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“Check The Children” by J.M. Brannyk

In the still night, he watches his steps. Balancing his weight from one side to the other, he moves slowly, as if the weight of quietness is pushing against him like a very angry wind.

The scent of soap and popcorn confronts him the closer he slips towards the other people in the house. He imagines the shadows are drawn lines that separate him from them, and the silence colors them so differently. Like animals — here they graze and lower their heads as he sneaks up to them, saliva barely held in by the sharp, powerful teeth. If he could be any animal, he would be a lion. A hungry lion.

Toys are scattered like oracle bones on the carpet and he cautiously doesn’t move them, not out of reverence, but out of disgust. The warmth of children has always carved an inch deeper into his guts. The things that could not be changed after the accident are still solid and immeasurable.

“Have you checked the children recently?” He had asked her before hanging up the phone upstairs, taking a moment to hear his own heart get lost in the corridors of his ears. So much more was at stake than watching tv and talking to her boyfriend, and it hurt him that she was so young but thought she knew so much…

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Unimportant thoughts free themselves as he swallows and finds the door to the bedroom –twin boys, bunkbeds. He saw the bedroom through the window when he climbed the tree during dinner time to get to the attic. He had wondered what their hair smelled like. What they would dream?

He’s calmer, much calmer, than he imagined he would be. The handle of the ax is wet under his tight hand. Holding it to the side, he reaches for the doorknob. In a quick, nervous twitch, the door is spreading open, the eerie glow of the nightlight spilling into his eyes. Without breathing, he can’t even hear himself as he moves to their beds.

‘Have you checked the children?’ His words, the nervous gravel of his voice, echoes so clearly as he bends over the bottom bed, but finds nothing but sheets.

After a moment of looking at nothing and becoming used to that nothing, he realizes that she must have taken the children downstairs. To draw her out, to shake her up enough to slip up and keep slipping, he decides to call her again.

And maybe it’s just about hearing her voice and that little tremble that makes him feel just a bit naughty and a bit irreparable. He’s learning that the only thing he exceeds at is damaging everything around him.

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The ring of the phone is a soft hum sleeping against his ear and he starts to feel in control again, and so stuffed with power that his breath leaks out the access. There’s a click. She’s picked up. That full breath into the phone, fat with power. “Have you checked the children?”

“Have you checked them?” Her strained voice lands like a wounded bird with a long and slender neck, broken at the base. The repeated question pulls out that confidence, his warm glow of contentment. How could he be questioned? The tone of her voice spirals down his stumbling system without the hope of lifting; he needs to find the children now. Their livelihood is marring his own; their presence is disconnecting him from completion.

His face resurfaces angrily from question after question. Would he like to make a call, would he like to please hang up and try again?

The intimacy of suspense is crushed.

He tears through the house in cyclone strides. Door hinges bend and violently cough when he slams them open. He knows that she knows that she has been violated, that he was here with her the whole time, that there never was any safety.

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Each time, after each giant heave and door slamming, there is only emptiness and that stillness that he naively thought he invoked, when she stole it away from him. Pieces of the shadows are ruined by hastiness and rising desperations. Had he checked the children? He should have so much sooner; he should have tied them down or waited for them to come to him. Each room so vast and empty of all life, leading him into further uncertainty like a mirage of a cold desert in the middle of the imposing jungle.

She doesn’t flinch when he finds her in the bathroom, dripping wet, shaking in delicate teaspoon doses. There’s water resting on the floor and the room feels like it’s going through the aftermath of something very loud and fierce – not quite believing what had just happened within its own walls.

In the tub are the two boys, heads under the calm water. Their nighties are soaked and the cloth clings cozily to their limp bodies. Water droplets still roll down the wall.

The ax slips in his hands, but doesn’t fall and he doesn’t understand – things like this just didn’t happen. He doesn’t understand.

Her eyes are sharp and thin like wire, taking the skin of his arm, chest, face right off with her quick glances. The stillness builds against them into such an immovable tower, locking them both in place, together, even mixing them. Who was he? The one with the ax and the anger? Or the one with the resolve and desperation? They both are such inconsistent characters, changing roles and words, balancing them onto nothing and they’re not surprised at the harsh sound of breaking.

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In this moment, he learns how to feel horrified. The sounds of the door swinging shut behind him pins him there, with her, forever in his mind. The lights of red and blue kaleidoscope off the window, onto their faces and hands, hers are still dripping, his are still slipping the handle of the ax.

“Why?” he manages to pull out of his mangled, split thoughts. He’s the one to ask why, to break the barrier between them.

“Better me than you.” It’s all she says while their perfect stillness is invaded by noise and chaos as the front door is kicked in and their moment is taken over again by the outside world…

J.M. Brannyk lives in constant duality, like a tossed coin, but is steadily adjusting to the movements. They study geology and other nihilistic interests. Surprisingly, there’s a romantic side that’s hard to kill.

J.M. Brannyk, author.

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Original Series

Nightmarish Nature: Zombie Snails

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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).

Hungry birds want nummins
Hungry birds want nummins

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.

Snails make questionable food choices, but I guess this comes from being where they are on the ecosystem clean up crew...
Snails make questionable food choices, but I guess this comes from being where they are on the ecosystem clean up crew…

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.

Zombie Snails
Zombie Snails

Mind-Control

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.

Birds love their grubs and maggots and other nummins, even if they are just zombie snails.
Birds love their grubs and maggots and other nummins, even if they are just zombie snails.

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:

Vampires Among Us

Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

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Worrisome Wasps

Cannibalism

Terrifying Tardigrades

Reindeer Give Pause

Komodo Dragons

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Original Creations

Snails a Whorl Whirl Whore World…

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So a friend and I made some artsy snails awhile back. Essentially this was in response to her granddaughter proclaiming that her favorite animals are whorl snails. My friend heard “whore snails” and was a bit perturbed that the child would use such a word so nonchalantly, whether or not she knew what it meant. But then again toddler-speak is like that sometimes… Anyway, it stuck.

So we made some whore snails, all glammed up and ready to go. We started with these flat metal snails and then painted and decorated them, to whore them up a bit. I figured this would be apropos after my recent Valentine’s Day posts and that the end results were horrifying enough to appear here.

My friend's whore whorl snail
My friend’s whore whorl snail

This is my friend’s creation. I especially like the David Bowie star and cherry bling to match her cherry red lipstick. The purple shell is a great color on her too. I think my friend went back and decorated her shell more after the fact, but I didn’t see the snail after those changes.

My whore snail
My whore snail

And here’s my whore snail. She’s a bit more of an ice queen with her deceptively lovey-dovey eyes and mouth full of poison darts, like the underwater snails do. I believe I called her a Hoar Whore Whorl Snail as when the discussion first came up I heard “hoar” and thought of hoarfrost. Hence the ice queen take…

And another friend joined us via Zoom just to visit and have fun making art together.

Another whore snail, drawn by our friend over Zoom
Another whore snail, drawn by our friend over Zoom

This little Zoomed in snail is kinda cute, like she’s out on the beach in her bikini… Mixed media on paper.

So if that wasn’t disturbing enough, check out my inappropriate Shrinky Dinks posted here before, or maybe this Eye Candy Peeps Easter basket, both taking some innocuous thing(s) turning into something… else…

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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.

Feel free to check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites. Her friends will remain anonymous for now…

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Original Creations

Have a Dystopian Girls on Film Valentine’s Day

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So it’s finally actually Valentine’s Day, and thus marks the final segment of our dysfunctional dystopian romance. So far, we’ve survived both Gen X and Krampusnacht, what else could possibly be in store? Girls on Film…

Valentine's Day card Girls on Film
Girls on Film Valentine’s Day card from Jennifer Weigel

Image description: Video camera umbrella shower succubus stares through the lens at the viewer, surrounded by eerie Cthulhoid horror embellishments with text.

Text reads: Happy Valentine’s Day; lipstick cherry all over the lens as she’s falling; give me shudders in a whisper; take me up ’til I’m shooting a star; (she’s more than a lady)

OK so this Valentine’s Day dystopia ends in a Duran Duran video, because of course it does. If the video doesn’t load properly, you can find it by following this link. Girls on Film.

Duran Duran official video

Here’s the camera eye succubus all by itself, for your viewing pleasure. Actually this is the original original image from an Unselfie performance art piece in the shower before I decided to forego the umbrella. Girls on Film.

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Unselfie performance art video still
Video still

Feel free to check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.

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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