The Green Coil
By Paul Stansbury
“The jungle is the green coil. It squeezes the blood from your heart, the air from your lungs and the humanity from your soul,” intoned Silvio, the guide, trying to sound dramatic. It was the end of the first day up the Tuichi River and the adventure vacation group had set up camp in a small clearing on the bank. “You go 100 meters into the green labyrinth without a guide and you’re lost – never find your way back.”
After supper, back in their tent, Ash pulled some weed from his backpack. “Scored this yuyo from a guy in Rurrenabaque,” he said. After lighting a joint, he inhaled a slow, deep breath, then held it out to his tentmate.
“Naw,” replied Lynda. “You don’t know what kind of weird crap they put in that stuff. You’re crazy to smoke that junk.”
“Gotta do something to make this carnival ride tolerable,” Ash whined. “So far, this little soiree has been a bust. We sit in a damn boat all day, camp in some dumpy clearing with the ants and mosquitoes. Added to that, we have to listen to the guide go on and on and on about the ecosystem and not getting lost in the woods. I’m ready for some excitement.”
“What’d you expect? This is the Amazon, not a tube ride at the amusement park.”
“Well, I expected more than this,” Ash grumbled. “Remember what the ad said?” He read from a damp, folded brochure fished from a shirt pocket. “Make your own camp, catch your own food, swim and wash in rivers or lakes and carry all your own belongings. Visit pristine parts of the jungle by the river Tuichi. Learn survival secrets from authentic Indian guides. What a pile!”
“Finish that up, Ash. Silvio is fixing supper.”
The dark descended rapidly. After they ate their meal of mystery fish Silvio had caught in the river and some rice and beans, Lynda and Ash zipped their tent against the onslaught of mosquitos. Ash lit up another joint. He insisted the smoke from his yuyo would keep the bloodsucking vermin at bay.
Even second-hand, the yuyo’s potent vapor made Lynda’s head grow woozy. Soon, she drifted off to sleep only to be awakened by the sound of thrashing inside their tent. She fumbled for her flashlight and pointed in the direction of the noise. She saw Ash disappearing through the open tent flap. Pulling her boots on, Lynda scurried out after him, sweeping the flashlight around the camp. Ash was at the far edge of the clearing. He looked back once, eyes wild, before leaping into the jungle. Forgetting the guide’s warnings, Lynda followed. Two steps in and the jungle swallowed them up.
“Ash!” Lynda called, as she stumbled through the roots and vines in the black folds of the jungle. Plant fronds, razor sharp, tore her flesh. Stumbling forward, she rubbed her stinging cheek, then turned the flashlight on her fingers. They were covered in blood. She continued searching for some time until she found Ash crumpled on the jungle floor.
* * *
In the afternoon on their third day of wandering, they came upon the Indios, wraith thin with angular faces and round black eyes. Bones pierced their ears and noses. Painted bands of white covered their frail bodies. Occasional blotches of ochre completed the decorations.
The Indios led Lynda and Ash further into the jungle until they arrived at a small village. It was little more than a small patch of dirt circled by crudely lashed lean-tos. In the center was a smoldering firepit. Lynda and Ash stood silently as the Indios placed green fronds on the coals, sending a thick column of smoke up through the jungle mantel. An old woman disappeared into one of the huts and returned with a sparse meal of berries and dried meat which she offered to them. They devoured the offerings ravenously while the Indios watched intently.
“Think maybe we could get something to drink around here?” asked Ash, still gnawing on a wad of meat.
The Indios remained silent.
“Don’t think they speak English,” said Lynda.
“You’re probably right. Think there’s a chance they’ll take us back to Silvio?” he asked.
“I doubt they can be of help getting us anywhere except maybe to the river.”
“That’d be a start. How far away from the river do you think we are?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” said Lynda. “Hell, we’ve been wandering around for three days now. Could ‘a been going in circles or heading deep into the wild. No telling how close we are to the river.”
“So, how we gonna get them to help us?”
Lynda sat quietly for a moment, then got on her knees. “Here goes nothing,” she whispered, smoothing out a patch of dirt with her hand. She traced two wavy lines with her forefinger. Raising up, she placed her hand on Ash’s shoulder, then on her own chest. “You take us to the river?” she asked, extending his arm outward, then pointing to the wavy lines
The Indios sat motionless.
“Yeah! To the river,” pleaded Ash, furiously jabbing his finger at the wavy lines.
The Indios placed more wood on the fire. Soon the flames burned brightly. They stood, facing the jungle, chanting solemnly in their cryptic tongue. “Hwarro,” they called out over and over, arms outstretched as if in supplication.
“Waddya think that’s about?” asked Ash. “I hope they ain’t planning to eat us.”
“Shut up, Ash. If they were gonna eat us, we’d be dead already.”
The chant continued for some time until without warning the Indios fell silent. A tall, gaunt figure, with features like the Indios, emerged from the jungle carrying a large communal bowl. He held it out. One by one, the Indios each took a drink. Then they held the bowl out to Ash.
He looked at Lynda. “What should I do?”
“You asked for something to drink, didn’t you?” she barked. “Better not risk getting these folks upset. Besides, if you can smoke yuyo, you sure as hell can take a sip of whatever that stuff is.”
“I guess you’re right,” conceded Ash. He took the bowl in his shaking hands and took a sip. Grimacing, he held the bowl out for Lynda, who brought it to her lips. The bitter concoction squirmed down her throat.
The Indios began to sway, murmuring in raspy whispers, “Hwarro… Hwarro… Hwarro…” Lynda sensed a deeper, more sinister underlying drone. It seeped into her soul. The Indios slumped to the ground. They thrashed in the amber glow of the fire, arms melting into their torsos, legs fusing together.
Lynda’s head was reeling. The Indios’ flesh began to quiver as they thrust their heads back, jaws straining open, cheeks splitting at the corners of their mouths. From each, a sleek glistening snake emerged, leaving behind a flaccid sheath of skin. The snakes writhed in a knotted coil at her feet. Fangs sank deep into her legs. Lynda now grimly realized the tall figure was the Hwarro of the Indios’ chanting.
“Lynda,” his loathsome voice throbbed in her head. His black eyes focused on her. Hwarro held out his bony hands, beckoning.
“Run Ash!” Lynda screamed, bolting into the jungle. She ran headlong into the black, thrashing through the vegetation. It tore her flesh and snarled her feet. Fangs bit at her. She could hear Ash behind stumbling, gasping for air between shrieks of pain.
“Lynda,” Hwarro whispered in her soul.
* * *
Unaware of time and distance, Lynda ran until she thought her lungs would burst. Finally, she reached the river, lurching free from the constriction of the jungle vegetation. Having grown accustomed to the perpetual dusk inside the green labyrinth, the sun blinded her eyes. Legs and arms, whether from fatigue or venom, refuse to obey and she fell headlong to the rocks and sand at the water’s edge.
Lynda thought she could hear Ash whimpering. “Ash, are you there?” Lynda attempted to call out. Her voice was a feeble whisper. Lying on the riverbank, unable to move, she stared at the sand, realizing it wasn’t really sandy colored. She could see all the grains in their infinite spectrum of colors nestled around the stones and the rotting bits of wood. Across the river, where it bowed away from the sand bar, the rainforest rose up to meet the sky. The river had cut an angry swath in the red soil at its base, exposing boulders and roots.
“Lynda,” Hwarro laughed.
She couldn’t hear Ash’s whimpers anymore. “Ash,” she rasped again.
Before passing out, she heard Hwarro’s evil, beckoning whisper, “Lynda.”
She awoke to excruciating pain. Ants swarmed over her, biting, and tearing at her flesh. She knew they would carry the pieces back to their colony to feed their larvae. She wondered how long it would it take to strip the meat clean from her bones. “Ash,” she rasped. No answer. Lynda was relieved. She knew the ants were devouring him also and she didn’t want to see it. She wondered if Hwarro whispered to the ants, calling their names?
Lynda could no longer feel her arms or legs. It made no difference. She slithered forward, shedding what remained of her bleeding husk of skin. Her scales glistened in the sun.
Joining Ash, they glided into the dense vegetation of the jungle.
There, in the shadows, Hwarro hummed to her his soft lullaby of welcome.
Paul Stansbury is a lifelong native of Kentucky. He is the author of Inversion – Not Your Ordinary Stories; Inversion II – Creatures, Fairies, and Haints, Oh My!; Inversion III – The Lighter Shades of Greys; and Down By the Creek – Ripples and Reflections. His speculative fiction stories have appeared in a number of print anthologies as well as a variety of online publications. Now retired, he lives in Danville, Kentucky. www.paulstansbury.com
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.