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 October 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 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 the next story “Clean Up”, Lucy Zhang explored the importance of familial bonds and the havoc and horrors wrought by technology gone haywire. Then, Christopher Robertson and Terrorscope debuted “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. Last Friday brought us “Shotgun”; Eric Farrell’s ode to childhood memories of long, hot summers is at once nostalgic and deeply disorienting. Tonight sees author Miguel Gonçalves enter the Theatre with the final piece for August, “Youth, Interrupted”, a macabre, timeless story of injustice and revenge. 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
That image will be forever imprinted in my mind.
I was just a boy when I saw it. It was the day of my tenth birthday and the day my life changed forever.
I didn’t know who she was. Not exactly, anyway.
I had seen her in town a few times, but I didn’t know her name.
I only knew that she was the most beautiful girl I’d seen.
Not that I was even interested in girls at that time. I just knew. Somewhere deep inside me, I knew that this girl, who was probably at least six years older than I was, was perfect. At least for me.
Or, as I came to realise years later, maybe she helped shape the idea of beauty for me.
However, you don’t have to take my word for it. I’m about to let you know what she looked like the first time I saw her.
I was with my mother at the central store in town to do our shopping for the next few days. I must say we didn’t live that close and we were a bit cut off from the city, living on top of a hill that rose to the North. Coming to town was an event because it didn’t happen that often. I would usually stay outside playing with the other children, but there was no one to play with on that specific day, so I followed my mother inside.
And there she was.
Her black hair fell in a braid down her back, her blue dress fluttered whenever she moved. Her breasts, which I only came to notice years later when I revisited these memories, moved with every breath, and her green eyes sparkled with life and youth. But what stuck to me, to my memory, and what I keep going back to and keeps me up at night to this day was her laugh. A joyful, jovial laugh.
I noticed her just as I noticed everyone else. The way any nine-year-old boy notices anyone, which is to say, not that much.
The next time I saw her she spoke to me, but I wasn’t able to reply. I’d been playing and had fallen while trying to follow the other children jumping over a wall. I was then sitting on the edge of the sidewalk crying. My knee was skinned and bleeding, but I wasn’t crying from pain. I was ashamed for not being able to follow the others in their adventures. She came up to me and knelt in front of me. Her voice was soft, and I could smell her hair in the wind.
‘What’s wrong, my darling?’ were the first words she ever said to me. If I had known those would also be the last ones, I would have reached out inside my brain and said something. But I didn’t.
‘You have a nasty cut on your knee. Let me see.’ She took a handkerchief from the sleeve of her dress and carefully wiped my injury, putting it away again. Then, she untied the ribbon she was wearing in her hair and tied it around the wound. Her hair fell, cascading like a river of black ink.
‘You’re protected now. No more crying,’ she said, as she briefly kissed my cheek and went on her way.
I still have that ribbon and I can still smell her hair on it. It’s my most treasured possession.
After that one time, I’d see her more often and I’d always smile at her. She always smiled back, maybe not even knowing who I was. I would take every chance I could to go into town just for the possibility of seeing her.
The last time I saw her, on the fateful day of my tenth birthday, the smile had left her lips. And although I wasn’t sure what to think, I knew I would never see it again except in my memory.
I was on my way out of town. It was one of the rare days I hadn’t seen her, but I had also spent all day playing in the barn with our foreman’s children.
As I followed the path out of town towards the hill, I saw something swinging from a tree in the distance. An ornament, I thought, maybe for the upcoming harvest festival.
Only when I got closer did I realise that it was a person. A woman, to be precise. Hanging. Her black dress fluttered in the wind, as did her gently swaying body. It was only when I went around the bend that I fully saw who it was.
Her dress had been torn in the front and her breasts were shredded. Her black hair was flying in all directions, only allowing me a glimpse of her face before it was lost, forever enveloped in that black sea. The image I saw in those brief moments will forever be engraved in my mind, for not only had the smile left her full lips, but the light had left her green eyes, too.
For years I didn’t know why the townspeople had hanged the girl. It was only about ten years later, while drinking in a tavern with a friend, that I commented on what I’d seen so long ago. Only then did I know the reason.
I hadn’t been the only one who noticed her. But while I adored her like a Catholic does a saint, others had a more physical infatuation. When she had refused the advances of one of these admirers, incidentally a powerful man in town, he’d reported her for witchcraft. He went on to say, swearing to God, of course—a God I now abhor for what He allows his followers to do—that she had tempted him with her body to be part of a ritual. He had witnesses, other men whose advances had also been denied, who said that they too had been tempted but had never said anything for fear of being punished “by the powers of darkness”. My friend, I came to find out, was the son of one of those men, who had left him a letter explaining he couldn’t live with the death of an innocent girl before he had committed suicide. My friend never said anything to anyone. It was almost as if he was waiting for the right person to hear this story.
On that same night, I killed the man who falsely accused the girl. I followed him to a house in the poor part of town. When he left, I stabbed him seven times.
Over the following months, I tracked and killed everyone who had testified against the one I’d come to think of as my first love. They all repented in the end but only death could bring them the necessary forgiveness. Or maybe not even that would be enough.
I’m writing this today not because I need forgiveness. I don’t. I neither need it nor want it. I do not regret anything I did. Those I killed in her name deserved to die.
Tomorrow is the day of my twenty-second birthday.
Tomorrow is the day I will die.
I will be hanged, as she was.
As my last wish, I asked to choose the place of my execution.
I asked to be hanged from a tree on the way out of town, on the path that leads to the abandoned house on the hill where I once lived.
The same tree where she died.
I will have her ribbon on me.
I know that the last scent I will smell will be of her hair. Maybe I will feel her hair in the wind lightly caressing my face. As if she were by my side.
I know that the last face I will see will be hers, just as I know, and I’ve never been so sure about anything else, that she will be smiling, and that her laughter will be the last thing I will ever hear.
The sound of youth, interrupted.
About the Author
MIGUEL GONÇALVES was born in Porto, Portugal, in the 80s. He grew up on comics and fantasy books, horror—both horror and movies—and rock hair bands. He’s been writing, mostly for himself, since a young age and his stories are a mix of horror, thriller, and serial killers, with some of it venturing into the supernatural spectrum of horror. He spends his free time dabbling in Roleplaying Games—“Call of Cthulhu”, “D&D” and “Vampire the Masquerade” being his main preferences—reading and drinking coffee. If you’re in Porto, you’re likely to find him at a Starbucks either reading or scribbling on a notebook. On the web, you can find him almost everywhere, so it’s better to just follow: https://linktr.ee/AngelusSanguis.
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