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 (or more) 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 sometime in 2023, showcasing all of the original works that debut here at the Night Terror Novels website throughout the year. If you’re an author yourself and this has piqued your interest, please find details regarding the flash fiction theme for our latest submission window here.
The theme for September’s submissions was “Chem Trails, Crop Circles, & Cryptids”: stories about aliens and extraterrestrials, UFOs, or tales inspired by other conspiracy and fringe theories, urban legends, and folklore. We entered the ninth month of our Theatre’s offerings last Friday with “The Bird, Frozen in Time”, Drew Huff’s story of an immortal, irradiated bird and the way the truth can be twisted to suit our own narratives. Tonight, Marisca Pichette offers up a striking and thoroughly unnerving slice of cryptid-themed terror with “Lakeland”, in which even the most serene of settings conceal hidden and unusual dangers. 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 might think there’s no way to survive, in a landscape of exposure. Scrub grasses, icy tarns, bare rocks only fit for lichens. What could live in this barren world? And what could it possibly eat?
Birds are dissatisfying, rodents unappetising. No, here in a district regarded for its wilderness, there is only one meal able to sate us.
You will not find us hunting. Looking at us, you won’t find us at all. Until it’s too late.
I am not the only thing that moves in the fells unseen. Lingering under too-still waters, my view ripples across grasses and rocks. From my position I can see across the rugged peaks, out to the gaping edge that claims all failures. This privileged spot contributes to my success. I never lose a catch.
Mist gathers along the ground and the banks of my tarn. And there, I see them.
Clods creeping on rooted legs, spindly white. Some no larger than pollywogs, some the size of quail eggs. Some masquerading as hares, twin tufts of heather pretending at ears. They creep and roll and dig in the earth, and after ages of watching, I know what they prefer.
Rain is no issue for them, slickening their roots so they can slide away from the rabbit holes they cover, take advantage of the mist to twist and break an ankle.
They come in all kinds of weather: our prey. Resting under the gently lapping waters, I feel them. Boots strike soil. Clods settle into place next to rocks and holes and roots. As one, we wait.
We’re not in direct competition. Each of us plays to our strengths, here at the base of the sky.
A solitary hiker, poles gripped in hands slick with moisture. Red jacket like a streak of blood in the mist. They cross the fell confidently, ignorantly.
A clod shifts, exposing a depression that wasn’t there before. The hiker’s foot catches. Their voice croaks briefly, stifled by heavy clouds. Earth rises before they can right themselves, climbing their leg and filling their face with choking mud.
Wet and cold and alone the clods’ prey sinks under a herd of hungry grass. A soft mound marks the place they were.
I spin lazily under my surface, waiting for the next one. The clods catch the most. Their tactics are simple, instinctual.
I ignore my closest neighbours most of the time, look to their hunting for entertainment the rest. On clear days they are almost inert.
With no sign of another hiker, I swim to the other side of the tarn and watch the rocks.
The rocks don’t lie in wait like the clods. They are listening. Still until voices, still until footsteps. Ambush predation is the nature of granite and shale.
I rarely see their victims. Watching under the water, I see only the hunters: leaping down the fell, cracking from bedrock to roll into action. Filtered by icy water I hear distant screams, drawn out or cut short. I feel, deep in the muddy bottom of my home, the satisfaction of a successful kill.
Rain passes, wind whips. Some rocks detach themselves, but if they hit true, the storm absorbs the sound.
As the day fades into afternoon, the sun sheds glorious light on my waters. I warm, anticipation tingling through my body. Now is the time I hunt.
My tarn glistens brilliant, reflecting the sky. My ripples promise relief. My banks invite rest.
Sometimes there’s just one who stops, sitting down to gaze across the surface. Sometimes a group. I rarely manage to catch more than a couple. But one is all I need to sustain me for a year.
Boots grind against gravel. I hold still as they stop, set down all they carry. When they bend to remove their shoes, I’ve already won.
Toes grip mud. Fingers tickle the warmer waves at the edge. Hunger stirs my core.
I wait until the hiker leans close and tastes my tarn, regarding their face in its pristine reflection. They don’t feel my fingers sliding through the mud to circle their feet. I’ve had an age to perfect my attack.
When they see me at last, eyes on the other side of the water, they rarely scream. Shock breeds silence. This one tries, their mouth opening wide as the clods’ pits. The sound is quickly stifled with a splash.
I drag them down, kicking. I drag them down, flailing. I drag them down, down, limp and cooling, to the bottom. There, I feast until I’m full. What of them remains then I plant in the mud, covering their body with rocks that hunt no more and clods past their prime.
We share what we don’t eat—the rocks, the clods, and I. Our ecosystem would not endure otherwise.
And can you not say—looking on us, and the world we have made over so many of your bones—that we are beautiful?
About the Author
MARISCA PICHETTE collects monsters. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fireside Magazine, PseudoPod, and PodCastle, among others. Her speculative poetry collection, Rivers in Your Skin, Sirens in Your Hair, is forthcoming from Android Press in Spring 2023. Find her on Twitter as @MariscaPichette and Instagram as @marisca_write.
Enjoyed this story?
Please feel free to show your appreciation for today’s author and their featured story by clicking the button or leaving your thoughts in the comments section down below!
Follow Night Terror Novels
Get the latest content from us delivered
bound, bloodied, and screaming directly to your inbox. Complete the covenant and join the cabal. Do it. Do it now.