In response to the United States Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade and to consider the pending Haunted MTL Bodies womens’ anthology, here is another adult fairy tale…
Aileen was weary. The long journey through the dense forest had taken a toll. She leaned on a tree near the edge of the woods and rubbed her groin. She looked back at the path behind her. The breadcrumbs she had scattered had been eaten away by birds and small rodents. A few stray chipmunks remained, eyeing her from a distance. The narrow trail had filled in as she had moved along; vines, twigs and leaves consuming her footsteps and erasing them almost as soon as her feet had left the earth. No turning back now, Aileen turned to face the cottage.
The cottage loomed ominously in the small clearing before her. It was just a simple structure, and not nearly as terrifying as Aileen had pictured it. It seemed rather… cozy. The hag who lived within this isolated hovel hated outsiders and was distrustful of any who came near. Labeled a witch by the villagers, she kept to herself. She was outside gathering plants in a basket carried over her arm when Aileen spotted her. Their eyes met for a brief second. The old woman’s icy stare bore holes in time and space. Aileen gulped and sighed. She gently heaved herself up from her brief respite at the wood’s edge and approached cautiously, still clutching her heavy abdomen. This is why I’m here she reminded herself.
“Hello,” Aileen hailed.
As she trudged into the clearing, the old woman continued to stare at her, unmoving and unspeaking, like a wild animal startled from its reverie. Her white hair danced every which way around her and her throat flashed with every breath. Her eyes followed Aileen’s every shift in movement.
“I am Aileen,” she continued. “I came here to seek your help.” She held her empty hands aloft. “I mean you no harm.”
“I know why you’re here,” the crone interjected. “This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last.”
Aileen quieted a moment before continuing. “I am very sick.” She chose her words carefully, rubbing her belly. “The child that grows inside of me is making me ill. Something is dreadfully wrong. The Village Elders will do nothing.”
“The Elders are why I am here,” the old woman spat, glaring at Aileen. “I used to live in the village like you. I was forced here when they ransacked my home and set fire to my house and garden. They destroyed everything I had.”
“I am dreadfully sorry,” Aileen said. She had known of the witch’s treason, of how she had gone directly against the Elders’ orders to help others like herself. She knew of the banishment by the torchbearers and pitchfork wielders who had shown up on the woman’s doorstep, although it had happened when Aileen was far too young to remember. The Elders spoke of it often and had kept the defaced property as a warning to be heeded.
“We… we still need you.” Aileen’s voice grew heavy with her words. “I need you.”
Aileen drew nearer. She was close enough now to see the tiredness in the old woman’s eyes, the pain that haunted her every movement. They studied one another for a long while. The woods, the clearing, and the cottage lay in quietude as if sleeping all around them. They were both enveloped in silence.
The old woman was robust and hardy. She had endured much and it was written in every fold of her skin; every crease, every wrinkle bore signs of her past. Aileen was downtrodden, spent and weak. She could barely hold herself up. Her skin was pale and ghostly, her ashen complexion ill-fitted for a woman of her young age. She was with child, but her body bore the gift all wrong and off-kilter. She leaned to the side and gasped slightly as she drew each breath, her hand still clenched over her stomach region. The air only barely entered her lungs before trickling out again.
Finally, the old woman spoke. “You are very sick,” she said.
Aileen spoke again. “I desperately need your help. I cannot bear this child. Doing so will kill me. The Elders do not understand – they say it is all part of God’s Plan.”
The old woman spoke again. “I was young once, and carrying a child I did not consider my own, that was conceived not of my choosing. I ran away.” Her eyes softened. “I tried to resolve my situation on my own with some herbs I had acquired from a Medicine Man on the down low, way back before I knew what I was doing, and I almost died when I used them wrong.” The old woman studied Aileen and continued, “There was a woman not unlike me now in the village at that time. Her name was Bella. She helped me to recover from all that had happened to me. I stayed with her and studied her craft, so that I might safely help others like myself. Like yourself.”
“The Elders found our aid to be threatening. They claimed it went against God’s Will. Bella disappeared mysteriously without a word. I stayed to upkeep our house and garden and to continue her practice, and because it was important that we remain steadfast in our service. That was the very same home I was later forced to flee in order to keep my life,” the witch went on.
“I am truly very sorry for your loss,” Aileen spoke pensively, realizing that all of this was much larger than her self, much larger than the stories she had been told. “I do not mean to endanger you. I come alone, seeking your help. Beyond the stories that the Elders tell, I have only heard of you through hushed whispers under the table where prying ears cannot linger. That is how I learned that you had come here. In all of my searching for answers and desperately trying to find someone who could assist me, no one would even utter your name. They just told me that I needed to see the Witch of the Wood. It became a sort of unspoken understanding among those of us who could bear children as my condition grew worse.”
Aileen was in arm’s reach of the witch now, her gaze at her feet studying the soft ground between them.
“You needn’t know my name. My name is the babble on the brook, the cry of the lark, the dance of the wind through the willows,” the old woman whispered. She put her arm around Aileen, her grasp gentle but strong. The girl sobbed as the witch held her closer. “I can help you, but you will not be able to go back to the village. You are too far along and too many will notice the change. Others who have undergone such noticeable changes have been hung, or stoned, even burned at the stake. You will be in grave danger if you return, as will I for assisting you.”
Aileen looked up at her and nodded. The fear in her eyes gave way to a sense of solace, to an understanding that in order to save her own life she would have to leave everything she knew and all that she loved and held dear. It wasn’t fair but it was necessary. The witch was right; she had seen what had become of others who had lost their babies early. She should have come sooner, but she had been so afraid, both of what was happening to her and of the unknown outcome. Perhaps there was another way.
“Can I stay then, with you? Like you did with Bella. To learn all that I can, so that I may one day help others like you have?”
The witch smiled. “If it pleases you to do so, you may stay afterwards as long as you wish and learn what you can. Many have come and gone before, and have left for distant lands unknown to us to help those who have needed it. We are not alone.”
“I would appreciate that very much,” Aileen said, resigned to her fate. A smile crept across her face, offering hope. “Thank you.”
The witch answered, “No need to thank me. Not now and not later. I do this because I don’t want any to have to suffer as I have, as too many of us have. I do this because these circumstances are more complicated and varied than the Elders will acknowledge.” She smiled back at Aileen. “I will gladly help you, as I have those before and those yet to come. You are welcome to join us in this… And you can call me Abuela.”
For another terrifying adult themed fairy tale, read The Fur Coat as posted on Haunted MTL back in the day. 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.
Into the Deep Woods 1, an October AI journey with Jennifer Weigel
I am embarking on an AI journey using NightCafe to illustrate this graphic story based on a dream I had awhile back. I am also using Canva, so here’s to learning more online systems of image dissemination and propagandizing…
I will include some of the original AI generated images with each piece along with a bit of the dream that inspired it. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Artwork description: Overall layout: Lightning strike through the corner into obscure clouds and map-like graphic in gray tones sets the mood for Into the Deep Woods.
Part 1, Art: AI generated image of a girl with reddish hair dressed in a robe of some sort and holding a staff. A similar girl in soldier garb fades behind her. Edited in PhotoShop.
Part 1, Text: 1.) Two sisters entered the woods, one a soldier and the other a witch. Only one lived. 2.) The young witch had picked up a bit of magic as she and her sister fled into the deep woods to seek the old witch… They were tired and alone, this was their one and only chance… 3.) The war raged on all around as the Nazis drew closer…
Prompt (Horror): Portrait of soldier girl sister
Prompt (Horror): Portrait of witch girl sister (Evolved from soldier girl)
Prompt (Horror): Soldier girl sister hit by lightning (Evolved from soldier girl)
As mentioned this series is based on a dream that I had awhile back. The two girls first enter the woods to escape the Nazis. In my dream there were initially more soldiers with them who perish due to the war or hazards in the woods. It wasn’t unlike Pan’s Labyrinth but on a much smaller and more intimate scale.
It had been awhile between having the dream and creating this story to share with you. And I quickly learned that the term “Nazi” is prohibited by the AI art generator interface. So there are some changes that have been made, but hopefully you can still follow along. The time and place are not as relevant to the overall anyway.
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…