‘Trembling With Fear’ Is Horror Tree’s weekly inclusion of shorts and drabbles submitted for your entertainment by our readers! As long as the submissions are coming in, we’ll be posting every Sunday for your enjoyment.

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

The Watchers

It’s been three years since I retired from Maverick Heat & Air and fulfilled our dreams of moving to the country. Alice and I were never wealthy, but we got by. We made do during hard times, tucked away what we could in the good. Once Kyle and Molly were grown, we’d even managed to save enough to buy some land and a trailer near the lake. Fishing had always been our shared passion and in our new home, we looked forward to years together along the water’s edge.

 

But my Alice died of cancer the following spring.

 

After her illness, there wasn’t much money left. I had little desire to fish. Then, last Christmas, the kids surprised me with the kayak.

 

“Dad, you should get out on the lake again,” Kyle said as he and his sister carried in the blue plastic boat topped with a mammoth red ribbon. They set the gift beside the tree and Molly stared up her eyes wet with concern. “You’ll get exercise while you’re at it,” she said. “I know mom would want you to go on.”

 

They’d both been right. Getting back to the lake had relieved much of my loneliness, and my strength grew as I ventured further and further along the shore. Then, in early June, I’d met Burt Grimes, Sid Meyers, and the enigmatic Hog’s Leg Creek. Like me, both men were retired; Burt a gruff Army colonel from Ft. Sill, Sid a chatty software developer from Houston. Like me, they both loved to fish. Over the course of that spring, we grew to be friends.

 

Then, on an early-July morn I rowed to a meeting I didn’t realize would be our last. Fog parted in silent gray curtains before the bow of my kayak as I rowed to that meeting. The metered dip of the paddle and the hollow thump on my boat’s plastic hull were gulped down by the mists. Almost as if they hungered after any sound marring their uniform silence. I let the kayak drift and unhooked my rod. Then flicked the lure into the void; the unseen splash my only companion on the water.

 

I paddled along what I guessed to be the shoreline, throwing in the occasional lure. As the fog cleared, great stands of trees emerged along the banks, like the rough, bandy legs of giants. Burt was already anchored at the mouth of the murky Hog Leg tributary fishing rod in hand.

 

When he saw me, he glanced up and waved. “Bout time ya showed up,” he called. “Thought I’d be fishin’ alone.”

 

I eased my kayak next to his fourteen-foot bass boat and dropped anchor. “Not all of us have years of experience navigating in this crap,” I said.

 

“Speaking of which,” Bert said. “Have you heard from Sid? Without his GPS that guy couldn’t find his ass with a map and a flashlight.”

 

“Hey, you old farts,” Sid’s disembodied voice hailed from the mists. His canoe emerged from a bank of fog his angular form hunched over the oar like some primeval savage. “I heard that.”

 

Burt roared with laughter, pulling a cigar from his tackle box and lighting up. He filled the dense, morning air with its rich aroma. “So where we headin’?”  Burt keyed his boat’s ignition, the throaty motor gurgling to life. “We goin’ up the creek? Try an’ catch The Watcher?”

 

“That’s nothing more than an old wives tale,” I said. “There’s no giant fish living up that creek. If there were, don’t you think Sid here would have caught her?”

 

“Or been dragged to the bottom like legend tells,” laughed Bert.

 

Sid’s face grew serious. “I wouldn’t poke fun,” he said. “There’s more to those old stories than people let on.” He set his oar across his lap and drifted close, the metallic hull of his canoe bumped lightly against mine. “I’ve seen things along the Hog Leg, things watching from the water.” He unscrewed the cap on a silver flash and took a long swallow. With a sigh, he lowered the container and wiped a hand across his lips. “Maybe someone released an alligator into the lake. I don’t know what I saw, but I’ve been followed on this creek.”

 

“Oh jeeezus,” Bert drawled. “Not another one of those stories.” His engine whined up in pitch and the boat pulled away.” Hash out that bullshit later,” he called over his shoulder. “It’s time ta fish.”

 

I watched him slip through the thinning mist and disappear around a bend in the creek.

 

“I’m not bullshitting,” Sid said, his expression as flat as stone. “There’s something living out there. Something that watches us.” His eyes drifted to the fog-shrouded creek. “The fishing’s good but you’ll never find me out here after dark.” His eyes caught mine. “Ever.”

 

Five weeks later, the night of Sid’s funeral, Bert and I sat alone at a table inside the Cold Nine Bar reminiscing on our friend’s good nature and love of blarney.

 

“I never understood his affinity with that Watcher tale,” I said, the memory of Sid’s stoic expression while he spun his myth bringing a smile to my face. “He sure could pull your leg.”

 

“He wasn’t pulling your leg,” Bert said. He set down his beer and leaned back in the chair. “He believed every word.”

 

I laughed, but the set of Bert’s eyes halted my mirth. “You’re kidding, right?”

 

He shook his head, dropped his elbows to the table, looked me square in the eye. “I kid you not.”

In the intervening silence, Bert pulled a cigar from his jacket and scratched a match across the table. The waitress shot him an angry glance as he puffed the stogie to life. “You know how he died?”

 

“His wife said a heart attack,” I answered. I felt a pang of guilt that I’d not been with him that day. Maybe there was something I could have done.

 

“More than a heart attack,” Bert said. “The ranger who found him said he had the look of a man who’d seen the devil himself.” He blew a pillar of smoke waving it away with his hand. “Personally, I think he was stuck on that creek after dark; scared himself to death.”

 

I eyed my friend with suspicion. “You’re messing with me, right?”

 

He lifted his beer and took another languid puff. “No… I ain’t. An’ I’ll tell ya another thing,” he jabbed the cigar at me like a finger. “I’ve seen them Watchers. That’s why I carry this whenever I go fishin’,” he pulled aside the hem of his jacket revealing a holstered 1911 pistol. He drained his glass and rocked back in his chair. “I ain’t sayin’ I believe in none ah that shit, but I ain’t runnin’ into trouble without protection neither.”

 

I stared at Bert in disbelief. Sid was a dreamer, a watcher of sci-fi movies and horror flicks, more terrified of the shadows in his front yard than real dangers presented by the modern world. But Bert; Bert was a no-nonsense warrior. He didn’t believe in anything he couldn’t rub between his calloused fingers.

 

“What do the Watchers look like?” I asked.

 

“Eyes,” he said. “Eyes in the water.” He drained the dregs of his beer then banged the glass on the table. When the waitress looked over, he swirled his finger above the table in a sign for another round. Then, leaning forward, he glanced left and right as if fearful someone might overhear.

 

“I seen em’ on the shore. They got heads like toads but their bodies are …weird.”

 

Just then the waitress arrived with our pints; the subject changed. I never figured if Bert was yanking my chain or not.

 

I didn’t go fishing after that and I lost contact with Bert. The story of Sid’s death and the Watcher had nothing to do with it. My son, Kyle, and his wife, Abby, had their first child. So I stayed with them for a few weeks; helping out with the baby. But eventually, I needed to return home.

 

When I got back, I began thinking about Alice; how much she would have loved to see our granddaughter. It was soon after that I began drinking. I didn’t go out much or answer the phone. A week later, I was going through a stack of unread papers and spotted Bert’s obituary.

 

My friend had died on a Thursday, buried the following Monday, three days before I discovered his passing. I searched the internet and learned he’d drowned at the lake. Right then and there, I promised I wouldn’t shut myself away. I could picture Alice, arms crossed, her head tilted in her own jaunty fashion chiding me on self-pity. She’d want me back in the world, enjoying life.

 

The next afternoon, found me paddling along the overgrown banks of Hog Leg Creek, the September air alive with the call of cicada and buzz of grasshoppers. The sky a blue so intense the jays beat through the branches voicing their jealous protest.

 

I had some luck catching Crappie early on, adding three good sized fish to my stringer. Then, I paddled between the cattails to a spot Bert, Sid and I frequented for lunch. The creek was calm between the wide banks, the mirrored water deep. I sat munching my sandwich and staring absentmindedly at the far shore.

 

Then I saw it.

 

The first thing I noticed were the eyes. Two jet black orbs gleaming amongst the mossy twigs. When it blinked, I leapt to my feet, the thing disappearing into the depths with a heavy kerplunk. I could almost believe I’d been dreaming except for the wide ripples spreading across the flat green surface.

 

I continued my meal convincing myself I’d seen a frog. As a kid, I’d caught plenty of bullfrogs, some as long as your foot. I’d heard of Louisiana frogs as big as a newborn child. Although the eyes of this creature were the size of golf balls, I convinced myself a frog was what I’d seen.

 

Then I spotted two empty, brass casings glittering on the shore. They were .45s. The same caliber as Bert’s 1911. I imagined him killing time plinking away at turtles. Then a more disturbing target came to mind.

 

I brushed away ridiculous ideas of lurking monsters and pushed off from shore, letting the current carry me deeper into the marsh. Until the sun dropped below the towering oaks, and I spotted them again. A pair of eyes bobbed alongside a half-submerged branch to my left. I caught the gleam of that malevolent stare and snapped my head around. The thing disappeared in a widening ring of fear that spread across the water’s surface and set my boat to rocking.

 

Reeling in my bait, I plied the paddle towards the creek’s mouth set on never returning. I hadn’t taken but four strokes when, beneath my craft’s hull, a rasping scrape brought me to a jolting halt. I’d been stranded on sunken limbs before but my efforts to break free were, this time, in vain. Images of submerged goblins ensnaring my craft beguiled the recesses of my mind, but I drove these thoughts away.

 

Although the water was deep, the muddy banks were a scant ten feet distant. An easy swim. I could even carry the anchor line and once relieved of my weight, might easily free the kayak from shore.

 

As I mulled these thoughts, my paddle dipped idly in the water, then was suddenly ripped from my grasp and dragged below.

 

It was then they came.

 

Creeping out of the woods like a plague of slime encrusted locusts. In snake like slithers and deformed, lumbering hops, they sidled across the leafy shore before plopping their disfigured bodies into the water, the brackish surface seething with their activity. Then, one by one eyes bobbed to the surface, surrounded me. A forest of ebony orbs lit with the malicious red glimmer of the westering sun.

Jeff Dosser

Jeff Dosser

Jeff Dosser is a burgeoning new writer living with his family on their wooded property outside of Norman Oklahoma. He retired from the Tulsa Police after eighteen years of service and now spends his time working for the man, writing and taking long walks. Jeff’s short stories have been picked up by Yellow Mama, Down In The Dirt, and Pulp Fiction magazines.

He can often be found wandering the woods behind his rural home pondering on what lurks in the darkness.

You can find out more about Jeff at JeffDosser.com.

The Impossible Visitor

Ellen stumped downstairs, running a hand through sleep tousled hair. She saw her husband leaning against the wall. He stood with his arms crossed over his pajama clad chest and a look of contemplative concern on his face.

“Mark, honey,” Ellen said, “What are you doing? Is everything alright?”

Mark nodded toward the wall opposite. “There’s a knocking.”

Ellen followed his gaze. Where did that door go? She thought. Oh yes, that’s right. “The basement door,” she said out loud, “Did an animal get in?”

Mark now looked at her with concern. “Ellen,” he said, “We don’t have a basement.”

Carl R. Jennings

Carl R. Jennings is by day a thickly Russian accented bartender in Southwestern Virginia. By night he is the rooster themed superhero: the Molotov Cocktail, protecting the weak and beer-sodden. While heroically posing on a rooftop in the moonlight in case a roaming photographer happens by, he finds the time to write down a word or two in the lifelong dream that he can put aside the superhero mantle and utility comb to become a real author.

The Fart

His intestines screamed in pain after the great buffet. It was his first
time in Paris and it sounded so great and funny. Eat all that you want and
pay with a fart.

He couldn’t hold it back any longer. He had to fart. The gas seeped out
from his buttocks and was ignited by the candle. The flame burnt of the
string holding up the guillotine’s blade that fell down with its heavy
weight on his neck and decapitated him.

His head rolled over the floor and stopped by the sign which translated
into “The exclusive human deli store.”

Mathias Jansson

Mathias Jansson is a Swedish art critic and horror poet. He has been published in magazines as The Horror Zine, Dark Eclipse, Schlock and The Sirens Call. He has also contributed to over 100 different horror anthologies from publishers as Horrified Press, James Ward Kirk Fiction, Source Point Press, Thirteen Press etc.

You can find out more about Mathias at his homepage.

Kill Shelter

The building was grey and anonymous.  Inside, the doctor and tech set up the syringes and vials for the next batch.  The doctor was an old hand, the tech was brand new.

“Doesn’t this job give you nightmares?”

“Used to, when I first started.  But someone has to do it, it’s unpleasant but necessary.  It’s not our fault, it’s the breeders.  They just won’t stop.  The population is out of control.”

The door opened and the guard brought in a fat toddler.  The doctor sighed.

“To think they used to do this to dogs.  Now, that’s what I call cruel.”

R. J. Meldrum

R. J. Meldrum is an author and academic. Born in Scotland, he moved to Ontario, Canada in 2010 with his wife Sally. His interest in the supernatural is a lifetime obsession and when he isn’t writing ghost stories, he’s busy scouring the shelves of antique book-sellers to increase his collection of rare and vintage supernatural books. During the winter months, he trains and races his own team of sled dogs.

He has had stories published by Sirens Call Publications, Horrified Press, Trembling with Fear, Darkhouse Books, Digital Fiction and James Ward Kirk Fiction.

You can find out more about RJ at his homepage.

The Unremarked Return

Jesus watched the six o’clock news on an immense flat-screen TV.

None of it was good.

He walked among the people, but no one saw him. They looked at their feet, their phones, at anywhere but others walking by.

He stopped before a church. It depicted, at the top, his own painful, drawn-out death. Seeing it took him back, made him relive the days he spent bleeding, aching, dying.

He came back to bring hope, to heal a broken world.

Shaking his head, he left the world the way it was. It was too much; he couldn’t bear this burden.

Ken MacGregor

Ken MacGregor’s work has appeared in a whole mess of anthologies and magazines. His story collection, “An Aberrant Mind” is available online and in select bookstores. He edits an annual horror-themed anthology for the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers. Ken is an Affiliate member of HWA. One time, he even made a zombie movie. Recently, he co-wrote a novel and is working on the sequel. Ken lives in Michigan with his family and two cats, one of whom is dead but still haunts the place.

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