MANTULA Part Thirty-Nine: The Battle of the Cursed Part V: Finale!

Doug fights through a room full of weirdness.

The inevitable chop never crashed hell upon my outstretched hand and head. Instead the ax fell to the ground, right beside me and my dismembered leg, with a quiet thud. Thanks to a well-placed kick by one of my quickly-disappearing spider legs (undoubtedly a reflex action), the ax slipped through the reporter’s fingers without causing further damage. It no sooner fell than Glenn careened into my attacker, pushing him from me. Kip Mooney stumbled away from the freakish-looking man-bird, weaponless, and quickly fled toward the front door of the house. I breathed a pained sigh of relief. Surprisingly, I could feel the pain ebb, as if my changing body were healing the wound faster than it would normally take. For that I was thankful, but a new leg would have been nice too.

“Oh my God,” Glenn gasped. “Your leg! Doug, look what he did to your leg!”

I struggled to my feet. “Help me up, Glenn! He’s going into the house. We have to stop him before he hurts Diana.”

Glenn seemed to go woozy at the sight of my appendage. Seeing it laying there was something I was trying very hard to ignore. “I think I’m going to hurl…” he muttered.

“There’s no time for that now,” I told him.  “We have to get inside.” With Glenn’s help, and the limited assistance of my short spider legs, I hobbled and hopped to the front door. We barged in without a second thought and there we saw our man standing at the living room entry with his mouth agape. By this point we were very nearly returned to our human sizes. I took in Glenn’s appearance, noting his skinny, sullen features and dirty blonde hair, as an aside. At that point I noticed what else was going on in the house – what had frozen Mooney in place – and it was trippy.

Tiny, six foot tornadoes of destruction swirled about Diana’s home in various rooms, crossing the hall, tearing up the kitchen, and generally causing havoc. Three alone spun and shimmied through her living room. The maelstrom cut up everything in its path. Bits of broken wood from the coffee table, fabric from the shredded couch; all joined in on the fun. The strange lights were everywhere, swirling into the tornadoes, moving languidly on invisible rivers of air, and swirling into bubbly masses against the ceiling. Greens, reds, golds and blues mixed together to create a creepy sense of holiday cheer in the psychotic Sturgis home. They were like orbs of light or giant dust mites like what you see in old photos. Either way it was nothing I wanted to touch.

Noticing Mooney’s apprehension to move, his shock at the strange sight that greeted him upon entering, I took the advantage. It was my turn to catch the space cadet off guard. With a solid leaping punch to the jaw, the newspaper reporter crumpled into an unconscious ball on the floor. I barely managed to land on my feet after delivering the blow, but ManQuail, nearly all man now, was there to catch me. I couldn’t care less about Mooney after that. If one of these weird tornadoes were to chop into him while he lay there sleeping, good riddance.

I started scanning the room, looking for Diana or one of the saints, or even the wormy witch, but I saw no one. We’d have to search the house, which wouldn’t be easy considering I could barely walk, but Glenn and I managed together. With one arm over his shoulder, we hobbled as one into the kitchen, avoiding the razor sharp tornadoes, and there found the rest of the party.

The wormy witch stood in the center of the room, surrounded by an intense army of glowing globs of light, not to mention a half dozen of the tornadoes. She faced us, her black eyes open and rotted mouth agape. Her hair danced around her hair like a million octopus tentacles. Worms flew from her body into the swirling mass of debris surrounding her. What was odd (as if nothing else were) was that she seemed to made of stone. Save for her hair and the worms, nothing else about her moved. Standing at either end of the kitchen were the two saints. Dymphna and Kolbe were both rooted to the spot, their lips muttering words I couldn’t make out. They were likely praying. I realized pretty quickly this was a battle I couldn’t take part in.

ManQuail leaned in to shout in my ear. “Doug, over there!” He pointed to the hallway. There, with her feet in the kitchen and the rest near a swirling tornado of energy, lay Diana.

I made a break for her and ignored the odd battle in front of me. The tornado edged dangerously close to her head. Had Glenn and I not yanked her away, it would have sliced into scalp. She stirred slightly as we pulled her into the living room, dodging tornadoes as we went along. Orbs of light bounced against us as we moved through the maelstrom. They tingled against my skin, but caused no further damage that I could tell. Diana had been knocked unconscious by debris thrown from the tornado, not the globs of light, but the same couldn’t be said for the wormy witch. The ghost of old Jacki Sturgis acted like a magnet to the orbs. They congregated over her body, something that didn’t seem to go over to well in her book. She started shrieking as the number of colored orbs grew.

Luckily for us, the tornadoes started to recede at about the same time. Within seconds there were only a few left in the kitchen and none from my vantage point in the living room.

I sat down on the floor next to Diana and placed her head in my lap, both to prop her up a bit and to check her pulse. She seemed to be okay, only sleeping and missing all the excitement. Glenn, meanwhile, checked in on the still knocked-out reporter. Besides being knocked out, he didn’t look any worse for wear.  While the storm died down, the wormy witch’s screams intensified. I could barely see her under the orbs of light. Then, almost as soon as it began, it stopped dead. It was if the witch never existed. As she vanished into thin air, so too did the orbs of light. We were all alone in a dark house full of unconscious people and carnage, but the battle seemed to be over.

Dymphna and Kolbe strolled out of the kitchen, looking a little tired perhaps, but otherwise the same as they always looked – one like a rather grumpy, balding older man and the other a young girl who looked like she didn’t want to be there, basically like most teenagers. They stopped at my feet and looked down at me. Kolbe shook his head when he saw what was left of my leg.

“That’s a shame,” he said. “It looks like you’ve lost part of your leg. I hope you don’t expect us to help you with a new one.”

“It would be nice.”

“There’s nothing we can do for that I’m afraid. Even if we did, we’re out of juice. Getting this curse lifted, resting the spirit of Jacki Sturgis, took nearly everything we had.”

“Is she gone? Is it over?” Glenn asked.

Dymphna nodded her head and mumbled a reply. “Thanks to you two, and our efforts, all has been set right. Her soul is at rest, but it was not easy to get her there.”


ManQuail meme!

Glenn smiled. “It’s like I always say, I love it when a plan comes together.”

Kolbe motioned to the door. “We’d better be off. I’ll check in later, Doug. You better get that leg looked at by a doctor.”

“I was really hoping you could use some Catholic magic to grow my leg back, Kolbe.”

“I’ll bet you were,” he said, then closed the door on his way out. I could hear sirens in the distance. It sounded as though they were getting closer, which meant one of Diana’s neighbors had called the cops.

“Good,” Glenn said. “Hopefully the cops will get here soon enough to get rid of this trash. Just seeing him makes me angry.” He kicked his former drug dealer’s foot lightly as if to emphasize his point.

I heard a voice whisper in my lap. “Doug? Is that you?”

I stared down at my beautiful friend, the woman I couldn’t stop thinking about, with two human eyes instead of eight spider ones. “It’s me,” I replied. “Nice to meet you in person, Diana Sturgis.”

She laughed a little. “You’re one handsome man, Doug Lansing.”


MANTULA Part Thirty-Eight: The Battle of the Cursed Part IV: Beware the Man with the Ax

Doug begins to be human.

Smoke choked the streets. I felt as if I were still standing next to the fire, even though ManQuail and I were now far from the burning apartment complex. I’d probably been burned – if only slightly – or my spidery human flesh was just way too sensitive. I focused on the path ahead. So far no one else wandered into view. We could see our quarry; a scrambling, crazed figure in the dark up ahead. Kip Mooney wasn’t moving as fast as he could have been, due to the tools he carried, not to mention the gas jug.

Still, with our bodies slowly returning to human form, catching up to him proved sluggish. We kept tripping over our own feet. Along the way we spied the remnants of Mantipede’s army. They were running from the burning apartment, some attempting to fly as they had before all hell broke loose this evening, but failing miserably. What was left of Mantipede’s team, more than a dozen, but less than twenty, scattered to the four winds. None of them made a move to attack us while we chased after our man. They either failed to notice us or no longer cared. I figured it was the latter. The curse of the Sturgis Witch had gone down in flame and failure, but the dregs were slow to depart. Our change back to our human forms seemed to be taking time. ManQuail had a theory about that, which he shared as we gained on our target – and got closer to Diana’s home.

“Her soul hasn’t been set to rest yet,” he said, panting slightly. I still found it odd to hear him speak out loud. He didn’t have an accent, but there was something a little Southern about his speech, like growing up in the backwoods of Camp Verde had created an inflection all its own. “Could be the saints are still fighting with that crazy old lady.”

I nodded, finding myself short of breath as well. “She won’t make anything easy, Glenn. But our goal is this guy. We can’t let anything happen to Diana.”

“You know, I figured your voice would sound like that,” my friend replied. “Sort of educated. Like a rich white guy used to giving orders. No offense of course.”

“I don’t give orders, Glenn. I just like to be left alone.”

“She’ll be okay, buddy.”

We rounded the corner of Diana’s street just in time to see the newspaper reporter shaking the dregs of his red gasoline jug against the side of her house. He laid the jug at his feet, next to a large wood ax, and started to search his pockets. He operated by the glow of the lights inside the house, which served to outline his criminal behavior. Glenn and I zeroed in on him silently, agreeing with a nod to approach silently, and I made my move just as he pulled a Zippo from his jeans. Being the size of a good-sized dog made things easier for me, though I still hadn’t gotten all the way use to being any larger than a bagel. I careened into the man like a bullet. The lighter flew from his fingers and disappeared somewhere in Diana’s yard. Hopefully he had no other means to start a fire on his person, matches or something, though I had no intention of letting him have access to his pockets again.


Odd, blinking lights can be seen inside the home of Diana Sturgis.

He screamed in terror as we both fell to the ground. “My God! It’s you, isn’t it? The spider? The one who attacked me?” Mooney pushed at my large hairy arms and brought his knee up into my gut. I felt the pain, wincing silently, but wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of hearing me cry out. Glenn appeared at my side. By the light of the home I could see a flash of light hair and a beak where a mouth should be. He grabbed the reporter’s arms, holding them down, which left me open to land a hairy fist into his face. It surprised me to realize I had hands again, still covered in stiff tarantula hair, but otherwise back to human form. The other legs had been changing too. Four of them were shrinking, two were turning into legs, and I began to get a little more excited about the change than I should have under the circumstances.

Mooney took advantage of my momentary pause with another solid kick to my nether regions. Things must have been growing back in that department, just as they were everywhere else, because it hurt like hell. I fell to the side, knocking into my friend, which forced ManQuail to release his hold. That lapse was all the time the crazed arsonist needed to leap to his feet. Not only that, but he grabbed the ax on his way up. He held the weapon in both hands. I couldn’t tell, but it looked like he might have been smiling. Maybe he was more insane than I thought? His eyes glowed manically in the glow of the house. That glow, I realized, changed colors, kind of like the blinking lights of a Christmas tree. I saw yellows and reds, greens and blues, and an assortment of other colors. Either things were getting really weird in there or Diana had decided to hold a rave.

ManQuail shouted. “Doug, look out!”

Driven by fear, by rage, or an assortment of both, Mooney swung the ax. And he swung it hard. I pushed Glenn out of the way of the deadly weapon, cursing myself for getting distracted once again, and made to leap to safety myself, but I was too late. For a split second I thought I had done just that, that the ax missed me, but then I felt a flash of hot pain sear through my lower body like a firestorm. A dark lump of meat fell from my body. I fell sideways, landing on my side and saw part of my leg on the ground by my face. It wasn’t connected to the rest of me.

The ax swung down again, only this time it hit the dirt an inch or so from my nose. Mooney laughed and raised the ax over his head, intending to deliver the killing blow. Blood poured from my wound, pain seared the edge of my vision, but I could see ManQuail getting to his feet. I held up a human arm in a vain attempt to block the falling ax and doubted my friend would be able to prevent the inevitable chop.


Xanadu SOS

I wondered what it would be like to live in Hearst Castle. Like most who visit this adult Disneyland, where people whisper the word Xanadu out of earshot of the docents, I entered an historic womb of obscene wealth and couldn’t believe any one person would have so much. And yet William Randolph Hearst continued to want. I pictured his face, available to any Google searcher, but saw only that waif hidden under the Ghost of Christmas Present’s heavy robe as I wandered the vast estate.

When faced with both Ignorance and Want, the large bearded ghost warned Ebenezer Scrooge to be particularly wary of Want.

Smiling at the obvious want.

Staring at Hearst’s collection of Renaissance Era art pieces, his over-the-top architectural choices made with Julia Morgan, it’s easy to see why Charles Dickens felt that way. Mister Hearst wanted for nothing, but couldn’t have everything. His San Simeon estate, larger than life and so beautiful it hurts, was never finished. Hearst wanted more there. He wanted more zoo animals, more art, much of which remains warehoused I hear, and filled his library with books and books, and books so big it would take two nerds to carry it.

I stood in his bedroom, thinking about Orson Welles, and realized I couldn’t find my way back to the Hearst dining room. I’d walked in so many circles, up so many tight-fitting spiral stairs, and gasped in wonder at so many antiquated wonders, I was hopelessly lost. In this castle of oppressing opulence and wooden eyes, in a world of dotcom desire, the Hearst fortune had succeeded in polishing my own humility. I would lose my mind after two nights here. I would scream from a window and fling myself into the monarch filled garden below.


It’s a pretty nice mug actually.

And perhaps that’s the reason Orson Welles toiled with Citizen Kane, why the State Parks continue to bus people in to see Casa Grande daily, and why I felt the vastness of the castle like a vise rather than a dream. Others frolic the grounds and museum interior, picturing how they would rule the roost were it their own mansion estate, imagining a life full of so many riches. But I considered the sadness there and the lesson to be learned from too much of anything.

Hearst brought so much to his old family campground, wanted so much more built there, but in the end the one thing he wanted most, his childhood happiness, was the one thing he could not buy. As souvenirs go, this lesson isn’t a bad way to remember the place.

But the coffee mug helps too.

Hello, Sack Person

Sack Person-1

Sack Person responds to someone online, first out loud, then with a smarter, written post using emojis.

(File this under possible creepy fantasy characters)

There’s no way to tell if Sack Person is a male or female. It’s made from lumpy sacks, flesh colored, and those sacks form rolls at the waistline, the neck and chest, and other spots. Sack Person has eyes hidden under shadowy crags, a gaping maw for a mouth, and walks with a hunched back. Luckily, Sack Person rarely walks. When walking occurs, photos are taken and shared on social media to brag on the sunshine, fog, and wildlife. Not all at once. The photos are saved and dealt online at intervals, creating the illusion Sack Person is outdoors regularly.

Sack Person builds memes and gifs more often than Sack Person walks around. Sack Person prays for the viral spin of a popular post to feel like a dragon devouring its own tail. So far nothing. Sack Person is familiar with the term armchair philosophy, but cannot connect the obvious dots when brag-posting a quote of re-affirmation or something Henry Rollins never actually said. Sack Person vomits snark at every post shared and gone viral. Sack Personbrag-shares them too, gets in on those intellectual zingers, and fails to recall them when it’s discovered the viral post was not real. Sack Person is real. And real people make mistakes. It said that very thing on a meme with a picture of Jimi Hendrix on it. No reason to apologize for being a part of someone else’s problem, Sack Person thinks.

Sack Person shares all news of terrible things. Thoughts and prayers. Brag-thoughts and humbled brag-prayers.  Sack Person knows a hashtag inside and out, emojis like nobody’s business, and saves cute cat videos to reshare at later times. Cats fare better than dogs for the most part. Following every crisis, Sack Person moves on and never mentions it again – unless it trends.

Sack Person’s profile picture shows an exciting, smiling, jubilant face. The words “jk” and “lol” appear regularly on Sack Person’s feed. When outside, Sack Person monitors social media. When eating, Sack Person takes photos of the food for social media.

Sack Person is awesome online because being awesome online is easy.

History has no pretense


, , , , , ,

Do you?

Driving home through the Monterey Peninsula isn’t always easy. Black Jaguars speed like bullets. Audis are a blur. It’s hard for the cars of the working class to weave in amongst them and join the commuting fray but it’s okay. No one wants to see the wrinkled face of the privileged. Bottle Blonde women in their Porsches, hurrying to have their skin stretched, go too fast to see the homeless encampments built like barricades between the cities of the peninsula along the famous, camera-ready Highway One.

The encampments aren’t meant for their eyes. This collection of cardboard boxes, broken lawn chairs, and mildew-covered tarps are meant for the eyes of history, not those vainly attempting to fight their own age. We lie and twist the historical record, like a tiger gnawing on a bloody stump of food. There’s no telling how the truth once looked. We know there was once something pure there, before the gnashing teeth and lies came calling. We’re a part of the story, not the tellers of it.

Monterey Bay swells to accommodate cruise liners come summer’s end. Floating cities glazed in economic frivolity smother the surface of the marine sanctuary – here for that reason and also affecting it. Not far from where the plump boat anchors, where smaller boats transport shoppers back and forth from its pristine walls, but just far enough away to never be seen, a squeaking shopping cart conveys an old woman’s life possessions to a shady spot where this invisible wretch can watch the big boat depart and wonder what the rooms are like within it. She knows all too well of the six encampments along Highway One.

The stretch of highway between Carmel and the Del Monte exit is a short one – full of pain and discomfort. Those who cower in the encampments are thankful there’s a drought. Rain and survival are anathema to one another. At times the homeless thirst for warmth, for a coat not covered in whatever slime they were sleeping in last night, and for a moment to catch their breath without fear of being rousted.

These vulnerable souls are visible to the working class who find themselves parked in thick Highway One traffic, hoping it moves just fast enough for them to be home in Salinas or Seaside before dark. Commuters see the marginalized and wonder if they could sleep on hard ground, wrapped in an unwashed sleeping bag, should their life veer, should they miss that next paycheck. Those who see them shop far from the more expensive organic aisles at the grocery store, not out of ambivalence, but out of necessity. They’re secretly thankful for dollar stores and dollar menus, appreciative for the local farmer’s market, but they themselves rarely shop there, afraid of sustainability’s expense.

Unlike those who turn away, whose dark sunglasses and tinted Audi windows shield them from the dirty tarp walls hung at the edge of the highway. History sees the encampments. History will remember the six areas within view of those who choose to see it, populated by those who fear the rousting and marvel upon the cruise ships.

History will remember the encampments long after the Audis and Jaguars have wrapped themselves around a tree, and centuries past the Dollar Store’s report of unprecedented growth.

The Edge of the Sea in Pacific Grove – Starts Oct. 2


Graphic for The Edge of the Sea event in Pacific Grove.

Rachel Carson is a lot of things to a lot of people, though many remember her as a noted environmentalist and author of the book “Silent Spring,” which warned readers of the long term effects of mishandling pesticides.

While California’s Monterey Peninsula wasn’t necessarily Carson’s personal playground (she spent most of her time along the east coast), her concerns are mirrored here on the “left” coast.  If the lineup for The Edge of the Sea is any indication, Carson’s spirit is alive and well in Pacific Grove. Honoring Carson and her legacy, the Edge of the Sea is an event designed to instill a sense of wonder in the California coast.

And it’s going to be quite an event! Starting, and orbiting, an art show at the Pacific Grove Public Library, the event will also feature a wonderful lineup of lecturers such as Stephen Palumbi, Jim Covel, William Souder, Pacific Grove’s Passionfish restaurant co-owner Cynthia Walter, artists Sibyl Johnson, Tom Killion, Christine Crozier, and more. Three Asilomar nature walks will also be held throughout the three month affair. Lecture topics include California’s Wild Edge: Poetry of the Monterey Peninsula with Tom Killion, Pages of Inspiration: Rachel Carson and the Power of the Pen with Jim Covel, History of Hopkins Marine Station with Don Kohrs and much more. On Sunday, November 1st, a Dia De Los Muertos Memorial Paddle Out at Lover’s Point in honor of Rachel Carson and Julia Platt. Local artists Margie Anderson and Julie Heilman will also work on a mural at a local school as part of the event.

A number of volunteers became involved in this project and I was happy to be involved in this event as well, volunteering graphic design (let me know what you think of the banner images!), website production and population, news releases, and lots of time. Others are donated their time as well, be they artists, speakers, and even delivery couriers.

Take a moment to check out the site here and we will see you at The Edge of the Sea!

MANTULA Part Thirty-Seven: The Battle of the Cursed Part III: The Bell Tolls Death


Doug nearly loses his candle.

If there’s one thing I hate it’s making friends.

It’s a problem for a lot of guys, so being a bit revolted by the idea of getting to know people doesn’t make me weird. It just makes me a normal guy stuck in the body of a grotesquely enlarged tarantula. We’re lone wolves, as the cool kids say, and guys like me like their alone time. We like being with that special someone too, but crowds, social gatherings; that’s a whole ‘nother enchilada. It’s a bit icky.

That being said, thank God for friends.

One friend in particular, really my only friend; he’s the reason I’m still sucking in air. Were it not for Glenn and his fast moving wings and beak, I would be a glob of arachnid pudding. I felt close to turning into just that by the time he showed up like an angel sent from the Great Beyond.

“Not so damn cocky now, are you? You filthy spider, you sickening creepy bastard, you disgusting sack of…,” Mantipede had me right where he wanted me thanks to an intellect that jumped from reactive thinking to analytical thinking without the green light from me. It made me lose focus, which provided an easy opening for the giant centipede with the mind of a street thug to dive in and wrap his armored insect body around my hairy spider body.



So much for their crappy little apartment.Mant-Explosion-2

I fought the black spots forming around my vision and tried, with every ounce of energy I had left, extend my eight legs and repel the giant bug who was very nearly the victor in our battle. I couldn’t move him an inch. Bells began to sound in my head, gonging me from the show of life. I very nearly laughed about my predicament then, and had turned my thoughts to my son, when a blinding flash of hot light caused me to shrink back to reality.

ManQuail somehow managed to get between Mantipede and my limp form. He swung his beak between us, burning the tip of his incense into the giant centipede’s eyes. Mantipede howled in my head and his grip faltered, allowing me to break loose. With a flurry of wings and a good shove, I went sprawling toward the kitchen. The gawkers moved aside, letting me tumble to a stop near the burning black candle. The heat of the apartment fire, I discovered, helped things along. The black candle was very nearly burned out. Once snuffed, I had to bury the entire thing, water and all. At that point my task was done. Only, staring around at an apartment full of vengeful creatures and flames destroying all I held dear, I wondered how I would do that one simple task. It’s not like the Catholic saints Dymphna and Kolbe would come to my rescue. They were likely busy with their own tasks back at Diana’s place.

It was then I saw her. The wormy witch appeared in the middle of the living room, surrounded by heat and fire, and pointed her wretched talon-like fingers in my direction. “Kill the Mantula,” she screamed. “Kill him dead and end your pain!” The grotesque old woman turned her green, oily face to the centipede. Mantipede had barely managed to compose himself from his burns. “Up you!” She shouted to him. “Kill your enemy. Kill! Kill!”

At this point everyone seemed a little dazed and confused. I wasn’t dead, for one thing, which probably came as a shock to many of the creatures swarming in the room. They were all growing bigger as the Sturgis curse weakened and died for another thing. And the heat was getting to everyone. Some of the animals closest to the window and door were already making a beeline for safety. The rest, including me, were about to drop from smoke inhalation. No one seemed inclined to do what the witchy woman ordered. Mantipede might have made another attempt were it not for ManQuail.

Again, thank God for friends.

He leaped in front of me, panting and frantic, and gestured to me to get on his feathered back. “F#cking Sh#t,” he yelled in my head. “Sh#t! Sh#t!” I wrapped two of my furry legs around the bowl and candle, covering as much as I could with my own body, then scrambled atop my friend. He flopped and floundered, but managed to get enough air that we soared over most of the critters’ heads. I looked up, thinking we were about to crash into the wormy witch, but realized she had vanished. I felt a claw rake across my leg from somewhere below, but managed to hang onto my candle and bowl. Looking behind us, I realized we were getting out of my crappy little apartment at the right time.

Flames engulfed the old white stove in the corner of the kitchen and the whole room suddenly felt as if it were taking in a last, deep breath of air. Then it all went to hell. The room exploded in a fireball of lava and pain. ManQuail, with me holding on for dear life, burst through the window, flapping his wings like a madman, as a plume of fire shot over our heads. The next moment I felt cool air touch my singed body, then the impact as I hit the dirt outside of the apartment complex. I couldn’t believe we hadn’t died in there. Others had. There was no mistaking the room had been cleared of life by the explosion. A handful of cursed lives, Mantipede’s included, were now gone thanks to the ghost of Jackie Sturgis. And my crappy little apartment, and my memories of Charlie, were also gone.

I climbed groggily to my feet and realized I dropped the bowl and candle at some point during our fiery exit. It sat, unbroken and right-side up, a few feet away. Perhaps there’d been a little saintly intervention after all. It didn’t even look as though a single drop had been spilled. I grabbed the bowl and made my way into the shadows beyond the glow of the fire. ManQuail followed close behind me, keeping an eye out for other attackers with a mind to finish what Baldy began. We saw no one, except for gawkers staring into the flames of what was once their neighbors’ homes. Fire trucks, police cars and ambulances lined the street to the south of us, but so far we hadn’t been seen. If anything I’d be confused as a dog. With our growing bodies, we could no longer hide as easily as we could before this melee began.

I tore easily into the earth, ripping out huge chunks at a time, and made a neat little pile behind me. Glenn stood guard over the bowl and candle, then helped me heave both items into the pit. We both took turns burying the items. We’d no sooner patted the last bit of soil down than we could feel the beginnings of the change. My skin felt as though it were stretching. My eyes felt as if they were blurring and rotating in their sockets. And it was painful, but not as bad as you might think. Not sure why really, except that every part of my body had become gooey and malleable, which probably changed how my nerve endings reacted to things.

And ManQuail, who was beginning to look more like a man than a quail, finally got his speech back.

“It’s happening,” he said with a laugh. “It’s like I always said. You put your mind to something and you can accomplish anything.” It was the first time I heard Glenn’s real voice.

Staring past my friend, I noticed a figure running past the fire. He ducked beneath a wooden fence into a nearby alley, tossing a gasoline can as he fled. There was no doubt in my mind who that gasoline can belonged to, nor who was to blame for the fire that burned my crappy little apartment.

“Kip Mooney.” My voice sounded weird to my ears. I hadn’t heard it speak aloud in some time.

“Where do you think he’s off to in such a hurry?” Glenn asked.

I knew the answer to that question in a flash of course. There could only be one other location that he’d find as appealing as my place.

“He’s not finished yet, Glenn. That bastard plans to burn down Diana’s house just as he burned down these crappy apartments.”

MANTULA will return.

MANTULA Part Thirty-Six: The Battle of the Cursed Part II – Man to Man

Doug faces trouble.

There was no getting around this fight. I had to keep the candle burning, finish the strange ritual, but I had to fight Mantipede as well. I had no idea how in the hell I would accomplish both. Lucky for me, none of these creatures seemed to care one way or the other about the candle. They were too busy getting their asses handed to them by yours truly – with a little help from ManQuail of course.

I took advantage of their ignorance and shifted my feet toward the far side of the living room, hoping the cursed army would follow. Sure enough the mass of birds, bugs, reptiles and rodents surged in my direction like a lumpy, feathered tidal wave. They left my burning black candle alone.

Mantipede beat his way through his colleagues, not caring whether he hurt them or not, and bore down on me like a freight train. I realized he had to be two feet long. His creepy spiked legs, attached to individual segments that looked like they were made out of steel, moved with frantic flicks, as if they had no mind controlling them and were simply cogs in a machine. Two gnarly fangs, likely grotesquely enlarged forcipules, protruded from the end of (what I assumed to be) his mouth.

“Keep them coming this way,” I shouted, hoping Glenn would hear me. He was only a few feet away, but at our size, and with all the other crazy voices in the room, he might as well have been miles away. “All they want is me. Nothing else!”

“Damn right we want you,” someone called out.

My quail friend replied, “F#ck!” I had to hope he knew what I was talking about. But he had his hands full as well. For a quail whose strength didn’t match my own, he was doing a decent job on the attackers that managed to get in his line of fire. It helped that he had sticks of burning incense, which he held in his beak and swung around like a sword. He, too, seemed to be growing larger. He had to be about the size of a turkey at this point. Birds and large bugs flopped and fell around him. Glenn leaped to the kitchen counter, abandoning his post by the candle, and his attackers followed suit. I breathed a sigh of relief the candle was safe, at least for now.

“Main event time, my man. Main event time.”


Mantipede versus Mantula!

I turned to see Mantipede directly before me. A circle of rodents and birds ringed us, only none of them were trying to take me down any longer. It seemed they were all sticking around to watch, hoping this nasty, foul-mouthed centipede would be the ticket. None of them seemed to care about the fire licking the edges of the living room window, billowing thick smoke into the apartment.

“Time to end this. Time to get everything back to the way it was.” Mantipede’s gravelly voice sneered in my head.

I raised a leg in a futile attempt to calm the creature. “Listen to me. Killing me will not end your curse. It won’t change anything. You’ll never turn back to what you were before if you kill me!”

“You should hear yourself, you little wuss. Beating you probably won’t be much of an effort at all by the sounds of you. You’re nothing but a whiny little ass.”

I dropped my leg in defeat. There was no talking to this guy. There was no talking to any of them apparently. Even cursed, even stuck in weird bodies, they were just like every other person on the planet, only interested in their own hyper-sensitive opinions. I held my ground and faced Mantipede dead on.

“Give it your best, little goof,” I grumbled, hoping I sounded tougher than I felt. “Just be careful one of those cute little legs doesn’t snap off.”

With that, Mantipede flung himself against me. I felt the air blown from my spider body as we both flew backward into the crowd. Many of them scattered, but I found myself on top of a scrub jay and a large black butterfly of some sort. They were all growing much larger than they should be. For a split second I wondered if they would get as big as humans, but stuck in their cursed forms. Who knows how these things work? I felt a flurry of spiky jabs into my abdomen and could hear the shouting voice of my adversary as if he were right inside my head. Those cute little legs, it turns out, packed quite a wallop. I tried not to groan however, nor flinch, which I doubt I could even do in the body of a tarantula.

“You want to mouth off, dumb ass? Try a mouthful of this!”

He kept at it, but I managed to get a few of my legs under him during the attack, while the scrub jay struggled to get out from under my body, screeching frantically. With one solid heave, I tossed Mantipede against the far wall. But I wasn’t done with him. For everything that happened to me in the last year, including the final insult, that of being forced to fight an overgrown, gross monster of a centipede, I think I had every right to let my anger have it’s way with me. So my legs flew rapid fire. I slammed him again and again against the wall, enough to crack the plaster, and had no intention of letting up.

We both turned from men trapped in the hides of insects to an explosion of primal force. I remember only flashes of it. There was pain. There was anger. And there was the perfect blend of them both. It didn’t matter my crappy little apartment was likely burning around me and, forgive me for saying this; it didn’t matter whether anyone else lived or died in that moment. My son, ManQuail, Diana; none of them mattered to me at that moment. Baldy mattered, crushing Mantipede consumed me, and through my haze of red rage I hoped to do just that.

Only Baldy seemed just as pissed. His screams rained hate and anger in my brain. “Kill them! Kill them all! Get them off me! Get them off!” This blind rage, measured against the length of mine, had us evenly matched, if not a little more in his favor. As terrible and angry as I felt, I carried intelligence upstairs. It even managed to seep to the fore when I didn’t want it to.

Hearing Baldy’s insane tirade made me think along a more clinical tangent. I wondered about his irrational fear and questioned how that kind of a fear could affect someone of limited capacity. Having that thought seep into my active mind proved to be a big mistake. I’d no sooner had it than I felt Mantipede wrap his entire body around me. He began to squeeze. And Squeeze. And squeeze harder.

I suddenly felt as though I couldn’t breathe. All of my legs were pinned under his body and no amount of strength could save me. The monster wouldn’t budge. At that point, I started seeing black spots and I began to panic. He was killing me. Right there and then, with so many creatures watching, I would die.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

MANTULA will return.

MANTULA Part 35: Battle of the Cursed Part I – The Terror of Mantipede

Doug has a hard time concentrating.

I found the only lighter we had in the place and got the incense sticks lit for Glenn. He dashed off like a good little soldier with a cape of gray smoke trailing behind him. I turned the lighter onto my candle next, wondering what sort of strange Pagan ritual I was about to undertake. The whole thing seemed oddly un-Catholic, but then again I was never a very good Catholic myself, so I had no reservations about following his instructions. As long as it worked, I couldn’t care less.

As I set to work on my task, my thoughts drifted to all the enemies I had made since turning into Mantula. My first priority was dealing with the curse, though I had quite the new nemesis lurking outside waiting to dash my brains out against the table. Charlie would have loved the name Mantipede. It would have cracked him up. Just like Mantula and ManQuail would crack him up. I just wondered how powerful that nasty looking centipede would be if we locked horns. Hopefully I wouldn’t find out. I wasn’t feeling all that confident about my human-man strength at this point in the game.

I melted the wax into the center of the bowl, then stuck the candle on it. At that moment the flame went out. I waited to relight it, however, until after I filled the bowl with water. With that done, I lit the candle again and started focusing on the curse. This would be the hard part. There were too many distractions going on around me. First off, the army of nastiness outside would, I was sure, bust into our crappy little apartment at any moment. Secondly, a cussing quail ran all around me every few minutes holding sticks of stinky incense. Combine the two and I was lucky to get even the smallest bit of focus loose on the world. I tried though, I centered my mind on how I was once a man, a father, and even a husband – once upon a time. There was nothing exceptional about me, I thought, only that I tried to be a good man to my wife and son. They were my world. And when my wife was gone, I tried to be a good dad. There were no six pack abs on my stomach, no prizes for scientific achievements on my mantle (I didn’t even have a mantle), but I had a healthy and happy boy, so that counted for something I think. Then I focused on what I had become, a suicidal tarantula hell bent on ending his own life. I thought of the beginning of my twisted tale, then focused on how I’d grown, how my human strength remained, and how I wanted nothing more than to go back to who I was. Only different. I knew I wouldn’t be alone when this ended; I had a new friend in Glenn. And there was Diana Sturgis to think about, though I tried not to do that while meditating over the black candle.

“F#cking Sh#t,” ManQuail uttered his usual expletives, but with a note of urgency. I looked up in time to see him dash from the window and jump atop the kitchen table. He pecked at the keyboard with his beak, then turned for me to read the words.

He wrote, “The apartment complex across the street is on fire.

“Thanks, Glenn. Trying to concentrate. Keep spreading the incense around. Try not to look out the window.”

I concentrated again on my disgusting spider body, but in my head I kept seeing the apartment across the way engulfed in flames. People were scattering outside for sure, grabbing their favorite belongings and making a mad dash for safety. Lurking in the shadows were the firebugs, watching, waiting. Never had there been a collection of arsonists like these guys, I figured, not birds and bugs, reptiles and rodents. Who would suspect a giant centipede with a matchbook?
I wondered how long we had until the army set our section of the complex on fire. Probably only minutes. I looked at my black candle. It had hardly gone down at all. The downstairs door thumped closed beneath me. Feet on stairs. A loud thumping on our front door

“Anyone in there? Hello?”

The wife from below. I hadn’t seen her since I laid out her abusive husband. I heard Glenn cuss from the bedroom.

“Hello? If there’s anyone in there, you need to get out now. The apartments are on fire! Hello?”

She pounded again, but quickly thumped her way downstairs after realizing no one was home. We were home of course, but we never answered the door. Especially not today. In the distance were sirens. The Cottonwood Fire Department would, with luck, get here in time. At least in enough time to save our section. I didn’t want to draw this candle-burning thing out.

I tried to drown out all other thoughts as I watched the flickering flame on the candle. It sure burned slowly. Not like the apartments, I’d bet. I sensed ManQuail next to me. He used the lighter on a few new sticks of incense and started smoking up the living room again. I focused on a visual image of the crazy old witch Jackie Sturgis, her hate and anger towards the Catholic saints that brought Glenn back to life, and started praying (yes, praying) for her to find peace. Not only that, but I prayed for a peaceful ending to the whole situation. It was probably the wrong thing to do on retrospect. Because at the moment, we heard a clamor on the outside porch. Lots of scurrying and clawing at our door. Maybe if I hadn’t prayed for a peaceful ending, there would have been one. I guess I will never know.


Baldy finally faces Doug.

I turned just as the first furry creature smashed through the living room window. It was a rat I think, but following it were two quails, a scrub jay, and a bunch of bugs. Beyond them I could see nothing but gray skies. The army roared toward me like a gross tidal wave of segmented bodies, feathers, and unwashed rodent fur. Whether the gray skies were approaching thunderstorms or smoke from the burning buildings I couldn’t tell. There were more immediate concerns on my mind.

The War of the Cursed had begun.

My human-sized strength made it easy to swat the first few away. I even managed to keep any of their weird little bodies from snuffing out the candle. I smacked at a titmouse, knocked a gecko across the room, and batted at a fellow tarantula. They were nothing against my strength – insects to a lumberjack. What I didn’t like was the hummingbird that dove in for the kill. The thing’s beak stabbed at me painfully, but then ManQuail appeared out of nowhere. He sailed through the room like a champ and grabbed that little bird right out of the sky. As he took the enemy down, I saw he still held incense in his hand. I yelled for my friend to stick close to me. His strength wasn’t on par with my own, though you wouldn’t be able to tell by the effort he was putting in.

“Keep the candle from going out!” I shouted at him while bitch-slapping a horny toad. How many of these cursed creatures were there? I looked over the sea of attackers flooding into the crappy little apartment and saw no sign of Mantipede. What I did notice was that these creatures, just like my friend and I, had grown far larger than we were supposed to be. The curse was wearing off for all of us it seemed, and it made for something of a grotesque sight.

I heard an unknown voice in my head. “That’s the quail we saw in the window,” it shouted. I realized the voice belonged to a small brown snake that had just slithered into the room. It figured they spotted Glenn when he looked out of the window. Thanks, buddy.

But then it dawned on me. I could hear all of their voices. As the curse weakened, so did the mental barriers between all of us. I continued to toss bodies across the room while Glenn flapped and pecked at a rat to keep it away from the burning black candle.

 “Listen to me!” I shouted. “I am not the enemy here. The curse is the enemy! We’re getting rid of it! I am not the cause of all of this!”

Someone shouted back at me. “You lie!”

“Sit and spin, douche bag!”

So much for anything resembling peace. I kept beating them down, finding myself quickly surrounded. The more I fought them off, the more I realized they seemed to be stronger too. It was as if the candle melting, the incense burning, were releasing their strength as well. Mine had come from a glitch in the curse, from crossed spiritual wires that couldn’t decide whether I should be depressed or addicted, when in reality I was both, but they had never had that strength. None of the other cursed creatures had, at least not until now.

“Move aside you filthy bastards!”

I looked just in time to see a large centipede drop from the windowsill. “Let me get a crack at this ass. I’ve been waiting a long time to come up against this one.”

Mantipede appeared in front of me. Also known as Baldy, this was a guy who definitely hated me. I could feel it bleeding from his pores, if centipedes had pores. The tone of his voice told me everything, however. Usually that’s all one needs is to hear the tone in someone’s voice to gauge the level of terror they should feel.

This guy wanted to kill me hard.

MANTULA will return


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