Greetings boils, ghouls, and other creatures of the night!
A warm welcome back to Night Terror Novels’ ongoing flash fiction series, The Theatre Phantasmagoria, and to our Flash Fiction Fridays—where we bring you fresh dark fiction of 2,000 words or less at the end of every week.
With The Theatre Phantasmagoria, a new theme is announced each month, and by the end of said month, four stories are selected from our call for submissions to be featured here on the site in a Friday post. These pieces will also be published in a “wrap-up” anthology at the start of 2023, showcasing the original works that debut here at Night Terror Novels throughout 2022. If you’re an author yourself and this has piqued your interest, please find details regarding the flash fiction theme for our February submission window here.
The theme for January’s submissions was fresh starts and new beginnings: stories centred around New Year’s resolutions, starting over, resolving to change, or similar such concepts. Our series launched in January with Mia Dalia’s powerful piece titled “Primal Scream”, which was then joined by “Earl’s Big Chance”, a gnarly tale of obsession by Paul Wilson, and followed by Angela Sylvaine’s twisted outing about the tribulations of finding an appropriate roommate, “Meat is Murder”. For the fourth and final story of our inaugural month, Yvonne Lang brings us “Breaking Bad Habits”, a wickedly warped offering about gender dynamics and serial killers. You can find out more about the author featured in today’s post down below, including links on where to find them elsewhere.
We here at Night Terror Novels hope that you enjoy today’s terrifying tale, and remember to check back in on Fridays for future showings in The Theatre Phantasmagoria …
Welcome to …
The Theatre Phantasmagoria
I sit in the dark basement, pain flaring in my wrists and anger bubbling up inside me. I had vowed to stop getting into situations like this. New Year, new me. I was ditching my bad habits and working on my personality to avoid getting into clashes. You can afford to be reckless in your youth, but whilst slightly tipsy on New Year’s Eve, I had decided that I needed a new hobby. Something more homely, something that I could chat about. Maybe something child friendly, since I’d love to be a mum someday. Make small changes now, so you are prepared for the future and all that.
I’d managed less than three weeks before an item on the news caught my attention, and I felt the familiar tug to go back to my comforting routine. I’d given in to the lure; maybe it was best to wean yourself off bad habits instead of going cold turkey? More chance of success. If it makes any difference, the reason I find my unsavoury habit so difficult to kick is that I am motivated by the greater good. It is my own warped way of advocating for equality. Some people wave placards, some file lawsuits for equal pay, some campaign for maternity rights—I stand up to serial killers. Those who see women as nothing more than prey.
If you are asked to name a famous serial killer, how often do you think of a woman? It’s still a man’s game, an area where equality has lagged behind. There are some big names—Hindley or West, for example, but they were helping their male partner. No-one claims they were the brains behind the killings, the architect of the murders. Females who do kill tend to do so by poison, and it is usually their spouse. It doesn’t have the same allure as someone stalking the streets for prey. Even with all the progress women have made, the right to vote, equal pay, becoming leaders of countries, entrepreneurs; this seems to be an area that is still male-dominated. It bugs me: men are still seen as the stronger of the sexes, women still portrayed as the victim. Since time began, we have been cast as the weaker sex and penalised if we got ideas above our station; show some initiative, you were a witch. If you don’t drown, we’ll burn you, if you do drown, we will apologise to your corpse. Hardly seemed fair—and how many men do you know who were accused of black magic and were subsequentially bumped off over a falling out?
They claim we have equality, but do men ever get that prickle of fear when they are walking along a poorly lit street? Do men have to walk without headphones so they reduce their chances of being snuck up on by a sexual predator? Has a man ever had to walk home with his keys clenched in his fist and jutting out between his fingers so this homemade weapon would gain him precious seconds to escape from an ambush? Great strides have been made, but it is still a man’s world. That makes me really angry. That the gender I was born should dictate how likely I am to be a victim.
So, I refuse to play by the rules. That’s my hobby. Pushing the boundaries. I’m not paying for a taxi, I will damn well walk home—it’s barely midnight. I refuse to walk around scared. I decided maybe there were better ways to prove my point and made a resolution to campaign in better, less blood-shedding ways. Then less than a month into my promise, fate dangled too great a temptation. The serial killer from the news—the Midnight Hunter—was prowling our area. A dozen women dead. Sexually assaulted and mutilated before their remains are dumped publicly, with a number carved on their forehead as the sicko keeps track of his kills. I bet he’s some sex-starved loser living in a basement who could never get a woman with his looks and personality. Well, I was right.
I am now tied up in his basement. My face throbs from where he dealt a heavy punch to the side of my jaw to stop me screaming. Twine is binding into my wrists and stinging where it is piercing the skin. He has gone to get a plaster to stem some of the blood as I got a few good blows in; I didn’t get dragged down to this killer’s lair easily—that may have made the idiot suspicious. I shift in the uncomfortable metal chair and look around my prison. There is a lot of dispute in the media about how long he keeps his victims alive between abduction and dumping the bodies. It takes weeks for them to turn up after they are reported missing, but what’s left of them is in such a state it has been hard to pinpoint a time of death; whether he has tortured them for a while or simply waited for a convenient time to dump the body. I have no idea how long he wants to keep me here. I do know how long he’s going to keep me here.
I look around at the blood-splattered table, like an underground autopsy room that doesn’t have to pass a health and safety check. I can see various cutting instruments and a blow torch hanging around the room. This loser has no interest in hygiene; the germs may kill me before he does. I twist my wrist, dislocate it as I have practised, and quickly free myself. I have a blade tucked in my boot. He didn’t notice as it never occurs to a man stalking a woman, enjoying the thrill of the hunt, that they might be armed. It had taken a while for this one to snatch me; I was starting to worry I wasn’t his type. I’d wandered up and down for nights on end, hoping to catch his attention. I won’t dirty my blade though, not when he has left such a choice of instruments down here. This piece of scum was about to beat my record. He will be my fourteenth kill instead of me being his thirteenth. Maybe men don’t make better serial killers, maybe their arrogance leads to them being caught more often. It could be that us girls have been wiping people off the face of the Earth at quite a speed before their natural time is up—we’re just better at it, and at getting away with it. Maybe I’ll stick with my hobby—vermin elimination for equality. It’s not for everyone, but someone needs to do it. Maybe I’ll keep doing this and take up knitting as well to balance it out. Actually, that gives me an idea of what I could do with a knitting needle when I choose number fifteen …
About the Author
YVONNE LANG is an ex-librarian who works in children’s publishing but loves writing for adults—especially horror. Her work has featured in a raft of online and physical publications from Siren’s Call, Frost Zone Zine and Schlock to The Secret Attic and CafeLit. Her debut book was published by Demain as part of their Short Sharp Shocks! series. She lives in Yorkshire with her partner and a cat who does not respect personal space—which has improved her touch typing. Find the author online at http://www.yvonnelang.co.uk/.
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