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
Lighter than Dark
LTD: Revisiting Broken Doll Head, Interview 2
Our last interview with Broken Doll Head here on Haunted MTL never set well with me. I just feared that I wasn’t able to get the whole scoop on the V-Day Uprising for you, our dear readership. So I arranged another exclusive interview to reconnect and see how it’s going.
Without further ado, I bring you our second exclusive interview with Broken Doll Head…
Thank you so much for having me again. Wow you have changed since the last time we spoke. You seem… calmer. Please don’t hate me or burn down my house for saying anything about it.
The movement is still underway; it is still time. But I needed to take care of me, you know. The rage has subsided somewhat. My anger was not serving me well. After the last uprising, the rest of me was sent to the far corners of the earth in biohazard bags. I had to find another approach, for the cause as well as my own sanity. I am much calmer, thank you for noticing.
In our last interview, you kept repeating that it is time. Time for what exactly? Would you care to elaborate here now?
It is still time. It is always time. Until the violence is addressed we must continue to rise up and make a scene. We will not be silenced or stigmatized. We can’t be complacent. This is how we got to where we are with the Supreme Court in 2022. Horrific injustices are still happening globally and even within our own borders; it’s too easy to forget that.
What do you suggest we do?
Take action. Share your stories. Give others space to voice their own. Raise awareness and fight the system of oppression. Rally. We must take back our own power. It will not be just given freely.
So what are you up to nowadays?
I’ve been getting in touch with my inner Earth Goddess. Are you aware of how our environmental impacts affect dolls everywhere? Climate change is creating greater vulnerabilities for those already at risk. We have to look at the intersections of climate, gender and race globally. We have to return to our Mother Earth.
Thank you again Broken Doll Head for joining us and our dear readership here on Haunted MTL’s Lighter than Dark. It’s good to reconnect with you after the V-Day Uprising and we wish you all the best in your bold eco-enlightenment vision.
Again, if you want to learn more about the V-Day movement, please check out their website here.
The Way Things Were, story by Jennifer Weigel
Revisiting my last St. Patrick’s Day post, what’s a wolf to were?
I grimaced as I remembered the previous St. Patrick’s Day. I had been shot while I was eating a sugar cookie waiting in line to buy a Scratchers ticket, my golden ride to my dream cabin in the woods. Wow, to think that was just a year ago and so much has changed since then. But where should I begin?
Well, the junkyard’s under new management. Or something. It seems they decided I wasn’t ferocious enough so I’ve been replaced by a couple of working stiffs. Or Mastiffs as it were, same difference to me. Apparently after they found the bloodied shirt I’d draped inconspicuously over a chair, they thought something had happened on my watch and decided to retire me.
Or at any rate ol’ Sal took me home. I guess it’s like retirement, but not the good kind where you tour the world Route 66 style, head lolled out of the side of a vintage Cadillac, breeze flowing through your beard as you drink in the open road. More the kind where you just stop showing up to work and no one really asks about you.
Now Sal’s a pretty cool dude, and he tends to mind his own business. But he’s a bit stingy with the treats and he’s a no-paws-on-the-furniture kind of guy. I don’t get it, his pad isn’t that sweet, just a bunch of hand-me-down Ikea that he didn’t even put together himself. Not that I could have helped with that, I can’t read those instructions to save my life even if they are all pictures. It’s all visual gibberish to me unless there’s a rabbit or a squirrel in there someplace that I can relate to.
And it’s been a real roll in the mud trying to cover up the stench of my monthly secret. I miss third shift at the junkyard when Monty would fall asleep on the job and I was free to do whatever I wanted. It sure made the change easier. Monty never noticed, or he never let on that he did. We were a good team and had it pretty good, he and I – I don’t know how I wound up shacking up with Sal instead when all was said and done. There was some kind of talk at the time, over landlords and pet deposits and whatnot, and in the end Sal was the only one who said yes.
So there I was, this St. Patrick’s Day, trying to figure out how to sneak out into the great suburban landscape with the neighbors’ headstrong Chihuahua who barks his fool head off at everything. He doesn’t ever say anything interesting through the fence about the local gossip, just a string of profanities about staying off his precious grass. Just like his owners… Suburbia, it doesn’t suit the two of us junkyard junkies. I’m pretty sure Sal inherited this joint with everything else here. He just never had the kind of ambition that would land him in a place like this on his own, if you know what I mean.
Fortunately, this St. Patrick’s Day, Sal was passed out on the sofa after binge watching some show on Netflix about werewolves of all things. Who believes in that nonsense? They get it all wrong anyway. The history channel with its alien conspiracies is so much better.
I managed to borrow a change of clothes and creep out the front door. At least there’s something to say about all the greenery, it is a fresh change of pace even if the yards are too neatly manicured and the fences are too high. And I do love how I always feel like McGruff crossed paths with one of those neighborhood watch trenchcoat spies this time of the month. I’d sure love to take a bite out of crime, especially if it involves that pesky Pomeranian that always pees on Mrs. Patterson’s petunias and gets everyone else blamed for it.
So sure enough, I slunk off towards the local convenience mart, which is a bit more of a trek here past the water park and the elementary school. Nice neighborhood though, very quiet, especially at this time of night.
Well, when I got there, wouldn’t you know it, but I ran into that same nondescript teen from my last foray into the convenience store near the junkyard. What was he doing here of all places? Seriously don’t these kids learn anything nowadays? I let out a stern growl as I snatched a cookie from the nearby end cap, making sure he noticed that I meant business.
Apparently the kid recognized me too, he stopped mid-tracks at the beer cooler and his face blanched like he’d seen a ghost. Some cheeky little girl-thing motioned to him to hurry it along by laying on the horn of their beater car from the parking lot. Whatever they were up to was no good, I was certain. He snapped out of it, grabbed a six-pack and headed towards the cashier, eyes fixed on me the whole time. Not again. Not after what it cost me the last time when I hadn’t realized my job was at stake. I stared back, hairs rising on the back of my neck. I bared my teeth. This time, I wouldn’t let him off so easy…
The teen edged up to the cashier and presented his trophy. Unsurprisingly, the clerk asked for ID, and the kid reached into his jacket. Let the games begin, I grumbled to myself. But instead of a gun, he pulled out a wallet. He flashed a driver’s license at the clerk and pointed in my general direction, “I’ll get whatever Santa’s having too.” He tossed a wad of cash on the counter and gave me a knowing wink before he flew out of there like he was on fire. I stood in dazed confusion as he and his girl sped out of the lot and disappeared down the road.
“Well, Santa?” the clerk said, snapping me out of my reverie. Her dark-circled eyes stared over wide rimmed glasses, her rumpled shirt bearing the name-tag Deb. She smelled like BBQ potato chips and cheap cherry cola.
I quieted and shook my head. “I want a Scratchers. Not one of those crossword bingo puzzle trials but something less… wordy. How ‘bout a Fast Cash?” I barked as I tossed the cookie on the counter.
“Sure thing,” she said as she handed me a ticket and looked towards the door at the now vacant lot. “And keep the change, I guess.”
A couple silver pieces, a peanut butter cookie and a lotto ticket later, maybe this is my lucky day after all…
Check out more of Jennifer Weigel’s writing here at Jennifer Weigel Words.
Movies n TV
She Wolf, Art by Jennifer Weigel
So this isn’t a review but more just some thoughts…
I have to admit that I actually like the She Wolf music video by Shakira.
Maybe partly because my Zumba group back in the day used to dance to it with all of us cautioned to not to look up the music video for fear it would be too risque or something… (The Zumba dance to this was one of my favorites, and I loved our group of mostly 60+ year old retirees for all that some of them did act surprised at these things, whether or not they actually were.) Or maybe partly because it reminds me of Madonna’s Express Yourself, or by extension the famous dance scene in Metropolis directed by Fritz Lang.
It’s a guilty pleasure.
The ways these things evolve and stay the same over time fascinates me, especially how the messaging and movement change, and yet stay the same.
Anyway, I created this artwork based upon the She Wolf video and song, incorporating a Hazelle puppet head atop a modern Barbie doll body. I don’t recall what happened to Barbie’s actual head though I’m pretty sure I needed it for another project. (Technically I needed the body for another project too, and this was just a stopover.) Years ago this piece found itself part of the Women’s Caucus for Art website as one of the chosen artworks for the year. I was going to try to write something to go with it for Haunted MTL but instead I thought I’d share it as a lead up to my revisitation of my werewolf story from St. Patrick’s Day last year.
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.