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. A slight change to our regular scheduling again this week: instead of a Friday posting, we have a weekend double-bill to close out July’s offerings. Two tales of terror, one from a returning contributor and one from a new addition to the theatre’s cast!
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 August submission window here.
The theme for July’s submissions was “Sundown in a Tumbleweed Town”: stories centred around the Old, the Wild, and the Weird West or other untamed, dangerous locales; tales of the odd and the macabre, of wildernesses and the savagery they might (or did) contain, or similar horror stories along these lines. Our seventh month launched with “Cathouse Communion”, a sinister slice of karmic splatter-Western brought to us by Kacey Rayburn. Next, Elle Vigilante introduced us to the twisted town of T or C, where Jude Salem learned that you can never outrun past sins in “Truth or Consequences”. Last Friday saw rancher Leonard Croster get more than he bargained for in a chilling trip “Down the Mountain” from Brett Tharp, and yesterday evening, Nikki R. Leigh returned to the theatre with “From the Bog with Bated Breath”, a skin-crawling tale of dark deeds enacted around an accursed bog. Tonight, Sean Cahillane offers us “Well and Truly”, a gruesome and macabre story which takes the mundanities of farming and livestock and twists them into something truly nightmarish. 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
John Corrow’s leather boots kicked up dirt as he stormed toward the homestead and into the house. The fence was fixed, the sheep were penned, and Will, his son, was nowhere to be seen. The only one at his side was the family dog, an Australian Shepherd called Sandy.
‘Will! Will, where the hell are you?’
Golden red light from the setting sun filtered into the living room as the boy emerged from his bedroom, dishevelled and bleary-eyed.
‘You wasting the day reading those damn fairy tales again?’
‘So what?’ the kid said. He was sixteen now, but the few wiry hairs that had sprouted from his chin couldn’t hide the little boy himself hiding from the world.
He hadn’t been the same since his mother passed away. He used to be adventurous, rambunctious even. Stirring up hell and causing his folks no small amount of grief. Now all he did was sit inside reading his mom’s old books, detached from the world.
John hadn’t been the same either. In the months that followed his wife’s death, he’d grown harder. Colder. He had learned that it was the only way to survive in the world, and he’d be damned if he was going to let his son waste away and grow up to be some vagabond who couldn’t take care of himself and his home.
‘“So what”? I’ll tell you what—you keep living in make-believe-land and you better imagine yourself a new roof over your head!’
‘What, you’re gonna kick me out?’
‘Yer damn right! I spent all day out there and didn’t even see your shadow. You refill the troughs like I told you to?’
Will’s head tilted down towards the floor. The avoidant look was all John needed to hear.
‘That’s it,’ he barked and pointed outside. ‘You got a horse hair’s worth of daylight left. If those troughs ain’t filled by sundown, yer outta here!’
‘You can’t be serious …’
‘Do I sound like I’m joshin’? Now git!’ John stared with diamond-hard eyes fixed in a dirt and sweat-stained setting. And the boy gave in.
The barrels sloshed as Will trekked back and forth between the well and the sheep pen, liquid spilling over onto the ground as he slowly refilled the trough.
John watched from the porch, dragging smoke from his pipe as he rocked in his chair. He reached down to scruff Sandy’s red merle coat. The dog panted, happy but thirsty. When the boy was done with the trough, he’d refill Sandy’s bowl then the basin in the kitchen. John squeezed a few paltry drops from his waterskin into the palm of his hand and Sandy licked them up.
‘Kid better hurry,’ John said aloud, looking over at the golden disc descending in the sky. Sandy barked. ‘True, least he’s working now.’
The dog whimpered, then stood up and barked again. She faced toward the sheep pen. Something was wrong.
Will had been pouring the buckets over the fence into the trough, but now John looked over to see the boy in the pen.
‘What the heck’s he doin’ in there?’ he said with a huff. ‘Can’t even fill the trough right.’ From afar, he saw Will stumble. Probably just slipped in the mud, he thought, but the slats of the sheep fence made it hard to see for sure.
Will stumbled again, this time losing his footing entirely and falling out of sight.
John waited for him to get back up when the scream came.
‘Pa! Pa, help!’
John rolled his eyes as he stepped off the porch. A blood-curdling scream sounded from the pen and John started to run.
When he arrived, he didn’t believe his eyes. The sheep had swarmed Will’s lower half. The boy was wailing and thrashing, trying to pull himself up against the slick mud and the sheep that had latched onto him. The mud had taken on a ruddy hue and the sheep’s mouths were coated in a deep, gory crimson.
John trembled, felt panic and fear shoot through his mind. With sweaty hands, he fumbled with the latch of the newly repaired gate and dove into the pen. Will’s face was twisted in agony. Horrific screams and pleas for help filled the dusktime air as John grasped his muddy hands. He pulled with everything he had. It wasn’t enough.
The blood-drunk flock of mud-stained wool descended on Will with a ferocity John had never seen in all his years. Flat teeth gnawed and gnashed at his ankles, tore through his canvas slacks, and bared down on the meat of his thigh. When they hit bone, a clacking sound filled the air like horse hooves on cobblestone. Their eyes were dead black rectangles swimming in a sea of red.
Will could only cry. John felt the strength leaving the boy’s arms, the hand that squeezed his weakening by the second. Summoning all his strength, John wrenched backwards and freed Will from the carnage. They tumbled out of the pen, landing on the dry dirt. He kicked the pen gate shut before the flock could pursue.
John retreated, shimmying on his haunches to the base of the nearby oak tree as he dragged Will, his arms clasped around his chest.
He rubbed Will’s forehead, cleared the mud from his pale face as the boy’s head lay in his lap. His breaths were shallow. His clothes were tattered. His left leg was torn off at the ankle; his right thigh chewed down to the bone. He felt so cold.
Will shivered. John shook. Sandy licked the boy’s wounds in vain.
‘Please, Lord, please. You’re gonna be okay, I promise. Everything’s gonna be okay.’
‘I’m … sorry, Pa.’ The thin words escaped from between Will’s blue lips.
‘No, no, son. I’m the one who’s sorry. We’ll get you fixed up. We’ll—’
‘The well … I-I tried to … help—’ A final breath left his body as the word hung in the air.
Will was dead.
John let loose a sobbing roar into the world that was soon swallowed by the wind, becoming nothing.
Nothing. That’s all he had now. That’s all he was now. His wife had been his better half. When she died, his son had been whatever was left. In the morning, he’d bury him, too.
Sandy lay in the dirt by his side, softly whimpering. He tried to feel sad, tried to feel something, but he was empty inside. Not even numb. Even that was a specific feeling. Just nothing. Nothing at all.
John carried his son in his arms back to the house, laid him on the porch, and covered him with a sheet from his bed. Then, through the nothing inside him came a feeling. Regret. If he hadn’t been so hard on the boy, he’d still be here. Sure, maybe buried in one of those fairy tales, but at least not buried in the ground.
No, a familiar voice said from within. I was right. It was the sheep. They’d gone mad, or feral, or … something. There was nothing left to do but cleanse the malady in the sheep pen, exact vengeance for his son.
He retrieved his hunting rifle from inside, whistled for Sandy, and made for the pen.
Without skipping a beat, the sheep had turned their focus on each other. They were lying on their stomachs, covered in blood, each one gnawing on the flesh of another. The legs of each animal were chewed down to the bone. Some had their guts torn open, innards on full display, but they all continued consuming, refusing to die as if the natural world were no longer a factor. John felt bile rise up his throat at the sight of the incestuous feast.
It was time to end this. He cocked the rifle, aimed, and squeezed the trigger.
Headshot. The sheep’s skull exploded, and the beast lay still.
He cycled the rifle bolt. Squeezed the trigger. Another corrupted sheep fell dead.
Then one more. Then two. Those still living kept on feeding. Why wouldn’t they stop? He had to make them stop.
John paused to reload his rifle. His hands were sweaty, chest tight. Shoulder already sore from the recoil. He took aim and buried a round in one of the thickets of dense wool. The beast he struck responded with a chilling baa. It was a distorted, lower-pitched version of the sound he’d known since he was a boy. He cycled the bolt. The sheep pile stirred.
John went to take aim as the injured sheep charged forward and rammed its head into the gate, inches in front of him. He gasped and dodged backwards, losing his footing on the blood-slick dirt. He and the rifle fell to the ground. The sheep rammed the gate again. Then others joined, one after the other. John gained his feet just as the pen burst, and the corrupted flock spilt out into the yard.
Distorted baas sounded from all directions as they tried to swarm him. Sandy leapt in and out of the herd, tackling and subduing the tainted livestock as best she could.
John pushed another cartridge into his rifle and took aim.
Crack. Cycle. Crack.
He shot then repositioned. They went for his legs, but he kicked them off, sure to keep his footing. Half a dozen remained as he pushed another clip into the rifle.
Crack. Cycle. Crack.
Sandy caught one by the neck and ripped out its throat. Then another. Blood sprayed into the air.
No, that couldn’t be Sandy, John thought. Then he saw it—her red eyes dashing through the remaining flock like a beast possessed. He didn’t have to fire another round. Sandy tore through them like a wolf.
The chaos subsided. John cycled the bolt as Sandy stood over her felled prey. She turned to face him.
The moon had risen and reflected blood red in her transformed eyes. She bared her teeth, gore dripping from her murderous maw. She heaved, a deep growl emanating from within, a growl that wasn’t Sandy.
John raised the rifle. He blinked away the tears for a clearer sight.
‘I’m sorry, girl.’
The dog barked and lunged as John squeezed the trigger. They both fell to the ground. The dog, dead. John, his legs buckling under him.
He sat surrounded by carnage. The moon was bright white, but everything—the dirt, the wool of the blood-soaked carcasses, Sandy’s dead eyes—shone deep red in its light. It didn’t make sense. He wasn’t seeing this. He wasn’t smelling the sweat or the heavy odour of iron in the air. He wasn’t feeling the cool wind blow through his hair. He was somewhere else, trapped for a moment in these senses that weren’t his. A dream maybe. It didn’t matter. He just wanted to leave, go back to his world. Pet his dog. Hug his son. Be at peace.
But there was no peace to be found.
Behind him, the porch creaked.
He turned to see the white cloth fall away as the figure underneath sat upright.
‘No … no,’ John whispered, teary-eyed and trembling. He closed his eyes as hard as he could, willing himself to return to his senses. This wasn’t real. It couldn’t be.
He opened his eyes to see red ones fixed on him. His son’s fingers clawed the dirt, dragging his legless, pallid corpse nearer with each mindless lurch forward.
John cycled the bolt as soft-spoken, hollow words crept from his mouth.
‘Forgive me, Mary. Please tend to the boy.’
As he angled the rifle, madness gripped him, well and truly, and a final gunshot rang out into the night.
About the Author
SEAN CAHILLANE is a writer, musician, and technology professional living in New York City. Through the terrifying or thought-provoking, the heartfelt or the humorous, his writing aims to explore the undercurrent of humanity present in troubled times and strange places. You can find him on Twitter @SeanMCahillane.
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