‘Fuck you.’ Michelle left the break room and wandered towards the perfume stand. It was Calvin Klein today. Yesterday, it was some sort of celebrity fragrance. Lady Gaga or something. It was called ‘Stardust’ and was inspired by a fruit blossom, but Michelle thought it smelled like soured cat shit.One in a Million
Michelle put her jeans on. They were black but not goth. Work clothes. The white button-up top, the one without the smear on the sleeve from a misplaced foundation powder, gave little hassle when slipped over her skin. She didn’t quite like the shirt, but it hugged her in the right spots, and that went a long way to getting customers. Shoes and socks soon followed suit. Michelle grabbed her keys off an old cardboard box that doubled as a mail holder and end table. Without so much as a glance back at her forgotten bag lunch, Michelle turned her key in the door and made her way to the early morning city below.
Her walk to the subway wasn’t without notice.
‘Dollar…got a dollar? I’m trying to get back to…’ the kid said. His clothes saw better days but were none worse than what Michelle was wearing.
‘No thank you.’ Michelle said walking through the teen.
The teen turned his pockmarked face towards Michelle. He ran one hand through his matted brown hair. The other one picked nervously at a spot on his face. ‘Dollar….got a dollar?’ he asked to nobody.
‘Fucking whore!’ screamed the next transient. Michelle couldn’t guess which was worse, the smell from the man’s shit-soaked pants or that he called her a fucking whore each and every time she went to work.
It became a ritual for her. The pock-marked one asking for a dollar to get back to a home that only existed in his broken mind and the smelly one yelling at her from shit-stained pants. The words ran off her; she had far too much practice with her dad to let a nameless freak bother her.
But still, no matter how inoculated she was to the taunt, she had her pride. One day, yes, one day, she would fire back. Maybe throw a bunch of change at him and watch him scower on the ground like a cockroach after the shit she wouldn’t even leave a bad barista. She would laugh then. Laugh at the misfit in his torn greasy coat that matched his grey and dreadlocked hair. A bird’s nest. That’s what his hair reminded Michelle of. A bird’s nest filled with filth and shit. The warble that came out of the man’s mouth, just a call of a deteriorating blue jay.
No. A blue jay was far too good of a creature for that animal. A pigeon. Yes, a diseased shit-eating pigeon. Vile and hate-filled.
The thoughts took her past the subway entrance where she mindlessly waved her pass across the reader. They travelled with her to her seat, one next to a child riding with his mother. The kid was in some sort of school outfit. Small jacket and tie. She hoped it was a school outfit. Her mother used to dress her that way for school. She, too, wanted a boy.
Her stop. She got off her seat and watched it fold back down under the weight of a fat man. He was wearing a suit too, but not a schoolboy one. This one said he had money. Money that he probably shovelled into his mouth or up his nose. Michelle knew types like that.
Two lines, one security checkpoint, one scanner, and a small pat-down later, she made her way to the Los Angeles Airport’s duty-free zone. Macy’s. That’s what the sign said. Fucking Macy’s. Michelle let a small sigh out as she pulled the door open. She made her way to the employee break room to deposit her jacket and grab a swift cup of instant coffee.
‘Forgot again, didn’t you?’ Mark said.
‘I didn’t even pack a lunch last night.’ Michelle lied. She packed a lunch. She packed four of them.
‘Bowie died.’ Michelle said.
‘Oh, sorry to hear.’ Mark gave the response a bit robotic, much like one would say God Bless you! when a sneezer came ‘round.
Michelle didn’t respond. She threw her instant cup into the trash and looked at her lipstick in the reflection of the fridge.
‘He was a singer, right?’ Mark said.
‘Mark?’ Michelle asked.
‘Fuck you.’ Michelle left the break room and wandered towards the perfume stand. It was Calvin Klein today. Yesterday, it was some sort of celebrity fragrance. Lady Gaga or something. It was called ‘Stardust’ and was inspired by a fruit blossom, but Michelle thought it smelled like soured cat shit.
‘New CK4A! I can’t believe we get this before the other stores!’ It was a high-pitched voice, like a child who just couldn’t get through puberty. It was the voice of Michelle’s counterpart, Mary.
Mary had a lot going for her. She had looks, a new boyfriend (he’s going to be the next Leo, you’ll see!), a bit of brain, and enough family money to keep her not worried about her post-college career choice (this week it was Marine Biologist for the California Aquarium). She was utterly religious—no sex before marriage (through vaginal means at least). She also took the time to remind Michelle of all this every single day.
‘CK4A?’ Michelle asked.
‘Like you don’t know! It’s the new gender-fluid scent from Calvin Klein! I am so jealous that you get to bring this to our customers! Salesgirl of the week, that’s going to be you! It’s automatic! Automatic unless that cold of yours stops you. You sound a bit plugged up, are you okay, hun?’
Michelle took the display sprayer from Mary and put it behind the counter. ‘I’m fine. Allergies. Yeah…automatic.’
Mary took Michelle by the arm and pulled her close. ‘You know, I could fix you up with Jason’s friend. I mean, he isn’t going to be as big as Jason is and he has this droopy eye thing going on, but beggars can’t be choosers…’
‘Fuck you.’ Michelle broke free of Mary’s grasp and started to head back behind the counter.
Mary stood there for a beat—just a beat—the rage on her face melted her sainthood. ‘F me? F me? I don’t think so! Here I was trying to reach out to my lessers like Jesus said to and this is what I get? I know you are just upset because Jason used to date you. I won him fair and square!’
‘You let him fuck your ass at the Christmas party, you whore! That’s how you won him!’
‘How dare you! That’s Jesus’s birthday! I’d never…and to think I was going to pray for you! Oh, and Little Miss Sunshine, your lipstick is smeared. Do you even know how to blot?’ Mary left Michelle’s workstation and beelined to her cosmetics department.
Michelle took a look in her beauty mirror. ‘Fuck, she’s right.’ Michelle took a tissue from behind the counter and tried to blot, but the lipstick merely smeared more. In anger, she took it all off. By the end, it looked like she drank Kool-Aid. In the distance, she could hear Mary’s high-pitched impression, ‘Hey, Kool-Aid Man!’ A distinct ‘Oh yeah!’ mocking could be heard from Mark as he walked by Michelle on his way to the Men’s shoe department.
Michelle tried to ignore them. She ignored Jenson in the 3rd grade for calling her Pigchelle, and she can ignore her co-workers. Besides, there were only eight more hours of work left. She had the newest and hottest fragrance from Calvin Klein—a unisex one at that. Maybe she will really make that salesgirl of the week prize that Mary teased and often won.
Her first customer, a woman in her early 50s, semi bald and wearing a wig a bit too Little Richard for her, came up through the store. Michelle sprayed her. ‘My lord! You about maced me! You little cracker! Where is your manager?’ The woman stormed off. Her hair bobbing behind her.
The rest of Michelle’s customers were not as friendly as the first one. She had fake sales, ‘That smells great! What is it?’ ‘CK4A.’ ‘Oh Em Gee! I must have it! How much?’ ‘Just 48$ a bottle if you…’ ‘That was sarcasm! I wouldn’t wear this it if were free!’ to ones that barely made sense, ‘CK4A? Does it come in that eau stuff?’ ‘Oh, you want the toilet water…’ ‘Toilet water? I knew you were just a dog!’ to the mean spirited ‘CK4A?’ ‘You suck cock for ass?’ to the vicious ‘Get that shit out of my face!’ to the litigious ‘My eyes! She sprayed it in my eyes! I’m going to sue!’ to the superstitious ‘Now spray it three times on my left arm.’ ‘Okay, that’s both arms and your chest. Are you sure you don’t want to buy it?’ ‘No, baby, I’m too old for perfume.’ to the cheapskates, ‘This is exactly what I want! Give me another spritz!’ ‘So, you want one? It’s only…’ ‘Oh, Lordie, no! But I’ll see you tomorrow!’ to the really weird conspiracy theorists, ‘What was that?’ ‘CK4A, do you like it?’ ‘Would you like someone spraying you with a chemical enhanced tracking agent! Now Obama knows exactly where I live!’ to the vocal threaters ‘Bitch, if you spray that at me one more time, I will bust your face! Your face, bitch!’.
Lunchtime. A small, yet over-priced, snack at McDonald’s. The apostrophe was graffiti’d, but it didn’t make sense to Michelle. Wrapper away. Straw slurped. Trash in bin. Back to work.
‘Try our new…’ ‘Piss off!’ ‘How about you, sir?’ ‘I’m a guy! Do I look like some sort of queer to you?’ ‘No, of course not. You dress like shit.’ ‘What was that?’ ‘Nothing.’ ‘You wait until I talk to your manager!’. Those were the highlights of the 2nd part of her shift. The lows were pretty low.
One family, the type to take not just one little kid, but two screaming children to a long plane ride, actually let the kids behind the counter. ‘You can’t be here. Go back to your parents.’ ‘Mom! She hit me!’ ‘I did no such thing!’ Michelle ended up giving away an entire stockpile of CK samplers to shut the mother up. The topper, though? Those same white trash kids coming back and knocking all the bottles off the counter displays. The ones they could reach, at least.
‘That’s coming out of your paycheck.’ Samantha, her hipster manager, told her whilst looking over her spectacles at Michelle. Michelle started to protest, but she knew there wasn’t any use. There never was. When Jason first dumped her, she protested too, ‘But you can’t leave me! We just got an apartment together!’ ‘Hey, I’m not the bad guy here. I’m sure you’ll find somewhere else to live.’ ‘But you said you loved me!’ ‘That’s when you were pregnant. Thank god for small favors, right?’ ‘Miscarriage. It’s called a miscarriage.’
‘Michelle? Michelle? Earth to Michelle!’ Samantha’s voice tried to snap Michelle back to reality. ‘At least you’ll have a large bonus with all those bottles you sold. Going by the sample packs that moved out today, you must have sold a…’
‘What was that?’ Samantha said, realizing that Michelle had been talking for some time, just not loud enough to be heard.
‘Given away, not sold.’
‘You gave away all those sample cases? Those were for customers. You know, the ones who pay your wage….’
‘But nothing! Wait, are you sick? You sound plugged up! Clean this up and collect your paycheck.’
‘Our checks are in today?’
‘It’s an expression! It means you’re fired. Ugh. Don’t start blubbering now! In fact, don’t clean this up. You’ll just mess it up even more. Just go home!’
The sniggers from Mary were audible. The wave that Mark gave, one of ‘good-bye’ wasn’t, but Michelle could feel the heat rise to her face all the same. Michelle went to the break room to collect her coat and left towards home. Her eyes were wet, blue sapphires, and stung.
‘Dollar…got a dollar?’ the kid said as Michelle kept walking with her eyes down.
‘Don’t waste your time! That bitch is too stuck up!’ the smelly one said. ‘Come on, baby! I know you want it! It’s cold out here, come warm me up! See! Nothing. Fucking whore!’
She entered her apartment door as the last wave of taunts fell in the wind. The wind was especially fierce tonight. She shivered and shut the door. Her coat was hung near the lunch that she failed to take. Michelle walked into her bathroom and looked at her face, took a tissue and blew. Chunks came out. With a splash of bottled water, she refreshed herself.
Her apartment was barren. She had a suitcase, still open, resting alongside her sofa. It was filled with food, clothes, some water, and a few photographs; everything was faded and tattered. Michelle looked up at the night sky and saw the glow of a heathen sun refusing to set.
The silence became overwhelming, and the TV cut the cold dead fingers of memory away. ‘All 325 people are feared dead.’ ‘Witnesses said the plane just dropped out of the air.’ ‘That’s the second plane catastrophe we’ve seen in the last three hours, Bob. The first being Delta Flight 2405 flying into the…’ ‘This just in, a plane had to perform an emergency landing on the way from LAX to New York…’ ‘Another plane from Los Angeles? Brenda?’ ‘That’s the early report, Bob. First responders are saying that the pilot touched down in Las Vegas after being forced down by, from what we understand, a family of violent…’ ‘Hold that thought, Brenda. We are going live to a press conference at Los Angeles airport. Authorities have shut down the airport amid a violent outbreak at Macy’s department stores. We don’t know if these incidents are linked or not, but we will keep you update. An eyewitness has reported seeing the CDC quarantine off the perfume counter. One of the store employees called in a suspicious package that was supposed to be a new fragrance but turned out to be…’
Michelle turned the TV down and listened to the silence of the night. She picked up her cell phone and texted, ‘It’s done.’ She dropped her phone and leaned out her window. Silence. Then sirens. Screams. Michelle smiled.
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.