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 July submission window here.
The theme for June’s submissions was “earth song”: stories centred around animal or ecological-themed horror, of Mother Nature’s wrath, or similar horror stories along these lines. Our sixth month began last Sunday with “A Ghost Story for the End of the World”, which was brought to us by Brandon Applegate. This evening, author Darren Todd joins our lineup with the bone-chilling “Snowblind”. Much like last week’s story, “Snowblind” delves into every parent’s worst nightmare; the endangerment of their own children. Tonight’s tale is one with plenty of bite—an original spin on a popular horror premise. 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 was scrubbing through old home videos when the phone rang. I’d been expecting the call but still considered sending it to voice mail.
‘Hello?’ I said, as if unsure who was calling, though the display had shown my ex-wife’s name before the first ring had quieted.
‘He’s … in there. It’s started. Whatever.’ Her voice telegraphed a stuffy nose, likely following a crying spell.
‘Good,’ I said and resumed the footage playback, recorded from a GoPro on Daniel’s helmet. In it, he was riding the ski lift alone, a rare privilege but not unheard of. I checked the date stamp to see that he was eleven in the video. So, five years ago.
‘“Good?” That’s it? Aren’t you worried?’ she asked.
‘Of course, but less now than if he’d run off again. When, more like it. Out on the streets. Rehab will be a good kinda hard. He might hate every second of it, but he won’t end up in a ditch somewhere.’
‘Jesus,’ she huffed. ‘I’d forgotten your rotten bedside manner.’
‘He’s not dying, Sarah; he’s gonna get better.’
‘What are you doing? I hear clicking.’
I took my hand off the mouse, let the file play. ‘Getting a video together for his coming-home party. Skiing. He was pretty amazing … back then.’
‘He’s still amazing,’ she snapped, the words coming fast and pinched.
In the video, the eleven-year-old Daniel glided off the lift, made a sharp left, cutting around skiers twice his age, and headed for the catwalk, a meandering trail that led past the edge of the forest way up there. Still, I was nowhere in the picture, so this had to have been when he was off on his own. I had allowed him that one out of the four days we’d ski each Spring Break. I imagined myself back at the lodge, sipping a microbrew, wondering how Daniel would fair.
He had maintained that same ferocious independence, but nowadays he spent that energy on getting high. Few creatures in nature are as resourceful as a human looking to score.
‘Did you hear me?’ she said, words languid, sapped of her erstwhile ferocity. ‘I said he’s still amazing.’
As if on cue, Daniel skied right into a low-hanging branch, and I sucked in a breath, sharing in the sudden impact, even if years past.
‘What? What happened?’
‘It’s nothing,’ I laughed. ‘Daniel … hit a branch. In the video.’
‘Is he okay?’
I laughed again, the feeling foreign but welcome. ‘Yeah, I think he’s gonna make it. This was a few years ago.’
‘Or Mount Lemmon in Tucson. Not sure.’
As I watched, the video kept playing but inverted, the camera knocked back and looking down at the path behind him. As the chunks of snow fell away from the lens, it revealed that few people had travelled the trail before him that morning—the snow almost virgin.
‘I always worried about him on those trips,’ she said. ‘I know he’s okay now, but was he okay?’
I didn’t know if she meant on the trips in general, or at that long-ago moment way up in the Arizona pines. I deferred to the latter. ‘He never told me about it—hitting the tree. So it must not have been too bad.’
‘You weren’t there?’ she said, edge firmly back to her voice.
‘He skied alone a little. Thought it was good for his confidence. I’m sure I told you about it.’
She kept talking, but something in the image stole my attention. I hit the spacebar to pause the playback. My gut stirred with some primordial dread, unnamed until I selected the playback window and rotated the image upright.
‘… and I know you wanted to do the right thing, but …’ she went on.
‘Jesus Christ,’ I said automatically, the words more wail than curse.
‘Oh don’t start,’ she said. ‘We both have plenty of blame when it comes to …’
The words faded along with my equilibrium, suddenly sure I’d tip over, though my chair remained on four legs. In the still-frame—behind my only son, frozen in the snow, in time, on my screen—was a wolf. No mistaking. I hit play, hoping the animal was just curious, scouting. Men—even boys, like Daniel—are not their natural prey. It could have come out of those woods just to see what all the ruckus was. But no, as I watched, that wolf decided that my son could fill his belly and began his pursuit in earnest.
‘Are you even listening?’ The familiar phrase broke through the cottony filter that had covered my ears.
I paused the video, but even as my mouth summoned words to defuse Sarah’s frustration, my fingers found my phone, opened my camera, and took a picture of the frozen wolf just—what?—fifty feet from my son.
‘… have to realize, you’re not alone,’ she said. ‘I’m in this every second, as well, and …
I searched the image and found that it was a Mexican grey wolf. Reintroduced to Arizona and New Mexico after being hunted to near extinction in the ’70s. Now no doubt bitter, solitary, sullen, tired of man taking and taking. Tired of running the other way, now ready to reintroduce the old order by sniping a man-pup, all alone and out of his element.
‘… the only people he has in the world,’ she carried on. ‘We really are. He’s …’
But that wasn’t what happened! Daniel was alive now, five years later, unbitten, quite whole. Well, not whole, fractured, but certainly not transformed from an energetic, headstrong, adventurous eleven-year-old, skiing slopes just the sight of which would cause his contemporaries to piss themselves, into so many pounds of meat for some has-been hunter. No, he made it off that mountain.
I started the video again, then opened a search window off to the side for more about the wolf’s hunting habits. Maybe they often gave up. Got distracted or bored. I had to quell the irrational fear that this match between man and beast could only end with Daniel felled. With the GoPro capturing footage that couldn’t exist: Daniel crying out for me while I nursed half a buzz off a ten-dollar IPA in total safety. ’Cause that never happened.
‘… not like we haven’t tried. God knows all I’ve done is …’
Scrolling down, my eyes flicked between the video—wolf clearly gaining ground, beating out an effortless gait he could keep up for hours, days—and the search window. A thumbnail amid the search results snagged my attention. I clicked on it to open a page rife with wolf kills. Their muzzles bathed in bright-red blood, stolid faces as heedless of their prey’s fate as they were the movement of planets. Those eyes cared dammit-all but for the meat supine beneath them. Job, done. Purpose, wrought.
I turned back to the video, new panic unfolding. ‘Just back off him,’ I said through clenched teeth, to the wolf years ago, now only a dozen feet behind Daniel.
‘I’m not picking on him,’ Sarah said. ‘I’m just saying he needs …’
I stabbed the mute button on my phone, afraid of whatever else might come out of my face. I couldn’t tear my eyes from the video now. I maximized it so it filled the screen, turned the volume all the way up. The slushy, slicing sound of his skis across the snow took centre stage, but I swore—behind it—I could hear that beast breathing, a huff so stable you could set a clock by it. Still it gained, my ex’s words turning into background noise. Daniel took a sudden turn and grunted, the sound so childlike it opened my chest, blurred my vision with panicky tears. Now the woods loomed on both sides of him, the forest itself conspiring with that wolf to pull his prey farther from the protection of man.
‘No,’ I yelled. ‘Get back on the trail, son. Move!’
As if spurred by my desperation, the wolf found another gear, the almost bored expression turning sinister: head lowering, snout pointing, legs digging in to lengthen the stride.
‘Please God, no!’ I called.
The wolf closed: ten feet, eight feet, five, then lunged …
I slapped the spacebar to pause, the image of the wolf, jaws agape, mid-flight, stuck now. I cried openly but not with relief. That attack: it guaranteed Daniel’s defeat. What could he have done, just an eleven-year-old boy, against that ancient predator? But he must have done something. Had to have. He’d made it down that mountain unharmed, or I’d have remembered.
‘… like he’s another boy entirely,’ Sarah said, crying as well now.
With shaking hands, I unmuted her. ‘What did you say?’
‘Just, I try and picture him skiing, alone up there—brave, happy. But something changed, didn’t it? Like a part of him … I don’t know … never came back.’
‘That can’t be,’ I whispered, head shaking. ‘He did come back.’
My fingers hovered over the spacebar, wanting so badly to see, to conclude, but unable to bear a single frame more. Even the pines seemed to have warped around the wolf, rallying, hiding the coming deed from prying eyes, the image walleyed. When the act was done, what version of Daniel had the wild offered in exchange? What had come down that mountain? Something less, perhaps.
Something rent in the taking.
About the Author
DARREN TODD’s work has appeared in more than thirty publications over the last fifteen years, most recently in Breaking Rules Publishing’s anthology The Hollow, Vol 3, Sley House Publishing’s Tales of the Sley House, 2021, and Dark Moon Books’ Horror Library, Vol 7. This year, they have stories appearing in Dark Peninsula Press’ Dark Highways, Black Hare Press’ Grimdark anthology, and Culture Cult Magazine’s I Cast You Out.
Enjoyed this story?
Please feel free to show your appreciation for today’s author and their featured story by clicking the button or leaving your thoughts in the comments section down below!
Follow Night Terror Novels
Get the latest content from us delivered
bound, bloodied, and screaming directly to your inbox. Complete the covenant and join the cabal. Do it. Do it now.