The soil in my backyard was a sandy mix of gravel and dirt barely capable of supporting so-called civilized life. Sure, it was great for growing weeds and poison ivy and random baby oak trees that sprouted from the neglected acorns the squirrels had forgotten in their winter fervor to stash food wherever they could bury it. But I was trying to grow carrots.
It was an annual tradition.
Miraculously, I always managed to get the seeds to sprout, fan out leaves, and form into long winding gnarled up tendrils that fingered through the ground. But they would grow together at odd angles as if they were offering poorly plotted directions on how to navigate the New York City subway system to a foreign tourist who spoke only intermittent English at best. By the end of the season, no matter how much I tried to thin them, they were a muddy tangled mess of roots.
Nonetheless, I would harvest these so-called carrots and make a point of cleaning, peeling, and cutting them up into small misshapen discs to add to some soup, stew or shepherd’s pie where they could hopefully blur into the background without vying for the center spotlight of the dish. These weren’t the sorts of carrots any cook with any sense would want to draw that much attention to, and regardless of what I did to try to improve upon their lackluster flavor or hard-yet-still-spongy texture, the resulting food was always barely palatable, proving that the labor of love does not make all things better.
Even the wildlife avoided them.
Despite the abundance of rabbits and squirrels that frequented my devoid-of-dogs backyard, everything that passed through and even many of the returning critters that lingered awhile left the carrot patch alone. In fact, nothing touched them all season long every year, and my husband cringed at the eventual harvest that meant more cleaning, peeling, cutting and dicing than the impending outcome warranted. Perhaps even more distasteful was the eventual outcome itself of having to sit together and politely smile while trying to choke down the unpalatable bitter pale orange tubers as they disgraced yet another bowl of curried lentils or lamb stew.
So, imagine my surprise to discover that my carrot patch had been raided just as it was reaching its peak stage of undergrowth, right before the harvest. The thief or thieves had come during the dark cover of the new moon, as the mantle of night was as black as it could possibly be. The carrot patch was a muddled up mess of upturned roots, crushed and gnawed upon pale orange tendrils, and scattered gravel and sandy soil flung about. Trampled broken leaves littered the ground in disarray and muddy prints snaked through the surrounding soil.
The carrots were ransacked.
My husband surveyed the scene and placed a hand on my shoulder to console me, squeezing gently to show his support. His relief at his improved situation could be felt through his touch, palpable just below his calm and collected exterior. He had been spared from the impending harvest and he could scarcely contain his excitement for all that he tried to appear outwardly supportive. But I could see right through it. I burrowed into his shoulder anyway, furious and hurt.
What dared come in the middle of the night to ravage my carrot patch? It had left some areas a little more intact, and something told me it would be back. So I staged a sentry. Poised and staring out my back window from the kitchen, I fixated on the scene and waited. Surely the motion sensor light would come on as the thief approached. I was ready shovel in hand, to make a complete fool of myself dashing out the back door to surprise the unsuspecting carrot thief.
I was unprepared for what I found.
I was nodding off dozing when the flash of the motion sensor light caught my eye and I jolted upright. I stared out the window, straining to make out a shadowy form in the carrot patch. At first glance, it appeared to be a rabbit. But it was strangely bulky and moved in a haphazard manner, jerking from side to side. It was also somewhat larger than a normal rabbit, and there was something… unsettling… about it. Whatever it was, I couldn’t place it. I leapt to my feet and darted out the back door anyway, arms flailing in the conditioned response I’d been working up all evening.
“Shoo… Go AWAY!” I shouted as I approached the creature. It just stood there, motionless. As I got closer, I became more aware of how it glistened in the light of the motion sensor, it had an almost ethereal or otherworldly presence and seemed to be bathed in an aura of hollow bluish light. But otherwise, it was as black as the night itself and I couldn’t make out any characteristics of real significance. The form seemed to both emanate and absorb light simultaneously. It continued to just stand there, surrounded by a scattering of soil, gravel, grit and what remained of the would-be carrots.
As I neared six feet of the creature, it turned to face me.
I was filled with an unexpected sense of unease as I approached. Something was unnervingly not right. It still more or less resembled the outward shape of a rabbit, but I couldn’t get a good read on it. Every time I tried to focus on the creature, I felt woozy as if I were looking into a deep abyss leading into the depths of the universe. Within the silhouette, there was nothing, no sense of where an eye or nose or whisker might be. It was just a void. It almost seemed as if it were not wholly there at all, like it was both there and someplace else at the same time or as if it were a spot on a mirror, one of those blemishes to the surface that you cannot seem to wipe away from either side of the glass.
Suddenly the creature emitted the most soul-curdling sound I’ve ever heard. Rabbits can make the most terrifying shrill screams when they feel threatened, but this was no ordinary rabbit screech. It was deep and throaty and bellowed forth with the resonance of something unholy unleashed. My mind reeled as it resonated within my bones and filled me with dread. As the sound washed over me, the creature flickered from within, more pale blue light electrifying deep darkness, and then vanished right before my eyes. My mind stopped racing and went completely silent as I lost my footing and fell to my knees, quivering.
I must have blacked out momentarily.
When I regained my composure enough to glance up, there was no sign of the rabbit-creature. The motion sensor light had gone off and it was completely dark except for some glowing orange forms that I hadn’t noticed before. The carrots! What was left of the pale, unappetizing tendrils also had an otherworldly quality about them, emitting a subdued pale orange glow like several nearly faded glow sticks found discarded the morning after a rave.
I never saw the rabbit-creature or its kin again, and I have since stopped trying to grow carrots. Maybe it’s me, or maybe it’s the soil, but the idea of gardening just hasn’t had the same appeal, and I was never all that good at it anyways.
Nightmarish Nature: Vampires Among Us
This is the kickoff to a new series exploring nature that is kind of horrifying, at least in ways. Our first subject is Vampires Among Us. There are lots of animals named for vampires, sometimes due to folklore and sometimes for their appearance (like the Vampire Squid), but most of these animals don’t have blood sucking tendencies.
Bats & Birds
There are legit vampire leaf-nosed bats in Central and South America that drink blood. They feed on mammals and are often shown to feed on livestock. They’d be kinda cute if they weren’t so creepy. There are also vampiric birds: some finches in the Galapagos have developed the taste for blood of other birds, mainly seabirds that flock to the islands to raise their young.
Leeches & Lampreys & More
And then you get into leeches and lampreys and other denizens of the water that are known to attach themselves to larger creatures and drink their blood. Leeches were even believed to have medicinal value (and still are in certain circumstances). And there are also numerous plants that are known to be parasitic and feed on other plants, wrapping their roots or vines around others to steal nutrients.
Now I’m going to drift off into the realm where this becomes truly horrific. Spiders. Now, spiders aren’t vampires per se, seeing as how they actually kill their prey – they don’t just feed off of it while it remains living and wanders about its business. But because of their structure, they cannot eat solid foods, so they have to inject their prey with enzymes to liquefy it so they can slurp it out like a protein shake. That’s sort of vampirism on steroids if you ask me, just the kind that no one is coming back from.
But let’s get back on topic. Now let’s consider mites and ticks and fleas and mosquitoes and the like. Some drink blood for their survival; others do so as part of their reproductive cycle (like mosquitoes which otherwise eat fruit and nectar but need the extra protein from blood to grow their eggs).
Ticks need to feed on blood once at every stage of their life cycle and can pick up diseases along the way (like Lyme Disease) but don’t always do so. Different ticks are more likely to come in contact with different things and often humans are not their preferred meal but they are opportunistic and will feed on whatever is available when necessary. Symptoms of illness from tick bites may take years to develop and can have really weird side effects (like the allergy associated with Lone Star Ticks which makes a person unable to consume mammalian flesh).
Anyway, here are some brief glimpses of vampirism in nature. Thank you for joining us for Nightmarish Nature and may you avoid getting bitten by any true vampires among us… And I still think spiders take first place in the creepy eating category here, even if they aren’t technically vampiric.
Buried Treasure by “Dread Pirate” Jennifer Weigel
This story came to me in a sort of roundabout way from a rather unusual source. So I thought I’d share it with you, dear readership, and see if you can make heads or tails of it. – Jennifer Weigel
Dread Pirate Rum Tum Tugger could tell this was the right spot.
The site, beneath the sweeping limbs of the Live Oak, Spanish Moss swaying gently in the breeze, was a perfect match to the crude map he had bought off that soothsayer Deuteronomy.
The earth moved easily, as if it had been excavated previously. He dug in with greater fervor with each swipe. The sandy soil gave way to reveal something hard. He scooped and smoothed the remaining detritus from the surface as he uncovered a box.
The carton was simple.
No markings; no ornamentation; no writing. Just a plain cardboard crate, brittle from having been buried for so long but still sturdy. He hoisted it from its burrow.
“Ha HO!” he shouted to the passing breeze, rousing a small cloud of birds that erupted from a nearby thicket. They captured his attention for a moment, but he quickly refocused and returned to his task.
The box was locked but no difference.
Any self-respecting ruffian like himself could pick a lock in seconds. And he did so with panache, as was his way. He pried the lid open and licked his lips.
Inside was the legendary Kernel of Eternal Life, a small sparrow’s heart, still beating.
Artwork description: Myself as Dread Pirate Queen Miss Kitty wearing black bell sleeve shirt and black vinyl skirt with strapping leather belt over leopard print shirt and tights, with strapping leather boots, pirate head wrap and leopard cat ears.
Image text reads: Purr! Avast ye mateys, Dread Pirate Queen Miss Kitty invites ye to check out her booty stash and dig ye up a dungbie prize. Seek ye some buried treasure! Just grab ye a plastic litter scoop and dig… dig… dig… to ye heart’s content.
I created this image for a promotional poster for a performance piece in a charity art show in which I, as Dread Pirate Queen Miss Kitty, hawked a carnival sideshow style sidewalk installation. For a mere $5 donation to the animal shelter the show supported, gallery goers could dig around in a kiddie pool full of litter to find a prize: a cheap plastic trinket from the dollar store. I had some takers, including one kid who seemed to really enjoy the digging and whose parents were all in, saying “You know, you can totally do that at home too.”
For more cat antics, we invite you to read C-2747’s logbook here on Haunted MTL. 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.
Queen of Everything Mother’s Day Wishes
Happy Mother’s Day to the Queen of Everything… nothing gets by you.
Artwork description: A Happy Mother’s Day card featuring a picture of a Nefertiti doll with swooping hair, glitter makeup, and elaborate gold and blue headdress and evening gown.
Image text reads: Happy Mother’s Day! You are the Queen of Everything and you shimmer brighter than the twinkliest star in the sky. Stay sparkly and shine on in your magnificent glitter bombasticness. You ARE truly everything everywhere all at once and you’ve seen and heard it all. Eyes in the back of your head and superpowered hearing mean we can’t get away with much no matter how hard we try. So Queen on and rule over home in sparkly sentinel.
And may this be a testament to why us kids shalt never get you out of bed too early or run amok while you are getting ready to start your day… Because being the Queen of Everything takes planning and preparation…
Feel free to check out this Mummy Dearest Mother’s Day card from 2021 here on Haunted MTL.