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 on World Environment Day 2022 with “A Ghost Story for the End of the World”, which was brought to us by Brandon Applegate. Darren Todd joined our lineup next with the bone-chilling “Snowblind”, followed by Cormack Baldwin and the highly disorienting trip that was “Orienteering”. This evening, writer Hadassah Shiradski enters the Theatre with “Marrow for Mallow”, a gruesomely realised and cautionary tale of Mother Nature’s retaliation. 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
Mallow was going hunting that night. One such as her had to eat, and for once, she was thankful for the lack of driving rain. A calm evening never failed to turn people lackadaisical to the safety of their fellows; she would take what she was owed.
Leaning back against a twisted oak tree, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes, letting herself melt into the ancient oak, flow along the gnarled, reaching branches—jump to the wicked beech next to it—move along quickly now, ignore that squirrel about to be devoured by something stalking in the shape of a crow—slip down the hollowed-out trunk—wind around the brambles sprawled everywhere—through the mounds of dead leaves and beetles until—people, chatter, fire.
Mallow came back to herself with a reluctant, disappointed groan from the oak, her arms and legs and throat laced tightly to the knotted bark in climbing ivy. Adorable, and a nice try, but really, the oak should have known better. It was a simple task to just pull away from its grip. It was even simpler to leave the ivy screaming as she rent it to nothing more than a broken semblance of itself. Just to make sure that her message had been received and understood as intended, she raked the oak across its front, gouging in her warning. If it shook a moment later, bleeding sluggish sap from the open wounds … well, it only had itself to blame.
She turned haughtily and began to glide in the direction of the campfire, only to pause just past an alder, sticky with new growth; an oak lay fallen, and the remaining stump had been partially overrun by fleshy mushroom shelves, porous and weeping deep yellow from the larger pits that pockmarked their uppermost layer. Mallow would have paid them no mind, but they wished to speak with her, and who was she to deny a polite request?
The brackets confided in her thus: the ferns had told them that there was quite a group of humans by the fire. They would request that she simply leave enough for them, as it were, and perhaps for the ferns. She wasn’t so selfish as to take all those intruders for herself, so Mallow nodded in acquiescence and left the fungus behind to pass her agreement on to any else who cared to ask—she wanted first pickings.
Rounding a tall ash, Mallow silently approached the campfire and the one–two–three–four–five–six-seven people sitting around it, the whispering gossip of the nearby ferns unheard under the crackling flames. They were tossing twigs and chunks of festering wood into the blaze; she could smell the putrid smoke and spot the occasional fountain of sparks through the tallest of the ferns, followed by hasty panic as the instigator smothered the glowing embers that smouldered on his clothes.
Vicious, mocking amusement radiated from the ancient oak that towered over them and dropped acorns on their heads just to see them squirm and curse. They were lucky it was only releasing acorns. Their fire was “safe”, yes, but the surrounding watchers certainly were not.
The seven of them were murmuring amongst themselves, disinterested in each other but pretending otherwise, all wanting some comfort in the bone-deep chill of the night but unwilling to offer any of their own. Mallow could provide her own kind of warmth, if they were so foolish as to trust the silver dripping from her lips.
Trust in her, nothing bad will happen. Don’t mind the antlers, those were just a trick of the light. Just trust and follow and don’t look back, your fellows won’t notice, they don’t care.
That one with the curiously dark hair was the only one who wasn’t staring into the puttering flames. Their focus was on repairing a tear in their waterskin, stitching up the gash with deer-sinew thread. The point of the needle sunk into their swollen flesh and they winced, hissing through clenched teeth. None of the others noticed. Good.
She hummed, low and soft, and they looked up.
A press of her finger to her lips and they told no one of her presence.
She straightened her shoulders, and they rose to their feet.
A careless flick of her hand and they brushed off the half-hearted concerns that blossomed languidly around them.
She beckoned, and they came.
It was with eager, clumsy steps that they stumbled forward, waterskin forgotten. The crunch of their boots in the carpet of fallen leaves echoed like a gong, bouncing back from the walls of watching trees and waiting brambles to fill her ears with an infuriating cacophony. She wouldn’t have to bear the noise for much longer, so she kept the honeyed lies flowing for now. The taste of silver didn’t tarnish on her tongue, and she knew how to practise a patience unnatural to her.
They stepped forwards and forwards and forwards as she danced back and back and back with them; one-two-three, one-two-three. As soon as the first oak tree came between them and the campfire and their blissfully oblivious friends, she felt the inquisitive brush of a blackberry bramble against her ankle, and gave an approving nod. They’d worked well together before, Mallow and the blackberries; she bore them no umbrage, and enjoyed their collaboration. Her hunting partner did not hesitate. The tendrils of thorny vines thickened about her feet, strands emerging from under the tangled bushes and up through the latticework of roots until the human stopped short, encased up to the knees in starving thorns.
She waltzed a step backwards and they tried to follow, but fell instead, their outstretched, grasping hands smashing straight through the thick log they thought to be solid. The soft wood caved inwards, their fingers scrabbling at the rot and decay that lined the bough which they hoped would save their plummet. She smiled, then, leaning over as the brambles wound up their arms and torso, curling oh-so-gladly around their neck. Mallow couldn’t help but take some humour in that they’d relied on two false things for safety—her back was just as hollow and rotten as that dead tree, which should have been their first clue, had they looked.
Half of the blackberries were already ripe—dark purple pearls bundled between spines and leaves and their hard sickly-green counterparts that not even the bugs would touch. The creatures knew better. The thought occurred that the humans sitting back there may not. Mallow brushed the notion away as it formed—an interesting idea, but one that bore no fruit, for the ferns would not stay in idle gatherings for much longer. Additionally, she was hungry, and she had a hunt to see through.
She’d promised the bones to the blackberries, after all, but the rest was all hers.
And with the brambles filling their mouth and the thorns pricking their eyes, Mallow dined her fill.
About the Author
HADASSAH SHIRADSKI (she/her) is from the UK, and graduated in 2020 with a BA (Hons) in Creative Writing and Philosophy. She has a strong interest in gothic horror, historical fashion, atmospheric horror puzzle games, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, and folklore. Hadassah has been published by Kandisha Press in The One That Got Away: Women of Horror, Volume 3 as well as by Wretched Creations, Stone Of Madness Press, and Crow & Cross Keys. She has a novella forthcoming from Brigids Gate Press in August 2023. She can be found on her Twitter, @DassaWrites, and on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21106735.Hadassah_Shiradski.
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