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 September submission window here.
The theme for August’s submissions was “Innocence Lost”: horror-themed coming-of-age tales set during those long summer months of childhood, young adult-grade stories that explore the universally-relatable trials and tribulations of those transformative years, or similar horror stories along these lines. We dove into our eighth month last Friday with A. R. Frederiksen’s “It Flutters in the Family”, an original approach to the coming-of-age narrative that married maturation rites with Lepidoptera. In last Friday’s story “Clean Up”, Lucy Zhang explored the importance of familial bonds and the havoc and horrors wrought by technology gone haywire. Tonight, writer Christopher Robertson presents “The Comeback Kid”, a dark, chilling tale that the author describes as “if Stand By Me was set in Twin Peaks and directed by Rob Zombie”, which we feel is very apt. 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
‘You’re so full of shit, River,’ a kid swatting away a half-dozen fat flies going nuts for the sticky blue spots of a leftover popsicle spattering his chin says. ‘You’re like a literal river of shit.’
‘Look it up, Coot. All I’m saying is they used to be called jumpolines. Then your momma went on one.’ River breezes through the insult. He shoots Cooter a sideways smirk, watching the kid trying to work out the joke.
‘You calling my mom fat?’ Cooter’s head turns to the side, almost like a puppy that’s half-sure it heard its name.
River lifts his right hand, a handheld video camera strapped tight to it. He clicks open the side-screen and frames Cooter. Half the battery left, and at the bottom, it says it’s 13:43 on 7/7/01 when he gets the joke.
‘I’m gonna kick your ass!’ Cooter charges at him, a chromatic blur on the screen. The shot shakes as River runs for it, a migraine-inducing blur of verdant trees and dappled streams of dying sunlight.
‘Dude! Don’t, the camera,’ River protests but can’t hide his laughter.
His foot catches a gnarled root, his eyes go wide, and he goes down, cradling the camera instead of breaking the fall.
‘Damn it, Cooter; you coulda broke my dad’s camera!’ he says in a way that means it wouldn’t be the only thing broken. He’s heard the threat often enough.
Break my shit, and I’ll break you.
‘Don’t call my momma fat, then,’ Cooter says and helps River to his feet. He pretends not to notice the bruises on River’s upper arm as the kid fixes his shirt. ‘Why’d you bring it anyway?’
‘Roscoe said so,’ River explains. Roscoe Jenkins says you do something; you do it. End of story. Everyone in school’s scared of Roscoe Jenkins. The Comeback Kid, they call him ’cause no matter how old he gets, he always comes back to repeat the eighth grade.
‘Dude, if Roscoe asked you to suck his dick, you’d be like,’ Cooter bobs his lips like a goldfish, flapping his flabby cheeks.
‘That’s right fuckers,’ a deeper voice calls from a nearby thicket. The forest gives way as Roscoe appears, shirtless except for a torn denim vest. It’s hot as balls, but Roscoe doesn’t go anywhere without his RATM, Slipknot and System patches.
River and Cooter pause, still holding onto one another. Roscoe’s their friend, sure, but he also scares the shit out of them.
‘Now get on your knees,’ Roscoe jokes as he uses sweat from his forehead to slick back his long, black hair. He gestures to his crotch and thrusts it forward.
‘Why’d you ask us to hike halfway through Morgan’s Woods, Roscoe?’ Cooter asks, changing the subject
River frames Roscoe with the camera. ‘If it’s more Jackass shit, we could—’
‘Shut it.’ Roscoe points like a lead singer on stage and then flicks the gesture into a thumb going the other way. ‘And follow me.”
Cooter and River give each other a look.
‘Hurry up, losers!’ Roscoe calls, already vanishing into the bush, and the other two follow.
‘Holy fucking shit,’ Cooter nearly chokes.
‘What is that…’ River rasps.
Roscoe throws an arm around each younger boy and says, ‘That, you sad little losers, is a girl.’
The three stand on the edge of a clearing; filtered sunlight streams through the canopy, shining down on the girl like a princess in a Disney movie, only she’s not sleeping.
This girl’s dead.
Her body lies in a weird pose that Cooter thinks can’t possibly be comfortable. His mind’s not processing the dead part. Her eyes stare blankly, mouth agape and still, even as flies wander in and out.
‘Now, I know that ain’t something you two virgins have seen much of.’ Roscoe smacks them both in the nuts as he steps into the clearing. ‘That’s about to change.’
‘Is she dead?’ Cooter asks.
‘Jesus!’ River grabs the back of his head so hard his hair gets pulled up into greasy spikes. ‘That’s Annie Modesta, right? The missing Cherry Lake girl?’
‘Correct!’ Roscoe cheers like a gameshow host.
‘She’s been missing for weeks,’ River points out as his mind blows. ‘What happened to her?’
‘Hell if I know.’ Roscoe shrugs.
River feels the camera’s weight in his hand, and something heavier sets down in his heart.
‘Why’d you tell me to bring the camera?’ River asks and sees the answer glint in Roscoe’s eyes before a single word passes through his sneering smirk.
‘‘Cause, loser, we’re gonna make a fuckin’ movie!’
‘That’s sick,’ Cooter says as he fidgets with his pants.
River keeps the camera pointed at the ground as Roscoe struts to the dead girl. Annie’s been missing since the start of the summer, but the body in the clearing looks fresh. That plants a seed in his thoughts that grows so fast River can’t keep the question from bursting out his mouth.
‘Fuck no,’ Roscoe snorts. He picks up a stick and uses it to lift the hem of the dead girl’s dress, pursuing his lips and whistling silently at what he sees beneath.
River knows she’s dead, that Annie can’t possibly feel Roscoe’s leering eyes looking up her dress, but it feels just as wrong. Worse, somehow. Especially when Roscoe pushes the stick under her skirt.
‘Should we call the cops?’ Cooter asks. He’s too stunned to care about the fat summer flies feasting on the sugar splattered on his cheeks anymore.
‘Fuck that.’ Roscoe turns to them and marches forward, pointing the stick right at Cooter. ‘They’ll just say we did it.’ He keeps going till the stick scratches against the tip of Cooter’s nose. ‘You smell that? Huh? Smells better than your sister’s panties, don’t it?’
Cooter nods, holding back his fear.
‘Well, the fuck you standing around for?’ Roscoe puts a hand on Cooter’s shoulder and pushes the kid into the clearing. ‘Get you some.’
Cooter stumbles and then falls on his hands and knees just before the dead girl. His eyes lock with her cold, hollow stare.
‘This isn’t right,’ River mutters under his breath.
‘Whazzat?’ Roscoe turns on him. ‘You say somethin’?’
You got something to say, huh?
River hears the snap of a belt inside his head.
You want more?
‘No.’ River shakes his head, agreeing with Roscoe while trying to clear the bad thoughts away.
‘Good, now get that camera going. We got a fucking movie to make. I know a dude; he’ll pay big bucks for dead chick porn.’
‘But—’ River begins to protest and feels Roscoe’s grip on his shoulder. The older boy’s fingers dig into bruised grooves made by his father. ‘But won’t we get caught? I mean, they’ll see our faces.’
‘You think I’m stupid or somethin’?’ Roscoe snaps from threatening to smug in a half-second. ‘’Sides, who wants to see your fugly faces? Talk about a boner killer.’
A small piece of black cloth lands next to Cooter, who still can’t bring himself to look away from Annie’s glassy eyes.
Roscoe strolls past, shrugging out of his denim vest. He throws it in the dirt, pulling a ski mask over his head, making greasy black tendrils of hair spill down his pasty back.
He kneels by the dead girl’s face, stroking her cheek.
‘Remember back at the Stop-N-Go when I said I’d give you and your friends some weed for a blowjob?’ He unzips his jeans. ‘You and your stuck-up bitch friends fucking laughed?’ He grabs a fistful of Annie’s hair, dead leaves crinkling in his fist. ‘Not fuckin’ laughing now, are you bitch?’
Roscoe rips her top, exposing pale flesh and a Hello Kitty bralette.
‘Coot, scoot your ass down there. We’re gonna make this bitch air-tight.’ Roscoe looks over his shoulder. ‘Get the camera on this, Scorsese.’ He winks. ‘You’ll get your turn. Don’t worry.’
Cooter fumbles with his mask, on purpose, a delaying tactic. He doesn’t want to do this but lacks the will to resist Roscoe.
River keeps the camera pointed at the ground, more frozen in horror than out of defiance. Roscoe doesn’t notice right away. He’s too busy slapping Cooter into action and copping a feel of the girl while the snivelling boy pulls on his mask. Only as Cooter crunches across dead leaves on his hands and knees, coming to a rest between the dead girl’s legs, does Roscoe see River standing there, staring.
‘Yo, fuckwit. You hear me?’ Roscoe motions like he’s running an old-time camera. ‘It’s showtime.’
It comes from deep within River, a well of resentment and fury drip-fed over the years finally spilling over.
Roscoe stands, confused by the boy’s defiance.
—you say to me?
Roscoe slaps River upside the head, bringing him back to reality. ‘The fuck you say to me, dillweed?’
River looks into Roscoe’s eyes. With the ski mask, it could easily be his father standing there—the same swirling fury of hate and disappointment burns in those eyes.
‘I’m not doing it.’ River trembles. ‘We should go to the cops. We—’
A blade of shining silver flicks up from Roscoe’s hand. The switchblade tip stops millimeters from River’s cheek.
‘I’ll ask you again. The fuck you say?’
Roscoe expects River to back down, to cower.
River glances at Cooter, sobbing in the dirt between Annie’s awkwardly splayed legs and gulps.
‘I’ll make this real easy, then.’ Roscoe drags the tip of his knife down River, just enough the kid feels it without drawing blood, bringing it to the hand strapped to the camera and sliding it between strap and skin. He cuts the strap free with one sharp twist and snags the camera with his other hand. ‘You can go first, then.’
River stands strong.
—I fucking say—
River grabs for the camera, but Roscoe holds tight. They tug back and forth, both refusing to let go. River’s sweaty fingers slip just as Roscoe yanks back, hard, and his whole body spins, pulling River with him. Both kids twirl, then tumble into the clearing, landing in the dirt beside Annie’s body.
‘Give it back!’ River demands and jerks to his feet, clutching the camera.
‘I’ll kill you,’ Roscoe threatens as he tries to get to his feet, only to stumble. His knife sticks out of his side, trails of blood seeping down across his bare stomach. ‘The fuck…’ He reaches for the handle.
‘Don’t!’ River screams, but Roscoe does it anyway. He yanks the blade out, and the trickle becomes a torrent.
‘I’ll—’ he makes it two steps before losing his footing, waving to the side, then dropping like his knees became jelly. Roscoe flops back, half landing on Annie’s body, turning paler by the second. He holds one bloody hand up before his eyes, blocking the dappled orange light of the summer sun before passing out.
‘Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!’ Cooter’s panic kicks him into action. ‘What are we gonna do, River?’ He grabs his friend and shakes him. ‘What’re we gonna do!?’
‘I don’t know.’ River shakes his head. ‘I don’t know.’ He holds up the camera; the screen snapped off in the fight. It won’t turn on.
‘Oh, man.’ Cooler pulls his mask off and ruins his hands through sweat-crumpled hair.
River spots something shining in the dirt; Roscoe’s gleaming switchblade, slick with his blood. It calls to him. River takes the blade in hand and grips it tightly.
‘Your pops is gonna kill you,’ Cooter says.
‘No,’ River says as his eyes flit between the blade and the broken camera. ‘No, he won’t.’
About the Author
CHRISTOPHER ROBERTSON has been called the “Ryan Reynolds of Indie Horror” and “some Scottish Dr. Frankenstein”. He doesn’t care that they were joking. He writes cinematic horror that has been described as wholesome and gruesome in the same sentence multiple times. You can find him on Instagram as @kit_romero; he’d love it if you stalked him there.
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