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 April submission window here.
The theme for March’s submissions was the great unknown: stories centred around the mysterious and the otherworldly; cosmic and eldritch horror of an aquatic nature, or science-fiction. Our third month launches this evening with an emotional gut-punch from author Ali Seay titled “The Border Guard and the Grays”, about coming to terms with the death of a loved one and the great unknown that is the afterlife. 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
He’s so thin now. His blue veins shine through his skin, a map of his life.
‘I regret not travelling more,’ he says.
His breathing is laboured, and it makes me feel short of breath. I try to ignore my own claustrophobia. It’s just a trick of my mind. After all these months, watching him slowly shrink. Physically, mentally, but never emotionally.
There are some things cancer can’t consume.
‘Me, too.’ I want to squeeze his hand, but things like that hurt him now.
We’d travelled minimally. Always worried about money. But I wish we’d forgotten about money a little.
‘I regret not eating more.’
I laugh. ‘Me too. I say that now, but if we’d eaten more, I’d be complaining about being fat.’
‘Luscious, never fat,’ he says.
I laugh again and watch him push his glasses up for the millionth time this day. His face has thinned so much they won’t stay up.
He hits the bolus on the morphine pump and stares out the window. Our windows are huge and filled with the riotous orange, red, and yellow of oaks succumbing to fall.
‘Anything else?’ I try and tease.
I don’t want to tease. I want to hang my head and weep. I want to scream. I want to put my fist through the wall—or a person. I want to rage.
Instead, I wait patiently.
‘More fucking, less working, more laughing, less worry.’
‘Sounds on point.’
His cheekbones could slice paper.
I swallow hard. Kids had never been in our plan. The thought of not having them now is a draw on my soul. Like something tugging on my insides.
‘I love you,’ I blurt.
He smiles his secret smile. The one that has come with illness. Like he knows things I don’t. Which he does. He talks of dreams when he wakes ups. The things he sees. I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell or ghosts or the afterlife, but I hope the things he talks of are real. I hope for him.
‘I love you, too.’
‘Maybe it will be like the sky,’ he says. ‘What’s after this. Maybe it will be limitless and endless. Dark and shifting. I’ve watched the sky all of my life. It’s magical.’
‘And yet, no little green men,’ I say. ‘Or big gray ones.’
‘Grays,’ he says. ‘Fascinating.’
‘Ah yes, your beloved Grays. You know, a girl could get jealous.’
His laugh dissolves into a coughing fit. His glasses slide all the way off.
I keep my calm. That is my job most of the time now. Keeping my calm and not reacting to things that make me sob in the shower or scream in my car.
I hand him water, retrieve his glasses, and when the shuddering stops I put them back on his face.
He sips his water and looks back out the window as the sky starts to bruise. Gray purple dusk is overtaking the horizon. The trees are dying, the day is dying, my husband is dying.
I push the heel of my hands to my eyes until colours explode behind my eyelids. My own personal fireworks. This, I have found, is a good way to avert tears.
He picks right up. ‘Maybe I’ll find out if they’re real.’
Talking is something we have never had an issue with. I have friends who say they have run out of things to talk to their spouse about. To me, this is baffling. We can talk late into the night, and when insomnia strikes or the pain is too intense, we often do.
‘I find that terrifying.’
‘You believe in nothing?’
‘We both did, once upon a time.’ I sit on the edge of the bed and watch him choose his words.
My skin tingles. Is it stress? Exhaustion? Grief? Probably a nice heady mix of all three.
‘Things change when you’re about to shuffle off this mortal coil,’ he says.
My throat hitches. I swallow and swallow and then swallow again, all in an effort to keep my tears at bay.
He raises his hand and I grow silent. ‘Come on, you have to let me say what I want. And it’s Shakespeare.’
‘I thought it was Monty Python.’ Laughter overtakes him and then the coughing is back and down go the glasses.
‘You know damn well it’s Shakespeare,’ he scolds. ‘you were an English major.’
He’s right. I do know. But it was funny. I’ll do anything to make him laugh. I shrug.
‘Who says I ever paid attention?’
We talk as dusk bleeds into night. He refuses food, and I don’t want any either. The morphine pump hisses, the TV paints the dim room in its bluish glow. I am the border guard between life and death. I am the one who waits. The sentinel. The watcher.
Like so many other nights since his diagnosis, I fall asleep upright in the chair.
His hand touches mine and I realize that the room is lit up like the sun. I try to shield my eyes but it’s everywhere. Like someone shining their headlights right into our room.
His eyes are wide though, drinking in the light, and unafraid. His fingers clutch my wrist with more strength than he’s possessed in a very long time.
But his skin is paper white and his chest heaves with the effort to breathe and I don’t need the blood pressure machine to know what’s happening here.
But he’s awake and lucid and awash in blazing light for it.
Not drifting off or fading away but drowning in the brightest light I’ve ever seen.
The moment the thought comes, the room dims. There’s still light but it’s outside.
‘The window, the window—’ he gasps, patting me.
I haven’t gotten him up and to the rocking chair in weeks. But I nod, and he does what he needs to. He crosses his arms over his chest and I mimic it. We lock hands and I haul him upright, then slowly work him to the edge of the bed. We do it again, and I manage to get him up off the bed and do a quick one two-step to nearly drop him in the chair.
The breath rushes out of both of us, but it’s fine.
‘I got you,’ I mutter.
Then I do the only thing I can think of. I get low behind the chair and slide it across the rug toward the window.
It’s easier than you’d think. He weighs very little.
I kneel next to the chair and look out the window.
There they are. Three of them. Hovering. Silvery discs that blaze with light.
He clutches my arms. Wheezing now. His pump is out, and he doesn’t care.
This is it. Here we are. The final moments.
And I don’t know what to watch.
The lights in the sky, dancing and darting, seemingly for us. Or him.
He’s failing and they’re here. Hovering there, raising the hair on my arms.
He’s muttering something I can’t understand. Muttering in time with the soft sounds they make.
His eyes reflect their amazing light.
His grip on me is failing.
My grip on him is failing.
I’m losing him and he’s losing me. He will not remember, though. And I will not forget.
They come together in a formation, their light shining on the back of our property. It narrows down and expands. They hum like the best love song or the worst hymn.
He is not afraid and I am terrified.
But not of them. I know this way down deep. Of what I am about to lose. My best friend, my everything. And what I am about to gain, a gaping hole in my life, an abscess in my soul …
‘There they are,’ I whisper.
He’s talked about this forever.
On gasps, he manages: ‘This isn’t one of those dying hallucination things, then?’
‘Not unless we’re both dying,’ I say.
I regret it instantly. Those pithy words. But he doesn’t care.
He swallows. It’s hard for him. I can see that.
‘No. You have to stay here. You have work to do.’
There are the tears, and I can’t stop them now. In my watery vision, the three ships turn to six then back to three.
“I love you.’ It’s the only thing that makes sense to say.
“Love you more,’ he says.
They blaze, the glow, they set the world on fire and burn my heart with their cold light.
And then fast, like a candle being blown out, they are gone.
And so is he.
They tell you that you can shut their eyes when they die. They lie.
He stares out the window at where they had been. His hand on my arm.
I sit there with him. When I finally move, he will really be dead. Gone. So, I sit there as long as I can.
About the Author
For the last 15+ years, ALI SEAY has written professionally under a pen name. Now she’s shaken off her disguise to write as herself in the genre she loves the most. Ali lives in Baltimore with her family. Her greatest desire is to own a vintage Airstream and hit the road. She is the author of Go Down Hard (Grindhouse Press) and To Offer Her Pleasure (Weirdpunk Books). For more information visit aliseay.com.
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