The sound of the gate, under some form of duress, caught the attention of Dani and Bob. Within an instant, they dashed out of the storage unit and made their way to the entrance of the facility. Just over the top of her Focus, parked flush against the sliding gate, Dani saw two men. Bob’s revolver, one of his many sidearms, was already drawn as they approached the two strangers. Dani drew her pistol.
“What the hell are you two doing?” Bob yelled.
The two men immediately turned their attention to Dani and Bob. They both stepped back, their hands raised. The clatter of bolt cutters hitting the ground filled the air.
“Yo, yo, hold up,” said the red-headed man. He looked to be in his late twenties or so, dressed in baggy clothes and a hoodie. His face was scruffy. He looked worn out.
“Please, you gotta let us in,” said his companion. He looked Latino and was dressed much the same as the red-head. He was twice his friend’s weight. Dani’s dad would have called them gangbangers. She hated the term.
Dani scanned her pistol in their direction. “Why should we let you in?”
The redhead lowered his guard slightly and turned his head to the street behind him, enough to point behind him without taking his eyes off Dani’s gun. “We’re being followed. Got a shitload of those rotten fuckers on us. You gotta let us in.”
Dani looked at Bob and gestured with her own head. Bob reoriented himself to get a peek through the gate to look down the street.
“I don’t see any of ‘em,” he said.
The Latino man furrowed his brow. “Do you think we’re fuckin’ lying? They’re coming, dude. You gotta help us.”
“Shut up,” Dani barked. She turned her ear to listen for sounds. Sure enough, there was a sustained series of low moans in the distance.
“Bob, I think they’re right.”
“Shit. Alright, plan?”
Dani looked at the strangers and lowered her gun. “Alright, listen, we have a side gate. We can’t risk a bunch of them piling up on this gate here. We want you to go around. Got it?”
The red-head nodded. “Yeah, sure, got it. Promise you’ll let us in?”
“Provided you do your part and help us move that group along, sure.”
The men glanced at each other and nodded.
“Bob, right?” asked the bigger man, “right around the corner?”
Bob lowered his revolver. “Yeah, get in your car and get your ass in gear. I’ll be right there to get it open.”
Alerted by the noise, Sandy finally stepped out of the administrative building holding a baseball bat.
“What is going on?”
Dani gestured to the strangers. “These guys – what are your names?”
“Jimmy,” said the redhead.
“Edgar,” said the other.
“- Jimmy and Edgar here, they need our help, we’re gonna have them come in the side gate.”
Sandy looked incredulous. “Why in God’s name would we do that?”
As if fate, the first of the ghouls made its presence known. It stumbled into view on the street and lobbed its body in lurching motions along the pavement.
“Fuck! Bob, get it!” Sandy yelped.
The ghoul cast a pair of glassy eyes at the gate and let out a moan.
Bob snapped at Sandy, “there’s a bunch more coming.”
He turned to Jimmy and Edgar, “We need to move now. Get goin’ boys.”
Edgar grabbed the bolt cutters from the ground. The pair scrambled to their car, a burgundy Cadillac. They practically dove inside and turned the ignition. Dani and Bob moved towards the office and escorted Sandy out of sight of the gate.
Bob turned to Dani. “Kid, you’re faster, I need you to get to the gate, now. Got it?”
Dani nodded and tucked the pistol into the waist of her jeans. She started running to the side gate, sorting through the keyring she pulled from her pocket.
Bob pulled Sandy into the office and pointed her to the stairs.
“I need you to go up there and keep an eye on how many of those things are comin’. We need to keep as quiet as possible, so I want you to write them down on that little whiteboard, you know the one you use for the schedule?”
“Right, I have it.”
“I want you to write the number you see on that board, okay? Show it to me out the window near the bathroom, right? It’ll keep you out of sight.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I think I have a way to direct those things,” he said. “I just need to know how many there are.”
Dani arrived at the gate with the key in hand. She could hear the engine of the car idling on the other side. The gate was reinforced with corrugated metal, but it was still a sliding gate. There was only so much weight it could bear. She worried that they were substituting one weak gate for another.
She slipped the key into the lock and ripped the chain from the assembly. She pulled the gate open for the car to drive in. As the car entered she wondered if it was already a pile of shit before the apocalypse or if the collected grime and gore was most of what she saw. The car drove down a few units and came to a stop as Dani began to slide the gate closed. She nearly shit herself when she heard the raspy moan on the other side of the metal barrier.
She leaned hard against the gate’s end, trying to roll it shut faster but there was no use. The ghoul stumbled into the property. It was a thin man, clothes tattered and stiff and stale. The scent of rot and waste made her gag. She backed off the gate and pried the pistol from her pants as the ghoul turned to her. This was the first ghoul she’d seen up close, within feet, since the day she arrived. She held her pistol up, taking a few steps back to give herself some distance, but all she could see was the face of her neighbor, torn from her memories. She took a deep breath, pulled the trigger, and popped the ghoul in the shoulder. The impact made it stumble slightly, out of sheer force rather than any sense of pain, but it didn’t stop. Dani fired another shot right into the forehead. This time the ghoul fell backward, landing in an awkward crumple. It didn’t get up. Blackened blood and discolored grey matter pooled beneath its shattered skull.
Jimmy and Edgar made their way to the gate. They finished rolling it shut. Gun still in hand, Dani strode over and looped the chain around a couple of times before locking everything down.
The pair stepped away from her, their hands open and raised to show they meant no harm. The red-head, Jimmy, kicked at the ghoul’s tattered hand and looked at Dani.
Thank you for reading the eighth 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…