Greetings boils, ghouls, and other creatures of the night!
A warm welcome back to Night Terror Novels’ ongoing flash fiction series, The Theatre Phantasmagoria—where we bring you fresh dark fiction of 2,000 words or less at the end of every week. And as tonight is All Hallows’ Eve—the spookiest, scariest night of the year—we have a special double bill lined up for your perusal tonight.
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 with “The McMurdlow House” by Eric Del Carlo, a grim, utterly uncompromising take on the classic haunted house premise woven together by powerful narration. Next up, Scott J. Moses brought 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. In the first of tonight’s stories, Garrett Boatman joins our lineup and introduces us to “Amanda”; his delightfully twisted take on the uncanny genre trope of creepy dolls is sure to send a chill down your spine. Then, allow Malina Douglas to relay a sad, dark correspondence of love, death, and necromancy in her epistolary tale “Eternally Yours”. You can find out more about the authors 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
‘Maria, where’s your dolly?’
Mama was entertaining. She and Mrs Martinez, their neighbour from across the hall, sat on the sofa in the living room having coffee.
‘It’s in my room,’ Maria said. She stood in the doorway, having answered Mama’s call.
‘She, dear,’ Mama said, then to Mrs Martinez: ‘She’s such a feminine doll.’
‘What is your doll’s name, dear?’ Mrs Martinez asked over her coffee cup, not a mug but one of the china set Mama kept in the breakfront and only took out for guests.
Maria’s gaze dropped to her feet. She held her hands together to keep Mama from noticing they were shaking.
‘Maria’s shy,’ Mama explained. ‘What did Aunt Dominica say her name was, dear?’
‘Amanda,’ Maria whispered, praying she couldn’t be heard in the bedroom. Something inside her stomach had balled into a tiny clenched fist with sharp nails.
‘That’s it … “Amanda”.’ Mama repeated for Mrs Martinez’s benefit and Maria cringed.
‘“Amanda”,’ Mrs Martinez echoed. ‘What a lovely name for a doll.’
Their neighbour’s voice was loud and Maria’s eyes widened with terror that her words might carry back to the bedroom. Resisting the urge to look over her shoulder, she kept her eyes on the floor as a wave of nausea made her ears ring.
‘My brother’s new wife said it’s from the Dominican Republic—that’s where she’s from. Maria, why don’t you bring Amanda out? I’m sure Mrs Martinez would like to see her.’
Maria looked hopefully at the elder of the two women seated on the sofa, but Mrs Martinez was smiling hugely. Lipstick stains showed on her teeth. ‘I’d love to, dear.’
Maria’s gaze found her feet again as she approached her room with the reluctant gait of a prisoner mounting the stairs to the gallows.
In her ears, the sea roars. Like the sound she hears when she listens to the big shell in the living room. Only, with the shell, she pictures a sunny beach and warm surf. What she hears now is the roar of icy winds and the booming of grey seas against a rocky shore.
Shivering, she opens her eyes in the freezing dark.
A coldness clutches her throat. Paralysis spreads over her face and into her brain. Her limbs feel remote, frostbit, useless.
She knows the surf is the roar of blood in her ears and the booming is the pounding of her heart.
Long moments of mounting, half-conscious terror pass; the coldness at her throat abates; a porcelain-pale face swims into view. The doll’s eyes glitter in the window light. A speck of blood soils the doll’s white lace collar. Amanda smiles and, with a tiny freezing hand, strokes Maria’s cheek almost tenderly.
Before feeding again.
Days later, Maria’s mother sent her to the bodega around the corner for bread and milk. At the intersection, she came upon a crowd of kids and a few curious adults watching a man setting up a television camera. Looking around, she spotted two TV vans and a yellow steamroller. The steamroller’s big metal front wheel looked like a giant rolling pin. Through the inattentive stupor into which her brain had receded, she remembered seeing something like it once in a Road Runner cartoon, flattening Wiley Coyote.
A man in a suit was talking to the crowd through a megaphone announcing they would be filming for The Tonight Show and urging people to bring things for the steamroller to crush.
Kids took off in every direction.
When Maria returned from the store, walking slowly, saving her energy for the stairs, cradling the brown paper bag as if it were a sack of cement, a long line of children with used toys, kitchen utensils, and an assortment of items had already formed. A number of girls carried dolls and stuffed animals.
As befuddled as her thinking had become in the past few days, the dolls gave her an idea. She looked at the yellow steamroller, then hurried home.
The four flights were gruelling in her weakened condition, but she mounted them with something like a second wind. She didn’t falter until she opened her bedroom door.
Did Amanda know what she was planning? Would she stop her? Maria hurried into the room thinking loudly, I’M GOING TO BE ON TV! I’M GOING TO BE ON TV! to hide the bright image of the yellow steamroller.
At the head of Maria’s bed were eight dolls—three baby dolls and five stuffed creatures—not counting Amanda.
Alone, Amanda sat on Maria’s bureau. By daylight—and Maria threw the curtains wide every morning—Amanda’s eyes looked like any other doll’s, only more realistic. Her lips appeared incapable of parting, her teeth of biting.
Maria grabbed the doll and hurried out of the room.
Amanda’s voice boomed inside her head. And now Maria stopped thinking I’M GOING TO BE ON TV! I’M GOING TO BE ON TV! and let Amanda see the steamroller parked in canary splendour in the forefront of her thoughts.
Halfway down the stairs, Amanda bit her hand, and Maria grabbed the doll by its black hair (‘human hair,’ Uncle Carlos’ new wife had told her) and slammed it against the wall.
The bright sunlight seemed to take some of the fight out of the doll, but when Maria pushed her way into the crowd at the intersection, she saw that the line of kids with things to be crushed was too long; she’d never be able to hold out; Amanda would force her to take her back upstairs. And Amanda would be very angry.
The steamroller was moving. She felt its ominous rumble through the concrete beneath her feet. On the street before its giant rolling pin was a big red and white plastic gas station with a parking lot on the roof and a ramp that spiralled up the inside down which you could roll toy cars.
Against her will, Maria cradled the doll to her chest, rested Amanda’s face against her throat.
The steamroller made contact with the toy station but didn’t consume it right away. For a few seconds, the station skittered along the road while the crowd cheered the steamroller on.
The sunlight dimmed as the coldness spread and the roar of a pounding surf boomed against the shores of her consciousness.
The crunch of rending plastic shoved noisy splinters through the crowd’s roar as the station finally buckled and flattened.
No one was clear on what happened next. Almost everyone in the crowd heard the bloodcurdling scream slice the air like a buzz saw above the rumble of the steamroller. Some thought they heard a sound like the splintering of small bones. And, as the steamroller backed up, the onlookers lining both sides of the street got a good look at the broad smear of blood alongside the red and white fragments of the gas station.
The crowd cheered.
There was speculation among the crew that someone had tossed a gerbil under the steamroller. One gaffer maintained that the unidentifiable smear might have been a fetus. But that would have required a police investigation. The cleanup crew hosed the spot.
The segment was not aired.
About the Author
GARRETT BOATMAN is the author of Stage Fright, Valancourt Books, and Floaters, A Victorian Zombie Adventure from Crystal Lake Publishing. Story appearances include “Rain” in The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories; “The Witch’s Lover” in Penumbra #3; “Ragnar’s Bane” in Savage Realms. His retrospective of 80s horror appeared in Little Demon Digest. An active member of HWA and SFWA, Garrett read from Floaters on Galactic Terrors and has appeared twice on Curtis M. Lawson’s Wyrd Transmissions podcast, in a discussion with the author and on a panel discussion on Sci-fi Horror along with Tim Curran and Jeffrey Thomas.
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