Lunch consisted of a single chunk of canned meat split five ways, a box of crumbled crackers, and some tea that was brewed outside by Sandy. This was the most any of them had eaten in what seemed like days.
They sat in silence for a while, in the “conference” room. It wasn’t anything else beyond an office with a large table just behind the front counter of the storage office. Once upon a time, it had served as a meeting place for the employees, back when Dani’s parents were still in California. Since then it had become a storage room, and since the arrival of Jimmy and Edgar, it had become a dining room, of sorts. The irony was not lost on Dani. The room took on new life after the death of the world.
Sandy broke the silence. “Does anyone want another glass?”
Edgar looked up from his crumbs. He had wet his thumb to pick up the stray remains of crackers. He held out his glass. “Please,” he asked.
Sandy took his paper cup and filled it with the last of the tea. “I have a couple more brewing. The last of my mix.”
Edgar took the small cup and took a large gulp from it. Jimmy sipped at his tea, contemplating.
Bob wasn’t at the table, instead, he was near the door, carefully looking over the makeshift repairs of the glass door. Only one of the doors had shattered, but that was still a large hole to fill and a couple of bookshelves laden with heavy boxes of books had done a lot to reinforce the cardboard and plywood. In truth, it was mostly cardboard and it made Bob nervous. The RV in front of the entrance was an extra layer of protection, but what he needed, he said, was plywood, maybe more shelves, and boxes too.
Danielle sat at the table, finishing up the last bite of cold meat. She stared at her now empty plate, still hungry, still miserable. Had it been worth it to stick around? There was safety here, sure, but it was all relative, and safety seemed like a misplaced luxury when the hunger pangs started. They needed food.
She coughed. “I think we need to go on a supply run.”
Bob turned his gaze toward her and nodded. He rose up from his seat near the door and took a seat at the table. “I think you’re right. We should do it today. We still got light out there” he added.
Jimmy nodded. “Yeah, that’s a good idea. Let me help. Saw a couple of stores nearby. We can hit them all.”
Dani shook her head. “It’s too risky to hit multiple places right now. We’re in no big hurry. We need to get the most out of one place and then regroup.”
“What do you think,” Bob asked.
Dani wiped at her forehead with the heel of her palm, a habit she’d inherited from her dad. There were a number of options all within a couple of blocks. There was a Market Bros. just down Acacia, and down Lyon there was a drug store, one of the huge chains that had a little bit of everything.
Dani looked over at Sandy. The older woman seemed lost in thought.
“How are we for medication,” Dani asked.
Sandy peered around for a moment and shook her head slightly, aware enough to answer the question. “We don’t have a whole lot. We only had a basic first aid kit here and even that was mostly empty. Other than that Bob and I have our prescriptions and personal medications, I assume.”
Edgar lit a blunt. “Don’t forget about all that dope you got from us.”
“I don’t do that garbage,” Sandy sneered.
Edgar shrugged. “Your loss, Mama.”
Sandy glared at Edgar, who was near twice her size and weight. Jimmy punched Edgar on his arm, making him drop his blunt.
“… Hijo de puta,” he muttered as he picked up his blunt from his lap.
“Respect, Edgar. We’re guests.”
Edgar picked up his joint from the table and took a big drag as he stood up and bowed his head in Sandy’s direction. “My apologies.” He slumped back into the chair.
Dani grabbed a legal pad that sat at the center of the table and began scrawling some notes. She thought out loud as she wrote. “I think Jimmy, Edgar, and me -”
“I,” Jimmy corrected.
Dani cast a furtive glance at the tall redhead and grunted. She continued, “Anyway, we can hit the Wellman’s about a block down. Provided the place hasn’t been cleaned out we should be able to get food and medication there.”
Sandy glanced at the trio. She then gave Dani a pointed gaze, a warning gaze. “Are you sure, Danielle?”
Dani didn’t have time for Sandy’s paranoia. “I’m sure. We’d better get going now.”
She rose to her feet, and Jimmy stood up nearly as quickly. Edgar rolled his eyes, took a huge drag off his blunt, and begrudgingly rose out of his chair. Dani handed Bob the legal pad as she passed by his side of the table. He placed his hand on her hand as he grabbed the pad. It was a reassuring gesture and Dani gave Bob’s hand a squeeze.
“What’s this, kid?”
“Some rough plans. You’ll keep watch?”
“We’ll keep watch,” Bob nodded.
Sandy looked miserable at the idea of leaving the relative safety of the building. Regardless, she trudged out the door after everyone else.
The side gate’s rattle as Bob dragged it open was like a thunderstorm. Everything was so quiet now that the rattle of the gate probably carried a significant distance. Ghouls would be attracted to the sound, he figured.
Gate open, Bob stepped aside as the Cadillac drove through. Dani sat in the back seat and gave Bob a short wave. He was glad he’d had her tuck another gun into her jacket. He wasn’t suspicious of the two men, but he also knew better than to be unarmed in any situation. He’d learned that much in ‘Nam.
The Cadillac drove into the street and made a left. They were on their own now.
Bob slid the gate shut and took a length of chain and a padlock to it. Content with the security measures, he stepped into the nearest unit on the lot and took a seat in one of the salvaged lawn-chairs. Sandy sat impatiently in the golf cart, stewing.
Bob placed the legal pad on the TV-tray next to his chair. He looked it over and noticed there were a lot of notes in tiny, cramped handwriting. He’d expected Danielle’s writing to be tidy. Why he expected that he didn’t know. He’d just assumed, maybe because she was Korean, he thought. The notes seemed scattered, but he saw where she was heading with them. There were some good ideas. He’d need to talk them over when she got back. Maybe over some beers. He should have asked her to grab him a six-pack if she could.
He leaned back in the chair and stared out of the unit and down toward the other end of the property. He was already feeling tired but didn’t want to risk sleeping and being caught off guard.
After a few minutes of silence, he asked “What do you think these things are, Sandy?”
Sandy glanced and shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe some kind of mutant or something?”
“Like those old sci-fi movies?”
Sandy stared at the gate. “I guess. I don’t know. I generally don’t believe in that stuff but God works in mysterious ways.”
Bob leaned forward in his chair. Now this was interesting. “Y’all still believe in God after all this?”
Sandy smiled, albeit faintly. “Of course I do. God is why I have survived,” she replied.
Bob scratched his chin with a chipped thumbnail. He hadn’t really considered the existence of God much, at least since his late-twenties which were spent knee-deep in rice paddies and being shot at by the Vietnamese. Sandy was maybe thirty years younger than him and hadn’t had the pleasure of such experiences. Her position made a bit more sense, taking that into account.
“Y’know, it’s probably some sort of chemical thing,” he suggested. “Lotta weird stuff tested by the government over the years. Probably some experiment gone wrong. Bringing back the dead like that.”
Sandy shook her head. “They’re not dead.”
Sandy dusted the top of the steering wheel of the cart with her palm. “The only way the dead could rise is at God’s hand, and I don’t see God in any of this.”
Bob rolled his eyes. Of course she was a zealot. Fuck.
Sandy stepped out of the cart and began to pace a bit. She didn’t seem to enjoy being idle here in the open. She was on the wrong end of 50, now and her curled hair had gone unmanaged for weeks. She still carried a little bit of that middle-aged spread. She was noticeably beginning to shrink in other places, though.
Though perhaps she had always been small and he’d failed to notice.
Bob leaned back in his chair. “These things, they remind me of a movie I saw when I was on leave back in the war. Might have been ‘68? I was home for a bit and I had no girlfriend, no real family besides a drunk-ass daddy and I had money to burn.”
Sandy stopped pacing.
“Anyway, so I could have done something really damn stupid with that GI money but I just decided to go to the movies, right? I was back in New York and there was a theater that ran a few movies together for one price. You go there and spend hours watching shit and eating popcorn. Good times.”
“What was the movie,” she asked.
“I don’t remember the name, but it was something with Vincent Price as the last man in a world surrounded by these vampire freaks. They were smarter than these dead shits we are dealing with, but I definitely see some similarities now that I think about it.”
“How did the movie end?”
“Vincent Price died. I guess that’s the only ending that would make sense.”
Sandy took a seat back in the golf cart. She leaned over the steering wheel. “No more happy endings,” she muttered.
Thank you for reading the twelfth installment of the Haunted MTL original series, The Dead Life. Please share your thoughts about the story with us.
Sporespawn, a short story by Jennifer Weigel
Sporespawn was thriving. The Mars colony had become more efficient and better at finding and using native resources with the Martians’ influence. The native creatures were a dust-borne sort, essentially existing as microscopic eggs in stasis waiting for new hosts to infect until opportunity presented itself. These particles could exist in a state of torpor for centuries, millennia, perhaps even longer. It was unclear how ancient some of them were, and the alien humans had no way of calculating this. When the humans had first arrived on the planet they hadn’t even realized the dust they were breathing was alive, nor could they discern that it was infectious. Not until it was too late anyway.
The humans who had been involved in the Martian terraforming effort had all eventually become Incubators and succumbed to becoming a part of Sporespawn. Over several generations, the terror of the situation had subsided and the colonists had acclimated to their new role as host bodies for the Martian creatures. It wasn’t all bad, the Martians looked out for their Incubators and kept them safe until the Spawning, and the period before then was 40+ years long. So an infected person could live a relatively full life in that span, even including having children of their own. And since the humans were infected and became Incubators at a very young age, typically around 5 or 6, they never really questioned their roles, merely following along like sheep until the slaughter.
Plus, the native Martian creatures were much better equipped instinctively to handle all of the chaos that the hostile-to-humans environment threw at them. The alien humans had struggled just trying to survive in the settlement, let alone make much progress, until enough of them had become Incubators to make better sense of their circumstances. And it wasn’t as if they didn’t get to make any decisions in their lives at all, more like the guardian angel on their shoulder whispering in their ear (or that little voice in their heads that belonged to the Martian creatures inhabiting their body) was much more involved in their lives, its presence increasing the more mature the Martian beings residing within became.
Fetsch was thirty-nine. She had lived a full life in Sporespawn, working from when she was just 7-years old to plant and harvest potatoes in the still relatively harsh conditions of the roundhouse, an area designed specifically to grow food. The voices in her head had grown louder and more insistent in recent years, and as always she was persuaded to obey them. She could not remember a time before her guardian angels had whispered in her ear, protecting her from pending dust storms and helping her to survive the blackouts when they happened. They taught her how to get everything back online quickly and maintain tight control of all of the atmospheric conditions in the controlled habitat. She trusted them with her life, and they seemed to have her best interests at heart. And her Elders had always taught her to mind the guardian angels; she always did as she was taught.
Now that she was an Elder herself, she had retired from potato farming and was in charge of taking care of the younglings, including her own daughter, now 4 years old, and the baby. She was lactating and nursed those who needed it. As Fetsch had grown older, she began to work harder at taking care of the younger members of the society, helping them to master agriculture and teaching them the trade, just as her Elders had modeled when she was young. It was, after all, the natural order of things. At about six years of age, after becoming one with Sporespawn, the children would finally start learning how to survive in this difficult land by shadowing the adults and doing what they could to help out.
But at this point Fetsch couldn’t even remember which children were her own amongst the throng of infants and toddlers. In fact, she couldn’t remember much of anything, really; her existence was drowned out by her migraines. Recently the headaches had worsened considerably, and her visibly throbbing temples drowned out much of her memory and awareness. Her skin was stretched so thin as to appear transparent over her bulging forehead, which pulsed and convulsed of its own accord. Red tendrils wormed their way beneath the surface, edging towards the surface and causing it to swell further.
Fetsch remembered seeing other adults like this as they were nearing the Spawning. She knew that eventually their heads burst open, spewing forth a cloud of particulate among the children in their care. She knew that this was also her fate. And yet, she found it strangely comforting, knowing that her life would end as part of the ongoing cycle towards the continuation of Sporespawn. For this was also a part of the natural order of things, and her guardian angels ensured her that her Spawning would fulfill the needs of the colony and provide for generations to come. She could think about little else as she played amongst the children, her mind becoming more and more infantile as the pressure throbbing inside her brain grew. She looked forward to the end, when everything would go black and the headaches would finally subside. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too terribly much longer.
If you want to read another of my stories prominently featuring Mars dust, please follow these links to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of Cozmik Debris (and it’s later conclusion here on Nightmarish Nature: Terrifying Tardigrades).
Nightmarish Nature: Zombie Snails
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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
Snails a Whorl Whirl Whore World…
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.
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.
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.
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…