Last time, Dani caught up with Alicia and the discussed books and the status of Mary, Alicia’s mother, who is still laid up from a broken leg. This week in the Haunted MTL Original The Dead Life, Dani looks at long-term plans with Jimmy – could a garden be the next step?
This is a serialized novel of post-apocalyptic zombie survival. Learn more about the story and setting at the series hub and take advantage of a complete list of installments.
“Go ahead and check in on your mom, Alicia. Let her know I am gonna come by in a bit.”
Alicia nodded and, after a brief moment, gave Dani a small hug. Dani initially felt surprised but returned the gesture by squeezing the girl’s elbow. She was a good kid.
Alicia wandered off, gesturing with a wave as she approached her and her mother’s trailer. Dani turned her attention to the units claimed by Jimmy and Edgar.
Jimmy and Edgar had opened the four she saw, removed various boxes, and contents had been strewn about in multiple piles, the two still obviously sorting through them. The presence of an overly furry lady’s coat on a coat rack caught her eye for a moment. She had no idea what fur it was, but the fact that Jimmy or Edgar had perceived enough value to hang the coat up was pretty funny. From what she had learned about them, she expected that was a Jimmy gesture, the more reflective of the two.
She made her way down the row, which was the main row connected to the front gate. Sure enough, she saw Jimmy, the slighter of the pair, standing at the front entrance. His hair had grown a bit longer, and he had a tangle of red curls starting to form. He was in sweatpants and a t-shirt salvaged from one of the boxes. As she approached, she noticed the neon-colored graphic of a boat with “Catalina Open ‘92” in stylized letters on the back.
She presumed nobody in their sanctuary had ever been to Catalina before.
“Why is the car out of the way?” she asked as she approached.
Jimmy looked back; his hands were on his hips, intently studying the building across the street. He pointed to them.
“Edgar is scouting that building, so we’re keeping the gate free to roll open when he gets back.”
“Believe it or not, that giant is very quiet.”
Giant didn’t even begin to describe Edgar. He was a sizeable Mexican man. While only about 5’9”, by most estimations, he was thick, a seeming combination of muscle and fat. Edgar was like a wall. Dani was glad to have him.
Jimmy was different. He was skinny, and his muscles were ropey. He looked underfed, and his raid hair had not only grown longer at the top of his head, but he was beginning to develop a rat nest for a beard. Dani would need to get him something to trim it next time they were on a supply run.
He was pretty wired-looking when he first came to the U-Stor-It, but in the time since, he seemed to have mellowed out, seemingly enthused at the company and things to do. He was one of the hardest working people she had met, always up to something to make the location more livable, and the first to assist in projects.
He didn’t even bother hiding his track marks lately. Dani wondered how long ago he’d kicked his habit and if the work helped him manage.
“Any idea what he is looking for over there?”
Jimmy scratched his chin vigorously, and Dani could hear the rustle of hair. “We saw that it is a school district facility or something. I think they make food there, and there could be buses.”
Dani technically lived around the corner, right from the building. She hadn’t paid attention to it at the time. Dani did recall a colorful mural on one of the walls. She supposed she saw some buses there from time to time as well. It was shocking how disconnected she felt from the location across from her apartment of two years.
“Why are we interested in buses, Jimmy?”
“Well, if we can hotwire them, we can take a couple of them and build a wall around the parking lot in front of us.”
Dani looked at the lot; they hadn’t been able to use it due to the need to reinforce the broken gate.
“We could find a way to make another gate and have two layers of protection here,” she added.
“Yep. Maybe even park a couple of cars or a truck for supply runs.”
“It could also give us a chance to fix the gate.”
“Yeah. I feel really shitty about breaking it. I swear I’ll fix it.”
Dani took a few steps forward toward the rolling gate and shrugged. “You didn’t know anyone was here, and you’re doing what you can to help. Nobody is mad.”
Jimmy pulled a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his sweats’ pockets and a book of matches from the other. He lit up and began to puff away. Dani watched him for a moment, and soon enough, he nodded at her, plucking the cigarette from his lips and offering her a puff. She enjoyed it. She handed it back.
“Is he going to be okay by himself?”
“If it were me, you’d be right to be worried. Edgar, though, fucker is built differently. He won’t be long. Besides, I really, really want to get to the parking lot.”
“We have plenty of parking here.”
“It’s the grass. The soil. I think I can get a garden going.”
Dani’s eyes narrowed. “No shit?”
“No shit. I was 4-H in high school, and my parents shipped me off to a boy’s ranch as a kid. I picked up the knack for growing.”
Danit thought back to the day he and Edgar had crashed the gate of the storage place. Dani and Bob had found marijuana packed up in one of the units belonging to Jimmy.
“So that weed was homegrown, I assume?”
“I can grow potatoes too.”
“I’m sure you can.”
Jimmy took a couple more puffs and handed the cigarette back to Dani.
“I have some ideas, but I need the supplies.”
“Do tell,” Dani urged.
“Well, I can build some garden boxes, but I need wood, wire, liners… soil bags… seeds; it’s a lot.”
“Makes sense,” she added, “thinking of loading up one of the buses?”
Jimmy looked over at the truck still parked against the front office’s windows.
“That moving truck would have been perfect. I hope we can salvage that if we close the lot.” He took the cigarette back from Dani. “I am thinking about a lot of supplies because I have a much bigger idea.”
He paused for a moment, perhaps worried he was going to sound crazy or something.
“Dani, do you know what is next to us,” he gestured behind them as he spoke, back toward the southern part of the U-Stor-It, “that area between us at the houses?”
“A drainage ditch for one, and a dirt alley with the railroad tracks.”
Dani remembered that a railway, abandoned, had run through part of Emmett for nearly 60 years, an artifact of the day when the town was known for orange groves. She saw where he was going with this.
“You want to seal the place up and grow back there?” she asked.
“It’d give us a lot more room than some boxes and a strip of grass in front of the office.”
It was a good idea, but the project seemed like a massive pain in the ass, especially given the need to secure the area and move the goods. She understood why Jimy and Edgar were interested in the buses.
“The problem is,” Jimmy continued, “we can’t risk losing that truck in front of the office yet because we can’t reinforce the window frame. We don’t have anything else that can work to haul around the supplies I need.”
Dani thought about it for a moment. Jimmy offered her the last few puffs of the cigarette, but she politely waved it off, deep in thought. She thought back to the area around them and where they had been in the previous few weeks.
She remembered something about her flight from the apartments where she had lived before the bullshit went down. The place was around the corner and seemed so much further away when she first escaped. Now it offered a tantalizingly close solution.
“I know where we can find a moving truck.”
Jimmy’s eyebrow raised, intrigued. He dropped the cigarette butt and mashed it with the toe of his sneakers.
“Hell yes.” He beamed. “Fuck yes.”
Did you enjoy this installment of the story? How do you think the system they opt for regarding supplies will work out for them? Let us know what you think and what supplies would be your zombie apocalypse necessity.
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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…
Cravings Part 2, story by Jennifer Weigel
If you missed the beginning of this pregnancy horror story by Jennifer Weigel, you can catch Part 1 here.
Jayden’s stomach turned. Who or what was this creature standing before him, and what had it done with his wife? Claire proceeded to eat more than half of the jar of eggs in a fury of consumption; Jayden finally retreated to the office alone unable to watch any more. He heard a sloshing sound as she finished the jar and proceeded to drink the brine before retreating to the bedroom and crashing into their bed, presumably to pass out. Again. Later that night, he crept in to find her sleeping, clammy and sweaty, nervously twitching. Her body made the most abnormal guttural sounds as her internal systems groaned and sputtered. It was definitely getting worse. Jayden resolved to call Dr. Randolph the following morning; this had gone on for far too long already.
The next day, Claire awoke with a start from another bad dream that she couldn’t remember. Crying uncontrollably, she clutched her swollen belly, still ripe with child, and hurriedly exclaimed, “Blood sausage! I must have blood sausage!”
Jayden woke from his curled-up safe haven beside her and muttered, “Wha… What is that? I’ve never even heard of such a thing.”
“Go!” she snapped. “I’m starving. Go now! Return with blood sausage.”
Jayden staggered over to the dresser, threw on some clothes, shuffled into his waiting shoes, and gathered himself to duck out the door in the well-practiced gesture he’d become so accustomed to. “I’ll stop on my way home from work, I guess,” he mused, making his own plans. Claire seemed to settle down a little as she woke further, but it was little consolation.
“Thank you Sweetcheeks,” she said. “You’re the best.” She blew him a kiss.
While at work, Jayden managed to secure an appointment with Dr. Beth Randolph, Claire’s primary physician since before he had known her, for later that day. He took off early and rushed home to gather his unwilling wife. She was going in, whether she liked it or not.
He opened the front door and peered inside. The house was dark and quiet, as he’d come to expect. He crept in and stole upstairs to the bedroom to rouse Claire from sleep. He’d tell her where they were going once he got her in the car, no sense in making this even more difficult than it already was. Unsurprisingly, there she was, a shadowy form hunched over in the bed, her back to him with the covers pulled up over her eyes. He peeled away the comforter and blanket to reveal a tangled mess of white knitted yarn; Claire was nowhere to be found. He looked around, trying to focus on the darkness of the bedroom that enveloped him. That unsettling feeling had returned, like he’d had at Maresh’s shop, sinking into his gut. Claire was here idling, watching, waiting; he could sense her presence sizing him up as if she could read his mind and was on to his plan. But why was her company so disconcerting? This was still their house, their home, their lives intertwined… Jayden felt his trust ebb, spine tingling sensing danger.
“Hey there Sweetcheeks,” Claire’s voice echoed from the darkness of the closet. “Do you have something for me?” She emerged into the room, her eyes wide, frothing slightly at the edges of her mouth. Tiny bubbles of drool burst forth from her quivering lips and trickled down onto her chin.
“I couldn’t find any… blood sausage… whatever that is,” Jayden lied through his teeth. He hadn’t even gone to the store. Claire should never have expected him back at this hour; apparently she didn’t even know what time it was. But that seemingly wasn’t a concern. She wasn’t herself. Something about her fragile frame, the way she rocked from side to side, reminded him of that crazy old witch doctor Maresh. He finally managed to connect the two; it was as though she were possessed. It was imperative that she saw Dr. Beth Randolph as soon as possible, if for no other reason than to sever ties to that crazy old hag and hopefully start to snap out of it. He simply had to get her to that appointment.
“No blood sausage!” Claire shouted, becoming more and more agitated. “No… blood… sausage!” Her breathing became less regular and her body shivered all over as she hulked towards him. “I am sooo hungry!”
She lunged towards him, stumbling into his arms and collapsing towards his feet laughing maniacally. Jayden reached for her instinctively, to lower her to the ground gently, and felt something sticky and warm envelop his hand. Feeling lightheaded, he glanced down as he fell to the floor beside her. Protruding from his gut was a long silver thread, no something pointedly metal and hard, oozing thick oil sludge all around. Not oil, blood. His blood. Claire continued laughing, her lightning-fast fingers quickly and methodically ripping their way into his tattered shirt and worming around within his wounded frame to pull forth bits of viscera, which she wrung in her hands and smeared up and down her arms and torso. As Jayden passed out, she mouthed each of her fingers in turn, sucking the precious liquid off of them one at a time, before she began to feast on his entrails.
Claire’s belly was finally full. The baby developing within squirmed and settled, as if finally satiated. She swiped a stray bit of flesh from her bosom, licked it off of her fingertips, and heaved a sigh of relief. Miracle Madame Maresh Meliasma was right; she just needed to get to the root of her cravings.