‘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

Portrait In Blood

Durston stopped momentarily to wipe the perspiration from his face with his sweat-soaked handkerchief that he kept in the palm of his hand. He glanced up at the full white moon that shimmered in the early August sky, then continued on. An eddy of dust skimmed across the road in front of him and bits of blowing plant debris and grit battered his face and collected in his nostrils, ears and on his lips. By the time he reached the concrete pathway leading to the Pfrimmer house, huge sweat stains had formed on his shirt beneath his underarms.  He pushed open the wrought iron gate and stepped through onto a narrow path blanketed with black pebbles.

At the bottom of the steps leading up to the wrap around porch he was able to form just enough spittle in his dry mouth to spit out the dirt. He looked up at the large, weather-beaten two story white house and climbed the stairs, the steps creaking beneath his dust covered shoes.

After knocking on the door he leaned his tripod against the door frame and brushed the dust from his shirt and shifted the strap of his camera bag. The bag wasn’t heavy but in the heat the pressure of the strap on his skin felt as if he were carrying a lead weight. Rivulets of perspiration ran down his face and dripped from his stringy hair.

A little girl with long blonde hair and wearing a white summer dress and white shoes opened the door.

“Who are you?” she asked, her body half hidden in the shadows of the doorway, beyond the shining light of the moon.

“I’m Durston Hansen, the photographer,” he said.

“You’re late,” the little girl said.

“My car broke down a little ways down the road,” he said. “Who are you?”

“I’m Annabella,” she said.

From a room further back in the house, a woman’s voice called out. “Who’s at the door, Annabella?”

Annabella turned and shouted, “The man is here to take our picture.”

Behind Annabella a young woman also with long blonde hair and wearing a white floor length  dress of a gauzy material appeared. She was holding a candle. The light from its flame flickered on her pale face and made her dark eyes glisten like black marbles. “I’m Mrs. Pfrimmer,” she said. “We’ve been waiting on you.”

“I’m so sorry,” Durston said. “My car broke down. It’s practically brand new. It just stopped and I couldn’t get it running again.”

“Walking that road at night can be dangerous,” she said. “Wolves roam the countryside.”

“Wolves?” Durston said with surprise.

“You’re here now,” she said. “Come in.”

Durston lifted the tripod and went into the house and turned to see the door close on its own. He followed the woman and girl into a room with a small settee with red and black cloth upholstery in the middle of the room. Burning candles were on every table and lined the mantle place over a stone fireplace where logs snapped and crackled in an intense blaze. The room smelled of smoke, though none was present, and it was as hot and moist as a sauna.

“We wish to have our family portrait taken of us together on the settee,” Mrs. Pfrimmer said. “Mr. Pfrimmer will be up from the basement momentarily.”

Durston opened the tripod and set it up facing the settee. He took his Pentax 35mm camera from the bag and screwed it onto the tripod.

The woman and little girl were watching him very closely.

“Is that the camera you used to take the portraits in the flier that was left on our porch?” Mrs. Pfrimmer said.

“Yes it is. It’s not fancy but for the kind of portraits I like to take it works great,” he said. “I don’t use digital cameras. I prefer the older models and think of my portraits as art.”

“Ours will be black and white?” she said.

“Yes, just as you requested in your letter,” he said. “I’ve already loaded the film.” He took the flash attachment out of the bag and started to slide it onto the top of the camera.

“What is that?” Mrs. Pfrimmer said.

“It’s the flash unit,” Durston said. “Even when you turn the lights on the flash may be needed. I prefer natural lighting and may not use the flash at all but I have it just in case I need it.”

Mrs. Pfrimmer shook her boney index finger in his face. “Light other than from flames isn’t allowed in this house at night,” she said.

Durston looked around the room. Shadows of the flickering flames danced on every wall. “I guess there’s enough light,” he said. He put the flash attachment back into his bag and wiped his face with his sweat-drenched handkerchief. “Could I get a glass of water?”

“We have no running water,” Mrs. Pfrimmer said.

“No running water?” Durston said.

A door at the end of the room burst open. A cloud of dust and the smell of sulfur billowed out making the candle flames quiver on the wicks. A tall man with a gaunt face and shoulder length black hair and wearing a tuxedo stepped out. He looked at Durston and smiled. “You’re not married, you’re twenty six years of age and you spend many nights at the bar,” he said.

A chill ran up Durston’s spine. “How do you know that?”

“I know everything. I’m Jackson Pfrimmer,” he said, crossing to Durston as if blown there by a breeze. He held out his hand for Durston to shake.

Durston took the man’s hand and immediately pulled it away. He looked at the palm of his hand expecting to see it frozen.

“Shall we have our family portrait taken now?” Jackson said.

“Yes, please, if we can,” Durston said nervously.

The husband and wife sat on the settee with Annabella sitting between them. They stared at the camera, their faces like stone.

“Say cheese,” Durston said as he bent down and put his eye to the viewfinder.

“What is cheese?” Annabella said.

Durston began taking shots.

*

In his photo lab, Durston staggered backward against the enlarger. Clipped to a line above the table with the development trays were the enlargments of the portraits taken of the Pfrimmer family. In the black and white photographs, bright red blood dripped from two fangs bared by each of them. The white dresses of Mrs. Pfrimmer and Annabella were spotted with blood. These weren’t the pictures he remembered taking at all.

He raised his hand and put it on the side of his neck and felt three separate pairs of puncture wounds.

THE END

Steven Carr

Steven Carr

Steve Carr began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over seventy short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. His plays have been produced in several states. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He lives in Richmond, Virginia and writes full time.

Guilty

Three rings to voicemail and an email response. A paper trail; that’s all they’ll get from me. That way I can choose my words carefully. I can answer those questions with the kind of precision it takes to stay one step ahead.

Paranoid? I don’t think so. This is all submissible in court; every word, every passing conversation might be splayed open to scrutiny. It never hurts to be cautious. This watched pot will never boil.

What do I have to hide? I can’t tell you that, out in the open where any passing dolt might hear, now can I?

Sarah Doebereiner

Sarah Doebereiner is a short story author from Central Ohio. For the past year, she has worked with Claren Books as their editor. Macabre themes fascinate her because of their tendency to stay with readers long after the book closes, but the joy in short fiction is the opportunity to try out all kinds of genres. You can follow her work on Amazon.

Lightning Need Only Strike Once

The storm closed in while Peter was cutting the grass in the back paddock.
When it roars, head indoors echoed in his mind, so he made a beeline for the house. As Peter headed back, there was a crack and a flash from above.
He flinched, but kept running.
Reaching the house, Peter heard a scream from indoors.
His wife.
Alarmed, he reached for the door, amazed when his hand passed through the wood. The rest of his body followed.
Peter didn’t have to look back to see the crumpled shape lying the grass.
He’d already guessed what had happened.

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.

Just Right

The three bears came home and found a golden haired girl asleep in Baby Bear’s bed. Someone had eaten their porridge and broken one of their chairs.

Mama Bear pulled a blonde hair from Papa Bear’s whiskers. She shook the girl awake. “Is this that cheap hussy that you’ve been seeing while I hibernate?”

The girl said, “Hi Papa”, and the big bear smashed the girl’s head before she could say another word. “I’ve never seen this one before.”

Baby Bear thought she tasted too tough. Mama Bear thought she tasted too stringy. Papa Bear thought she was just right.

Robert Allen Lupton

Robert Allen Lupton lives in New Mexico where he is commercial hot air balloon pilot. He writes and runs every day, but not necessarily in that order.

Recent publications include short stories in the following anthologies:

Uncommon Origins
Twelve Days
Hindered Souls
Potters Field #6
Worlds Unknown #3

The novel, Foxborn, was published by West Mesa Press in April of 2017.

Other short stories are available online from “Crimson Streets”, Daily Science Fiction, and two drabbles have been published in “Trembling With Fear”.

“Running Into Trouble”, a collection of 15 fantasy, science fiction, horror, adventure, and humorous stories, all with running as a central theme, will be published in July of 2017. The novelette, Dejanna of Mars, will be published in August 2017, and the second book in the Foxborn series, ‘Here There Be Dragons,” is scheduled for February 2018.

Other short stories will be published online and in anthologies through the year. Visit Robert’s author pages on Amazon and Goodreads for more information.

About Stuart Conover

Stuart Conover is a father, husband, published author, blogger, geek, entrepreneur, horror fanatic, and runs a few websites including Horror Tree!

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