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The Death Door

Stephanie Vitarelli

The long and windy driveway trails up a small hill where a colonial mansion stands tall and stands alone, its four massive columns towering high in front of a façade of brick. Three chimneys release smoke, three fireplaces warming the house inside. Or, at least that’s what the outsiders think. Yellow and red leaves litter the four and a half acres of land; autumn is flaunting its show. The hedges are landscaped daily, perfectly green, but there are never any flowers. I make sure of that.

The flagpole stands tall on the other side of the house, but there’s never been a flag to blow in the wind. The pole just stands there lonely as ever. Lonely like it should be. Lonely like my mother. Lonely like I used to be.

Come on in, if you like. You know the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover?”

The front door creaks open to a claustrophobically thin hallway that smells of dust and a sick mix of rotting meat and faded perfume. The old faded carpet is greying more as each day passes, withering strings laying in every direction. The walls of the narrow hallway are lined with mirrors of all shapes and sizes, some of them cracked, and in no order whatsoever.

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On the left is the door to my home. It’s a two-bedroom apartment, more like a shed, that I used to share with my mother. As a child, my favorite past time was climbing up onto the toilet seat to look out the small rectangle window into Apartment Two of the mansion. Apartment Two was much bigger. Almost triple in size to the shed. I’d watch what went on behind the other door in this house. It was a little peep show. What do they call that? Voyeurism? Except I was watching something different than what most kids were watching at that age.

Back up. I almost forgot to tell you about my favorite part of the property. The weeping willow. It weeps on the side of the house, its leaves blowing in the wind like the long hair of a sad little girl. It reminds me of my childhood. My mother always cried under the weeping willow. She’d just lie there under the tree and let the tears fall to her ears until the chill of the night forced her back inside the home. I got tired of this, my mother moaning every evening, all because my father left. It was her fault he left, didn’t she know that? He worked hard for us just to live in that little apartment. He would work long, exhausting hours. Sometimes he would leave at dawn and wouldn’t be back until long after supper. She must feel guilty for what she’d done. Guilt. It was never really a thing I understood…

When my mother knew my father was going to be away, she would invite the neighbor, John Hart over. He was the owner of the funeral parlor next door, or Apartment Two. Technically, we rented from the Harts. It was all one big house separated by no more than the two front doors.

            John would come over and they’d sit and eat cheese and stale crackers and sip on cheap wine, candles lit throughout the dim kitchen. I’d spend the time in my room, hating the way my mother leaned over the table and grabbed his hand, laughing at jokes that weren’t funny. I’d see it every time I had to leave my room to use the bathroom, and each time I did my mother was a little more drunk, until eventually she was slurring her words and spilling wine on her ivory frilled dress. Eventually, she’d forget I was home and they’d make their way to my mother’s room. The first time, I didn’t know what it was. I heard the bed creaking and I heard my mother yelling, though it didn’t sound like it was in pain. It lasted a few minutes and I assumed they had passed out or that John had left before Daddy got back. But then I heard his footsteps coming down the narrow hallway.

            I didn’t know if they were John’s or Daddy’s. The doorknob to my bedroom turned so I assumed it must be Daddy coming to kiss me goodnight like he always did when he got home. It took me a moment to realize that it was John standing in the doorway. He just stood there for a few moments, his head cocked to the side, my nightlight shining on his glossy eyes and on his hand moving up and down his groin over his pants. He walked closer to me, still touching himself in that same way. I tried to ask what he was doing, but no words came out of my mouth. My mouth was glued shut or I forgot how to talk. I just prayed Daddy would come home now. John sat next to me on the edge of my bed, his breathing heavy and strained. He kissed my forehead like Daddy does, and I could feel his 5 o’clock shadow rough on my skin. I thought maybe he just wanted to say goodnight. But then he kissed both my cheeks, and then my mouth, and Daddy never did that. I laid there, not knowing what to do, trying to yell for Mommy until the words finally came out, but Mommy didn’t hear me. She was in a drunken stupor passed out in her bed. John’s hands pinned my shoulders down to the mattress as he continued kissing me down my neck and chest. I was crying and yelling for Mommy but it was no use. I was smart enough to know that. I heard a metal clinking noise and realized John was taking off his belt. He unzipped his pants, still stroking himself with one hand as he stared into my eyes, kissing my face. I turned my head away from him, feeling my tear soaked pillow cold on my cheek.

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And then he stood up and he walked out.

            That continued for years, until John was no longer our neighbor. My pure hatred for him is what inspired my “peep show” habit. I could barely reach that bathroom window standing on my tiptoes, but I would watch the people cry in despair until my toes burned from holding my weight up. I would watch the funerals and pretend it was John in the coffin instead of John giving the service. I would make up scenarios in my head of how he died. One day he got hit by a truck, his body mutilated between the wheels in the process. Another day he was out on his boat with his kids. He jumped in for a swim, and his son, not knowing any better, turned the engine on. John got sucked into the propeller before his son’s eyes, and if one piece of John was left, it was left for the fish.

 I remember a time when I was ten years old. I was wearing my favorite overalls and I knew a funeral was about to start. The cars lined up the driveway, more than usual, and I knew it must be someone important that had died. I ran to the bathroom and climbed up on the toilet seat, peeking out the window. As the people filed in and took their seats, my excitement grew wondering how John was going to die today. As John was about to start the service, he looked over to the window, seeing me watch for the first time. I should’ve jumped off the toilet seat and ran to my room like nothing happened, embarrassed. But I just stared into his eyes, feeling a smile slowly form on my face as the gears in my head began to turn.

As I grew up I became more and more interested in the history of funerals and dead people. Most cultures throughout history have three common threads for the dead and how to get rid of the dead. First comes the ceremony or ritual. Next, a sacred place for the dead, and finally, memorials for the dead. Funeral homes weren’t established until after 1800. Up until then, families got rid of their loved ones on their own, which is how I think it still should be. Homes used to have what is called a death door; a door in the home that led down into a basement or cellar, where they’d keep their dead family members. I’d always wanted a death door in my home, and I saw to it that I got what I wanted.

 I was able to “buy out” the funeral home. The Hart family mysteriously went missing. How odd! I guess I finally had enough of John Hart and his games, so I played my own game. I finally decided how he was going to really die. I waited until he was preoccupied holding his dick in his hands on my bedside. I was ready, with a rock the size of an orange in my hand. I acted fast, nervous but excited. I heard his skull crunch under the force of the rock and I smiled as he fell over. I didn’t want to kill him just yet. I just needed him unconscious so I could tie up his hands and feet.

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When he woke, I gave him three options. Three different weapons: an ice pick, a dagger, and an axe. I won’t spoil it for you; I’ll leave it up to your own imagination. But what I will tell you is that his choice was a fun one for me. And no, I didn’t feel sorry for him, though I did feel slightly sorry that I had to kill the rest of his family. They’d never done anything to me, but you know what they say: guilty by association.

The Hart family was my first addition to the Death Door. John lies at the head of the dark room in his vestment with a cross in his pocket. Oh John, you bastard. Now I can do whatever I want to him. The stupid prick must’ve known this was coming. Revenge creates a surge of power through me, and it’s a feeling like no other. On the adjacent wall lies Beth Hart, John’s wife, and their two kids Addison and Benjamin. Their wall is what I refer to as the “friend wall”. You know, people who never really did me wrong but had to die by default. They can be my friends now that they’re dead. I’ve never really had a best friend until now.   

I just never saw the point in making friends. I didn’t need a friend when I had the house. This house has been my only friend and my best friend. When I was younger, the shutters winked at me every time I came strolling up the driveway. It got me through the hard times, and that’s when I knew that we had a connection. We became very close once the Hart family no longer resided here. Resided here alive, at least. Now we can really be together, just the house and me and my dead friends.

  My mother was the next addition to the death door. I made the door from the wood of the weeping willow, in memory of her. Before she died, I made sure to tell her all the filthy things John had done to me. I made sure to tell her it was all her fault. I made her look beautiful, though she really didn’t deserve that. I gave her ruby red lips and long eyelashes. She is still my favorite of them all. I put her in her favorite silk robe; it was the only expensive piece of clothing that she owned and she wore it only on special occasions. She sometimes wore it for John Hart. Now she gets to wear it forever.

I am a currently a Legal Writer for a law firm on Long Island, and looking to take my career to a more creative level. I started writing when I was six years old, with a story I named The Dolphin Who Cried Shark (it was a play off of The Boy Who Cried Wolf). I have had three short stories published in The Cortland Writer: “The Thing That Happened”, “Salted Avocado”, and “My Grandmother’s Bathroom”. Two of these pieces won second place in monthly contests. I also have fourteen articles published in Social Lifestyle Magazine, where I was interning as a journalist.– Stephanie Vitarelli

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Nightmarish Nature: Komodo Dragons

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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.

Tongue-tied Komodo Dragon drawing by Jennifer Weigel
Tongue-tied…

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…

All about the spit Komodo Dragon drawing by Jennifer Weigel
All about the spit…

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.)

"Hey baby..." You look good enough to eat shark drawing by Jennifer Weigel
“Hey baby…” You look good enough to eat

If you enjoyed this bite of Nightmarish Nature, please check out past segments:

Vampires Among Us

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Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps

Cannibalism

Terrifying Tardigrades

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Reindeer Give Pause

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Nightmarish Nature: Reindeer Give Pause

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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.

Girl reindeer all dolled up and ready to go drawn by Jennifer Weigel
Girl reindeer all dolled up and ready to go

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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.

Vampire Deer

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…

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"Vampire" musk deer drawn by Jennifer Weigel
“Vampire” musk deer

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:

Vampires Among Us

Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps

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Cannibalism

Terrifying Tardigrades ?

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

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Nightmarish Nature: Terrifying Tardigrades

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OK so I lied. The dust hadn’t fully settled in Cozmic Debris, the space opry I’d written over the course of this month (you can catch up here with Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). In fact, it’s blown over into Nightmarish Nature for one last final huzzah…


The Last Chapter of Cozmic Debris

Kara-2-6000 had just signed on with the Voyager probe and was eagerly engaged in her first mission, en route to Mars with more components for the terraforming effort.  It seemed like a pretty simple gig, cleaning up the space dust that accumulates on the vessel after landing on the red planet.  She had been trained to keep her eye on her work and pay attention to details, that the dirt tended to collect in unusual ways in strange places, and that it was critical she contain and seal all of it to keep the spacecraft in proper working order.  She entrusted the computer to keep the vessel on track, as it was preoccupied with doing and never engaged otherwise.  No matter.  She’d never been to space before and the newness of it had her rapt attention.  What stories she would have to tell once she paid off her student loans and got her human body back, for surely Mars must be an exciting place…

Cozmic debris don't die, hanging out in space with tardigrades poop, artwork by NightCafe AI art generator
Cozmic debris don’t die, hanging out in space with tardigrades poop

And now for Nightmarish Nature…

So, this time on Nightmarish Nature we’re visiting Terrifying Tardigrades… Wait, seriously who comes up with this stuff anyway? Tardigrades are actually kinda cute, at least in the nerd fandom sense, and are remarkable in their ability to survive and withstand crazy adverse conditions. For all that the AI art generator doesn’t seem to have much of a clue what their anatomy is like, they really don’t do anything that scary, unless you’re a yummy little single celled critter that lives in moss in which case pretty much everything has it out for you… Oh, I see that the Cozmic Debris space opry usurped this segment. May as well run with it then.

Confused tardigrade wondering why they appeared on Nightmarish Nature, drawing by Jennifer Weigel
Confused tardigrade wondering why they appeared on Nightmarish Nature

So what’s so terrifying about tardigrades anyway?

So I don’t actually have much to say about tardigrades except that they started this whole crazy journey here on Haunted MTL. A Facebook friend posted a link to the Ze Frank True Facts video on them (linked here if the below video doesn’t load), and I was instantly hooked. It’s a great series and is part of the inspiration behind Nightmarish Nature here on HauntedMTL. So if you like learning about all kind of crazy animal facts and nature weirdness, feel free to check it out. I will mention, the show contains adult themes and is designed for (im)mature audiences, so keep that in mind as you foray into the freaky side of nature, literally.

And if you want to go further down the rabbit hole exploring True Facts, my favorite episodes of all time are Pangolin’s Posse and Freaky Nudibranchs. Help the Bats is also a fave.

To more of my Haunted MTL series on Nightmarish Nature about things that are a bit more terrifying, please feel free to revisit previous segments here:

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Vampires Among Us

Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps

Cannibalism

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