frame had a quality about it that seemed almost genuinely fleshy or waxy, like it was still pliable and malleable.  A blonde cascade of curls draped itself over her shoulders and spilled onto the desk, coiling into a chipped china saucer filled with small wig pins.  Her pale blue eyes appeared wet, staring pleadingly at Pauline.  Everything about her looked alive but frozen in time and space, caught in a static hollow shell.  She smelled of Fiberglass and harsh chemical cleaners, but also faintly of lilacs and lavender oil and of something else more offputting that Pauline couldn’t place, something decaying.

As she studied the mannequin intently, she realized the soft sobbing seemed to emanate from her.  As Pauline stood staring, a single tear welled in the mannequin’s right eye, pooling into a full droplet before streaking down her cheek towards her pouty full lips.  The lone drip was quickly reabsorbed into the Fiberglass form tracing only a shiny streak through the paint on her face until that too dried and she was again wholly static.  The low weeping continued, and a second droplet began to form, again in her right eye.  It pooled before streaking down her cheek like its predecessor.  Pauline’s stomach tightened into a ball and locked in her gut.  Something was decidedly amiss.

Pauline was shaken from the scene as she heard the bell on the door ring and muffled footsteps trail above her head.  She dashed out of the room as fast as she could quietly muster, closing the door behind her on her way out.  She slid up the stairs and slunk back to the dishes, returning those she had been cleaning to their shelf as if she had been there the whole time.

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Betty Lou was engaged in talking to a couple of drag queens who came to pore through the boxes of old wigs, looking for gems that had henceforth gone undiscovered.  As they rifled through a box, Betty Lou pointed out other crates hidden under clothing racks and on lower shelves.  One of the visitors was trying on a pair of vintage crystal heels and trying to convince the other that they would work for the show if they just extended the straps a bit.

Pauline finished arranging the shelf of dishes wordlessly, focusing on the task at hand.  She was still shaken by her experience downstairs, and could not get the image of the single tear winding its way down the mannequin’s cheek out of her head.  She wrapped up what she was doing and flashed a goodbye at Betty Lou as she streaked past and out the door.  Betty Lou was still fumbling through a box of wigs, pulling out one after another to run her thick fingers through them and hold them aloft for her visitors to consider.  A pile of rejects sat to her side while those that passed inspection were lined up on the counter.

“Bye, hon,” Betty Lou cooed from behind the register.  “See you next week.”

After what she had experienced downstairs, for all that she had no idea what exactly she’d seen, Pauline wasn’t entirely sure she’d be back…

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.

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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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