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Last time on Feeding Frenzy

The next morning, the sun streaked into a small gap in the curtains reflecting off the minute specks of dust in the air like a shimmer of glittering stars.  Lucille had no recollection of going to sleep.  She woke with a start, still recalling the events of the night prior as if they were etched into her mind, Was it a dream? Did she imagine it?

She got up, still wearing the same rumpled clothes she had arrived in town in the day before.  She then realized her suitcase for the trip must still be in her trunk.  “Oh, well,” Lucille muttered to herself, “might as well find some breakfast…”

There was the diner attached to the front of the motel, or what was left of one anyway.  One of those old countertop-style cafes where you place your order sitting at the bar looking into the kitchen.  It smelled of grease and dirt and old persons’ houses, with maybe a bit of bad long-expired and worn out odor-eater air freshener thrown in just to try to mask the musty rotting funk that seemed to imbue everything all throughout the backwash of a town.  Lucille’s stomach turned but then growled; she had to see what they offered, she was ravenous.

The hotel desk clerk took notice and nodded slightly at Lucille from the swinging door to the back, apparently she was also the head waitress.  “What’n I get ya, honey?” she drawled as she slid over to the counter.  Her hollow eyes fixated on Lucille as if sizing her up in the depths of a darkness that seemed to go on forever, black as night.

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“Coffee” Lucille answered.  “And… what else do you have?”

“House’pecialz flapjacks,” the words rolled together into one long drawl.  “We’s also got eggs ‘n bacon ‘n taters.”

“I guess I’ll try the flapjacks,” Lucille answered, surprised at how small and distant her own voice sounded.  She cleared her voice with a deep-throated cough to seem less unnerved.

“Hey’derr,” Tom Jones whistled from the far end of the counter bar where he was huddled over coffee and heated discussion with the guys.  Shouldn’t he be working on my car? thought Lucille.  He sauntered over and looked her up and down.

“Rough’night?” he asked.  His clothes bore yet more rust colored stains.  Lucille suspected they weren’t from motor oil.

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“I’m ok,” she stammered quickly.  “I left my luggage in the trunk…  Any word on the Buick?”  The desk clerk casually tossed a plate of pancakes in front of Lucille and returned to her post by the swinging door.

“Ya’s gotta bad leak.  Gonna needa new gasket.  I don’ts have the part.  It’ll be a couple-a days befores I can get it in.  Feel free’n swing by da shop later today’n have a look if ya wants.”  As if things couldn’t get any worse.

“I have to get to a wedding in Portland,” Lucille muttered under her breath, adding, “I can’t stay here.”

The flapjacks were pretty standard pancakes.  A bit doughy but otherwise just blank tasteless discs of pan-fried batter.  No amount of syrup made the situation better.  She ate them anyway; to be fair, she devoured them really.  She had been so famished and once she dug in she couldn’t stop until the pancakes were almost gone.  Two bites to go and… suddenly she felt adrift and awash in unseen eyes upon her, boring into her soul.

She glanced up and caught the desk clerk staring at her intently, her dark eyes beginning to blossom and glow, seemingly growing larger and more focused.  Her nostrils flared a bit too, and did she just barely lick her ruby lips with a flash of her thick pink tongue?  Two patrons at the other end of the bar from where Tom had come to check in also stared, the same eerie dark eyes alight with interest.  There was chum in the water…

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Lucille stopped dead in her tracks and stared back.  The desk clerk shook it off, her pallid flesh jiggling as she brought herself back to consciousness, her eyes returning to hollow black pools.  “Y’all done, honey?” she cooed.  “I’ll get’n ya check.”

Lucille met her at the register and briskly paid cash for her meal, fully aware that the other patrons continued to track her every move.  “Keep the change,” she said as she flashed out the door.

On her way back to her room, she diverged from the sidewalk to examine the spot where she had dreamt the fray in the middle of the night.   There were signs of a struggle.  Something large had fallen just off of the curb, crushing much of the dying and poorly mowed edging under its weight.  The mud-streaked grass streaked down a small hill towards a slight ravine as if something had been dragged there.  There were some signs of what may have been blood, but not near as much as Lucille had dreamt.  She followed the movement.

As she approached the ravine, she became aware of more and more flies buzzing about, flitting here and there as if protecting some unseen prize.  And there was a foul odor of death and decay that permeated the place.  But otherwise, there were no signs of life or death or anything in between.  No signs of anything having been, having struggled, or having left.  Lucille turned to return to her room and was confronted by the other bar patrons.

“Y’all right there, missy” said the older man, grey and pallid and somewhat frail looking despite his notable height, his flannel shirt stained and streaked with years of age and too-hard work.  A bluish vein protruded from his balding head, throbbing casually as his hollow black eyes rolled up and down and all over her.  His friend, a gaunt and grisly fellow with more dark-grey-flecked-black beard than hair joined in, scanning her over like a synchronized swimmer that drifted in just a moment later.  She recognized them from the scene she had dreamt the night before.  Why does everyone in this backwash of a town have to size me up in slow motion like some unknown trophy to be won? she wondered, her stomach rolling into a knot as her hand balled into a fist.

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“I’m fine,” Lucille said, bowing her head as she headed briskly towards her room.

The grisly bearded fellow caught her arm as she passed and looked long into her eyes, the same unnerving cavernous pools of blackness alight with a far away flame.  “Good.  I reckon y’all stay outta trouble.  We don’t wants no troubles here.”  His face twitched uneasily as he spoke, nostrils flaring slightly once and again.  She thought she caught a glint of light flicker off of a white pointed tooth from beneath matted facial hair.

“I’m not causing any trouble, just waiting on my car,” Lucille said plainly, staring back at him, trying to break his focus and appear un-intimidated.  His grip loosened and she returned to her room as quickly as she could manage without appearing jarred.  She dashed in the door and bolted the deadbolt.

Her cell phone was dead.  Bar-less.  No reception out here.  She turned on the television.  Black and white static gave way to a rerun of Let’s Make a Deal.  At some point she drifted off again, her head still spinning with the events of the day prior.

portrait of the artist and Great White Shark breaching a pool of blood
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/

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Into the Deep Woods 1, an October AI journey with Jennifer Weigel

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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.

Into the Deep Woods Part 1, AI art journey through Canva with Jennifer Weigel

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…

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AI art of soldier sister
AI art of soldier sister

Prompt (Horror): Portrait of soldier girl sister

AI art of witch sister
AI art of witch sister

Prompt (Horror): Portrait of witch girl sister (Evolved from soldier girl)

AI art of soldier sister, version 2
AI art of soldier sister, version 2

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.

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Nightmarish Nature: Cannibalism

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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

Monkey cannibalism, staring at you, smiling wide and thinking about Brains...
Drawing of monkey cannibalism, thinking about Brains…

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.

Social Demonstration

African Wild Dog cannibalism, tongue lolling out
Drawing of African Wild Dog

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

Tom Cat calling out "Here kitty..."
Drawing of Tom Cat calling out “Here kitty…”

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.

Sexual Cannibalism

Cannibalism in spiders: 'cause spiders eating just about anything is terrifying, and they eat just about anything
Drawing of spider yelling “More spiders”

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.

Peacock Spider mating ritual

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:

Vampires Among Us

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Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps

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Nightmarish Nature: Worrisome Wasps

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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.

Two wasps terrorize a spider with though bubble "Truly terrifying"
Wasps terrorize a spider

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.

Wasp stinging spider with thought bubble "This can't be good..."
Wasp stinging spider

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.

Caterpillar says, "I am BIG and JUICY"
Caterpillar

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.

Thinking of figs... and wasps... and cookies...
Thinking of figs

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.

Wasps swarming or something, there's like five of them all flying around
Wasps

If you have enjoyed reading about wasps here in Nightmarish Nature but missed previous segments, feel free to check out Vampires Among Us; Perilous Parenting; and Freaky Fungus.

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