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 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 November’s submissions was “ThanksKilling Feasts”: stories about food and feasts, gluttony and greed; of wanton excess, of cannibalistic gruesomeness, or of genetically-modified killer tomatoes out for blood. Our penultimate month in the theatre’s auditorium commences tonight with “Well Done”, brought to us by Nicole Herbert. 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 for future showings in The Theatre Phantasmagoria …
Welcome to …
The Theatre Phantasmagoria
‘Don’t cry, Donna.’
Donna tried not to cringe, hearing Richard’s same command he had given for the last twenty-five years.
She placed her phone on the edge of the coffee table and folded her hands in her lap. Her rather large bottom perched on the couch cushion. Richard had complained the couch she had selected was too firm but she liked how fancy it looked. Besides, he always sat in his La-Z-Boy anyway.
‘She’s not coming.’ She knew her lip was quivering but she was determined to not cry in front of her husband.
‘I know, I heard.’ Richard turned the volume on the TV back up. ‘Let her be with her friends.’
‘But tomorrow is Thanksgiving.’
‘She knows that.’ He turned the television up louder.
‘Oh,’ Donna clenched her fists on her lap. She didn’t blame Jenny for not coming home, even though it had been three months since she had seen her parents. If she could be miles away at a university dormitory, or on her way to spend four days with a friend’s large welcoming family, she would.
‘Don’t cry, Donna.’
She went to the kitchen, turning on the harsh lights, and stood over the sink, hands holding the edges of the counter. If she had gone into the bathroom, he would know she was crying. Richard hated it when she cried.
The sink was shiny and that calmed her. After three days of baking and preparing the dishes the refrigerator was full. The eighteen-pound turkey was already going to be too big for just the three of them, but now it would just be for two.
She took a clean glass from the cupboard and drank some water from the tap. She took a deep breath and went back to the living room—it would be just like any other evening now.
‘Hrrrmph,’ Richard moaned as she returned to the room. He didn’t move his eyes from the lit-up screen. Donna closed her eyes briefly as she sat, hoping to remain quiet, hoping not to draw Richard’s attention.
‘I guess there’ll be a lot of leftovers,’ Richard said when the show broke for commercials.
‘I’ll freeze a lot.’
‘Just don’t overcook the damn bird, I hate it when you do that.’
‘I know, I won’t,’ she promised.
The rest of the evening was spent in silence. Except for the television. And for the moans escaping Richard.
Donna rose early the next morning. She enjoyed the way the rays from the early sunshine came through the kitchen window. After her first cup of tea, she struggled to take the heavy turkey from the fridge and then began pulling the covered dishes out one at a time. Four pies. Donna stared at the pumpkin, apple, pecan and chocolate cream pies on the counter.
The chocolate cream probably wouldn’t freeze well and pumpkin was Richard’s favourite, so she put those two back in the fridge and wrapped the others in aluminium foil and brought them downstairs to the freezer. She struggled up the steep steps, listening for the sounds of Richard waking but the house was still quiet.
Back in the kitchen, Donna checked her phone but there weren’t any messages. She sent Jenny a cute turkey GIF that she saw on Facebook earlier in the week. She huffed over the heavy bird and managed to get it in the oven before Richard came downstairs.
‘Don’t overcook the damn bird this year, Donna.’
‘I know,’ she said. She had stopped trying to explain how she followed the instructions, how she used the meat thermometer, how she basted it carefully to keep it from drying out. It never made any difference; Richard always thought she burned the damn bird.
She had his coffee ready as he entered the kitchen, hoping he would go straight to his La-Z-Boy, which he did.
‘Parade will be starting,’ she said, still from the kitchen.
‘Hrrrmph,’ he replied.
She put four pieces of whole wheat bread into the toaster and made herself another cup of tea. By the time the parade was wrapping up, she had almost all the food ready and was just waiting on the turkey to finish so she could make the gravy. Jenny still hadn’t called.
‘When are we eating?’ Richard called out.
‘About thirty minutes,’ Donna yelled back.
She heard him—even from the kitchen. That noise. That noise that grated on her every nerve.
‘Jenny hasn’t called yet.’ Donna wandered into the living room, wiping her hands on a dish towel. Richard heaved himself from his chair and went to the bathroom.
‘You think she would have at least called.’ Donna knew her yattering would annoy Richard but she was looking for reassurance, hoping he would tell her that Jenny would call soon; of course she would.
He came through the kitchen, ignoring the dishes she was filling with mashed potatoes and hot vegetables and took a can of beer from the fridge.
‘She doesn’t have to call.’
‘But she will, she’ll want to wish us a happy Thanksgiving.’ Donna could hear her voice getting higher and cringed, knowing it was coming.
‘Don’t cry, Donna.’
She froze, waiting for him to take his beer and leave her kitchen. She hated when he said that, remembering what used to come next when she cried. It had been years since he hit her. He had stopped when Jenny was little, but Donna would never forget.
Anytime she became upset, angry, questioning he would tell her how he hated a crying woman. And if she wasn’t able to stop herself, if she couldn’t hold back the emotions that upset him, she got five across the cheek. Now it was just those words. Don’t cry, Donna. A threat, a promise, that one day she would get just a little too emotional again, and he wouldn’t be able to stop himself.
‘Table is still set for three,’ he grumbled from the living room. It was true, Donna had the dining room table set for days. She loved the dishes that she had bought herself with a pattern of orange and yellow leaves. She only ever brought them out at Thanksgiving so she wanted to enjoy looking at them, along with the glass cornucopia centrepiece for as long as she could.
‘I’ll clear it up,’ she said.
There were still no alerts from her phone but Donna thought it would be okay to call Jenny now. It wasn’t too early; she had given her some space.
‘Hi Mom,’ Jenny’s voice sounded only slightly annoyed when she answered after the third ring.
‘Happy Thanksgiving!’ Donna tried to keep her voice light and cheery.
‘Happy Thanksgiving, Mom.’
‘Did you watch the parade?’
‘You’re all settled in at your friend’s house?’
‘I put some of the pies in the freezer so next time you visit you can have some.’
‘We’re going to eat soon so your father can watch the football game.’
‘I’ll tell him you said “Happy Thanksgiving”.’
‘Well, I did.’
‘Right.’ Donna wanted to say more. But mostly she wanted Jenny to say more. ‘Well, I guess I’ll let you go then. It just didn’t feel like Thanksgiving until we had talked.’
And then Jenny said it. Even though Donna had been very good about sounding calm and cheerful.
‘Don’t cry, Mom.’
Donna couldn’t answer.
‘Love you. ‘Bye.’ Jenny didn’t seem to notice that her mom hadn’t replied and ended the call. Donna stared at the phone in her hand as if she didn’t remember how it had gotten there. She slowly placed it on the counter, but was otherwise frozen in place.
Her skin tingled, her stomach clenched in a knot, and she could taste bile in the back of her throat. She tried to take deep breaths, as she had taught herself over the years. But this time, it was different; she didn’t want to cry.
She stood that way, eyes closed, taking deep breaths until she smelled it. Burning. She shook herself and her eyes immediately went to the stove. It couldn’t be!
She rushed to the oven door, opening it and turning on the overhead fan at the same time. Smoke poured out. She grabbed the roasting pan and yelped, having forgotten oven mitts. She put them on, already feeling blisters forming on her fingertips and pulled the heavy pan out. She could already tell the bird wasn’t burning; she must have spilt grease onto the bottom of the oven the last time she basted, but there was plenty of smoke.
‘Dammit, Donna. You burned the bird, didn’t you?’ Richard sounded mad, and even worse, he sounded as if he was coming into the kitchen.
Donna slammed the oven door and flung the oven mitts onto the floor. She wanted to run cold water over her fingers but Richard was already in the doorway so she didn’t move.
‘It’s not the turkey, Richard, it’s just some grease.’ Donna spoke slowly and quietly; twenty-five years with Richard had taught her how to talk to him when he was angry.
‘You just had to go and call Jenny, when she didn’t want to see you, or even talk to you, and you got yourself all upset, and you burned the damn bird.’
Donna felt it finally click in her head, right in the middle of her forehead, a flick that woke her up.
‘I’m not crying,’ she said, her hands reaching to the stovetop involuntarily. ‘And I didn’t burn a goddamn thing!’
Her fingers wrapped around the large carving knife that had been on the stove, waiting for the perfectly cooked turkey. She quickly took two steps toward her husband and before he could recognise what was happening she plunged the knife into his chest.
His eyes bulged and he remained standing while they both stared at the knife handle coming out of his plaid shirt.
‘Hrrrrrrmph,’ he moaned for the last time as his body crumpled.
Donna stared at the massive lump of polyester plaid on the floor. She knew she wasn’t going to call the police but didn’t know what to do next. He was too large for her to move by herself and she doubted she would be able to dig a large enough hole in the backyard to bury him. Her eyes scanned the numerous dishes of delicious food on the counter and she knew what she would do.
Donna acted quickly after that. She grabbed garbage bags and table cloths, bleach and everything else she could think of to clean the kitchen floor. Since Richard was such a heavy man, she would have to move him in pieces. Where the carving knife failed the hacksaw from the garage did a well enough job. The basement freezer was now almost empty and if she took out the two pies she could fit almost all of him in. There was one large piece left, a thigh. It actually reminded her of a large pork roast and she knew what to do.
The carving knife easily removed the pale skin with the thick layer of hair, and once that was done it didn’t resemble her husband at all. The turkey was perfectly cooked, but that could be made into pot pies. Tonight, she thought, she’d have a late supper, a roast dinner for a change this Thanksgiving. A big, meaty, roasted thigh. And as a special treat, she would maybe overcook it, just a little bit. Just to be sure it was nice and crispy, exactly how she liked it.
Five hours later, when almost everyone on the street was watching football, Jenny stood at the bottom of the driveway, laughing to herself. There had been something about the way her mother sounded on the phone that made her think she should spend just a night or two at home before returning to school.
She hadn’t called, knowing her parents would have already eaten, but thought she’d surprise them. She would eat a loaded plate of leftovers while mom chattered away and dad watched the football game. It hadn’t been Thanksgiving without her mom’s perfectly cooked turkey.
She turned her key in the lock and stepped into the dark hallway. She could see the glowing lights from the dining room at the back of the house, next to the kitchen.
‘Happy Thanksgiving,’ she announced. ‘Mom, it smells delicious!’
About the Author
NICOLE HERBERT published her first novel Road Kill Girl in March of 2020 just as the world was about to change. Her newest books Darkness and Beasts is the second of a vampire trilogy and is available on Kindle. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto and lives in Pickering, Ontario with her husband, son, and two cats. She can usually be found on Twitter @rdklgirl.
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