Haunted MTL is continuing the tradition of telling spooky stories for summer… Here are some new twisted tales to tell around the campfire… Kicking it off is Campfire Stories by Jennifer Weigel.
Ed, Dirk, Kaya and Jean warmed themselves around the campfire, telling spooky stories. The start to their camping excursion was unmemorable. It had rained all week and pitching the tents was a challenge with all the mud, but it was the weekend now. There was plenty of beer and hot dogs and S’Mores and so on, and they’d managed to get a campfire going with dry wood, old newspaper, and those chunky not-chicken nugget firestarters they had purchased at the gas station convenience mart on the way. So all was as it should be. There they were, just hanging out, sitting around the campfire and shooting the shit with their best buds.
The full moon hung heavy in the sky, wispy tendrils of clouds occasionally obscuring the rust orange hues that flickered about its lower bulge in the atmospheric dust. Dirk had just finished telling a werewolf story as the faint baying of a hound echoed in the distance. He took a long drag off of the joint he held aloft in his right hand and took in his surroundings. The grounds were pretty much empty after all of the rain and there were no other camping parties to speak of. Someone was set up three or four sites down the river, but he more or less appeared to be a transient minding his own business just trying to get by and stay dry, not out partying for the weekend.
Ed popped another marshmallow on a silver spear and plunged it into the fire to set ablaze. It crackled and popped as the outside charred to black soot. He turned it to sear the surface evenly, black ash giving way to molten white lava blistering forth from within. Ed sandwiched the burnt husk oozing white between two squares, one graham cracker and one cheap chocolate, and tossed it in his mouth to consume in a sloppy sticky gulp.
“This is the life,” he quipped, mumbling while half-chewing, a satisfied smile creeping across his lips as he speared another marshmallow to start the process anew.
“For sure,” Jean agreed, snuggling closer to Kaya under the wool blanket that they shared, their hands delicately and discreetly darting about some rather provocative personal locales out of sight of prying eyes. Not that Ed or Dirk cared, the girls could do whatever they liked. Ed found it kind of a turn on for all that he would never so boldly admit it as to insult his friends – he knew full well he wasn’t their type and they were both already spoken for, each to their own, anyway.
Dirk’s left hand poked at the smoldering fire with a stick to enliven it a little and embarked on telling a new narrative of suspense, of a group of lost campers who were picked off one by one by a serial killer who stalked the woods with hook. Or was it a machete? Or a large axe? He eyed the lone camper several sites away trying to discern if he had any such belongings to build a story upon. It made no difference anyway; Dirk had spun a similar yarn three narratives before while they sat around the fire skewering marshmallows in essentially the exact same fashion as they were now. His words all spilled into one another like a hodgepodge of harrowing horror from one twisted tale to another. Between fables, he would pause for a long toke before continuing to the next.
The boundless bag of marshmallows continued to be speared one at a time and flash fried in the fire only to find themselves one by one making their final journey down Ed’s cavernous gullet. Dirk told story after story as werewolves, ghosts, serial killers, supernatural phenomena and other horrors wove in and out of the smoke filled air. The girls continued to cuddle together under the blanket, wrapped up in their own little world. The fire blazed on into the night.
Dirk paused for a moment as if crafting further suspenseful lulls in his myth-mongering while taking in something close by to work with. He took another hit and looked around. Everything was still exactly as it should be. It was the picture perfect camping trip. Nothing, absolutely nothing, had changed. He poked at the fire quizzically. It burned on as it had been, smoldering without extinguishing itself or burning too hot and blazing out. Ed popped another S’More in his mouth, still clutching the nearly full bag of marshmallows.
“What’s happening?” Dirk asked.
“What do you mean?” Ed responded He speared another marshmallow and set it into the fire, turning it to be equally ravaged by flame, before drawing two and two together, “Oh wait, is this the start of another tale of supernatural suspense?” He threw his chest out a bit and boomed in that old-school voiceover narrative, “What you are about to see and hear defies explanation, for mankind cannot comprehend the truly terrible, the uncanny unknown, the rare ramifications of…”
“No,” Dirk replied. “Something’s… well… not quite right. It’s, it’s like we’re on pause.”
“Pause?” Jean quipped.
“Yeah,” Dirk answered. “Like everything is just staying the same. You two… Ed… me… the campfire story… the fire.” He looked around. “It’s all just so… consistent.” Dirk’s gaze came to rest on Ed, “How many marshmallows have you eaten?”
Ed glanced at the bag and spoke through a glob of sugary gooeyness, “I dunno. Three or four.”
“Dude, you’ve been eating those things all night one after another like they’re going out of style,” Dirk looked taken aback. “You’re going to turn into Stay-Puff at that rate. Like seriously.”
“Well, I’m sorry Mr. Who’s-Keepin-Track-Anyway…” Ed rebuffed “What’s it matter? You want one? Well, you can totally have one. I’m not stopping you.” He held the bag aloft.
“No, it’s not that,” Dirk said. “It’s just… that bag should be gone by now. And the fire and… It’s all just so static.”
Jean thought a moment and said, “Maybe we were all killed by that mass murderer at Campsite Whatever-the-Hell.” She gestured towards the transient loner before continuing, “And this is what Heaven is, just sitting here around the campfire with our best buds.”
“There’s no place I’d rather be,” interjected Kaya as she nuzzled up to Jean.
“Heaven… Hell… Whatever…” Ed said as he popped another burnt marshmallow S’More in his mouth. “I think the difference between the two is just in what you make of it.”
“Maybe,” Dirk said, still eyeing the surrounding woods suspiciously. He studied the roll of gently smoking pot-filled paper in his hand. It hadn’t changed either. He continued pensively, “Even a good trip’ll turn bad if you’re on it too long.”
“I don’t think it makes any difference,” Jean exclaimed. “I’m here. I’m happy. That’s all that matters right now.”
“Amen, Sister,” Kaya giggled.
The group sat in silence for awhile. They seemed to gain a little more clarity of their circumstances as they studied their surroundings. The full rust-tinged moon continued to hang heavy in the sky, slightly obscured by very occasional wispy clouds. Their far neighbor continued to mind his own business. The fire continued to blaze along. The bag of marshmallows continued to remain mostly full despite Ed’s ravenous attack upon it. Nothing really changed. Everything just kept going.
Dirk looked again at his joint, snubbed it out, and put it in his pocket for later. “Guess we best just make the most of it, then,” he said as he grabbed a marshmallow and skewered it to plunge into the fire.
“That’s the spirit,” Ed smiled, teeth white and black with marshmallow goo.
Dirk started in on another twisted tale, of a group of friends finding themselves in limbo, forever lost to the flickering light of a smoldering campfire, roasting S’Mores and telling scary stories…
If you are enjoying these campfire stories, light up your own campfire and be sure to check out our Summer Slaughter Series story from last year, an exquisite corpse with each of us building upon the writer(s) who came before us.
Into the Deep Woods 1, an October AI journey with Jennifer Weigel
I am embarking on an AI journey using NightCafe to illustrate this graphic story based on a dream I had awhile back. I am also using Canva, so here’s to learning more online systems of image dissemination and propagandizing…
I will include some of the original AI generated images with each piece along with a bit of the dream that inspired it. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Artwork description: Overall layout: Lightning strike through the corner into obscure clouds and map-like graphic in gray tones sets the mood for Into the Deep Woods.
Part 1, Art: AI generated image of a girl with reddish hair dressed in a robe of some sort and holding a staff. A similar girl in soldier garb fades behind her. Edited in PhotoShop.
Part 1, Text: 1.) Two sisters entered the woods, one a soldier and the other a witch. Only one lived. 2.) The young witch had picked up a bit of magic as she and her sister fled into the deep woods to seek the old witch… They were tired and alone, this was their one and only chance… 3.) The war raged on all around as the Nazis drew closer…
Prompt (Horror): Portrait of soldier girl sister
Prompt (Horror): Portrait of witch girl sister (Evolved from soldier girl)
Prompt (Horror): Soldier girl sister hit by lightning (Evolved from soldier girl)
As mentioned this series is based on a dream that I had awhile back. The two girls first enter the woods to escape the Nazis. In my dream there were initially more soldiers with them who perish due to the war or hazards in the woods. It wasn’t unlike Pan’s Labyrinth but on a much smaller and more intimate scale.
It had been awhile between having the dream and creating this story to share with you. And I quickly learned that the term “Nazi” is prohibited by the AI art generator interface. So there are some changes that have been made, but hopefully you can still follow along. The time and place are not as relevant to the overall anyway.
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:
Nightmarish Nature: Worrisome Wasps
This time on Nightmarish Nature we are examining wasps. Wasps are truly terrifying, and not just because some of them sting or are aggressive, though those are often the first ones we think of because we as humans come in conflict with them more directly. No, wasps are extremely varied and some are just outright bizarre… stinging doesn’t even begin to touch on the worst horrors they can inflict.
Now many wasps are actually very helpful to us humans. They act as pollinators and keep pests under control. But if you are another insect, especially a large or fleshy one bulking up, watch out. An encounter with the wrong wasps can mean an untimely and horrible death. A few wasp species will disassemble and eat insects bit by bit but that’s just the start of it, others do even more sinister things.
There are parasitic wasps that will lay their eggs in or on a host insect, like a large beetle, a cicada, a spider or a big juicy caterpillar – there’s pretty much a wasp for everything… A female may sting said insect to subdue it while she acts out her nefarious plans for the next generation (I once watched a spider hanging out in an outdoor potted plant whose fate was sealed, unaware of the horror that awaited it as a female wasp flitted on and around it, stinging and laying eggs before flying off again). Different wasps have different host insects and strategies for this, but the result is pretty much the same. Essentially, when the wasp’s eggs hatch, the larva will eat the creature from the inside out, either saving its vital organs for last or waiting until the time is right.
Caterpillars are especially susceptible to this in all stages of development: egg, caterpillar and pupa. Some species of wasps will lay eggs among caterpillar eggs, others will lay them within the caterpillar eggs, and still others will target the caterpillar itself, or even its pupa. Most build upon the host’s voracious appetite and ability to grow in mass so quickly, waiting until the opportune time to engage in their own frenzy of consumption. Some wasps will even target other wasps that target caterpillars, and this can go like four layers in – it’s like Inception level consumption from within.
And weirder still is the mutualism found between fig trees and very small wasp species. Both are dependent upon one another for their reproductive cycle to be complete. It’s very complicated and I won’t do justice to the cycle trying to explain it, so I recommend that you check it out here on the US Forest Service site.
Anyway to make a long story short, eating figs can even result in eating wasps. Crunch. Crunch. It isn’t actually all that terrifying though; the fig breaks down much of that matter (especially from the original female insect) to use itself as it ripens. And honestly a lot more foods contain insect parts than you may be comfortable with already, they’re pretty much in everything… So that horror aside, the coevolution of figs and wasps that has gotten them to this point is really quite remarkable.
Wasps are truly extraordinary. Many species are super specialized in their life and reproductive cycles. There are over 900 species of fig wasps alone, each dedicated to a different species of fig tree. And the parasitic wasps are also very specialized, with different species targeting different hosts at different stages of their development.