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The Unkind Rewind

by Gabriel Tuggle

     When I was a kid, Blockbuster sat up the street about two hundred yards from school. It was the first Friday afternoon since I’d turned thirteen, and that meant I was eligible for my own membership card. I could rent whatever the hell I wanted, baby. Our parents wouldn’t have been so keen on us skipping the bus, but they both worked late on Fridays. Besides, I hated the bus. It smelled like leather and fish.

     “Are we still going to Blockbuster, Kyle?” Denny, my eight-year-old brother, asked. He was clad in an oversized backpack – which used to belong to me until a group of gym class tormentors tied it to a basketball goal where I couldn’t reach it. Since then, I carried my books in my hand.

     Denny always waited for me on the school’s wide front stoop, and the Blockbuster sign was visible from here, suspended over the canopy of trees on the school’s front lawn. I squinted in its direction. It was the tallest monument in town, a giant blue and yellow brick tilted slightly off kilter, bearing its singular message to the world: BLOCKBUSTER.

     “I think we can manage it,” I said, as if it were a great journey. And in a way, it was. This was the early 2000s, one of the first generations of kids who were strictly prohibited from going anywhere by themselves. While other kids filtered out of the school’s gaping double doors and hurried for the buses, Denny and I slipped to our favorite place.

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     The building was a small cube that sat between a divorce lawyer and Sun Tan City. Emblazoned over the dark windows was the slogan: Wow! What a difference!

     As we crossed the parking lot, Denny said, “I’m gonna get Reese’s Cups.”

     “With whose money, squirt?”

     He stopped as if that realization hadn’t struck him before. “Can you get them for me? Please?”

     “No way,” I said, remembering that I only had nine dollars. “You remember what the dentist said about your teeth. They’re baked beans. Every last one of em.”

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     “I don’t have baked beans!”

     I brushed past him and reached for the glass door. He bolted inside after me; constantly afraid that being left alone would’ve meant being kidnapped. The stranger danger videos at school scared the shit out of him. Every kidnapper drove a white van and wore a dark coat, even in the summer. In Denny’s imagination, they probably all had Reese’s Cups, too.

     The entire front wall held the newest release, School of Rock, and a makeshift sign declaring they’d already loaned out every copy. I swear Blockbuster never actually had new releases. They just put up the display, followed immediately by a sign that read, “out of stock”. A cardboard cutout of Jack Black stood nearby, strumming the guitar silently, mouth open in a heavy metal scream. Aisles and bins crowded the small store, jammed with movies. Cartoony rolls of film unraveled over the thin carpet, letting everyone know that this was a Fun Environment.

     Denny begged me to rent a GameCube game for him, to which I told him to piss off. We were getting a movie. I wanted to get Total Recall, something I’d seen on HBO before. I particularly enjoyed the part with the three-breasted alien lady. But then Denny proudly reminded me that it was rated R and we were mere children.

     “I hadn’t thought of that,” I said, holding the VHS sleeve in my hand.

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     “Let’s get a Nickelodeon movie. Can we, Kyle?” He looked up at me with dependent eyes, his face a mirror of my own, simply dialed back five years.

     I didn’t like kid’s movies. I always sensed the bullshit jokes and corny nonsense that the writers thought I was ignorant enough to laugh at. That was why I watched things like HBO with our dad. He didn’t care what we saw, and if he were there, he would’ve been glad to rent Total Recall for us. But we were alone.

     I held an appreciation for Nickelodeon movies though. Somehow they slipped past my bullshit radar. We settled on Rugrats Gone Wild.

     While we stood in line, Denny said, “Dad always says Film Reel Video is a better store. Do you like it better there or here?”

     “Dad only likes Film Reel because it has titty movies.” The lady in front of us threw a concerned glance in our direction, and then looked away.

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     “He doesn’t watch em though.”

     “You’d be surprised.”

     The fellow at the counter was not the longhaired teenager we were used to, and that was the first sign that something was off. It was an old gangly man whose eyes were so far back in his sockets that they were trying to bury themselves. He seemed like the kind of guy who would enjoy a titty movie.

     “Hello, children,” he said. His smile was rigid and straight like an upside down trapezoid.

     I suddenly didn’t want to rent anything anymore, but Denny marched right up to the counter with childhood ignorance. He glanced back, his eyes asking if I was stepping up to plate or not. For someone who was so afraid of stranger danger, he could be a real dumbass.

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     A small plaque was screwed on the wall behind the counter. It read, “New Management” in plain black text. The new management was the most nefarious looking bastard I’d ever seen in my thirteen years. He reminded me of Freaky Fred on Courage the Cowardly Dog. The man’s thin frame towered over us just as the Blockbuster sign towered over the store. His blue polo shirt hung loosely from his narrow body, tucked into gray slacks.

     “How are we today?” He spoke in such a slow, smooth way that made me feel three years old.

     “We’re okay,” I answered.

     He examined the VHS sleeve, and then disappeared in the shadowy back room that always had every movie ever made. He came back with the orange Nickelodeon tape in his skeletal hand.

     “Do you have a kid’s membership with us?” He leaned far over the counter and eyeballed me.

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     I choked, unable to speak at first. “No. I don’t.”

     “Would you like to sign up for–”

     “No.”

     Denny glanced at me curiously, and then shifted his attention back to the candy shelf at our knees. He looked longingly at the Reese’s Cups.

     “All right,” the employee said, never breaking his smile. “A three day rental comes to five dollars.”

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     After I paid, he slid the tape across the counter and pointed at it with a bony finger. “Do you see this sticker?” He tapped it with a long fingernail. “We take this policy very seriously here at Blockbuster.”

     It read, “Be kind! Please rewind!”

     “I understand,” I said.

     I expected that to be the end of it, but then the man leaned over the counter even further, lurching out at me. I smelled Chesterfields on his breath. He said, “Do you know what happens to little boys who don’t rewind their tapes?”

     At that moment, I wished we could’ve afforded a DVD player. I shook my head no.

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     “Well,” the employee tilted his head in thought. “Let’s just say that we’ll rewind you.”

     “What does that mean?”

     “Be a good little boy and you won’t have to find out, now will you?” He returned to his regular posture, a beanpole planted over the checkout counter.

#

     That night, Denny and I propped up in our respective bunk beds (I had bottom) and watched the movie. I was clever enough to hide the Blockbuster case in Denny’s backpack. I didn’t want our parents knowing we hadn’t taken the bus straight from school. After leaving Blockbuster, we’d walked two miles through bland suburbia to get home.

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     The movie wasn’t too bad, but I thought the previous two Rugrats movies were better. Denny enjoyed it more than me.

     That weekend drifted by on a slow motion wave of boredom, as it so often does for children. Rain drizzled against the window, mandating that our Saturday take place indoors. I watched Denny play GameCube; he watched me put together a model car. Church crept by the following morning at a snail’s pace, the old pastor’s voice making me wish I were anyplace else.

     But after school on Monday afternoon, I met Denny outside on the front stoop. Kids zoomed past us on their way to the buses, which chuffed blue exhaust smoke at the curb. The air was pungent with diesel.

     I said, “You have the tape?”

     He shook his head.

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“What do you mean? Where’d it go?” The Blockbuster man had nearly shit his pants over the rewind policy. What would he have done if we didn’t return it at all?

     “Mom found it this morning and said she’d take it back for us on her way to work.”

     I slackened my posture. “Oh. Okay.” I paused. “Did she rewind it?”

     Denny shrugged.

#

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     That night, I was situated at my desk, secretly staring at my science textbook’s diagram of female anatomy. When Denny walked in, I slammed the book shut and crammed it in the drawer.

But Denny didn’t even notice. He looked concerned.

     “Do you know what happened to my GameCube?”

     I glanced over my shoulder and said, “Do you have amnesia? It’s right over–” But the place on the floor where it should’ve been was a blank patch of carpet. I tried to remember if it had been there when I walked in the room. Usually I stepped over the controllers on my way to the desk, and I even closed my eyes trying to recall, but I couldn’t.

     Do you know what happens to little boys who don’t rewind their tapes?

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     “Did mom or dad take it?” I asked.

     “I already asked them.” Denny’s face was solemn and a little sad. “Did you hide it?”

     He was accustomed to me pulling pranks like that. “No I didn’t.”

     “Then somebody stole it!” Denny said. He plopped down on the edge of my bed and brought his knees to his face. “And my games are all gone, too.”

     I glanced over at the milk crate in the corner where he kept them. It was empty.

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     Let’s just say that we’ll rewind you.

     Denny’s livelihood revolved around his GameCube, and before that, it was his Nintendo 64. Like best friends, he and his video games were inseparable.

     “Well… just watch TV or something, and I’ll go look for it. Okay?”

     Denny nodded, on the verge of tears. He trusted me to his core, and I was a big enough asshole to take advantage of that from time to time. There were other moments when I hid his things, namely his shoes when he was running late for something, but this time I was in the clear. I’d been staring at a vagina diagram for a half hour, pencil clutched in my fist so that from the hallway, it looked like I was doing homework.

     Cartoon Network snapped onto the old Zenith TV, and then I disappeared downstairs. Mom and Dad were in the living room.

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     “Does anyone know what happened to Denny’s GameCube? He looks kinda sad without it.”

     Dad glanced up from a hardcover book. “Who?”

     “Denny.”

     “Oh, right, Denny.” Dad face held a worried expression, his stress lines showing the dawn of middle age.

     “GameCube?” Mom said. “Denny hasn’t got a GameCube.”

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     “You bought it for him last Christmas.” I went to the mantle over the fireplace and picked up a framed picture. It was of Denny and I on the couch, controllers in our hands as we played Super Smash Bros. “The GameCube is right here in the–”

     My words trailed away. It was no longer a picture of Denny and me. It was just me with a void spot on the couch to my left. No GameCube. I held it in front of me, dumbfounded.

     Mom said, “What are you getting at?”

     “You all right?” Dad asked.

     I dropped the picture back on the mantle with shaky hands. I said, “Mom, did you rewind the tape before you took it back to Blockbuster?”

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     She chewed on a pen, taking her attention away from the crossword puzzle in her lap. “No, I didn’t. Did you rewind it when you watched it Friday?”

     “No, Denny was supposed to this morning.”

     “Well maybe they’ll fine you and it’ll teach you boys not to run around on your own after school.” She scribbled in her crossword book again, her mind only half present.

     I fumed and went back upstairs. I fully expected Denny to have vanished, but when I pushed the bedroom door open, he was there. He glanced at me sadly.

     “Did you find it?”

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     “No,” I said. I almost started to tell him about the photo from the mantle, and then thought better of it. He was eight years old. He didn’t need to worry about that, too. “Maybe it’ll turn up someplace.” I sat down beside him and clapped him on the back. The mattress creaked beneath my weight.

     “I hope so.”

#

     Mom brought my laundry upstairs a short while later, which I accepted as a wad in both arms. I went to work folding all of it (my least favorite part), and then came time to put it away (my second least favorite part). When I peeled back the closet doors, Denny’s clothes were gone. His half of the closet was a barren space, picked clean of everything. I shot a wild glance over my shoulder to see if he noticed, but he didn’t. He was lost in an episode of Johnny Bravo.

     I swung the closet doors shut as if to shield the sight. I crossed the room and opened Denny’s dresser. The drawers pulled out easily because there was nothing in them. They were empty and hollow.

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     “Hey, Denny,” I said. “How are you feeling?”

     “Good,” he said. “A little tired. Why?”

     “Just curious.”

#

     When we went to bed that night, I lay awake for a long time before drifting off into some thin gray world between sleep and wakefulness. I had no dreams, only unclear thoughts about Denny, as if I was trying desperately to gather my memories of him before–

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     Before what?

     My eyelids popped open early – five o’clock, a time normally reserved for rolling over and dozing some more. It had been the kind of meager sleep where I was glad it was finally an acceptable time to get out of bed. We didn’t have to be up for school until six, and if we were pushing it, six-thirty. I was relieved to see that the top bunk still hovered over my head, shadowing my bottom bunk in perpetual darkness.

     Completely alert, I rolled out of bed, careful not to hit my head on the top bunk. I’d busted my head open on it once, and instead of taking me to the hospital, Dad cleaned the wound with diesel fuel and smothered it in an old t-shirt. On my feet, Denny’s mattress was at eye level, and I should’ve been staring him in the face from this position. But the only trace of Denny was a rounded indentation on the pillow. The Pokémon covers were draped over the mattress, looking ghostlike without Denny’s small body tucked underneath.

     Then there were footsteps in the hallway, and a light came on. I rushed out and said, “Oh Denny, you scared me for a minute.”

     But Denny wasn’t there. It was Dad. He was hunched over in the hallway tightening his bootlaces. He said “What are you doing up, son?”

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     “Have you seen Denny?”

     “Who?”

     “Denny.”

     “Who’s Danny?”

     “Is Mom awake?” I peeked past Dad toward their bedroom at the opposite end of the hall, but the door was shut.

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     “She’s sleeping still. Who are you talking about, ‘Danny’?”

     The blood drained from my head, and I felt like a weightless man drifting across a cloud. I said, “My brother.”

     Dad chuckled, buttoning his work shirt. He looked scruffy and worn in the bathroom’s dim yellow light that spilled a rectangular sliver into the hallway. “You need to go back to sleep, buddy. You’re dreaming again.”

     I opened my mouth, but snapped it shut. I glanced back into the bedroom. The top bunk was gone, a realization that shoved me into some unknown world of make believe. I leaned into the doorframe, holding back a scream. There used to be a professional photo of Denny and I hanging on the wall, both of us dressed in matching polo shirts. It was now a photo of me, alone.

     All of Denny’s things had gone along with him. When Mom woke up, I waited for her to mention my little brother, to ask if he was coming down for breakfast. She never did. When we got in the car to go to school, she never asked if he was coming. And that afternoon, he wasn’t waiting for me on the front stoop outside, clutching his backpack straps in his fists.

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     I never told a soul. I’m a fairly private person, but even that was difficult to keep secret. My little brother’s existence now belonged to Blockbuster. If I brought it up to anyone, I’d have been labeled a loon, yanked from school and sent to an institution. I wanted none of that, so I just kept Denny Stills a quiet little secret until now. Because I knew precisely what happened to him. Blockbuster rewound him.

     That was fifteen years ago, and Blockbuster has been out of business for a long time now. But evidently they haven’t forgotten my debt.

     Today I came home from work (I’m a high school teacher), and noticed the welcome mat was gone from my doorstep. I figured someone stole it, so I went inside and realized all the magnets from my fridge were also gone. Weird thief.

     Tonight though, I went downstairs and saw I had no furniture anymore. It looked like a house that someone hadn’t moved into yet, the kind of open space a realtor would prance through. But I know what happened. I know because it happened to Denny.

     So I’m writing this now, very quickly, in hopes that it will stay behind after I go – wherever I’m going. Over the course of the past couple hours, everything in my office has vanished, that is, except for this desk, the computer, and myself. I smell the chocolaty peanut butter of Reese’s Cups.

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     It won’t be long. Existence stretches thin by the minute, as if the fabric of me is being split between two worlds, and my trembling hands are starting t

THE END

Gabriel Tuggle is a speculative fiction writer from central Kentucky. He is twenty-one years old, and will soon graduate from UK with a degree in english.

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Original Series

Nightmarish Nature: Something Rotten, Flesh in Flowers

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This time on Nightmarish Nature we will again explore some of the more fetid fungi and plants, this time focusing on those that imitate rotten flesh in order to attract flies. Among the best known of these are the Stinkhorn and the Corpse Lily or Corpse Flower. The Language of Flowers be damned, literally…

Fungi

Many of the fungi in the Stinkhorn family erupt in mushrooms that reek of rotten flesh and sprout from a white sort of egg sac in various forms, the common type being a phallus like structure with a white body and olive head. The Beefsteak fungus resembles, well, a cut of beef oozing blood. And some mushroom bodies of the Clathrus genus bloom in elaborate lattice structures or devil’s tooth and devil’s fingers that resemble terrifying alien beings. These odoriferous fetid fungi grow in decaying wood material and use their stinky attributes to attract flies and other insects which will then spread the spores from their fruiting bodies. They truly look like something out of an outer space or aquatic nightmare.

Some various fungi that can reek of rotten flesh, drawing by Jennifer Weigel.
Some various fungi that can reek of rotten flesh.

Plants

Some plants also utilize pungent putrid odors to attract flies and other insects, in part to aid in the pollination and dissemination but also to attract insect matter for their own needs, to absorb the insects for valuable nutrients that they cannot otherwise obtain. The largest flowers in the world bear many of these characteristics, also being among the stinkiest. And some pitcher plants mimic rotten flesh to attract flies upon which they “feed”.

The Titan Arum of Sumatra and Indonesia is a plant that over time produces a huge flower somewhat resembling a calla lily but larger as the plant body stores enough energy to do so. While Calla Lilies are often used to symbolize rebirth and resurrection and can be associated with death, often in a funerary setting, the huge Titan Arum does more than that, strongly mimicking decaying flesh in order to attract flies. These flowers can grow to almost 8-feet tall and bloom for only about three days before wilting; they are a huge draw at botanic gardens when flowering because of the rare nature of the event and the remarkable presence that the flower has, in both size and smell. The US. Botanic Gardens has a page devoted to this plant here, where you can even track previous blooms.

Titan Arum flower as drawn by Jennifer Weigel.
Titan Arum flower as drawn by Jennifer Weigel.

Another noteworthy flowering plant is Rafflesia, a parasitic flower native to Indonesia and Malaysia that feeds on the liana vine and grows from a sprouting body bud into a huge flower over the course of five years. Its flowers, once finally formed, can grow to almost a meter across and resembles something out of a horror film. These too smell of death and decay to attract flies in order to cross-pollinate. You can learn more about these unusual plants on this video from Real Science here.

Rafflesia flower as drawn by Jennifer Weigel.
Rafflesia flower as drawn by Jennifer Weigel.

If you’ve enjoyed this segment of Nightmarish Nature, feel free to check out some previous here:

Vampires Among Us

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Perilous Parenting

Freaky Fungus

Worrisome Wasps

Cannibalism

Terrifying Tardigrades

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Reindeer Give Pause

Komodo Dragons

Zombie Snails

Horrifying Humans

Giants Among Spiders

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Nightmarish Nature: Giants Among Spiders

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So, as you may have noticed, we have a special fondness for spiders here on Nightmarish Nature.  Well, they are kind of the spokes-critters for horrifying animalia, perhaps because they are so freakishly different from us.  Or maybe it’s because I find them a little disconcerting for all that I try to take the “you mind your business, I’ll mind mine” approach, at least if they stay outdoors. Or just because I really like to draw spiders for all that I prefer not to find them sharing my home (though I’ll gladly take spiders over other bugs or mice or larger critters who didn’t get an invite).

Anyway, this segment is devoted to the largest Giants Among Spiders, as if you didn’t have enough to worry about already.  And the top place is contested based upon body mass or leg length.  Most of these are tarantulas, which globally take top place among the large arachnids.

Goliath Birdeater Tarantula
I’m hungry… I bet you are…

Goliath Birdeater Tarantula

The Goliath Birdeater Tarantula of South America is the biggest brute of spiderdom, weighing in at over 6 ounces.  They build funnel burrows and are known to eat birds (although rarely), mice, lizards, frogs, and snakes, but largely any big insects including other species of spiders.  They have urticating barbed hairs that they fling at would-be attackers as an irritant to escape.  And people even eat them after they singe the bristles off. Here’s a National Geographic video showing this spider in action, in case you wanted to see a giant spider take out a mouse.

Giant Huntsman Spider drawing by Jennifer Weigel
Creepy crawly at it’s worst…

Giant Huntsman Spider

And with the longest legs, we have the Giant Huntsman Spider of Laos, with a leg-span of 12 inches.  Their legs have twisted joints and they move in a crab-like manner, which furthers their impressive appearance. ‘Cause they’ve got legs, and know how to use ’em.  They prefer to live in underbrush and cave entrances.  These are like the big relatives of their Australian cousins, which we’ve all seen online and developed a healthy aversion to.

Everything's cuter when it's fuzzy, right? tarantula drawing by Jennifer Weigel
Everything’s cuter when it’s fuzzy, right?

Brazilian Salmon Pink Birdeater & Brazilian Giant Tawny Red Tarantulas

Next we have two more South American species: the Brazilian Salmon Pink Birdeater, which boasts one-inch fangs, and the Brazilian Giant Tawny Red, believed to be the longest-lived spider with a lifespan of up to thirty years.   Both are in the tarantula family and have urticating hairs, a word you probably never read much before today unless you are in the hobby.  So apparently South America is not the best travel destination for you if you struggle with arachnophobia, though I suspect you’d figured that out already.  (I wouldn’t recommend Australia or Southeast Asia either.)

Face Size Tarantula drawing by Jennifer Weigel
Face-Size, sorry no Face or Face Hugger for scale

Face Size Tarantula

And finally the Face Size Tarantula, which has a very terror-inducing name reminiscent of the Face Huggers of Alien-glory.  Anyway, these spiders have an 8-inch leg-span and live in India and Sri Lanka.  They look kind of like big hairy wolf spiders with stripey legs, sometimes with pink and daffodil coloring.

If you enjoyed this eight-legged segment of Nightmarish Nature on Giants Among Spiders and their larger than life kin, 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

Komodo Dragons

Zombie Snails

Horrifying Humans

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AI journey: Little Red Riding Hood, Part 3 Final

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So here is our last installment of our AI journey exploring the idea of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad wolf being one and the same. All of these are based upon the AI generated art and prompts using NightCafe and then created as posters in Canva. Feel free to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this exploration if you missed them.

Forget this talk of sheep, it isn't helping..., Dark Fantasy style, Aug. 1, 2023
Dark Fantasy style, Aug. 1, 2023

A non sequitur I know, but I couldn’t resist. If you picked up where we left off you’ll get it.

So what about Little Red Riding Hood as a wolf?, Dark Fantasy, Aug. 1, 2023
Dark Fantasy, Aug. 1, 2023

Seriously?! Again with the cropped off head cop out…

Little Red Riding Hood as a wolf, seriously we want to see her face!, Artistic Portrait, Aug. 1, 2023
Artistic Portrait, Aug. 1, 2023

Finally! That was a journey. And not even worth the result, in my opinion.

Anyway, here is a bonus montage I made out of a bunch of additional Red Riding Hood prompts for an article that never happened…

Little Red Riding Hood AI art montage, Nov. 4, 2023
AI art generated Nov. 4, 2023

Prompts for Montage:

1.) What if Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf were one and the same being?
2.) Her wolf face peering out of her red cloak, fangs dripping with the blood of another victim, lost in the forest and never found.
3.) Little Red Riding Hood closes in for the kill, lunging from her red cloak, her wolf fangs dripping with blood.
4.) I am Little Red Riding Hood. I am the Big Bad Wolf. I am coming for you.
5.) Howling within, the rage sears forth from the red cloak, discarded in the deep woods. Red Riding Hood succumbs to the lycanthropy.
6.) Heaving breaths. Dripping blood. Red Riding Hood is not what she appears. She is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
7.) Her red cloak masks the fangs hidden below the surface.
8.) It starts with a long sighing breath. Waiting. The wolf within stirs.
9.) Red Riding Hood trembles. She succumbs to the lycanthropy.
10.) The wolf bursts forth from within. It takes over Little Red Riding Hood’s mind, her body, her being.
11.) Red Riding Hood howls. She is ravenous with hunger for blood. The wolf within has taken over. Mind, spirit, body. She feasts on the blood of the moon.
12.) Big Bad Wolf Red Riding Hood ravenous blood moon feast
13.) Blood moon beckons. I. Little Red Big Bad Riding Hood Wolf. Freedom howling night curse.
14.) Beware. Bewolf. BeRedRidingHood. Betwixt. Beyond.
15.) I pad quietly as the forest dissolves around me. Red Riding Hood and Wolf, one and the same.
16.) Wolf within howling dark recesses of the mind, Red Riding Hood lost
17.) Red Riding Hood HOWL wolf bane true existence polymorph within-and-without.
18.) Red howl Riding Wolf dark existence brooding within

So thank you for joining us on another AI art journey. You can still catch the last AI art journey on Haunted MTL here.  To see more such devolutions into AI generated art, check out the Will the Real Jennifer Weigel Please Stand Up? blog.

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