The Story Phantom
Short Story | Horror | Collaboration with Lamp Post in the Marsh
A few weeks ago Daniel of Lamp Post in the Marsh sent me a short story for feedback. I read it and immediately had some crazy ideas for it. Being the amazing collaborator that he is, Daniel let me run wild with them. I consider this Daniel’s creation, yet gestated into a fun, hybrid horror baby of our minds.
We are really excited to share this story with you before Halloween. We hope that you enjoy it. Let us know what you think of The Story Phantom!
It was Halloween night and 9-year-old Samuel was still wearing his favorite costume after an evening of trick-or-treating. He was stretched out on his bedroom floor with his feet kicked up behind him. The lamp was on and it was storming outside, which lent an added element of creepiness to the comic series he was paging through called “The Last Stories Ever Told”.
The Storyletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
The Story Phantom, blue-hooded and red-eyed, appeared off and on throughout the comic book (sometimes in a framed medallion, sometimes leaning out of one of the panels). He always had a bubble coming out of his mouth—or at least where his mouth should have been—and the lettering when he spoke was italicized and shaky. He introduced each story, commented on what was happening, or summed up the end by throwing in a moral to the story.
Each issue consisted of three stories and several two-page ads for mail-order toys (army men, magic tricks, yo-yos), novelty items (whoopee cushions, hand buzzers, plastic poop), and things like decoder rings and dowsing rods.
Samuel had finished the first story, which was about a man who is sedated, weighted with chains, and thrown into a swamp. He later returns to his house with flaps of grey flesh peeling from his cheeks and confronts his wife who was, of course, his murderer: “Hello, my love. I had this sinking feeling that you don’t love me anymore.”
Lightning flashed through the window and thunder rumbled overhead. He knew his mother was still awake, but his father hadn’t returned home from a business meeting. His father had missed trick-or-treating and Mother was angry. Samuel was used to it so it didn’t bother him that much. He turned the page to the next tale.
This one he recognized right away, as his scoutmaster had told a version of it to Samuel’s troop last summer. It was the story of an old woman who loved jigsaw puzzles. As she sets the pieces, she realizes the scene depicts her own kitchen.
“And after placing the final piece into the puzzle,” the Story Phantom said in the upper-hand corner of the page, “she gasped. For a madman was looking in at her from the window directly behind her. And the last thing she heard was the sound of shattered glass falling upon the floor; a new puzzle that would ultimately never be solved.” Samuel yawned. There was only one story left in the issue and he hoped it was a new one he hadn’t heard before.
“But wait, reader!” the Story Phantom said at the bottom of the page as he held up the yellow box that said Finis. “Go ahead and turn to the next story, which I’m sure you will find to be much more interesting.”
Samuel turned the page and…it was empty. Not in the stylistic way where some comics feature entire pages of gradient shades, or a title page of some kind. There wasn’t even an ad like he was accustomed to. Just a blank white page.
He turned to the next page and it was the same. In fact, the rest of the comic book was unfinished. There was no final story. Samuel slammed the magazine shut.
At the same moment, a loud BANG came from outside his bedroom. He got up from his position on the floor and crept to the door. A faint tap, tap, tap came from behind him. He twisted to look at the window, expecting to see a hooded figure, but nothing was there besides the streaks of water beading down at an angle.
“Where were you tonight?” his mother asked.
His father groaned in reply. Samuel listened intently with his ear up against the door.
“What kind of business meeting has glitter, huh? Answer me.”
They shouted at each other, each one inaudible over the other, no common ground to be reached. Samuel gulped and looked at the window once more, then his bed. He thought about the best way to escape this torment.
“Get off me,” his mother said. There was a sudden scuffle, followed by a thud against the wall of his bedroom. She screamed.
Samuel opened his door and peered down the hallway. Two shapes were entangled in a writhing black mass, shadowy and evil like something from his comics. But they weren’t evil shapes, they were his parents. They were fighting one another in a manner that didn’t seem real.
He ran down the hall and punched his father in the side with little-to-no effect. He was only 9 and his father was a large man.
“Stop it!” Samuel screamed. “Stop it, you’re hurting her!”
Samuel didn’t want to look up, he didn’t need to. His mother was being pinned to the wall and choked by some kind of imposter that had taken his father’s place and he was powerless to stop it. A villain had entered their home in the form of his father and was ruining everything. Even though Samuel wore a costume, he was no hero, not like in the stories. Running far away seemed like the best option, the only option. Or was it?
His mother’s gasps filled the hall as he sprinted to his parents’ bedroom. The interior of the house warped as he ran, etched outlines and various hues of black and blue made up their bedroom. He flicked the closet light bulb on and searched the place his father had told him never to go or else there would be no more comics. He found the white box.
When he emerged from his parents’ bedroom, the elongated hallway was tilted dramatically. His hood covered his red-eyed mask, and his cape fluttered out behind him from a non-existent wind.
“Let her go,” Samuel said, his words in giant text filling the hallway.
The imposter, in his drunken stupor, regarded Samuel and dropped his mother. The man looked so very much like his father in every way. Samuel knew the truth deep down, but couldn’t accept it.
“Son, what are you doing?” the imposter asked, stumbling forward, his shadow stretching down the hallway to cover Samuel completely. Samuel cocked back the hammer of the small revolver.
If he hadn’t been angry before, the imposter was definitely angry now. A grim expression formed on the man’s face as he growled.
“Put that down, boy.”
Samuel’s hands were shaking. It took everything he had to keep the gun steady, but he wasn’t going to let the imposter win. He saw his mother lying motionless, slumped over in the hallway. The imposter loomed over him like the giant from the story he’d read in the previous issue. His finger tightened on the trigger. Villains do not win, no matter what.
A shaky, stylized CRACK and RUMBLE covered a full page panel of the comic book that lay on Samuel’s bedroom floor. The strong wind from the now opened window had flipped the comic open to the final page. Lightning filled the cloudy night sky over a darkened suburban neighborhood.
It was the end. Or was it the beginning of another story altogether? The Story Phantom was no longer present on the page when he spoke. At the bottom was a text box that read:
“Don’t fret, reader. The next issue is coming soon enough. Just make sure to watch your back. You never know when you might find yourself living in one of The Last Stories Ever Told.”