The ride was hard, even with the adrenaline pulsing through my veins and urging me on. With my brother’s arm around my neck, I could feel it squeezing tighter as I peddled, barely keeping us straight on the cracked and dried path.
“Hold on, Frankie. Hold on,” I choked out, coughing from the pressure of his arm and the dust swirling from long, languishing breeze against the dried lake.
He whined and cried behind me, sometimes muttering softly, “It burns…It burns!”
By the time we got to the houseboat, though, he was quiet, deadly quiet and my heart was pounding as I slung my leg over the bike to get off. His face was bone-white, sweat pouring down his skin and his eyes were wide and dark. He looked bad, real bad, and wordlessly, he held his hand up.
Whatever it was had spread, blackening his skin down to his wrist. His fingers were gnarled and the fingernails were blue and waxy. It looked dead and suddenly I could smell it. Like a smack to the face, it hit me so hard and so fast, my stomach turned before I can feel anything else.
Shaking, and vomiting, I could only smell it, could taste it in my mouth, that rancid, moist mixture of death and putrification. As much as I tried to breathe clean, fresh air, it wouldn’t dissipate. I got lungful after lungful of that sickening aroma. And it burned deep into me even after I had expelled everything and kept heaving.
After lurching back from him, my brother fell from the bike, landing on the ground. Limp like a moldy dishrag, he didn’t move.
“Fra-! Frank-!” I struggled to speak to him, to get close.
I threw the bike off of him and held my shirt to my mouth and nose, shaking him. “Frankie!”
“What the hell is going on?” I heard my mother say and I glanced to her, horrified.
“Jelly-!” I tried, feeling that seep of decay linger in my throat and sinuses, urging me to vomit again. “He’s sick! His hand!”
In an instant, she was at his side, pushing me away and looking him over. “What? Aiden, I don’t see anything. What’s wrong?”
I could only point to his hand, as it swelled in its purtification, creeping up his forearm. The fingers now looked dried and decimated like the clutched claw of a bird.
“What, Aiden? Where?!” She cried out, looking past his arm, past his hand, turning him over and over.
“His hand…” I whispered in disbelief as she held that arm, that disgusting and grotesque husk, and was unaffected. Even as she held it, I watched as some skin sloughed off in her hand, leaving oozing trails silver pus between her fingers.
“Damn it, Aiden!” She yelled, “Where?”
But she couldn’t see it, I realized, she couldn’t see what I could see. Couldn’t even smell it. Even as she was holding it, even as it was breaking apart in her hands, she just couldn’t see it.
Nightmarish Nature: Komodo Dragons
This time on Nightmarish Nature, we are considering Komodo Dragons. These awesome lizards are the largest in the world and are native to Indonesia. The lizards don’t get to be full-sized without feasting on a lot of meat and are known to prey on animals notably larger than themselves, even including deer and water buffalo. But honestly, they pretty much eat anything they can get a hold of, including smaller Komodo Dragons.
Beyond Bad Breath
If you’ve ever wondered just how far really bad oral hygiene can take you, then look no further. Although the Komodo lacks the bite strength to employ strangulation as an attack strategy, like crocodiles do, it is a dangerous and formidable hunter. Long assumed to be the result of bacterial infection, Komodo bites are outright deadly, and this is in part due to their thick viscous saliva. It’s all about the spit, ’bout the spit, that trouble. Eat your hearts out, Rottweilers, you ain’t got nothing on this.
And Komodo Dragons rend their victims’ flesh with serrated teeth and saw into the muscle, adding to the wounds’ ability to fester. Because of course they do. If you want to see some horrifying pictures of how this plays out, you can read about it in this NIH National Library of Medicine account of a zookeeper attack and recovery, complete with full color images not for the feint of heart. Just wow, what a meaty mess…
Bacteria Versus Venom
It has more recently been shown that Komodos, like other Monitor lizards, actually do possess venomous saliva, and that this can inhibit clotting and cause blood loss, paralysis, and extreme pain, symptoms previously believed to result from bacterial infection. It’s possible that their bite contains some of both, and in reality the why doesn’t matter so much as the ewww factor.
So regardless of whether there is venom or bacteria at play, a Komodo Dragon’s bite is nasty nasty. Like you don’t want any part of those so-called love nips, even more so than with sharks. (Side tidbit: male sharks have a propensity for biting during mating, so female sharks’ hides are thicker to withstand this sort of engagement. In fairness, sharks use their teeth to explore the world around them, so this comes as no surprise really.)
If you enjoyed this bite of Nightmarish Nature, please check out past segments:
Nightmarish Nature: Reindeer Give Pause
So reindeer aren’t generally thought of as all that scary, unless you have elafiphobia. But since it is the holiday season and they are among the most celebrated animals this time of year, here are some fun facts about reindeer and their deer kin that are weird and even a bit creepy.
Female reindeer also have antlers and continue to grow them during Christmastime, whereas the males shed theirs in November. So the antlered reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh are girls.
Some reindeer make a clicking sound as they walk so they can stay together as they travel through adverse weather. Better than yelling “Marco” (or “Polo” in response) around every bend…
Deer have very good night vision and reindeer can even see ultraviolet light, which helps them to spot predators and find food in the arctic. Speaking of food, deer have been known to gnaw on bones or flesh (including that of humans) and even eat small animals like birds and mice.
Some deer species, like Musk Deer, grow fang-like tusks instead of antlers, making them appear vampirish. They use their tusks like other deer use their antlers, with males fighting one another during breeding season. Tusks also come in handy when foraging for food and fending off predators. Plus they really up the deer’s Goth presence…
And if you’re into teeth, upper canines among whitetail deer are rare and have been highly prized. They’ve even been incorporated into prehistoric necklaces and royal jewelry, ‘cause teeth used as decorative accents are always a bit macabre.
Previously on Nightmarish Nature
So there are some fun, somewhat creepy facts about deer. If you enjoyed this bite of Nightmarish Nature, please check out past segments:
Oh, and in the spirit of the holidays, here’s the reindeer’s top pick for a Christmas song, Must Be Santa as sung by Bob Dylan…
Nightmarish Nature: Terrifying Tardigrades
OK so I lied. The dust hadn’t fully settled in Cozmic Debris, the space opry I’d written over the course of this month (you can catch up here with Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). In fact, it’s blown over into Nightmarish Nature for one last final huzzah…
The Last Chapter of Cozmic Debris
Kara-2-6000 had just signed on with the Voyager probe and was eagerly engaged in her first mission, en route to Mars with more components for the terraforming effort. It seemed like a pretty simple gig, cleaning up the space dust that accumulates on the vessel after landing on the red planet. She had been trained to keep her eye on her work and pay attention to details, that the dirt tended to collect in unusual ways in strange places, and that it was critical she contain and seal all of it to keep the spacecraft in proper working order. She entrusted the computer to keep the vessel on track, as it was preoccupied with doing and never engaged otherwise. No matter. She’d never been to space before and the newness of it had her rapt attention. What stories she would have to tell once she paid off her student loans and got her human body back, for surely Mars must be an exciting place…
And now for Nightmarish Nature…
So, this time on Nightmarish Nature we’re visiting Terrifying Tardigrades… Wait, seriously who comes up with this stuff anyway? Tardigrades are actually kinda cute, at least in the nerd fandom sense, and are remarkable in their ability to survive and withstand crazy adverse conditions. For all that the AI art generator doesn’t seem to have much of a clue what their anatomy is like, they really don’t do anything that scary, unless you’re a yummy little single celled critter that lives in moss in which case pretty much everything has it out for you… Oh, I see that the Cozmic Debris space opry usurped this segment. May as well run with it then.
So what’s so terrifying about tardigrades anyway?
So I don’t actually have much to say about tardigrades except that they started this whole crazy journey here on Haunted MTL. A Facebook friend posted a link to the Ze Frank True Facts video on them (linked here if the below video doesn’t load), and I was instantly hooked. It’s a great series and is part of the inspiration behind Nightmarish Nature here on HauntedMTL. So if you like learning about all kind of crazy animal facts and nature weirdness, feel free to check it out. I will mention, the show contains adult themes and is designed for (im)mature audiences, so keep that in mind as you foray into the freaky side of nature, literally.
To more of my Haunted MTL series on Nightmarish Nature about things that are a bit more terrifying, please feel free to revisit previous segments here: