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Back in its heyday in the 80’s and 90’s, the mall was bustling with all kinds of activity, mostly teens hanging out, browsy shoppers with or without kids in tow, Red Hat ladies and similar coffee clutches, and working professionals meeting for casual hookups or lunch dates.  Packed shoulder to shoulder at the holiday rush, the mall itself let out a long audible sigh of relief once the Christmas returns finally fizzled out, the temporary stores closed, and the seasonal staff dispersed.

But now the mall was a dismal place.  It had fallen into a state of disrepair and featured more advertisements to rent or lease space than actual stores.  More than the bathrooms smelled like piss and the once well-maintained tile floors looked as if recently unearthed in a minor archeological excavation.  The food court was closed and the remaining benches and tables had been mostly removed “to discourage transients”.  The casual hookups were of a different, seedier sort, and the bathrooms were not places where many wished to linger long.  The few people who worked there seemed drawn to the solitude of it all and stood back and watched any intruders into their territory with hollow vacant stares.  Some shoppers still came, but they were fewer and further between.

Yet the mall still retained some vestiges of its former self.  There was still a minor holiday rush, especially where games and calendars were sold, though even that was dying out as more and more of it went virtual and was just a tap away on a “Smart” device of some sort or another.  There were kiosks vending mobile phones and body sprays and crystal talismans and those kinds of hair extensions that you wonder if they are made with real human or dog hair from unfortunates who disappeared to be harvested for parts.  And, at the appropriate times, there were still costumed characters for family photos with all of the accustomed holiday décor leading up to the focus of a central often-velvet throne upon which a bored and exhausted adult would beckon children to and from their lap, surrounded by assistants helping to hoist the young bottoms into position, threatening their subjects to smile in as eerily cheerful sing-song manner as possible, snapping a photo at the most opportune moment, and cleaning their costumed adult lap of vomit and excrement between visitors when necessary.

This time, the mall was decorated for Easter.

At first glance, it seemed those people who made money during the holidays dressing as Santa for rushed photo shoots in which kids ask for footballs instead of Red Rider pellet guns, and all of their entourage, still needed some means of making a buck.  Or maybe the parents just wanted an excuse to dress their kids up for the season and plop them onto the lap of a total stranger in a crude creepy bunny costume for a timely photo of them screaming at the tops of their lungs and begging to be taken home.  It was tradition after all, and they had turned out OK.  Besides, who doesn’t love a strong reminder that your parents could abandon you to the horrible nightmare terrors of long forgotten folklore that are now only spread through screaming childhood photos?  “You’d better eat your broccoli… or else…”  And yet, the rhythmic return of the costumed characters signified so much more.

When Clara first remembered encountering The Bunny she was two.  She had nightmares about the incident for weeks afterwards and promised to be good, begging her parents to never take her back there again.  It had worked for a while, but then the year came and went and she relaxed her guard, and the season turned once again to chocolate rabbits and jelly beans and starched scratchy Easter dresses.  And so they cycled right back to the mall to return to The Bunny, again and again.  There were even photos of her with The Bunny from before she could remember – a small and limp baby-doll child staring wide eyed in disbelief at the looming hare.

Now she was six, and here they were in the same line for The Bunny, who always smelled a little like shit, vomit and stale beer, and even more so like musty dried lavender, creepily staring at her through those hollow red eyes….  She begged and pleaded with her mother to just leave and said she was sorry for throwing a fit at the toy store the day prior when she didn’t get the Pop Starr Glam doll she wanted.  (She’d even held her breath but to no avail.)  She was dressed in her Easter finery for the year, another crisp looking ensemble with too much purple taffeta and white lace that simply wasn’t practical for romping or sitting or even so much as thinking in.  Her mother had spent more time than it could possibly be worth coiling her hair into spiral curls cascading over a pastel purple big bow headband before they’d left for here, and she had continued to twiddle with one stubborn flyaway lock of hair for most of the time they were in line.

Little did Clara realize that her parents were actually doing her a favor.

It was crucial that they come, and that Clara was dressed for the occasion.  The Pact was several generations long.  It pre-dated the mall when Santa and The Bunny had appeared in the larger big box window stores, like Woolworths back in the day.  And the costumed ensembles had gone someplace else before that, though no one remembers the name of it now.  It all began when Santa started coming annually, with the photo shoots and The List.  Shortly after Santa came The Bunny.  There had to be a balance.  Something needed to offset The List…

Clara’s eyes started to well up with tears as they moved forward in the queue.  Terrified children cried and screamed before her; some even broke loose of their parents’ grips to try to make a break for it only to be thwarted by The Bunny’s assistants, who were dressed as bulbous pastel Easter eggs with chicks popping out of them.  Clara’s mother studied her intently, straightening the folds of Clara’s dress and reaching in her purse for a tissue to wipe Clara’s face clean of the tears and vestiges of dirt, perhaps with just a touch of mom spit to get those stubborn smudges.  There was only one child left between them and The Bunny, a younger boy dressed in a pastel blue suit with a yellow bow tie.  He actually seemed to look forward to seeing The Bunny and eagerly climbed upon its lap like some kind of sellout automaton, grinning from ear to ear for the camera and clutching his chocolate rabbit like a treasure he had won.  He had earned it, that’s for sure: that prize and the aftermath of envisioning The Bunny as you bit off the ears and broke the chocolate into bite-sized bits to devour at your discretion was the only bearable thing about this whole experience.

Clara’s mother discussed photo packages with one of the egg chick attendants and settled on one that included enough wallet size pictures to send to all of the aunts, grandmothers and church ladies, just to be certain.  There was no real need for larger pictures, especially when digital copies were included as part of the package deal.  To ensure that The Pact was fulfilled for the year, photos had to be distributed and affixed to refrigerators far and wide so that all of the family could verify the warding.  Everyone would know that little Clara was once again proven safe from The List, an essential task for the parents of any child that struggled with minding their manners or following the rules, especially those pertaining to acting out in public.  The picture perfect spring garb was an added bonus meant to appease the Great Old Ones who had started this racket before any of them could remember.

The List was a brilliant system…

The Great Old Ones enticed the children with all of the jolly old Santa fantasies so they could catalog and categorize each and every one, and they convinced the children to be willing participants in this process with the lure of gifts and prizes to be won for being good.  The unsuspecting innocents flocked to Santa in droves to make sure they got on The List.  The parents had gone along with it, to bring joy and merriment, to acquire some great holiday photos to send in Christmas cards, and to encourage their children to be on their best behavior.  The threat of The List could sidestep an emotional blowout or even a full-scale falling-down-in-the-street tantrum, especially at the proper time of year.  But as the parents began to understand the more sinister ramifications of the contract, they had been forced to reengage with The Great Old Ones to create a way out, and so The Pact was born and The Bunny began to come.

Clara tried to be brave.  Her lip quavered as she approached The Bunny, determined not to cry this time.  She was a year older, stronger and wiser.  She could get through this.  She solemnly climbed up on the rabbit’s lap and faked a smile for the camera, eyes wide.  She silently ignored the faint odor of old shit and vomit and the strangely ever-present lavender.  But then, the overwhelm came.

It was never as apparent from afar, but from the vantage point of the rabbit’s lap it became more and more obvious that The Bunny was not in fact an adult in a cheap ill-kept crude rabbit suit but was rather simply the suit itself, wrapped around a hollow void in space and time that seemed to scan the very essence of one’s being.  It was filled with darkness, dread and despair, and it studied its subjects intently, absorbing their every breath.  Beyond the permanently superficial grin, huge red bulbous eyes, and the wired catawampus ears that framed the oversized stuffed head lurked something unholy and otherworldly that could not be understood or explained in any rational way.

Its presence was the sort of thing that children and dogs can sense unnervingly and that cats will commune with as they stare blindly at a closet door for hours on end.

Clara tried to be brave and held her pose for the camera, knowing that if she caved in to the fear, she would feed the void that was The Bunny within the rabbit suit, and then this whole thing would take even longer as the assistants glared, coaxed, waved, whistled and tried to force a smile out of her.  With the flash of the camera it was over and Clara was hoisted again to the floor to sweet freedom, a chocolate rabbit talisman of The Bunny, and a long, quiet car ride home.  She was getting better at this with every passing year for all that the realization of it still sent shivers through her skin and rekindled her springtime nightmares.

Her mother smiled and fingered the photos.  Another year had come and gone and her daughter was secure.  Only a couple more years of this and Clara would outgrow The Pact, and this annual nightmare would give way to others.

Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.

Jennifer Weigel is a multi-disciplinary mixed media conceptual artist residing in Kansas USA. Weigel utilizes a wide range of media to convey her ideas, including assemblage, drawing, fibers, installation, jewelry, painting, performance, photography, sculpture, video and writing. You can find more of her work at: https://www.jenniferweigelart.com/ https://www.jenniferweigelprojects.com/ https://jenniferweigelwords.wordpress.com/

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. David Davis

    March 23, 2021 at 2:54 am

    Well, that was certainly a mood.

  2. VoodooPriestess

    March 27, 2021 at 12:13 pm

    I want you to know my first job interview was to be that bunny, so you are not wrong. I had a soul and did not get the job (back then).

    • Jennifer Weigel

      April 4, 2021 at 8:43 am

      That must have been the criteria you failed… The closest I ever got was playing Minnie Mouse for a school pageant…

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Original Creations

Some Bewitching Line Drawing by Jennifer Weigel

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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.

Witch Way line drawing
Witch Way

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.

Kitty Witch line drawing
Kitty Witch

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…

Not Today Satan line drawing
Not Today Satan

The devil is in the details in this Not Today Satan line drawing, and boy is he pissed!

She Devil line drawing
She Devil

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…

Hang in There Spider line drawing
Hang in There Spider

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

Feel free to check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL. Or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.

Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.
Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.

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Lighter than Dark

LTD Tripped Out Motivational Posters

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Tripped out… in case you just couldn’t get enough of Everything Everywhere All at Once and the return of the infinite bagel with EVERYTHING on it…

Tripped Out motivational poster
Tripped Out motivational poster

Artwork description: kaleidoscopic image of pink hairy horror (This is actually a fink fuzzy frond plant not unlike a Cockscomb but with longer thinner flowering feelers rather than the fuller protuberances you see on a full-bodied Cockscomb plant. I have no idea what it was, but it was very odd so I had to snap a photo.)

Image text reads: Mixing Magic Mushrooms & Peyote Just remember: once you open that Pandora’s box, you’re never going to get the pink hairy tarantulas back in it…

Tripped Out seeing eye god sunflower
Tripped Out seeing eye god sunflower

Artwork description: kaleidoscopic sunflower backlit by the sun with text and rainbow eye overlay

Image text reads: Eye See You Eye See All (in circle text so you can start and end reading wherever). In an ideal context this would be printed in the bottom of your tea mug or on a record that can slowly spin.

For more crazy tripped out fun, check out Weird Al’s post on Craig’s List

Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.

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Original Creations

The Elves Reunion, a short story by Jennifer Weigel

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An Elven portal in the woods, emerging from stone and forest floor.
An Elven portal in the woods, emerging from stone and forest floor.

I had heard tale that The Elves dwell in these woods.  Many underestimate The Elves; they have a fondness of heart for Tolkienesque Middle Earth fantasy stories and tales where Elves are the most highly civilized, virtuous and intelligent.  They forget that those are just myths, save for The Elves being cunning.  Remember that the Pied Piper was an Elf, and the children he took were not destined for such a glorious fate.

My sister lost her firstborn to The Elves.  She hadn’t noticed the Changeling until it was too late.  Her baby had already long since been stolen away.  She was so distraught she refused to eat or speak.  She locked herself in her room.  Or my family locked her into it as she succumbed to the madness.  Such are the ways of the family, for all of our protection.  We never question but follow as expected, as a means of self-preservation.  It has kept us all alive.

But I couldn’t get the sinking feeling out of my stomach; the grief became too overwhelming. That is why I came here.  I know I will not be able to rescue the child, nor my sister.  But I seek to avenge their meaningless deaths.  To ensure that it doesn’t happen again.  My family will never act.  I am tired of the Village Elders just shrugging these things off in hushed whispers and badly shrouded secrets.  It happens time and again.  We are all expendable.  They never do anything.

So here I am, in the Elven wood.  Alone.  As soon as my family figures out that I’m here, they will disown me.  They probably already have.  Again, it is for our own protection.  I’ll be just another casualty of The Elves.  Everything is so structured, so regimented.  Anyone who dares act in opposition to the rules vanishes.  We are all so afraid.

I lay in wait.  It’s just a matter of time before the portal appears.  The Elves use the portals to travel across time and space.  They appear where and when they wish.  But this time, I will go through first.  I know not what is on the other side, just that the portals allow only one to traverse in each direction.  We will trade places, if only for a moment until another portal forms.  Hopefully that will be enough time.

The trees shift and morph.  Falling leaves drift slower and slower towards the ground.  There is a stillness that I cannot fully express.  My breath hangs heavy in the silent air.  There is no sound, no smell, no taste.  It is time.  The hairs on the back of my neck and arms rise. I can sense the opening forming.  There is an uncanny familiarity in this moment, as if I have been here before.

As soon as the portal opens, I dash through.  But something isn’t right.  No one came through from the other side.  Or did they?  I cannot tell.  I am alone, in limbo between states of existence.  The world spins around me.  I can feel the drift.  Is this what death feels like?  Cold unbroken silence?  I feel distant eyes upon me everywhere, all around me, in the trees, the clouds, pinpoints of light that shimmer through.

I can feel The Elves eyes upon me everywhere.  In the leaves, in the trees themselves.
I can feel The Elves eyes upon me everywhere. In the leaves, in the trees themselves.

I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Maybe this is all according to plan.  But who was orchestrating the exchange?  My idea was only half formed in those passing pensive moments I am able to think for myself, few and far between.  My family, the Village Elders… no one allows time for freeform thought.  I hadn’t considered what would happen after the portal exchange.  I never really got past step one.

A voice greets me from the trees.  It is hauntingly familiar but seems only a distant memory.

“I’ve been expecting you.”

The world slowly comes into focus.  Clarity restored, the leaves circle me in an embrace.  My sister emerges, her dark eyes smiling.  She cradles the baby in her arms.

“You made it.  You escaped,” she sings.

“I didn’t see anyone,” I retort, skeptical.  I hadn’t recalled having seen any Elves, dark nightmarish fiends that they are, wild, unkempt, uncouth.  Savage beasts like Pan or Krampus.  Is this an illusion?  My sister seems so lifelike, so much herself.  She is the joyful young mother I had known her to be.  Filled with love and laughter.  Light dances about her, and she shimmers.

“Not in passing,” my sister clarifies.  “You have been living among them your whole life.  I had done so as well until the baby was stolen.  My heart broke; I had to follow after.  That was when I learned the Truth.”

“Why do you think we are so sheltered?  Why are we forbidden to do anything?  They do so to protect us from the Truth about who and what we are,” she continued.  “We’ve spent our lives evading that which we truly know ourselves to be.  We were the stolen ones, not the other way around…”

I notice that the portal I came through is still open, reinforcing my idea that no one had passed through the other way.  It is as if the portal was opened specifically to call me through. My sister extends her hand, beckoning me to join her.  There is a gleam in her eye I cannot pinpoint.  She seems happy, but something still isn’t quite right.  I’m still uncertain why I am here, in this time and place, as if destined to be present in this moment, in this decision.

The Village has fallen away to the woods.  There are no breadcrumb trails to follow home.  The idea of home itself seems distant like yet another illusion.  Nothing makes sense anymore.  I am unsure whether I am coming or going.  Two paths lay open before me.  Which shall I take?

The Elves portal remains but the path is unclear.
The Elves portal remains but the path is unclear.

The trees are full of Elven magicks… Feel free to check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s work here on Haunted MTL or on her writing, fine art, and conceptual projects websites.

Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.
Portrait of myself with dark makeup and crow skull headdress, backlit by the sun.

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