This is the first installment in a Valentine’s Day series of shorts by Jennifer Weigel in which unsuspecting lovers succumb to deadly gases.
Shelby sat curled up in Braydon’s arms. Moments before they had been studying for their Psych 101 midterm together and he was lightly stroking her hair. They’d become closer over the course of the class, never officially dating but just growing more and more comfortable together than apart like a long-married couple.
They stared longingly into one another’s eyes and bent towards one another to kiss for the first time. It was a gentle kiss, coaxing and full of hope, dreaming of future possibilities and of building a life. They continued to gaze into one another’s eyes as they pressed their lips together once more in a longer display.
The textbook they had been reading fell from Shelby’s lap as they began to catch wind of something… untoward…
“What’s that smell?” Shelby asked, her nose curling.
Braydon took a long sniff, inhaling deeply, before letting out a huge sigh. “I dunno,” he answered. “It’s kind of like stale corn chips and cheap lilac perfume.”
The aroma grew stronger. The air seemed thick with it, becoming heavier with every breath. It began to resemble unkempt feet, like bad body odor mixed with sweat, wet shoes, rapidly propagating bacteria, and perfume. Surely this was beginning to cross over into Zappa stinkfoot territory.
“It’s horrible,” Shelby exclaimed. “I can barely breathe.”
“I know,” Braydon replied. He wriggled free of their embrace and raised an arm to press his nose into his armpit. Nope. He discreetly sniffed at Shelby’s hair. Not that either.
“What do you suppose it is?” Braydon asked.
“No idea,” Shelby replied, stretching forward quivering. “Whatever it is it’s awful.”
The couple arose. Shelby sat on the sofa massaging the bridge of her nose and burying her face in her sleeve trying to catch a whiff of what remained of her tropical sunset body spray. Braydon stood on shaky knees and slowly traversed the room, sniffing the air as he wove to and fro across the floor of his flat.
The noxious odor permeated everything. There was no escaping it. It was making both of them woozy. Braydon shuffled back to the sofa and flopped beside Shelby. He held her tight to him. Teary-eyed, she eagerly pressed her face into his shirt.
As the foul odor became even stronger, the rest of the apartment seemed to dim around them. The world grew hazier and hazier, as if they were trapped in some sort of all-encompassing invisible insect fogger. Shelby sobbed, trembling as Braydon drew her closer to protect her from the unseen terror.
The police found them exactly as they had lain on the sofa, wrapped tight in one another’s arms. They appeared to have suffocated together. There was no sign of foul play, nothing amiss, no lingering fumes to offer any indication of what had happened, just two college co-eds tangled together.
You can find more of Jennifer Weigel’s writing by visiting her website here at Jennifer Weigel Words.
Some Bewitching Line Drawing by Jennifer Weigel
This month we are going to explore more fun marker art from Jennifer Weigel, starting with black and white line drawing. Jennifer is getting ready for her big Life Is Brilliant solo show in March and has snuck in a few spookier themes, so she wanted to share them with you here.
The magic is strong in this Witch Way line drawing with its fun witchy head-topper, complete with striped hat band and star dangle. No self-respecting wizard’s ensemble would be complete without it.
And now the adorable Kitty Witch will don the Witch Way hat and cast a spell of cuteness on you. You gotta wonder just how the hat stays on but best not to question these things. We all know it’s magic…
The devil is in the details in this Not Today Satan line drawing, and boy is he pissed!
This She Devil is just plain goofy. Maybe she’s coyly playing innocent; it’s not a look most devils can pull off, seeing as how innocence really isn’t their schtick…
This little spider came down to your tuffet to remind you to Hang in There. She is very well-intentioned and is only looking out for you. I guess maybe she’s not so little though, she is an Argiope after all…
The Twelve Nightmares of the Holidays: Home for Christmas by J.M. Brannyk
In 2020, Haunted MTL brought you the 13 Days of Krampus. Now we offer another exclusive series of holiday horror stories: The Twelve Nightmares of the Holidays. It’s day (coughcoughcough) of 12 Nightmares of the Holidays. If you missed it, check out the others so far: here for Jen’s, here for Nicole’s, here for Phil’s, here for T.T.’s, here for Court Court’s, here for Eve’s, and here for Nicole’s.
This is a continuation of Christmas Dinner, which can be found here. It can be stand alone, though. It’s a year after the events in the first story.
Christmas is about traditions and family. And Dr. Virginia ‘Ginny’ Kostyshyn is making up her own this year – frozen chicken nuggets for dinner every night, crying while playing Roger Whitaker’s ‘Home for Christmas’ on repeat, glasses of Riesling wine while watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, and dodging Dr. Katherine ‘Kate’ Wright’s texts.
Work is harder to dodge Kate, though, since they work in the same lab, in the same office and on the same experiments. And Kate doesn’t like to tiptoe and pussyfoot the way Ginny does.
But thanks to Ginny’s insistent avoidance and quietness, they’ve reverted back to last names. All while Subject 205 a.k.a. Greg, now an off-hand lab assistant, watches the situation darkly.
And he’s not apt to get into other people’s business, far be it from him, a year-old reanimated body. However, he has vague memories of last Christmas with Ginny. Fractured recollections of tinsel, eyes glaring at him, skin sliding off, mashed potatoes, Roger Whitaker…and Ginny crying as she stitched him back up.
He also remembers wiping away a tear and apologizing. For being who he is. For being what he is. For ruining everything like he ruined in his first life. And he recalls her hands being so warm, as warm as her smile, as she told him that they had nothing to apologize for.
And tonight is Christmas Eve, with Dr. Wright putting on her coat, coldly silent, and Dr. Kostyshyn slowly shutting down her laptop and hesitating.
“All right, Greg,” Dr. Wright says, her clipped accent echoing in the white, clean lab. “Have a good night. Dr. Woodruff is on call. He’ll be in tomorrow. Have a holly jolly and all that.”
“Yes,” he grunts and his eyes peer over to Dr. Kostyshyn, the offset orbs wide and inquiring. He earns a stern look for it, so he concedes, “You, too.”
Dr. Kostyshyn peeks up, but Dr. Wright just nods, “Dr. Kostyshyn.”
Ginny Kostyshyn’s face falls and she nods in return. “Yes, good night. Have a happy-”
But Dr. Wright is already walking out the door. Ginny can feel her chest clench, another new tradition. She gathers her coat and scarf listlessly. “I’ll come by tomorrow, Greg, don’t worry.”
“I don’t worry,” he says, feeling some of that heartache. He doesn’t worry, though, when he has a plan.
“Ah, good. Then…I guess have a good night.”
Ginny checks her phone but no texts to dodge tonight. Not from Kate and not from her family. One text from Bath and Bodyworks telling her about a special and wishing her a happy holiday season.
At least someone cares.
She sniffles as she flops into her couch and searches around for a half empty bottle she left last night. This isn’t like her. She knows that, so why can’t Kate know that?
The last argument they had, Kate told her to grow up and stop pining over a love that wasn’t reciprocated. Just like that. Ginny’s family didn’t love her.
Yes, maybe it’s true. Maybe they haven’t called her since last Christmas. Maybe they hated her. Maybe they’ve blocked her on social media. Maybe they never would have her come back. Maybe she’d never have her mother’s lasagna again.
Stupid things like that seem so much more significant.
Stupid, stupid traditions she could no longer have, but still remember.
And after the bottle is empty, the tradition of crying herself to sleep begins again, as it did the night before, and the night before that.
Kate is angry and getting piss drunk, looking at her phone again. It’s useless, she knows, but still.
She sighs and puts it back into her pocket. Along with other lonesome losers, she’s in a dive bar, watching some American football highlights from a game twenty years ago. Her parents are already asleep in Birmingham, six hours ahead of her.
She tries to watch the television, but it’s just flashing images. It’s just lights and muted sounds. It’s not real, doesn’t feel real. Merry Christmas.
She’s been away from her family for ten years now and she was half-hoping, now that Ginny’s family was bust, that maybe, just maybe, they might have gone to her hometown. It’s been five years since she’s gone back and even though she calls and Skypes, it’s about as real as the television. Just flashing images. It’s not the smell of her mother, the warmth of her father, and the sassy gleam in her granny’s eye. It’s all different.
But when she vaguely brought up the holidays, Ginny shut down.
Ginny shut down, but worst of all, shut her out.
She taps the counter for another and the bartender nods. “‘Kay, but then you’re cut off.”
“Got it.” She had a long, quiet few days ahead of her. It wasn’t so much she was angry at Ginny, it was just hard to have someone keep grieving and not know what to do. Kate had never been the shoulder to cry on. She had put all of her efforts into school, career, study, science, and technology. She wanted to be one of the best.
But being one of the best made her one of the lonliest and she thought those days were over when Ginny somehow wormed her way into Kate’s life and heart.
She thinks about the gift in her desk, sitting there for the next few days. For an eternity, perhaps, unopened.
How soft and stupid.
She finishes her drink and cashes out.
One empty bottle later in Ginny’s home and one cold, drunken walk later to Kate’s home, and suddenly they both get a call. A call from the lab. It rings to both of them, at opposite ends of the city. It wakes Ginny up and startles Kate into falling off the sidewalk.
“H-hello?” Ginny stutters into the phone, frizzled hair in her mouth.
Kate is still picking herself back up and then joins. “What?”
“Oh, hello,” Greg says, monotone, as usual. “You both may want to come back to the lab.”
Sighing, Kate replies, “Dr. Woodruff is-”
“He’s dead,” Greg states, looking down at the man split in two. Shame, really. Woodruff wasn’t too bad. Just opened his mouth when he ate and clipped his toenails in the lab. “Remember the man-pig hybrid Dr. Chuz is working on?”
“Yes,” they say in unison but with alternating inflections.
“Oh God,” Ginny exclaims.
“What happened?” Kate asks, looking for a cab or something to get her to the lab. It’s hard with everything spinning.
“It escaped…somehow,” Greg quietly explains. “I think it’s a bit sick, though. Reanimated meat probably didn’t do it any good.”
“Greg?! Are you okay?” Ginny asks and gets up, tangling in her coat and scarf.
He looks down, legs half-eaten and chartreuse blood pooling around him. “Hmm, I’m still alive. The legs need work, though.”
“We’re on our way,” Kate tells him, and still looks around at an empty street, “…somehow. I can’t drive. Ginny, can you pick me up?”
“Uh…” She looks at the empty bottle on the ground. “Unfortunately…I probably shouldn’t drive.”
They both sigh.
“Let’s get cabs and meet there. Greg, is it still in the building?”
“Oh yes,” he states, as the mig- er pan, whatever it is, is heaving in the corner, vomiting up bits of the doctor and vile parts of himself. Greg eyes the bits and bobs in morbid fascination. “I don’t think he’s going anywhere for a while. I think I didn’t agree with him.”
“They keep a shotgun upstairs, so we’ll come down with that.”
“A shotgun, Kate?! While we’re- uh…”
“I’m not- Oh, no, I’m just tipsy.”
“And I’m losing blood,” Greg calming brings them back on point.
“Right. Since you’re ‘just tipsy’ and American, you can call, well, shotgun.”
“Oh, Kate,” Ginny admonishes as she flings her shoes on. “Don’t worry, Greg. We’re on our way.”
And just like that, his plan is in action.
When they both make their way to the underground lab, Ginny faring better than Kate’s weaving and swaying. However, they find a horrific mess. Just…a mess. Everything is turned upside-down. Blood on the walls, on the floor, on the ceiling and doors.
Calmly, in the mess, Greg is leaning against a desk, playing a word game on his phone. His legs are torn asunder and remain only in strings of cartilage, bone, and muscles. It reminds Ginny of oozing and meaty string cheese. Looking up, he nods. “Merry Christmas.”
“Jesus H!” Kate breathes out.
“Where is it?” Ginny says, shotgun shaking in her hands, almost the size of her.
“I think it’s dead,” he tells them and points to a hidden corner. “I heard gagging and struggling…Serves it right.”
Ginny goes to peek while Kate remains. “Aren’t you a bit calm?”
They share a glance to size up each other as Kate sways and refuses to acknowledge it as much as Greg refuses to acknowledge his string cheese legs. There’s a pause before he says, “Why wouldn’t I be? I’ve done nothing wrong.”
After her investigation, Ginny breathes in relief. “It’s dead! I think it died by aspiration.”
“Hallelujah,” Kate sarcastically replies, still glaring at Greg, who is almost at the next level in his game.
“Well,” Ginny sighs, pulling off her coat. “I guess we, uh…”
She gestures to the bits of Dr. Woodruff, the larger pieces of him, the vomit, the lab, the everything. “Greg is first, I suppose.”
“I guess, the wanker,” Kate mumbles, slipping off her own coat, then having to find the coat rack in the calamity. “You don’t deserve us, 205.”
He shrugs as he contently plays on his phone, continuing to ooze out, without real concern now that the scientists are here.
Ginny puts 205 up into the examination bed and sedates him while Kate goes into her desk to get some supplies. That’s when she finds her present to Ginny with a frown. It seems as good a time as any.
Before they need to scrub up and put on surgical gowns, she tosses it to Ginny. “Merry Christmas. It’s after midnight.”
“Oh, sorry. Your present is at my apart-”
“Just open it.”
It’s small. Very small. Box-shaped. And Ginny is nervous and afraid. It could be something that she’s not ready for. What if it’s a tone-deaf, ‘let me be your family since you don’t have one’? What could she even say if it’s a ring? It just feels cruel.
With shaking hands, she opens it slowly, relieved to find a key instead. A key? To where? Kate wouldn’t be so cheesy as to say to her heart. It’s not a car key, thank goodness.
“It’s to a cabinet,” Kate explains, seeing the confusion. “Remember when we were here the first year and there was that cabinet and you lost the key?”
Blinking, she half-recalls. Honestly, she just remembers being scolded for it and the panic afterwards.
“And you kept looking for it and I got annoyed and just took a crowbar and sledgehammer to it. Remember?”
Ginny laughs. “Oh, yeah. I thought you were crazy.”
“You called me impatient at the time.” Swaying, but sobering up, Kate sighs and walks over to Ginny. Sees the little key in her green-bloodied hands, shining like the star on top of a Christmas tree. “You said it’d turn up eventually.”
“God, that was years ago, though.”
Kate’s hands curve around Ginny’s carefully. “I know that you’re upset with your family. It’s not what you wanted or expected. They’re being shits about it and it hurts to be on the outside.
“I found the key recently and I just wanted to give it back and remind you that sometimes it takes time. You were right. Sometimes you have to be patient. Maybe with them. Maybe with yourself…Maybe sometimes even with me. But you’re going to get back what you lose. Not always in the moment you want it, but you’ll find it. You just have to be patient and remember what you have now.”
Ginny purses her lips so she doesn’t cry like a sop, but leans forward to touch her forehead to the chin there. With a long breath, she replies, “Thank you.”
“Of course. And maybe if you’re not too busy…you can come back with me and meet the Wrights. My mum collects ugly porcelain swans, my dad has the worst jokes, their dog is full of farts, but gran isn’t so bad. And I’m not saying that as-…I want you to meet them. They’re much more normal and better people than I’ll ever be.”
A stray tear falls as Ginny sniffs and chuckles. “You’re not so bad.”
“I’m about to sew up a reanimated corpse that was half-eaten by a pig-headed abomination…I’m not great. But…I’ve got you here, so it’s not awful.” She leans down to punctuate her gift with a kiss.
Ginny smiles and accepts the offered kiss warmly, realizing how much she’s missed it. “Mm, and when we’re done, we get to clean up the body of the aforementioned abomination and get to break the news to Dr. Chuz.”
“That’s okay. I’ll do it. I don’t mind ruining his Christmas; he misspells my name constantly.” Kate smirks and kisses Ginny’s cheek.
“Merry Christmas, Dr. Wright,” Ginny quietly says, hugging tight onto her girlfriend.
“Merry Christmas, Dr. Kostyshyn,” Kates replies and holds her back, just as tightly.
The Twelve Nightmares of Christmas Holidays: Midnight
It’s midnight, officially Christmas Day, and Aly is sitting outside on the cold pavement outside her house. Thick snowflakes fall on her hair as she stares at the Christmas lights on the roof, a dance of reds and greens and blues and golds. Her robe is damp from the wet snow, her once fuzzy purple slippers are now crispy and hard to the touch after years of use. Her dad’s BB-gun, which he let her practice sometimes and did a terrible job hiding in the garage, lay right beside her.
She has been waiting all night for her friends to come home. Her babysitter, who fell asleep hours ago, has no idea that she’s outside right now. Her twin brother’s snores rippled throughout the house as she snuck out. His room, on the second floor, has a window that faces the street. It’s the window she’s staring at right now. Her parents are out, won’t be back until late. If Aly’s lucky, her friends will come before her parents come home. She’s been waiting for hours now, for her friends to crawl across the roof and lift up her brother’s window, pop open the screen, sneak inside and slither across his room, through the wooden floors in the hallway, down the stairs and into the stockings hung above the fireplace. The babysitter is so glued to her phone in another room in the house, and sometimes she sleeps when she has to stay late, so she wouldn’t notice Aly’s friends, who will sneak in quietly and think no one knows they’re there. But Aly knows.
For years, things died in her house on Christmas day. It was small at first, just a houseplant or two. But then two Christmases ago, her friends got greedy. The family woke up to a house full of dead plants, to all five fish floating at the top of the fish tank, the latter of which ruined Aly’s entire winter break because she felt so terribly sorry for them. Last year, the family got a cat over the summer. Christmas morning, Peanut was nowhere to be found. Aly still doesn’t know what happened to him; thinking about it too much scares her.
But her friends made a mistake last year. Before realizing the cat was missing, Aly and her brother were filled with nothing but joy on Christmas morning. She was even feeling especially generous and ran into her brother’s room to get a toy for him when she saw her friends escape. They slammed the window shut, the screen lay outside on the roof. She watched them slither, pink goo trailing behind them. When she told her mom about the broken screen and the friends she saw, her mom ignored the bit about her new friends and popped the screen back in, thinking Aly’s brother must’ve been messing around with it again. Aly tried to tell her brother about the friends, but he wasn’t interested. She tried to tell her dad the friends stole Peanut, but he insisted the feline must’ve ran away. Aly was always making up stories, and they were all tired of pretending to believe them.
But this year was different. Aly didn’t know what these friends were going to kill next and she refused to find out. She didn’t care how much snow was falling, how cold it was outside, how freezing her ears and toes had become. She’ll wait and wait as long as she could. She was ready.
Check out more of our holiday stories here at HauntedMTL and have a very happy and haunted holiday season!
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