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The Theatre Phantasmagoria—The McMurdlow House, by Eric Del Carlo

“𝘐𝘵’𝘴 𝘢 𝘸𝘳𝘦𝘤𝘬 𝘰𝘧 𝘢 𝘸𝘳𝘦𝘤𝘬 𝘯𝘰𝘸: 𝘯𝘦𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘣𝘰𝘶𝘳𝘩𝘰𝘰𝘥 𝘦𝘺𝘦𝘴𝘰𝘳𝘦, 𝘶𝘯𝘬𝘦𝘮𝘱𝘵, 𝘶𝘯-𝘬𝘦𝘱𝘵, 𝘵𝘪𝘵𝘭𝘦𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘔𝘤𝘔𝘶𝘳𝘥𝘭𝘰𝘸 𝘏𝘰𝘶𝘴𝘦, 𝘯𝘢𝘮𝘦 𝘳𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘋𝘪𝘤𝘬𝘦𝘯𝘴’ 𝘨𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘳𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘮𝘢𝘥𝘦-𝘶𝘱 𝘱𝘳𝘰𝘱𝘦𝘳𝘴, 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘍𝘦𝘻𝘻𝘪𝘸𝘪𝘨 𝘰𝘳 𝘉𝘶𝘻𝘧𝘶𝘻, 𝘰𝘯𝘭𝘺 𝘥𝘢𝘳𝘬𝘦𝘳, 𝘣𝘦𝘤𝘢𝘶𝘴𝘦 𝘢𝘸𝘧𝘶𝘭 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘴 𝘸𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘴𝘢𝘪𝘥 𝘵𝘰 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘩𝘢𝘱𝘱𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘥 𝘢𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘔𝘤𝘔𝘶𝘳𝘥𝘭𝘰𝘸 𝘏𝘰𝘶𝘴𝘦.”

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 October’s submissions was “Something Wicked”: stories about the spookiest season of them all: all things autumnal and relating to fall, from witchcraft and wizardry to seasonal slashers or biologically-mutated, murderous pumpkins. Our tenth month in the theatre’s auditorium commences tonight with “The McMurdlow House” by Eric Del Carlo, a grim, utterly uncompromising take on the classic haunted house premise woven together by powerful narration. 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


It’s a wreck of a wreck now: neighbourhood eyesore, unkempt, un-kept, titled the McMurdlow House, name right out Dickens’ gallery of made-up propers, like Fezziwig or Buzfuz, only darker, because awful things were said to have happened at the McMurdlow House.
We were kids. We were the ones saying what atrocities had happened inside that house, but we were just regurgitating lore learned from older siblings; our turn now to campfire the tales and frighten ourselves.
But it wasn’t those yarns which sent five of us into the house one autumn day, very rainy. Our little clique had been terrorised by supernatural happenings, and our frantic detectivising had led us there. McMurdlow House was the nucleus of all the untoward evil we’d experienced over the previous weeks, when it grew obvious—after being utterly inconceivable—that we specifically had been targeted by occult forces, and that the whole profane switchboard was that particular ramshackle spook-story dwelling.
And now I’m coming back to you, McMurdlow. Though I never left the town. I’m the only one who didn’t leave.
I remember the rain that day. I got the wettest from it … which is a truly pathetic claim to make, considering why I was in the grey cruddy downpour the longest. We went there en masse, screwing our courage to the sticking place. I screwed mine that day. At least long enough to reach the rattrap of a house, that ugly falling down place. My bravery lasted till the weedy inhospitable front yard. And there it ended. And when the others were deciding final strategies, I shivered with bone-deep fear, a child’s boundless fright: because the other five, though sharing my age, did not share my abject cowardice. Or perhaps it’s that I didn’t share their raw courage. The kind of nerve that let you be this afraid and still go do the thing.
When we were supposed to be trading last looks with one another—that movie thing where the heroes silently buck each other up before the showdown—I started sobbing. Dreadful hiccuping sobs, painful to my chest, and I sputtered I don’t know what drivelling words. Probably, I was pleading. No no no, don’t make me go—Because I, like all of them, knew the shape of the evil waiting inside. It was the kind of monster no adult would believe in.
I come to the front yard again. Weedier than ever, and littered now, people dumping old microwaves and nameless junk. Here I stand. As far as I got last time.
But today I go in. I. Go. In. Stairs rotten underfoot, a city condemned notice tacked up by the door, the paper faded to illegibility. I expect the hinges to be stuck (want them to be, so I don’t have to enter?), but they give with only a B-movie groan. Now I’m inside. It’s a scene of utter mouldering. This is what comes of a home, of stout beams and dedicated carpentry. Decay. Neglect something long enough and it rots, thoroughly. As if it’s making a point. Something about fruitless endeavour. Monuments all fall. That poem about the dead idol in the desert …
I can’t recite it. I didn’t make it through my final year of high school. Since, I’ve just hung on in this shitty town. Accomplishing nothing.
But I have accomplished this, at least. Finally, I’m inside the house, the rambling two-story, with attic and cellar. Did families use to live in places like this, so much room? I think of the closet of a place where I live now, and similar squalid rooms I’ve inhabited.
My heart is racing. My chest rises and falls rapidly. Sobs next? No one to hear this time. Nobody to pity me; my friends, all braver, telling me to stay outside, that someone should stand watch. A compassionate lie. So I stood in the rain while they five went in. And then they were systemically separated and the things happened to them, the culmination of the bizarre and terrifying events transpiring in those ghastly weeks when we’d been singled out by the monster.
I know what happened to them in here, each of them. They told their stories over and over, in the days and months that followed. Those tales bound them, especially since they had triumphed. They beat the evil. It galvanised the five.
But Ashley had to face the giant worm-thing with ropy arms that slimed out of a bedroom mirror.
And Brendan got locked in the pantry with that doll with razor teeth.
And Cameron went up against something so bad all his hair fell out, never to regrow.
And Nigel and the spiders …
And Ruby who …
Facing off against horrors. And winning. While I got soaked out front. And what happened in the years after: how all five became incredibly successful. The lawyer you know from cable tv; the tennis star; the philanthropic tycoon; the composer; the Nobelist in physics (that’s Nigel, who was my best friend before I failed all of them).
But now I’ll make it right. Or right for me, anyway. I doubt any of them will hear about it.
I unfold the folding knife I carry in my back pocket. If the sheriff caught me with this, I’d be in trouble. Lock blade. I stifle the sob that tries to come. I slide the steel into my throat; I pull across.
I’m on my knees suddenly. Now I’m on the floor, on the filthy boards. While I wait, rain starts pounding the broken roof.


About the Author

ERIC DEL CARLO‘s fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Analog, Asimov’s, as well as other magazines and anthologies, including Splatterlands and Ominous Realities. He lives in his native California.


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By J.D. Keown | Night Terror Novels

JOSHUA KEOWN lives on the outskirts of the North York Moors with his feral little hound of hell, Lola. Despite his proximity to Whitby and a lifetime aversion to being out in the sun, he would like it to be known that he is definitely not a vampire. Joshua has always been an avid enthusiast of the horror genre in all its forms, and he now writes ghastly, ghoulish stories of his own. His debut short story “Krodha” can be found in the Wild Violence anthology from Blood Rites Horror, his second short story “What Ye Sow” can be found in Issue #X of All World’s Wayfarer, and a third titled “Whisper, Whisper” appears in Issue #63 of Dark Dossier. Joshua is also the founder of Night Terror Novels and edited its debut anthology, Ceci n’est pas une histoire d’horreur (This is Not a Horror Story) in 2021. His debut novella, Maggot Brain, is coming soon, for which the full details can be found on the Night Terror Novels website. Joshua can be found prowling almost every corner of the internet in some capacity, but is most easily reached through his business email address, nightterrornovels@gmail.com, or via Instagram or Twitter, @JDKAuthor.

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