When Lucille awoke, it was dusk. She woke with a start, jolting upright with a sinking feeling of dread as if she were being watched intently. This town seemed to have that effect though. The television was still on, a murmured noise in the background. Outside the wind echoed over a shuffling or rustling sound swirling around the hotel. A shadowy form swam past her window, edging closer and then briskly turning away. Lucille leapt out of the bed and ran to the door, heart racing. Her heart fluttered in her chest. A key clinked in the lock outside.
She slid into the space behind where the door would open as the key turned and the door swung a little until it was caught on the dead bolt. She peered through the crack in the door as a pallid grayish nose drew a few deep sniffs into the room before retreating. The nose returned for a long breath as Lucille slammed her hip into the door, jarring it shut. Something outside staggered backwards. The shadows flickering just beyond the window faded away.
Lucille listened to her blood pulsing through her ears and her heart pounding in her chest for what seemed like several minutes for all that she knew it was probably only a few seconds. Eventually she slowly crept to the curtain, eased her way to the slightest edge of the dusty drab fabric, and crouched down low. She parted the drapes just enough to look out. There were five figures shuffling around the parking lot, similar in appearance to the night before with pallid skin and hollow black eyes darting to and fro as if in some sort of synchronized dance. They would occasionally bump into one another only to separate and trail off again. She couldn’t make out whom they were, but she caught a flash of a black-grey beard, a glimpse of ruby lipstick, a trail of a well-worn stained light blue uniform…
The figures retreated out of sight to the left of her field of vision. Lucille slowly crept to the door and opened it, just a notch to see out. Nothing. She flung it open, her heart leaping out of her chest as the door swung wide on its hinges parting to reveal the rust colored sky of the setting sun enveloping the distant horizon. There was no one there.
Lucille closed the door behind her. She shot briskly to VENDING between Room 1 and the office, ducked inside, and peered out that window at the parking lot. She watched in horror as the shadow figures returned, circling one another in the parking lot and gliding along the earth. Their black eyes glimmered with far away intent, their noses twitched and twirled in the night sky as if they were pigs sniffing out truffles. They slunk over to Lucille’s room. The tall one tried the key in the lock again, it was the older man from breakfast, the blue-grey vein in his head still pulsing, visible even from that distance. How had he not been felled by that creature after that blow, and what came of all that blood? He was accompanied by the desk clerk and the bearded man from breakfast, as well as Tom Jones the mechanic and a small balding hunchbacked man that Lucille didn’t recognize who straggled behind the others a bit, snuffling about.
“I know y’all’re in there, missy,” the bearded man directed at the door as he sidled past the tall man and rubbed his shoulder against the frame. “Ya cain’t hide…” His coy smile revealed rows of sharp pointed teeth. The teeth were all the more apparent glistening in stark contrast to his full dark greying beard. The tall man snapped a quick jolting smirk at him, driving him back to catch his footing as the desk clerk squirmed her way between them as if to break up a longstanding childhood rivalry over who could finger their way over their half of the middle back seat. Tom Jones broke free of the group, raising his head high and deeply inhaling the stale night air. He wandered off the parking lot, down the shallow slope and towards the ravine.
The others hovered at the door a bit before they opened it, sniffing at the air with their full throbbing nostrils. Their eyes twinkled black and starry as if hyper-focused on their quarry. “She ain’t here,” the desk clerk exclaimed, rapping the bearded man in the back of the head hard when he bumped into her. The bearded man slinked aside.
The desk clerk’s eyes grew small again and pointedly bored holes into him. She lifted her heavy head and took a deep breath. She focused a bit and then her eyes grew wide again and she began to snake up the path towards the vending room. Lucille shrunk into herself, still fixated on the window, as she watched them slowly approach, weaving up and down the path.
“Come out’here, missy,” the bearded man called out, “We-know y’all’re in there…”
The desk clerk flashed out a hand and directed the others towards the front of the motel. As they receded around the building, Lucille dashed back to her room and secured it with the deadbolt. She left the room exactly as it had been, with the lights still on and the TV mumbling, and took watch at the window, peering through a diminutive crack in the drapes.
A sudden flash of movement and a brown form stumbled from out of the underbrush where the previous night’s scuffle had ensued, followed by Tom Jones sliding out from behind. It moved in an odd jerky manner that was profoundly not quite right. It reeked of rotting, decaying flesh; the smell permeated even the walls between the parking lot and the motel interior, weaving its way into Lucille’s room in a sickly sour stench. The putrefied beast lurched onto the parking lot, a grotesque mess of brown matted fur with white bones gleaming forth from bloody, pearly pus-oozing flesh. Perhaps it was once a deer, or maybe a small horse, but now it was no longer easily recognizable as either. Tom Jones slunk alongside as if herding the hapless creature to some specific destination.
Dizzy with adrenaline and confusion, Lucille turned away for a moment to collect herself. As she turned back she noticed that the entourage of pallid, grey, shadowy figures had rounded the building and descended upon the scene, circling the animal. From amidst the mob of ghastly figures, the horrific beast emitted a shrill blood-curdling scream the moment before they bowled it over and began to feed. Again.
The scene played out in déjà vu as if she were watching the same nightmare she had had the night before: the widening bright black eyes, jaws unhinged, writhing mass of limbs and bodies wriggling in to tear at the flesh of the wretched form trapped in their midst. As they had their fill, the ghastly figures withdrew, blood dripping from their jagged teeth. They straightened up, and cracked their jaws back into place, their bright black eyes deadening to their usual hollow stare.
Unable to watch any longer, Lucille slid down the wall and wept, whimpering to herself as quietly as she could muster, breaths heaving between silenced sobs. “Oh my God,” she sighed. She remained frozen in place for what seemed like an eternity, too afraid to move to find out what time it was. Finally, she was able to rouse herself, and she crept along the edge of the room to shove the TV bureau in front of the door only to discover it was bolted to the floor. A quick assessment determined that all of the furniture was secured as if she was on lockdown, why hadn’t she noticed that before? She propped the only moveable object, a chair, against the deadbolted door and took refuge in the bathroom. Eventually, once the adrenaline receded, she fell asleep in the bathtub.
Nightmarish Nature: Zombie Snails
This time on Nightmarish Nature, we will look into zombie snails, because we were having so much with the Whore Snails recently. So this is a lot like the Freaky Fungus except that this time it’s a parasitic worm that is the cause of the horror… Leucochloridium paradoxum, the green-banded broodsac worm, forces snails to be a part of its nefarious plans to take over the world (well, really more just continue on keeping on in its strange and bizarre life cycle).
This Is What We Get for Eating Poop
The worm, which spends much of its life as a parasite in birds’ digestive systems, is part of a weird cycle that includes both birds and snails, though the snail end is much creepier. It starts when a snail ingests worm eggs in bird droppings. These eggs hatch into worm larvae that eventually turn the poor hosts into zombie snails! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The worm larvae work their way up into the snails’ brains and take over, hijacking them on suicide missions to continue their own life cycle. These worm larvae eventually grow large and worm their way into the poor snail’s eye stalks, pulsing and throbbing therein to resemble maggots or other tasty treats.
The worms use the zombie snails to get into their bird hosts by mind-controlling them into climbing out of the shady undergrowth where they will be easily spotted by bird predators which will feed on them, ingesting the eye stalks and continuing the worm’s life cycle as it gets into the bird’s digestive tract. The huge, bulging eye stalks are irresistible to birds looking to snatch maggots and other delicious delicacies. Eventually, after the worms are well ensconced in its bird hosts, the bird poops out more worm eggs for unsuspecting snails to ingest, completing the cycle.
You can watch this in action on Nat Geo Wild: World’s Deadliest here, if you dare. Warning, it’s a little gross but not near so much as some of the other topics we’ve covered. If you enjoyed this slimy segment of Nightmarish Nature, please check out past segments:
Nightmarish Nature: Komodo Dragons
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.
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…
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.)
If you enjoyed this bite of Nightmarish Nature, please check out past segments:
Nightmarish Nature: Reindeer Give Pause
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.
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.
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…
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:
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…