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. Tonight sees a slight change to our regular Friday scheduling, as we simply had so many fantastic submissions this month, it was impossible to limit ourselves to four.
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”. On Friday, Hadassah Shiradski delivered “Marrow for Mallow”, a cautionary tale of Mother Nature’s retaliation. Tonight’s story, “Bloodrunners”, is written by Monte Lin and explores Man’s relationship with the planet when a strange, inexplicable organism called “The Mass” appears in the Pacific Ocean … and grows larger as time passes. 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 call them bloodrunners, idiots who, for one reason or another, want to ride out into the Pacific to see how far they can get. I put bloodrunners into two categories: the thrillseekers and the pilgrims. They get stuck out there the same; their machines tearing up the epidermis, the desmosomic material sucking up synthetic metal and real human alike, crushing them with a ton of flesh and organs pushing and pulsing against itself.
The pilgrims, I get. They want to see and maybe touch the Pacific. It’s the closest to a physical god Earth has made. Most agree to stay onshore because when they see the large, blood-brown-bluish mass the colour of bruised skin, the stench of offal on salt water, they get humbled. The few who want to continue want to commit suicide, let the Pacific Mass swallow them whole. They want to give back to the Earth, or just want it to end. I tell them to wait, at least a year. Not for them to be sure, but for me to be sure. For Dad. The Pacific Mass isn’t going anywhere.
The thrillseekers are the assholes, firing their guns at the thing, drinking their beers, patting their own backs for a job well done. Those idiots get a skimmer, load it up with explosives, and toss them over for a laugh, not realising that the pressure wave will cause them to capsize—now with several bleeding holes sucking them down. These are the ones who would end up blowing themselves up or shooting themselves in the nuts anyway, so normally I wouldn’t care about them one way or another, except they pay my living for the rescue. But honestly, I can’t let them die out there. Dad doesn’t deserve those assholes.
It’s always the same: the thrillseekers never pay upfront for insurance (my services, plus a mechanical check on their skimmer and a safety lecture), end up in trouble, and then curse my name when I fly out there demanding a premium. One asshole even held a gun to my head and I was like, ‘Sure, shoot the pilot of this helicopter over the Pacific. I’m sure we won’t crash, and you’ll be sucked up into that blood and guts down there.’
One of these days, they’ll take me up on the dare, put a bullet in my head, and they’ll be screaming my name getting sucked down into a bloody orifice as the Pacific dissolves their feet.
Dad tells me the Pacific Mass wasn’t always there. It honestly doesn’t make sense, as if he said ‘the sun wasn’t always red’ or ‘the sky wasn’t always orange’. But evidently, the water was once this murky blue-green; cold, almost freezing. You could get a spray in your face and it could cool a fever. You could fish in the Pacific, just head out there and dangle a hook and line and catch fish—actual, edible fish.
When the Mass first appeared, it wasn’t yet to the shore, just floating free, growing. When it got close, morons in the government thought they could blow it up. It rained guts, rotten flesh, and blood for hours. Nowadays, different morons want the government to nuke the Mass, forgetting that it’s now right next to the shore, so we’d get irradiated flesh, rotten guts, and blood for hours.
It used to make Dad sad, seeing the Mass. But as the years went on, he changed his tune: the Mass as humanity’s child, the Mass as humanity’s legacy, the Mass as a chance for new life, a rebirth. Withering away to skin and bones, plastic tubes in his throat and stomach, he’d look at me and say, ‘What’s the point of living forever if this is the way to do it?’
He got into his head that the Mass was natural, and so he should return to nature.
‘The Mass isn’t a rebirth, Dad. It’s death.’
‘Death is natural, son.’
Dad wore his best suit and tie, nice shoes, cleanest underwear. Like he did on every birthday. He had removed the tubes but the plugs were leaking, so he had stains on his shirt and collar. He didn’t last long in that state. I took the heli out over the Pacific, far from the shore. You could see the dull red-black stretching out to the horizon. The air was hot and clammy like a warm, moist mouth breathing on your neck.
Dad lay on the stretcher. No sheet covering him. A sheet would have been blown away by the wind, and I didn’t have the heart to wrap him up like he was just an object being shipped. At least on the stretcher, he looked like he was sleeping. I lowered it with the winch and unhooked the rope. A stretcher costs a couple of thousand dollars, but it’s still cheaper than a coffin and funeral services.
I could see him on the Pacific, the bright yellow of the stretcher against the red-black. Who knows how long it would take for it to take him. I couldn’t hover there forever. It’s bad for the battery.
On days without any bloodrunners, I just stare out over the Pacific, sometimes with binoculars, usually with some whiskey. I don’t really expect Dad to be out there, but I keep seeing a hand or arm out on the Mass. Maybe it’s just a shadow or weird growth. Once in a while, I see a figure standing there, and it doesn’t stand like Dad (he slouches). Maybe it’s a bloodrunner I didn’t notice. Maybe the figure waves, maybe it’s the shimmer of heat-haze from all that flesh.
So that’s why I’m here now, keeping an eye on the Mass. Not to protect the morons from themselves, but to protect the Pacific from them. At least for one year, at least until his birthday, so I can know for sure. To make sure Dad’s truly gone.
About the Author
While being rained on adjacent to Portland, Oregon, MONTE LIN edits and plays tabletop roleplaying games and writes short stories. Clarion West got him to write about dying universes, edible sins, dreaming mountains, and singularities made of anxieties. He has fiction in Cossmass Infinities, Cast of Wonders, Lamplight, The Buckman Journal, Nightmare, and Flame Tree Press, Dark Matter, and Kaleidotrope, and nonfiction at Strange Horizons. He can be found Tweeting Doctor Who news, Asian American diaspora discourse, and his board game losses at @Monte_Lin.
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