This week, a flash fiction double feature about a lying house and a lake monster.
Stories by Tara Campbell and Tonia Ransom.
A transcript is available on the NIGHTLIGHT website.
Narrated by Tonia Ransom.
Executive Producer and Host: Tonia Ransom
Tara Campbell is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction co-editor at Barrelhouse. She received her MFA from American University. She's the author of a novel, TreeVolution, and four collections: Circe's Bicycle, Midnight at the Organporium, Political AF: A Rage Collection, and Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection.
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.
We’re finally getting back on track after the interruption to our production schedule due to the mayhem that was February and early March.
But before we get to deceitful dwellings and marine monsters, I want to take a moment to say thanks to our newest patrons. Thanks to Kelly, Jelani, Emma, Dominique, Kitty, Dale, Sandy, and Clare. Thanks also to Scott for their very generous donation via PayPal, and to Caitlin for increasing their monthly pledge. NIGHTLIGHT will be produced year-round thanks to the NIGHTLIGHT Legion, and now, we’d love to bring you new episodes every single week. Just go to patreon.com/nightlightpod to join the NIGHTLIGHT Legion and get a shoutout on the podcast. And don’t forget, NIGHTLIGHT merch is available. Just go to merch.nightlightpod.com to get your t-shirts, hoodies, notebooks and more!
Now sit back, turn out the lights, and enjoy our first story “In the City of Lying Houses”, written by Tara Campbell, and narrated by me, Tonia Ransom.
In the City of Lying Houses
Some of them claim the most horrific abuses: children tortured, women grievously harmed, animals set on fire. None of it’s true, of course, in the City of Lying Houses. None of the muffled weeping from within this bubblegum pink bungalow actually happened. Screams like those emanating from the attic of the Victorian next door were never screamed, and the body parts flung out on the lawn of the leaf-green split-level across the street are just a mirage. Look closely, they’re merely red tulips.
The mansion on the hill, however… Do you see it, that bright gleam up there on the hill? Let’s go, it’s not actually that far away. These houses lie, remember? They make themselves look bigger, make distances appear greater than they are, make the hill seem steeper than it actually is. That one on the right, for example, the cream-colored ranch style home with blood seeping from between its vinyl slats? Lies. The family who lives there just had their third baby, and all of the children are very much alive. Through the window, you can see them sitting down to lunch.
And that one up ahead, the cabin with natural wood stain: ignore the black smoke curdling out of the chimney, spreading the most noxious odor. Also a lie. See, the owner is coming out his front door right now to play fetch with his dog on the lawn. And those “ashes” you’re brushing off your shirt—merely pollen. You just have to look closely enough to see the truth. The houses cannot sustain their falsehoods forever.
Come, we’re supposed to be heading up the hill anyway. It's best to keep your eyes straight ahead, focus on your goal, so as not to get sidetracked by falsehoods.
And with that, we’ve already arrived at the edge of the property. See how the mansion’s marble glitters in the sun? The walkway is purposely winding, so you can view it from all sides: elegant columns, generous windows, French doors opening onto the rolling back lawn. Such a striking contrast between the white columns and the lush, green grass, don’t you think? And from this point you can see where that splashing sound has been coming from: dual dolphin fountains spouting on either side of the walkway to the front door. Modeled upon fountains at Versailles, I’m told.
The harp is coming from inside; come, let’s listen. Yes, right through the front door; it’s already open, you see. I love watching visitors take in the mansion for the first time. It is overwhelming, so I suggest beginning with the sheen of the polished floor, appreciating the slate-colored seams running through the milky white marble. Let your eyes move up to the mahogany table with its lush centerpiece of white freesia and roses—do you smell the hint of eucalyptus underneath the floral notes? Now look beyond the flowers and let your gaze sweep up the elegant, broad stairwell up to the balustrade on the next level. From there it’s natural to look all the way up to the vaulted ceiling (that’s why the harp echoes so beautifully) and observe the light glistening off the cut-crystal chandelier.
Whatever’s baking now smells delicious, cinnamon and vanilla, a hint of allspice. And do you hear that? Children laughing. It’s coming from upstairs—let’s take a look.
It’s all right, no one minds.
Note how the stairs are perfectly placed for a comfortable ascent. One can just imagine the lady of the house gliding up and down like a queen.
Upstairs now, the laughter seems to be coming from everywhere. Yes, there is a nursery, it’s this way. It is a charming room, so warm and comforting, full of teddies and binkies and blankies, with a mobile of plush suns and moons rotating over an empty crib. But no one is here.
That’s the playroom across the hall, also empty, as are the bedrooms next to it. All of the bedrooms are empty. But laughing children aren’t sleeping, so that’s to be expected, isn’t it?
Yes, I hear it too, someone’s replaced the harp with a record. It’s coming from the living room downstairs. There’s nothing like jazz to lend an elegant touch to a gathering. The family had excellent taste in music, in art, in everything. One can barely hear the children anymore over the saxophone and the low burble of grown-ups talking.
Oh my, do you smell that? Whatever was baking is beginning to burn—you see, the house is already beginning to give up its ruse. But there’s no one in the kitchen to check. No, there’s no point in going downstairs; as I told you before, nothing is—
Very well, if you insist.
Watch your step going down, the lighting has dimmed. The music is gone now; the voices from the living room are growing harsher. I don’t understand what they’re saying either. Now someone is yelling. And someone is crying.
The floral arrangement in the entryway has wilted. Moldering flowers have a singular stench, don’t they? It makes one almost grateful for the acrid smoke coming from the kitchen.
A scream, sharp and brief, then the breaking of glass—that would be the French doors. Wait. Listen. There they are, footsteps leading from the living room, across the marble toward the stairs—no need to step aside, there’s nothing really there anymore.
Shrieking from upstairs, a baby’s cry, a thud, more knocking.
There’s no need to go look; there’s no one left. I’ve told you, houses can only lie for so long.
Why are you shaking? Isn’t this what you came to see?
Why does everyone who visits this city leave weeping?
And now for our second story, “A Day in the Sun”, written and narrated by me, Tonia Ransom.
Legend has it that when a drop of blood touches the surface of the lake, a monster devours it immediately.
That’s not true. That little bit of blood isn’t enough to draw any attention. A drop is nothing more than a waste of precious energy.
But a warm body? That will get swallowed whole almost immediately. No modern human has ever seen what ate their companions and lived to tell about it, but plenty of people have watched their friends tumble overboard and disappear into the abyss. And many so-called friends have been the reason someone has met their end in the lake.
Case in point, about a hundred years ago, a family of four set out in a row boat for a pleasant picnic on the small island in the middle of the lake. The children, both young teens, fought as most siblings do: Name calling, insults, insincere death wishes. The father’s powerful baritone failed to control them. The mother’s shrill screams did nothing more than act as a dinner bell. The fight escalated until it became physical, the younger boy attempting to push his older sister into the water. But she was quick: she grabbed hold of his shirt, they both lost their balance, and then lost their lives--a desperately-needed meal to the starving.
You see, the people native to the area had been massacred by these picnicking colonizers a decade before. Before their demise, they’d sacrificed a member of their tribe, usually a criminal of some sort, every equinox. This was sufficient to round off a diet of fish and the occasional bear that wandered too far into the water. But fish didn’t provide enough sustenance. Before the sacrifices, fishermen regularly didn’t return home. When the Natives finally saw something curious and large in the water one day, they put two and two together and realized they could choose who they would lose to the lake.
For centuries, all lived in harmony. A meal each equinox, as well as the occasional treat when a member of the tribe made a horrible enough transgression. Good fortune was bestowed upon the tribe. Their crops and hunting ventures were always successful, no matter how neighboring clans fared. It was a highly successful symbiotic relationship.
Then the colonizers came. They didn’t believe the Native’s nonsense about the Great Spirit in the lake. They didn’t believe it existed and they didn’t believe it required regular meals. To them, the Natives were savages with primitive beliefs. They were simple-minded and deserved the benevolence and religion the colonizers had come to bless them with. When the Natives resisted, they were killed. In a single night, the tribe was gone.
No one remembers them now, save what they called “Lake Dweller”. And no one remembers a day when something below the surface wasn’t hunting for its next meal. No one remembers seeing a majestic creature swimming freely in the sun, without fear of being hunted.
Not a soul knows of the years a starving creature suffered in the lake, hovering near death, eating every living thing in the water. No one knows why there are no fish in the lake anymore; only that there are none. Sometimes, a foolish traveler refuses to believe there are no fish and attempts to prove their fishing prowess, only to have their boat mysteriously capsize, their bodies never found.
But a few days ago, a man decided to camp on the bank of the lake. This, in and of itself, was not unusual. Lots of people do this every year and return home in one piece. But this man had heard the tales of mysterious disappearances in the lake and read the stories of those who watched someone else succumb to the depths, despite being reportedly strong swimmers. While no one had actually seen an unknown creature in at least a century, it was well known that something in the lake was at least opportunistic, if not outright sinister, and this man was set on finding out what that something was--with a camera crew in tow.
And if anyone could find the monster in the lake, it would be this man. He was famous for documenting the existence of creatures long lost to time, though most skeptics believed he faked his evidence.
But he didn’t realize how dangerous this mission was. He didn’t realize his would-be prey was tired of the dark depths of the lake, longing to live near the surface and bask in the sun; to cultivate another mutually beneficial relationship.
The Native’s Lake Dweller refused to hide any longer. A life in the dark, scavenging for food instead of being worshiped was no life at all.
And so, when the man’s boat cut its way across the lake, I swam alongside it and plucked the celebrity from his perch on the bow in full view of the camera. My existence will be televised and I will either have more food than I can eat, or I will suffer the same fate as the natives. I am not a monster. I am a god.
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And to thank you for listening until the very end, we have a creepy fact for you.
Did you know that 7% of Americans have considered moving from their home because they believed it was haunted? But not Sarah Winchester. Not only was she sure her house, or rather her family, was haunted, she actually listened to those spirits. Sarah regularly worked with a psychic and conducted seances almost daily to ensure that the spirits were happy with the neverending construction of the Winchester Mystery House. In fact, the room she conducted these seances in had several doors, but they only opened one way each. You couldn’t leave the same way you came in. And everyone has heard of the rooms leading to nowhere. The Winchester Mystery House is the original house of lies. Rooms are even still being discovered in the house to this day.
We’ll be back in 2 weeks with a brand new story.