“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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lighter than Dark
LTD: Revisiting Broken Doll Head, Interview 2
Our last interview with Broken Doll Head here on Haunted MTL never set well with me. I just feared that I wasn’t able to get the whole scoop on the V-Day Uprising for you, our dear readership. So I arranged another exclusive interview to reconnect and see how it’s going.
Without further ado, I bring you our second exclusive interview with Broken Doll Head…
Thank you so much for having me again. Wow you have changed since the last time we spoke. You seem… calmer. Please don’t hate me or burn down my house for saying anything about it.
The movement is still underway; it is still time. But I needed to take care of me, you know. The rage has subsided somewhat. My anger was not serving me well. After the last uprising, the rest of me was sent to the far corners of the earth in biohazard bags. I had to find another approach, for the cause as well as my own sanity. I am much calmer, thank you for noticing.
In our last interview, you kept repeating that it is time. Time for what exactly? Would you care to elaborate here now?
It is still time. It is always time. Until the violence is addressed we must continue to rise up and make a scene. We will not be silenced or stigmatized. We can’t be complacent. This is how we got to where we are with the Supreme Court in 2022. Horrific injustices are still happening globally and even within our own borders; it’s too easy to forget that.
What do you suggest we do?
Take action. Share your stories. Give others space to voice their own. Raise awareness and fight the system of oppression. Rally. We must take back our own power. It will not be just given freely.
So what are you up to nowadays?
I’ve been getting in touch with my inner Earth Goddess. Are you aware of how our environmental impacts affect dolls everywhere? Climate change is creating greater vulnerabilities for those already at risk. We have to look at the intersections of climate, gender and race globally. We have to return to our Mother Earth.
Thank you again Broken Doll Head for joining us and our dear readership here on Haunted MTL’s Lighter than Dark. It’s good to reconnect with you after the V-Day Uprising and we wish you all the best in your bold eco-enlightenment vision.
Again, if you want to learn more about the V-Day movement, please check out their website here.
The Way Things Were, story by Jennifer Weigel
Revisiting my last St. Patrick’s Day post, what’s a wolf to were?
I grimaced as I remembered the previous St. Patrick’s Day. I had been shot while I was eating a sugar cookie waiting in line to buy a Scratchers ticket, my golden ride to my dream cabin in the woods. Wow, to think that was just a year ago and so much has changed since then. But where should I begin?
Well, the junkyard’s under new management. Or something. It seems they decided I wasn’t ferocious enough so I’ve been replaced by a couple of working stiffs. Or Mastiffs as it were, same difference to me. Apparently after they found the bloodied shirt I’d draped inconspicuously over a chair, they thought something had happened on my watch and decided to retire me.
Or at any rate ol’ Sal took me home. I guess it’s like retirement, but not the good kind where you tour the world Route 66 style, head lolled out of the side of a vintage Cadillac, breeze flowing through your beard as you drink in the open road. More the kind where you just stop showing up to work and no one really asks about you.
Now Sal’s a pretty cool dude, and he tends to mind his own business. But he’s a bit stingy with the treats and he’s a no-paws-on-the-furniture kind of guy. I don’t get it, his pad isn’t that sweet, just a bunch of hand-me-down Ikea that he didn’t even put together himself. Not that I could have helped with that, I can’t read those instructions to save my life even if they are all pictures. It’s all visual gibberish to me unless there’s a rabbit or a squirrel in there someplace that I can relate to.
And it’s been a real roll in the mud trying to cover up the stench of my monthly secret. I miss third shift at the junkyard when Monty would fall asleep on the job and I was free to do whatever I wanted. It sure made the change easier. Monty never noticed, or he never let on that he did. We were a good team and had it pretty good, he and I – I don’t know how I wound up shacking up with Sal instead when all was said and done. There was some kind of talk at the time, over landlords and pet deposits and whatnot, and in the end Sal was the only one who said yes.
So there I was, this St. Patrick’s Day, trying to figure out how to sneak out into the great suburban landscape with the neighbors’ headstrong Chihuahua who barks his fool head off at everything. He doesn’t ever say anything interesting through the fence about the local gossip, just a string of profanities about staying off his precious grass. Just like his owners… Suburbia, it doesn’t suit the two of us junkyard junkies. I’m pretty sure Sal inherited this joint with everything else here. He just never had the kind of ambition that would land him in a place like this on his own, if you know what I mean.
Fortunately, this St. Patrick’s Day, Sal was passed out on the sofa after binge watching some show on Netflix about werewolves of all things. Who believes in that nonsense? They get it all wrong anyway. The history channel with its alien conspiracies is so much better.
I managed to borrow a change of clothes and creep out the front door. At least there’s something to say about all the greenery, it is a fresh change of pace even if the yards are too neatly manicured and the fences are too high. And I do love how I always feel like McGruff crossed paths with one of those neighborhood watch trenchcoat spies this time of the month. I’d sure love to take a bite out of crime, especially if it involves that pesky Pomeranian that always pees on Mrs. Patterson’s petunias and gets everyone else blamed for it.
So sure enough, I slunk off towards the local convenience mart, which is a bit more of a trek here past the water park and the elementary school. Nice neighborhood though, very quiet, especially at this time of night.
Well, when I got there, wouldn’t you know it, but I ran into that same nondescript teen from my last foray into the convenience store near the junkyard. What was he doing here of all places? Seriously don’t these kids learn anything nowadays? I let out a stern growl as I snatched a cookie from the nearby end cap, making sure he noticed that I meant business.
Apparently the kid recognized me too, he stopped mid-tracks at the beer cooler and his face blanched like he’d seen a ghost. Some cheeky little girl-thing motioned to him to hurry it along by laying on the horn of their beater car from the parking lot. Whatever they were up to was no good, I was certain. He snapped out of it, grabbed a six-pack and headed towards the cashier, eyes fixed on me the whole time. Not again. Not after what it cost me the last time when I hadn’t realized my job was at stake. I stared back, hairs rising on the back of my neck. I bared my teeth. This time, I wouldn’t let him off so easy…
The teen edged up to the cashier and presented his trophy. Unsurprisingly, the clerk asked for ID, and the kid reached into his jacket. Let the games begin, I grumbled to myself. But instead of a gun, he pulled out a wallet. He flashed a driver’s license at the clerk and pointed in my general direction, “I’ll get whatever Santa’s having too.” He tossed a wad of cash on the counter and gave me a knowing wink before he flew out of there like he was on fire. I stood in dazed confusion as he and his girl sped out of the lot and disappeared down the road.
“Well, Santa?” the clerk said, snapping me out of my reverie. Her dark-circled eyes stared over wide rimmed glasses, her rumpled shirt bearing the name-tag Deb. She smelled like BBQ potato chips and cheap cherry cola.
I quieted and shook my head. “I want a Scratchers. Not one of those crossword bingo puzzle trials but something less… wordy. How ‘bout a Fast Cash?” I barked as I tossed the cookie on the counter.
“Sure thing,” she said as she handed me a ticket and looked towards the door at the now vacant lot. “And keep the change, I guess.”
A couple silver pieces, a peanut butter cookie and a lotto ticket later, maybe this is my lucky day after all…
Check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s writing here at Jennifer Weigel Words.
Movies n TV
She Wolf, Art by Jennifer Weigel
So this isn’t a review but more just some thoughts…
I have to admit that I actually like the She Wolf music video by Shakira.
Maybe partly because my Zumba group back in the day used to dance to it with all of us cautioned to not to look up the music video for fear it would be too risque or something… (The Zumba dance to this was one of my favorites, and I loved our group of mostly 60+ year old retirees for all that some of them did act surprised at these things, whether or not they actually were.) Or maybe partly because it reminds me of Madonna’s Express Yourself, or by extension the famous dance scene in Metropolis directed by Fritz Lang.
It’s a guilty pleasure.
The ways these things evolve and stay the same over time fascinates me, especially how the messaging and movement change, and yet stay the same.
Anyway, I created this artwork based upon the She Wolf video and song, incorporating a Hazelle puppet head atop a modern Barbie doll body. I don’t recall what happened to Barbie’s actual head though I’m pretty sure I needed it for another project. (Technically I needed the body for another project too, and this was just a stopover.) Years ago this piece found itself part of the Women’s Caucus for Art website as one of the chosen artworks for the year. I was going to try to write something to go with it for Haunted MTL but instead I thought I’d share it as a lead up to my revisitation of my werewolf story from St. Patrick’s Day last year.
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.