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The Theatre Phantasmagoria—Of Monsters and Deep Magic, by Scott J. Moses

“𝘐𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘸𝘢𝘴 𝘮𝘢𝘨𝘪𝘤 𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦, 𝘪𝘵’𝘴 𝘭𝘰𝘯𝘨 𝘴𝘪𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘧𝘭𝘦𝘥. 𝘖𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘵𝘢𝘬𝘦𝘯 𝘯𝘰𝘸 𝘣𝘺 𝘴𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘯𝘢𝘮𝘦𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘧𝘦𝘢𝘳. 𝘖𝘯𝘦 𝘐 𝘪𝘮𝘢𝘨𝘪𝘯𝘦 𝘐’𝘷𝘦 𝘢𝘭𝘸𝘢𝘺𝘴 𝘬𝘯𝘰𝘸𝘯 𝘣𝘶𝘵 𝘩𝘢𝘥 𝘭𝘰𝘤𝘬𝘦𝘥 𝘥𝘦𝘦𝘱 𝘢𝘸𝘢𝘺 𝘪𝘯 𝘮𝘦 𝘴𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘸𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦, 𝘸𝘢𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘰 𝘣𝘦 𝘧𝘳𝘦𝘦𝘥. 𝘓𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘸𝘩𝘦𝘯 𝘴𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘴𝘢𝘺𝘴 𝘴𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘤𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥𝘯’𝘵 𝘲𝘶𝘪𝘵𝘦 𝘱𝘶𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘥𝘴, 𝘣𝘶𝘵 𝘸𝘩𝘰𝘭𝘭𝘺 𝘬𝘯𝘦𝘸.
𝘛𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘴 𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘯’𝘵 𝘯𝘦𝘤𝘦𝘴𝘴𝘢𝘳𝘪𝘭𝘺 𝘧𝘢𝘪𝘳.
𝘛𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘴 𝘦𝘯𝘥.”

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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 launched last Friday with “The McMurdlow House” by Eric Del Carlo, a grim, utterly uncompromising take on the classic haunted house premise woven together by powerful narration. Tonight, Scott J. Moses brings us “Of Monsters and Deep Magic”, a twisted, tragic tale of trick-or-treating in which nothing is as it first appears, delivered in the author’s electric prose. 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 drizzling tonight, but of course it is. Sheltered in my ectoplasmic shroud, looking out onto the world through crude holes cut into a sheet hours before, I feel protected, separate from the magician sprawled there in the road before the halted, hissing sedan. Its globular headlights all but ignoring her.
Across the street, zombies of varying degradation climb from the wrecked car, swaying unsteady on their long-dead legs. A family of vampires look on in their cloaks. I wonder what it looks like from their material vantage. They not a mere wisp of awareness like myself. The tallest bloodsucker lifts a phone to his ear. He shakes while speaking, and with a twitch of realisation, plucks the fangs from his gums.
I bring the half-eaten Whatchamacallit to my mouth under the sheet, wondering if the monsters near my once-a-year, incorporeal form actually see me, or know only that something undulates in their periphery, teasing their prying eyes.
Porch lights illuminate the otherwise dim houses lining our street as teenage zombies pace the asphalt. One of the flesh-eaters cries in a way I’ve never known, more animal than groan. The largest of them silent and looking off into the distance, while the third vomits into the road, gripping the sides of its head as if squeezing its brain from its skull like toothpaste. Their ruined car (zombies drive) ticks as something leaks from beneath its crumpled hood and pools around the prostrate magician in luminous green.
Everyone’s under her spell.
She’s masterful.
This is her night.
She’ll rise any minute, with or without the immense magic held only in a night like this. But the way she’s sprawled there … the way her older assistant bows to her, seemingly torn between trying to wake her master and rebuking the greys who walk in their unaware fashion, the half-sentient shells flinching with each of her hurled words. She must be protege to the magician, to make flesh-eaters react in such a way.
But this can’t be just any magician. No. This is a master of illusion to have her own assistant fooled like that. Those are real tears. Actual screams. I can’t seem to look away.
I chomp into chocolate again, and as the vamp children embrace, one points to the sorceress in the road. So disciplined, so patient as to have not moved an inch, even as she lies vulnerable to the night’s creatures all around her. While her protege casts aside all notions of showmanship, seemingly desperate for her mentor to return from the grand magic of it all.
The assistant thrusts a finger at the largest of the zombies, then to the crumpled cans fallen from the still-open door of their sedan. The vampires dislodge their teeth, making themselves vulnerable, as they weep there across the street. The lord of them nods, once, twice, again, into the phone, and lowering it, stares lost in the middle distance where the road curves left. An armour-clad knight and dragon run from two houses over. Strange, I’ve never known them to cohabit. The serpent inhales, perhaps to smother us all in flame, and instead, covers its mouth. Bites its tongue. Even this mighty lizard knows, feels the magic at work here.
The protege screams, lunging for the tallest zombie, and though the knight restrains her, she writhes there, teeth gritted, and snarling, more lycanthropic banshee than magician’s apprentice. The zombie doesn’t fall as much as crumble there on the asphalt, shaking its head in its hands. Not bothering to search for its kin, long gone from the stupor now, though I missed exactly when (zombies have no loyalty).
I step off the sidewalk, but my tether grips my arm, pulling me back to the curb. I think to protest, but I refrain. For her. To show her that while these other creatures lose themselves, disrespecting her master illusion, ghosts do not. I do not.
The dragon crouches, and as if struggling to keep her balance, plucks the magician’s top hat from the street. She brushes it off, says something to the largest vampire who shakes his head in reply. I’ve never seen their species interact before. This is deep magic … sacrificial, even
I peer through my sheet at the motionless one bathed in green beneath the car’s scrunched maw.
My hands numb, chest tightening.
You’ve proven your skill. Rise and take a bow. You’ve bled this crowd dry. What more could you want?
The angle of her crooked neck.
Her limbs splayed.
More discarded doll than master sorceress.
Her mask dishevelled on her face, a face I know, though we’ve never really spoken.
Kimberly Treckler.
We have homeroom together. I know it’s her from her shoes. The same ones as mine.
I don’t care about the chocolate at my feet, dropped, though I can’t remember when. Something rushes in my stomach. A whoooosh of energy, adrenaline, panic. My breath quickens.
The magi—Kimberly, I can’t take my eyes from her. I won’t.
She’s peering into me, though there’s something gone from her in a way I can’t explain.
Was she always looking at me?
There’s a glimmer of something in her widening eyes which swallows me up. A lightning bug blinking on and off in the last remnants of summer as it—
Say it.
—dies.
The thought crawls up and out of me: she’ll never perform again
Trick ‘r treat,’ she’d likely said a dozen times before pulling the greatest trick of all: not coming back. She’s expected to, but isn’t, or won’t.
Trick’s on us, it seems, but no, there’s deep magic here. Beyond perhaps what even the sorceress in all her years of study could comprehend. Maybe that’s why her protege wails in the street, slamming her fists into the asphalt over her still form.
Tonight’s wrong.
The zombie; its tears.
The assistant’s outburst more ruthless than any of the monsters on this lonely street.
The vampires crossing themselves. Pulling the fangs from their mouths of their own volition.
My jack ‘o lantern pail stares up at me from the road. I bend for it, and my tether resists.
‘Leave it, honey,’ it says, its voice and face an amalgamation of things I’ve not seen before and hope to never see again. Its gaze drifts to the sedan, tears in its eyes. Its grip on me wavering. And with its weakening grasp, I ripple through reality as well.
Something within urges me to remove my shroud, as the vamps have their teeth, and to drape it over the sorceress, her widened eyes still lost in the trick. We shouldn’t see this … it’s not right.
Mom grips my hand as the sirens scream. The red whites overtaking the orange yellows of the grinning pumpkins.
They know something.
The trees speak in hushed whispers as the wind exhales, and Mom holds me like she’s afraid I’ll run off, like she’ll lose me. Realisation slams into me like an avalanche, like a sedan.
Things end.
I lift my shoe and examine the damp, brown leaf clinging to the sole. And as the squad doors open and the EMTs examine Kimberly—I feel it on the air. A heaviness. Like I’ve woken from a dream. The eyes of an old truth slipping over me.
If there was magic here, it’s long since fled. Overtaken now by some nameless fear. One I imagine I’ve always known but had locked deep away in me somewhere, waiting to be freed. Like when someone says something you couldn’t quite put to words, but wholly knew.
Things aren’t necessarily fair.
Things end.
The assistant wails as the EMTs lift Kimberly onto their stretcher. The zombie’s lip quivers while it cradles its chin in its hands, fingers spread to its eyes.
My throat tightens, vision burns. Kimberly’s the only ghost here. The only one not playing dead tonight. Though, we’re all ghosts, really. Just waiting to shed our skins, don our sheets. And here I am, trying on death before my time.
What happens to any of us when we go? What happens to Kimberly? If life’s all trick or treat, then it ending—the fact that it does so—is that the trick at our expense, or the treat which makes it sweeter?
The pulsing lyrics of my heart an SOS: ‘Not-yet, not-yet, not-yet.’
My mind twists in that way when you realise you can’t go back. When you’ve thought what you can’t unthink.
As Mom brings a hand to her lips, I feel her sobs through our interlaced fingers. When we get home, I’ll write a letter to the time before and after me. The time I’ll never know, how I miss it already.
I wonder if this is what kids should be thinking about, and it dawns on me … a weight on my stomach, shoulders, and soul.


About the Author

SCOTT J. MOSES is the author of Non-Practicing Cultist (Demain Publishing). A member of the Horror Writers Association, his work has appeared in Paranormal Contact (Cemetery Gates Media), Diabolica Americana (Keith Anthony Baird), Planet Scumm, and elsewhere. He also edited What One Wouldn’t Do: An Anthology on the Lengths One Might Go To. His debut novella, Our Own Unique Affliction, is slated for release in early 2023 via DarkLit Press. He is Japanese American and lives in Baltimore. You can find him on Twitter @scottj_moses or at www.scottjmoses.com.


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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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