As the last of the ghouls had begun to round the corner, Edgar and Jimmy dropped low to the roof, out of sight of the wanderers. From their vantage, the two men could see the rooftops of a nearby RV park. Aside from the sound of scuffling feet and low moans the area was silent.
Jimmy hadn’t got used to the silence yet.
“Christ, these things are dumb. I’ve had dogs smarter than them,” Edgar whispered.
Jimmy shrugged. True, the ghouls had no real smarts, as far as he could tell. They just kind of wandered toward whatever caught their attention. But they were still winning the numbers game. That was the fucked up part of all this.
“Let’s get back down the ladder,” Jimmy whispered.
“Yo, old man. What’s going on with the ladder situation” Jimmy asked.
Bob looked up at the two men on the roof of the row of units. “The name’s Bob and I want to be sure you’re cool.”
Dani leaned on another row of units across the lane, the ladder leaning up against the structure. She observed the situation with caution. Bob’s play was risky.
“The hell? What’s not cool, Bob? This.” Edgar gestured to the edge of the roof with a flail. “Not fucking cool, Bob.”
“We just want to know why you were trying to break down our gate, that’s all,” Dani chimed in.
Edgar looked dumbfounded. Jimmy stepped forward. “Edgar had a unit here, we just wanted to grab something. We didn’t know anyone was still here.”
“What unit?” Bob stepped forward, “what unit was your unit, Edgar?”
Edgar stepped closer to the edge of the roof. “Don’t see how that’s any business of yours, Bob.”
Jimmy watched Edgar step closer to the edge and reach his right arm behind his back. His fingers grazed the pistol tucked into his waistband.
Jimmy made his way over to Edgar and placed the back of his hand against Edgar’s chest, gently pushing him back. Jimmy glanced and Edgar, eyes wide in frustration, shaking his head slightly. Too slight for the two people below to notice, he hoped.
“Let’s be honest with them, man,” he whispered.
Edgar’s brow furrowed.
“Nobody needs to die today,” Jimmy continued, “play it friendly.”
Edgar looked down at Bob. “K34. That’s the unit. It has our weed. We were going to haul it out and use it to negotiate for some supplies elsewhere on our way out of town.”
Bob nodded. “That’s fair, but we cleared this place and locked it down. You nearly cost us our safety.”
“Sorry about that,” Edgar said through gritted teeth. He stepped forward. “We didn’t know anyone was here.”
Sandy wandered out of the office and stood near the door. She was peeking out, observing the scene. Dani noticed how stiff and rigid she was. Clearly, she was upset. Then again, when wasn’t she?
Bob gestured to Dani. Dani grabbed the ladder and carried it over. She leaned it against the units and the pair began to climb down.
Bob tucked his revolver into his pants. “Could you spare some dope to make it worth our while?”
Dani stood outside the unit and Edgar and Bob negotiated over the marijuana bundles. Jimmy stood just inside the entrance.
“How long have you been here?” Jimmy asked.
“Me? Just a couple of days. Bob and Sandy have been here since the start.”
“What, like, you just joined up with them?”
“I was isolated in my apartment for a couple of weeks, had to leave when…” An image of Dani’s now dead neighbors flashed before her and she felt slightly disoriented. She shut her eyes tight and took a sudden sharp breath.
“You okay?” Jimmy asked.
Dani rubbed the back of her neck with her wrist. She glanced over at Jimmy, who seemed genuinely concerned.
“I’m fine. Sorry, not sleeping much lately,” she murmured.
“No shit,” he said. Jimmy laughed.
Dani smirked. She walked a bit closer to the unit’s entrance, leaning on the frame. “Anyway, I, uh, ran out of supplies. Came here because my Dad kept a gun here when he was running it.”
“Oh shit, this place is yours?”
Dani shrugged. “I mean, not really? Not sure what good owning a business does for you these days. He paid the bills. Paid for Bob and Sandy to work here. I haven’t really been here in… god, like, two years?”
Dani looked at Bob and Edgar. Bob appeared to be haggling over a second plastic-wrapped bundle.
“If anything the place is Bob and Sandy’s. They’re just kind enough to let me stay. I dunno how long I’ll be staying, though,” she added.
“Seems like a pretty good place, honestly.” Jimmy sighed. “Edgar and I were trying to find a larger pool of people somewhere, maybe closer to San Diego. Figured we could barter some essentials with some weed, y’know?”
Dani sat on a cardboard box. “A sound plan as any right now I guess.”
“Is it?” Jimmy asked. He didn’t seem to be asking her as far as she could tell.
Bob and Edgar shook hands. It seemed like the trade was done. Edgar carried several bundles in his arms. “Yo, Jimmy. Let’s get going.”
Jimmy scratched at the patch of red hair on his cheeks. It was a weak growth. “Actually, I’m thinking maybe we ask to stay here a bit, to just kind of rest up.”
Bob stepped forward, rubbing his chin. “How long are you thinking, kid?”
“Honestly, could we just stay for, like, the night?” Jimmy gestured over to the fence that they had hit repeatedly with Edgar’s Cadillac. “I’d be happy to help you reinforce the gate tomorrow before we leave.”
Edgar brushed past Jimmy. “Dude, are you kidding me with this shit? What about San Diego?”
Jimmy shrugged. Edgar looked angry.
“Look, man, we had a plan,” Edgar said. “We can get down there and find someone to exchange with.” He held up one of the six packages he was holding and waved it in front of his friend. “We had a plan.” He tapped Jimmy’s forehead with the bundle for good measure.
Jimmy looked around the storage facility. The grey concrete had begun to take on an orange hue from the encroaching sunset.
“I… don’t think San Diego is worth it, man. All those things… the city would be full of them.”
“That’s a solid point,” Bob said. “We got completely overrun here. Imagine a big city.”
Dani stepped in. “You two can take an RV for the night if you want. That’s fair, right, Bob?”
“Can’t imagine Sandy is going to be thrilled, but I don’t mind if we’re all cool about it.”
Dani started off toward the RV area. “You two coming,” she asked.
Jimmy and Edgar stared at each other, shrugged, and followed, with Bob right behind them.
Sandy wasn’t happy about the strangers staying the night, but she was outvoted. How she was outvoted in her own home was beyond her. She wasn’t sure why Danielle had any sort of say. She was leaving soon, anyway. The only compromise made to put her at ease was that she would hold onto the stranger’s car keys so they wouldn’t escape in the night and leave the gate open. Everyone had retired to their various RVs, and she to her apartment, locking their doors behind them.
Sandy sat in her chair in the living room. She had turned it toward the window to keep an eye on the world outside of her domain. There was smoke in the far distance. Maybe it was a wildfire. Maybe it was something else.
She sipped at her tea. She was running low on the mix. She wasn’t a fan of cold tea, but heating anything had been a problem, so all her tea was at room temperature. She hated that there was still no power. Bob suggested the power might never come back. Sandy was not so sure. She had a brother in the military. Surely he and the whole would be on their way to save her. It made sense. This was all just a little societal blip. The government would cure the sick and restore order in no time at all.
The apartment was dark and there was no glare on the window. She could sit comfortably on her seat and stare out the window toward the hills toward the west, past the outskirts of the city of Emmett. In the distance, she saw what looked to be some sort of light flashing. She approached the window, setting down her glass of tea. After a brief time, the lights faded.
How odd, she thought. I hope they don’t come this way.
Thank you for reading the tenth installment of the Haunted MTL original series, The Dead Life. Please share your thoughts about the story with us.
Into the Deep Woods 1, an October AI journey with Jennifer Weigel
I am embarking on an AI journey using NightCafe to illustrate this graphic story based on a dream I had awhile back. I am also using Canva, so here’s to learning more online systems of image dissemination and propagandizing…
I will include some of the original AI generated images with each piece along with a bit of the dream that inspired it. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Artwork description: Overall layout: Lightning strike through the corner into obscure clouds and map-like graphic in gray tones sets the mood for Into the Deep Woods.
Part 1, Art: AI generated image of a girl with reddish hair dressed in a robe of some sort and holding a staff. A similar girl in soldier garb fades behind her. Edited in PhotoShop.
Part 1, Text: 1.) Two sisters entered the woods, one a soldier and the other a witch. Only one lived. 2.) The young witch had picked up a bit of magic as she and her sister fled into the deep woods to seek the old witch… They were tired and alone, this was their one and only chance… 3.) The war raged on all around as the Nazis drew closer…
Prompt (Horror): Portrait of soldier girl sister
Prompt (Horror): Portrait of witch girl sister (Evolved from soldier girl)
Prompt (Horror): Soldier girl sister hit by lightning (Evolved from soldier girl)
As mentioned this series is based on a dream that I had awhile back. The two girls first enter the woods to escape the Nazis. In my dream there were initially more soldiers with them who perish due to the war or hazards in the woods. It wasn’t unlike Pan’s Labyrinth but on a much smaller and more intimate scale.
It had been awhile between having the dream and creating this story to share with you. And I quickly learned that the term “Nazi” is prohibited by the AI art generator interface. So there are some changes that have been made, but hopefully you can still follow along. The time and place are not as relevant to the overall anyway.
Nightmarish Nature: Cannibalism
Let’s return to explore more Nightmarish Nature, shall we? This segment focuses on cannibalism, as we generally find it icky / taboo and because it’s more common than you might think. There are many different reasons that different creatures engage in cannibalistic practices. Energy waste doesn’t last long in nature; gaps are filled as things evolve to utilize whatever resources are available to meet their own needs. C’est la vie (light up another cigarette). In any case, the challenge to the cannibal lies in determining kinship and not accidentally erasing their own line or progeny, thus decreasing their likelihood for survival over generations. Oh, and in avoiding those pesky prion diseases…
Resource Driven Cannibalism
Resource driven cannibalism can occur when competition for resources is high. This may be due to scarcity, with individuals taking to eating each other to avoid themselves starving to death (with those consumed either still alive and killed to this end, or eaten after death of other causes). Or it may be outside of the cannibal’s control, considering the spread of Mad Cow Disease from feeding beef meal harboring the prion disease (and parts from other mammals like sheep) to growing cattle to save money, ’cause it’s not like the cows were allowed to order whatever they wanted. Or it may be due to direct conflicts with other groups of the same species, either due to competition for resources, mating rights and/or territory. These behaviors have been noted in mostly male chimpanzees raiding other groups, which have even been documented as all out wars against other males in neighboring bands, campaigning to eradicate all outside of their ranks.
Thinking about chimpanzees, males are also documented to gang up on alpha males seen as too controlling or sadistic, with groups of younger males attacking and rendering the alpha male to pieces, often consuming his flesh and blood in the process. This can upend established hierarchies to replace them with new structures, for example with a new male taking on the role of leader. But cannibalism can also be used to reinforce existing hierarchies, as seen in African Wild Dogs wherein the dominant pair will kill off any offspring that other dogs may have birthed so that the pack will focus on raising only the alpha pair’s pups, thusly reestablishing and enforcing social structure while ensuring the best survival chances for the pups raised by channeling all resources to the one brood.
Infanticide & Filial Cannibalism
Like African Wild Dogs, other parents may also eat their offspring, or better yet their rivals’ offspring. Stillborn or unhealthy offspring may be consumed, or just any that they can get their hands on at birth. (Again with the young male chimpanzees…) Some creatures enter into cycles wherein smaller individuals are more vulnerable to predation by larger ones both within and outside of ones own species, as is seen among many fishes with eggs and smaller fishes playing an important role as prey to larger ones. Other creatures may engage in these practices to reduce competition (for themselves and/or their offspring) and/or increase opportunities to mate. Male cats are notorious for killing kittens that are not their own in order to bring females into heat again sooner, potentially increasing the likelihood of mating with said females themselves while decreasing future competition. Win-win! Female cats must take great care to hide their kittens in order to protect them from males as much as other predators, and can have kittens by different fathers within the same litter in order to increase their kittens’ overall survival as a group with father cats more willing to accept kittens when their own kin are present.
Mantids and spiders are especially known for sexual cannibalism, with larger females consuming males during copulation, but this is not always linked to vast size differences and does not appear in every species. Females who engage in this practice may have healthier eggs in larger clutches, thus increasing the survival likelihood of more of their offspring. Sometimes the risk to the male suitor of being mistaken for another species by an aggressive would-be mate is high, and various rituals have developed within certain species to help avoid such mistakes and entice the female to mate. Male spiders are known engage in elaborate dances, movements, tapping and silk spinning rituals to avoid being eaten pre-copulation or at all. It’s a hell of a lot more involved than a good pick up line and a well-timed drink, as you can see here.
If the above video doesn’t load, you can find it on PBS YouTube here.
Thank you for joining us for another exciting episode of Nightmarish Nature. If you enjoyed this, please feel free to check out these previous segments:
Revisitations: The Devil Went Down to Georgia
So I’ve been working on more painting into found art (as seen here before) and I thought I’d share a newer one, based on the song The Devil Went Down to Georgia by Charlie Daniels. But first let’s make like my She Wolf post enjoy a couple variations of the song, shall we?
First we have Charlie Daniels, the writer of the song which was inspired by the beautiful poem by Stephen Vincent Benet titled The Mountain Whipporwill. You can read the poem on Your Daily Poem here.
Then we have to watch my favorite version, the animated music video by Primus. I know there are claymation-haters out there who find the effect bit too “uncanny valley” but how can you not just love those chickens?
Anyway, without further ado, here is my painting, incorporated into a found still life, original signed L. Harady.
Here The Devil is defeated, crushed along the lower edge of the artwork beneath the fiddle and lamenting his loss. The bow jabs into his sneering nose as if to add insult to injury, but his eyes still glow, alight with the prospect of coming back for another round. (They actually do glow, I have acquired some blacklight reactive nail polish to use in these pieces now.) I suppose I may go to Hell for this portrayal (or for defiling yet another painting) but alas, such is the price of art sometimes. I guess I’ll add it to the list…