This week, another double feature with two flash fiction stories from L. Marie Wood and Tyhitia Green..
Narrated by Elijah Ramsey and Tonia Ransom.
Executive Producer and Host: Tonia Ransom
All episodes are brought to you by the NIGHTLIGHT Legion. Join us on Patreon for as little as $1 per month to help us produce more stories for you to enjoy.
Hi. I’m Tonia Ransom, creator and executive producer of NIGHTLIGHT, a horror podcast featuring creepy tales written and performed by Black creatives from all over the world.
This week we have two tales–both of relationships that ended badly.
But before we get to supernatural breakups, just a reminder that all episodes are brought to you by the NIGHTLIGHT Legion. Thanks to our newest members Grace, Viv, Morgan, Molly, Caitlin, and last week’s author, Michele Tracy Berger. Thanks also to blue coble and A.L. for increasing your contributions. You all have my eternal gratitude. We’re working toward our goal of bringing you new episodes every week, but we need your help. Just go to patreon.com/nightlightpod to join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion and get a shoutout on the podcast.
Now sit back, turn out the lights, and enjoy “Family Dinner”, by L. Marie Wood, narrated by Elijah Ramsey.
“You gotta be kidding me,” Nick said as he turned onto the dark road… a road that looked just like the last one, and the one before. He had been driving for an hour into the deep woods and across state lines for a girl he had just met. Come to dinner she had whispered in his ear the week before. Meet my family.
They had only been out on a few dates, had only spent maybe 7 hours together, but who’s counting? She talked about cavern hunting (who can resist stalactites and stalagmites?) and great skiing when he got there, but that wasn’t the reason he said yes. It was her. She wore such a sweet smile when she asked him to come, looked so perfect in her tight jeans and loose sweater. She felt so warm when he hugged her close and felt her form underneath all that knit, so he said sure. It didn’t matter that her family dinner was the same day that he was celebrating a win with his buddies, sending him in the other direction from her folks’ house and adding 45 minutes to an already long drive.
All that mattered was the smile she would greet him with when she opened the door and the warm hug that waited for him.
Assuming he could ever get there.
The drive from Fairfax was the easy part. He knew his old stomping grounds well enough to make it most of the way out of Northern Virginia and over to Warrenton, where the city lights were a distant memory, but that was as far as he could go without help. It didn’t help that there was no Interstate to get onto. The closest one would have put him a half hour out of his way, so he braved the side streets and back roads, relying on his GPS and, after a while, instinct. GPS, God love it. Such a great tool when it works. But like that early-adopt model he won at a casino in the late 90s, the one that had to be suction cupped to his windshield and that sent him into the Baltimore harbor every time he made a turn off Pratt St., the route his phone gave him was no use. It kept rerouting as if the mountains surrounding the sleepy hamlet grew up overnight, making a once usable road impassible. Nick had gotten so sick of hearing that unaccented, mild-mannered female voice telling him to make a U-turn, that he closed the app.
White’s Taxidermy on his left. Margie’s Good Eats on the right. Coincidence?
Nick would have laughed at his joke if he hadn’t already told it before. He was sure he passed a similar combination a few towns back. Taxidermist Tull and Jake’s Steak. Forever Pets Taxidermy and The Rib Shack. It was funny the first time, but not anymore.
Nick pulled into a gas station. He was happy to find one of those big chain stations like the ones he was used to at home. The drive itself was starting to look like one of those low-budget horror movies – he didn’t need to add a broken down, one-pump station with the stereotypically grimy gas jockey to the mix. He and three other people filed into the brightly lit convenience store at the station. He listened as the person in front of him asked for directions to the ski lodge near where Amy’s family lived – the same one that had a hot chocolate with his name on it waiting by a warm fire. The route sounded like the one he had just come off, long and twisty, and dark. When it was his turn, Nick told the attendant – young and clean, thank you very much – that he was looking for directions to the same place.
“But where’s the highway,” Nick asked after being given the same directions the woman before him got. “There’s gotta be something that cuts through these mountains instead of sticking to the back roads.” He picked up a candy bar and laid it on the counter. “I feel like I’ve been driving around forever.”
The young man nodded imperceptibly, his eye twitching under the patch of oily hair visible beneath the rim of his red service cap. “I wish, but there’s nothing like that,” he said a little too eagerly. “This is the best way to get out to the ski lodge, especially since it’s almost dark.”
Nick smiled at him incredulously. That’s why he wanted the highway! The afternoon light was fading fast and he did not relish the idea of driving around the woods on winding roads in the dark. He did not want hitting a deer to be in his future.
“There’s gotta be something. I mean, there’s no way trucks take these narrow streets to deliver to you. What do they use?”
The attendant rang up his candy bar without looking at him.
Nick tried again. “I saw lights, but I couldn’t get to them.”
Giving Nick his change, the attendant said, “I don’t know. But the directions I gave you will get you to the ski lodge in about 2 hours.”
The attendant held out his bag with hands that looked like they could be shaking. Just a little, but it was there. Nick shook his head, thanked him, and got back in the car. Two hours? He’d been driving for an hour already and the GPS said it was just about 2 hours away from where he started. Could he really be that far off course?
Nick looked in the direction that the attendant told him to go. Two of the three cars that came in with him headed that way. The other car, a guy in a button-down shirt open at the neck and dress slacks driving a non-descript black sedan that screamed company car, went the other way. Nick climbed into his own car and turned it on fast. He could feel the attendant’s eyes on him, beseeching him to go the way he had been told, but Nick ignored the sensation as it crept up his back to caress his neck. He followed the company car even as the gas station attendant screamed, “No!”
There was nothing. Not even a boarded-up house to break up the monotony. Nothing at all. Nick had caught up with the other rebel and was right behind him. The man had even made a saluting gesture to him in his rearview mirror – just two compadres bucking the system. It was getting late. At 4:30, it was almost completely dark. There were no streetlights on the country road, but Nick could see some off in the distance. The road traversed a lazy hill. If he could just get down to those lights, Nick was sure he’d find a way to cut through the spiderweb of back roads to take him where he needed to be. Amy’s family lived in a college town – there were bound to be major routes leading to it. He just needed to find one.
Oh crap, Amy!
She had to be worried. Nick picked up his phone and noticed she had called twice already. When? He had the phone with him when he was in the gas station and it had been sitting in the cupholder the whole time he was driving. It never rang.
“Technology,” Nick said out loud, “Gotta love it.”
Nick dialed Amy’s number and heard nothing. No ringing, no beeping, no ‘all circuits are busy’ message – nothing.
He looked at his phone, taking his eyes away from the road for a second to see if he had missed a number somehow. He had just added her number to his favorites list, but now he wondered if he had put the number in wrong.
Nick didn’t see it when the front end of the company car disappeared like it got sucked through an invisible portal. The man threw the car in reverse and it lurched backwards. The doors seemed to stretch, pulling away from the side panels as if running from a magnet. The metal pulled like salt water taffy, stretching in long lines of silver and black. The back tires spun against the asphalt, digging for purchase but finding none.
Nick didn’t hear the tires screeching on the road, nor the muted screams left behind like an echo as the man travelled through the barrier. He didn’t notice the country road rippling as it engulfed the non-descript sedan, the facade rising and falling like paper in the wind to reveal a glimpse of a black core that seemed to pulse with life. He never saw how flat the landscape was, how it mirrored itself every few yards, like cheap floor tiles keeping pattern. Instead, he heard the unaccented, mild-mannered female voice of his GPS telling him to turn around to start route guidance, only this time she was screaming.
And now for our second story, Date Night, by Tyhitia Green, narrated by me, Tonia Ransom.
I checked the time on my cell phone and my heart raced. Almost midnight. Tears streamed down my face and my mouth went dry. This would be the last time I’d see him. Break-ups were always hard.
An owl hooted above my head. It ruffled its brown feathers against a bare branch. It took flight, swooped down to the ground and scooped up an unsuspecting mouse that tried to scurry away a little too late.
Barry asked me to meet him there at midnight, underneath the large evergreen tree near the mausoleum.
A large hand gripped the back of my shoulder tightly and I jumped. The smell of pungent, dollar store aftershave invaded my nostrils. A man’s deep, gruff voice interrupted my thoughts. “Miss, think you should be out here so late? You okay?” Thinning, gray hair was the first thing I noticed, then his round belly, covered up by a blue and white checkered shirt. His other sunburnt, callused hand gripped the wooden handle of a muddy shovel. He stood in front of me, awaiting a reply.
I turned my head, sniffling. “I was fine until you scared the crap out of me!” I said, shooing him with one hand. “I’m waiting on someone.”
“Sorry, but do you feel safe out here?” I noticed the man had the name Roy stitched about his front left pocket.
Craning my neck, I scanned the area. “Well, it’s a cemetery, so I’m not exactly worried,” I said, pressing my back onto the firm tree. “Besides, my mom says to fear the living, not the dead.” Plus, it didn’t hurt I knew self-defense.
Roy rubbed his wrinkled temple as he stared at the ground and sighed. “Since I’m the caretaker, Miss, I have to make sure no one gets in trouble out here. Some graves have been vandalized in the past year.”
“Sir, I’m not here to desecrate any graves. I’m just meeting my boyfriend here at midnight and then we’ll leave. Is that okay with you?”
He held up both hands, palms out, facing me. “No need to get testy, Miss, I just got a job to do is all.”
“I’m not being testy.” I smiled in order to ease the old guy’s concern even though I felt far from chipper. “Like I said, we are meeting at midnight, and we’ll be gone after that. I promise. You can come back and check. We won’t be here.” Barry could never meet me at my house. My parents never liked him. They thought he was a bad influence on me because he didn’t dress or act like the perfect teenage boy they had in mind for me.
“Okay, okay. At midnight.” As Roy walked away, he glanced back over a shoulder, and shook his head.
I interlaced my fingers, blowing warm air into my palms. Wearing a black hoodie and jogging pants covered by a trench coat hadn’t provided as much warmth as I thought it would while I waited. The tears returned as midnight approached.
The old man shouldn’t have been out there so late. It didn’t matter though. Barry had better be on time.
And he was.
Freshly packed soil and crisp leaves were tossed onto my boot. Bony fingers poked through the ground. More and more dirt flew as both hands became visible. I backed away out of their grasp.
Large clumps spewed into the air. I pulled off my coat as I watched the figure finally claw itself free from the earth. Filth covered the new black suit his mom bought for the funeral. Small bits of mud and debris fell away from his hair and face. Barry stood there in front of me, dead, undead, or whatever he was at that point.
Pitch black, sunken eyes stared at me, full of longing. I couldn’t tell if it was from love or hunger. Either way, I didn’t have time to find out. He hoarsely whispered, “Sara.” Or at least I thought he had said my name. I shook my head. I couldn’t lose my focus.
I slowly pulled out my katana sword from the bag I had strapped across my back, gripping the black leather corded handle. Gloves would have ruined my grip on it.
Barry reached out to touch my face. I allowed him to brush his ice cold fingers across my cheek, but promptly swatted his hand away. That pale hand looked sickly against my ebony skin. His face looked calm though. Maybe he could control himself? I sucked in a huge gulp of air and it burned my lungs. No. I had to stick to the plan.
He made me promise–as he lay dying a few minutes after he was bitten by a master vampire one week ago–that I would not hesitate to kill him. He didn’t want to turn into something that hunted and killed people.
Vampires were something we didn’t believe in until Barry’s best friend, Danny, claimed his next door neighbor was one. Barry and I wanted to prove to Danny there were no such things as vampires and that he was being crazy; but we were wrong. And now Danny and the master vampire were missing.
My heart thumped in my ears. It also ached because I promised to end his life. There was no alternative.
“Hey! Y’all are supposed to be gone already.” Roy yelled.
Barry’s head whipped in the old man’s direction, a low growl escaping his throat. He balled up his gray hands. His mouth opened wide and his canine teeth slowly elongated, making a sickening wet sound.
I had to act or Old Roy and I would both die. I moved the sword in front of my body. The moonlight glimmered on the polished silver blade.
A whimper came from the bewildered man when Barry crouched and licked his thin lips. Roy turned on a heel and ran toward the nearest open gate. Spittle sprayed out of my undead boyfriend’s mouth as he ran after his prey.
Before he could make it more than a few feet, I lunged toward him and swung the sword with all the force I could gather. The katana sliced through the side of his neck, making contact with his Adam’s apple, causing a loud crack before moving through sinew, muscle, and bone. A neat slice went clean through what remained of his neck. Barry’s head made suction noises as it first lolled, then slid off the neck. His body jerked before hitting the ground. It sizzled and steamed, as if acid had been poured all over it. The stench of burnt, rotten flesh filled the cool air. All that was left was goo and bits of his suit.
I grabbed my stomach, leaned forward, and vomited.
Tears blurred my vision as I shuffled toward my car like a zombie, certain the poor maintenance man wouldn’t be too eager to discuss what he’d witnessed.
Summer break would be coming soon. I’d track down the master and Danny then.
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And to thank you for listening until the very end, we have a creepy fact for you.
There’s a stretch of Interstate 80 where numerous people have disappeared over the years. Running across the United States, east to west, people tend to vanish on the highway, leaving nothing but their cars and no signs of foul play. One man, a WWII Veteran was even stopped by a highway patrol officer shortly before his disappearance. Neither he, nor his dog, were ever seen or heard from again. The bodies of these missing people have never been recovered, and their cases remain unsolved.
Join us next week for an interview with L. Marie, then a new story the following week!