8 Search results

For the term "william cook".

Video Refresh: William Cook Interview

This is a quick video refresh of our previous interview ‘The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview With William Cook’. Cook is happy to share what inspires him to write and how he tackles his creations. If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to check out our full interview by Ruschelle Dillon which is linked too at the bottom of this post!

After watching the video, please like, share, and subscribe to our channel!

This is a new format that we’re playing around with for articles, interviews, and potentially Trembling With Fear. Please let us know if this is something that you’d like to see more of!

You can read the full interview here: https://horrortree.com/horror-tree-presentsan-interview-william-cook/.

The Horror Tree Presents…An Interview with William Cook

Meet William Cook: Horror writer, poet, dad, delver into the darkest of minds and ghost lover (her name is Gladys). READ ON!

Ruschelle: William, as a horror writer, I’m glad to see you prepared for our interview. You look good in a top hat and apron stained with blood and entrails.

Speaking of blood and entrails, your stories are not for the squeamish. And that’s just what many readers of the serial killer genre love.  What kind of research have you done to create your characters? Did you study specific serial killers from history?

William: There aren’t any particular serial killer cases that inform my stories and I tend to research as much about abnormal psychology as I do about serial killers (in general) and their methods and characteristics. I read both fiction and non-fictional accounts involving serial killer and watch documentaries in order to get a grasp of the psychological aspects of these freaks. I have a large collection of old Detective magazines that are very lurid and descriptive and these provide great fodder for researching crime and criminals. These are the same types of magazines that many of the serial killers from the 70s to the 90s used to read.

Ruschelle: What’s your literary “body count?”

William: Far too many to count although I feel quite happy that my count is only a figurative one and not literal. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! (winks)

Ruschelle: You’re also an artist. Your pieces reek of brutality and dark, sinister entities. My favorite piece is a black and white illustration of a clownferatu. (My name for it) It speaks to me. But I don’t want to go to jail- so I don’t listen. When working with your artwork does your writing inspire your pieces OR do you pull inspiration from what you write- from your art?

William: The piece in question was inspired by none other than Mr. Stephen King’s ‘PennyWise the Clown’ from IT. So in that regard my inspiration came from sources other than my own imagination – all I did was reinterpret it with my own skill-set and materials at hand (charcoal and paper). Usually most of my artworks stem from an interest in a particular subject and are influenced by both visual and textual works. Sometimes, as a happy coincidence, a story or an illustration I have created will inspire a companion piece to go with it.

Ruschelle: Do you have a favorite piece? What is it?

William: I don’t really have a favorite. I get a bigger kick out of other people enjoying them, rather than having a favorite. As soon as they’re done I tend to distance myself from them and move on to the next one. You can see most of the ones I rate as worth public viewing here on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/thewilliamcook/

Ruschelle: Fun question- Speaking of Clowns, they’re hot right now thanks to the remake of Stephen King’s It and Twisty the Clown from AHS.  If you could be any killer clown for a day (and I can’t prove you aren’t now but if I find out you are- I won’t tell), which do you identify with and why?  GO.

William: Mmmmmm –killer clowns crack me up as I don’t find them particularly scary. In fact, I find them quite comical. Perhaps the scariest one for me was a real one – the serial killer John Wayne Gacy’s alter-ego, ‘Pogo.’ As far as fictional ones I guess that King’s ‘Pennywise’ rates well for me as I have been involved with this one since reading IT many years ago.

Ruschelle: You’re more recent art work makes use of computer images along with more traditional mediums. What prompted you to take a modern tech approach to your art?

William: I bought Photoshop and loved the freedom that resulted – you can create so much more digitally than with traditional mediums (in my opinion) and it’s so much cleaner e.g. no cleanup, messy brushes and paint etc.

Ruschelle: You’ve recently completed your Master’s thesis, on serial killers no less, which leaves you more time to focus on fiction writing again.  Even though you’ve covered serial killers in your book ‘Blood Related’ did your extended research help you gain any new insight into the deviation?

William: No, not really. I’m not proud to say but my knowledge of these abhorrent humans is quite extensive and was firmly in place before writing my thesis, which incidentally only touches on fictional serial killers.

Ruschelle: Jason from Friday the 13th or Michael Meyers from Halloween?

William: I am a big Halloween fan – especially the original series of films starring Jamie lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance. One of the best slasher franchises in my opinion. In saying that I did enjoy Rob Zombie’s reinterpretations.

Ruschelle: Good answer! Michael Meyers is my favorite scamp too.  Let’s see, you have written the novel; Blood Related and short story collection; Dreams of Thanatos. You have even penned books of poetry; Corpus Delicti and Moment of Freedom.  You’ve proven you are a man who can adapt his writing to different styles. But we all have that “favorite child” that we continue to nurture and dote on. Even though we don’t always want to admit it. For example, you have 4 lovely daughters. I promise I won’t tell them which one of them is your favorite child (LOL) …..but of your writing, what’s your preference?

William: Tough question as my answer tends to fluctuate depending on my mood. When I’m in a dark mood I write the dark stuff – Horror and psychological thrillers – perhaps as a form of catharsis. When I’m pensive I tend to write poetry as it serves as a great medium to philosophize and wax lyrically. And when I’m upbeat and positive I tend to lean towards non-fiction as I find it comes easier to me in that frame of mind than at other times. Despite the changeable preferences I’m never far away from my first love – scary stories, and will probably die still penning things that go ‘bump in the night!

Ruschelle: Have any of your girls been bitten by dad’s writing bug?

William: Yes! Both my little girls, Sienna (9) and Leila (7) are keen story-tellers and have written enough each to fill a small book. I am planning on helping them self-publish their work in the school holidays.

Ruschelle: Did you sprinkle any of yourself in Blood Related? The upright, family man Detective Ray Truman or one of the Cunningham brothers who are depraved serial killers? Isn’t there a little bit of ourselves in the stories we write?

William: For sure. I think any fictional work has some element of truth in it that stems from the author’s own experience/s of life. In my case, writing about taboo subjects is my vent – that is, rather than doing these horrible things in real life, I write about them and that seems to satisfy the demons that lurk in the dark realms of my brain. The same, of course, applies to the heroic actions of my ‘good’ characters – in essence, yes, I live vicariously through my stories and characters.

Ruschelle: You hail from New Zealand. Is there any ‘lore’ or hauntings in your country that has intrigued you and have squirmed their way into your stories or art?

William: New Zealand is a very new country in the whole scheme of things – colonial settlement is less than 200 years old and the indigenous peoples (the Maori and the Mori Ori) have their own cultural legends and myths dating back approximately 500 years before that when they first occupied the land. So in this respect there are two main threads of myth and legend where tales of ghosts and lore originate in New Zealand. There seems to be only a few tales that really stand out, but we do have a bloody colonial and pre-colonial history that is ripe for turning into some solid horror fiction, which I plan to do at some point.

Ruschelle: Many new writers out there would love to know your writing “routine” or ritual. It may inspire them to try something new to spur on their own writing practice. Tell us a bit of your routine when preparing to write.

William: Unfortunately, my routine is that I don’t have a routine so I’m not the best person to ask about this subject. It is something I am trying to develop as I get older, but I tend to rely on the ‘muse’ and shape my stories in my head until I have enough to put down on paper. I make notes with pen and notebook first and create a basic outline with first paragraphs and go from there. I guess, my main routine for writing is to read as it will inspire me to create stories (usually).

Ruschelle: Would you rather be the first man to be probed by a brand new visiting alien species that no one has been probed by before OR would you rather be “romanced” by a 100 year old ghost named Gladys who read your last book and is now your number one fan? I’m really looking forward to your answer here….

William: Ummm – I try to avoid being ‘probed’ at all costs so I guess I’ll have to go with Gladys. She sounds like a nice ol’ gal. Ghost sex is nothing new to me (winks).

Ruschelle: Oooh we’ll save THAT for another interview! Heh heh. In addition to writing fiction you have also written non-fiction, ‘Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors’ being one of them. You’ve mentioned to me that you are now publishing your own books. Why did you decide to go that route?

William: Having gone down the traditional publishing route before with most of my main titles having been published by other publishers, I realized that I could do more effectively what they could not. Most small-medium publishing companies have little-to-no-time to promote their authors so the marketing always fell back to me anyway. Editorial decisions were sometimes dubious and destructive in terms of the intended effect of the book and took away any control. I had some good experiences with publishers such as Black Bed Sheet books but at the end of the day I realized that with my publishing and marketing background I could get my books ranking higher if I had control over the ‘dashboard’ end of the publishing process. After receiving contractual rights back for my novel ‘Blood Related’ I decided to do it myself and managed to get my book ranking highly on Amazon and actually making good money out of it for a change. Ultimately, the huge increase in royalties and the creative control determined my commitment to publishing my own work. I still outsource editing, formatting and cover design so as not to let myself get complacent with the quality of my work but I am very happy with my decision and I’d recommend it to any author thinking of going for it. Check out my website http://selfpublishingsuccessfully.com for lots of good tips and information about the process.

Ruschelle: Black Bed Sheet Books is awesome, if I may say so myself. And I just did. But any who…If you were lucky enough to visit one haunted/creepy place in the world where you could find inspiration and write your next book where would that place be?

William: I’d love to do the ‘Haunted London’ tour one day.

Ruschelle: I’m going to stow away in your suitcase for that one. Sooo….what is your favorite way to dispose of a body? As per your research, of course.

William: Have to be fire – no DNA and negligible remains. Bwahahaha

Ruschelle: Fire. Nice choice!  Very toasty. Your new book Dark Deaths: Selected Horror Fiction, is out soon. Could you give us a little taste of your new offering?

William: This collection is my second (first – Dreams of Thanatos: Collected Macabre Tales) and will be the last one I put out for quite a while as I am now devoting myself to writing novels and novellas. It includes a bunch that have previously been published in anthologies and magazines and a couple of unpublished pieces also. The stories are pretty solid in my estimation and I hope readers will enjoy them as much as I enjoyed writing them. Should be out end of September/early October via Amazon exclusively.

Ruschelle: Is there anything you’d like to add to this interview? Ya know, perversions, bank account number, the usual…

William: Ha ha ha – not really, just thank you for the interview and the great questions. Hello to any new readers out there and old ones alike.

Ruschelle: You’re giving away some of your blood and sweat online. How can we get a nibble of your works?

William: If you check out my website you can get a copy of my novel-length first collection Dreams of Thanatos: Collected Macabre Tales, in the digital format of your choice, absolutely free. All you have to do is sign-up for my rather infrequent newsletter here: http://www.williamcookwriter.com/p/subscribe-now.html

Want more of William Cook?  Well, here ya go!

Website: http://www.williamcookwriter.com/p/subscribe-now.html

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/William-Cook/e/B003PA513I

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WilliamCookWriter/

 

Trembling With Fear: Happy 2020 Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day…roses, chocolates, and…infidelity, unrequited love, and murder.

Much of horror is rooted in ‘love’ gone awry: Gothic classics like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre hide horrible secrets under the veil of romance; the Phantom of the Opera’s passionate madness leads to nightmarish consequences, and Dracula and Carmilla awaken in us un unhealthy lust for the undead.

Horror tricks us into loving the unlovable and cheering for the monster—think of Frankenstein and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Poor, tortured souls locked in situations not of their making, fueled by the cruelness of the powerful.

Modern love carries horrors of its own; in our Valentine’s Special, we have lovers who won’t stay dead, poisons at the ready for spouses trapped in loveless unions, and serious communication breakdowns.

And funny—many of this year’s submissions offer up a cocktail mix of humor, horror, and romance. There’s quite a mix of grotesque, heartbreak, and macabre in this record number of Valentine’s tales. Thank you to everyone who submitted these fine, imaginative stories!

Before you dig in to our Valentine’s buffet, let me whet your appetite with a little appetizer, or shall we say, an ‘amuse-bouche’:

Roses are red
Corpses are heavy
Hurt my back lifting
one into my Chevy.

Now, grab a box of candy, and settle in for some twisted stories of love.

– Catherine Kenwell

Venus and Cupid

 The waning light of sunset brought forth night’s cloak over the little town of Gembrook. Cupid rested on a fragment of cloud; his eyes were dark, deep and blazed with trickery as he held the shaft of his ominous arrow. 

A golden curl framed the youthful glow of his cheek, but his all-knowing 

expression revealed he had seen the passing of the ages. Cupid grimaced at a ghastly screeching sound. His gaze followed the sound to a crooked cottage with cracked walls and a corroded roof. Through its open window a woman with masses of raven hair, sat on her bed playing a violin. 

He traced the perfectly arched brows over her sad eyes. “She has a delightful face,”

Cupid muttered to himself, with a captivated look. “The lovely curve of her face is like Venus.” His cheeks grew ruddy as he looked at her bow shaped lips. “And she is named after the goddess,” he said, reading her mind. 

Venus awkwardly clasped the neck of the ebony violin, playing the same piece of 

music over and over again. But it did not sound any better.  

Venus threw her violin on her bed in frustration.   

I try so hard, but I never get what I desire, Venus thought, leaning closer to the

windowpane. 

Cupid thought she looked as if she was waiting for someone. 

She perked up her head when a tall man dressed in black, with a high forehead and

thick red hair walked past. He was carrying a violin case. 

If only I had the courage to tell Levin that I love him, Venus thought, watching 

him until he was out of sight. If only he would love me. 

Cupid felt a prick of jealousy, but he knew that her shyness would buy him

time. 

 

***

Cupid perched on the silvery clouds of dawn as he hovered over Levin’s cottage the following day, waiting for him to wake. It was not until noon’s sun warmed the town’s rooftops, that the creak of the front door revealed Levin’s red hair. He stepped out, carrying his violin case. 

Cupid’s glare followed Levin through a rasping wind as he walked along a  

cobblestone path.

 Levin raised his blue eyes to a cheerful face.  

“Good morning,” said the town baker, his wife walking by his side. 

“Good morning,” said Levin, catching a lascivious stare from the baker’s wife. 

Levin grinned.  

Sneering, Cupid flitted among the swift clouds as he followed Levin. “He’ll be a

simple target for my arrow.”  

A mischievous look crossed Cupid’s face when a young woman appeared

in the distance. Her name was Natalia. “This will secure Levin’s love is elsewhere. He will never love Venus!” he said. Thoughts of Venus had not left Cupid’s mind since he had first laid sight on her.  

As Natalia approached, Cupid’s claws drew back the bow’s string. The arrow

released and soared into the air as Levin and Natalia’s gazes met. 

Levin jolted slightly as the small prick of Cupid’s arrow struck his heart. With a

new gleam in his eye, Levin admired Natalia’s golden-brown tresses cascading down her flamed-coloured dress. 

Cupid grasped the arrow as it swiftly returned to its bow. “If I let them choose

whom to love, they never choose wisely. If I take pity on them and choose a love that I can foretell will make them happy, they will ruin it with childish behaviour and greed. Levin and Natalia might be happy they have met, but let’s see where their choices will lead them.”

Levin wore a grin while he talked to Natalia. 

“They are all fools! They amuse me with how stupid they can be,” said Cupid,

a crooked smile played on his lips. 

***

 

A few days later, Cupid lay on the coiled branch of a willow tree. He peered into Venus’ bedroom at her solemn, lonely gaze. She sat by her window, waiting at the same hour each day, for a glimpse of Levin. 

Venus raised her head as he appeared in the distance. But this time he didn’t

walk alone, he held Natalia’s hand and carried a violin case that was not his own. 

Does Levin love Natalia? Venus grasped her head. I have loved him for years; she

can only have loved him for hours.

Natalia was beaming. 

Why does she have everything, and I have nothing? Venus thought. She is

beautiful, but I know others with greater beauty that don’t have half of her good fortune. Venus’ mouth sagged. And she is renowned in the village for being a virtuoso violin performer. Everything is effortlessly hers. But I struggle. 

Levin gave Natalia an affectionate look as they both walked past. 

Natalia is known to be fickle with men, her love will be short-lived. I am a better

match for Levin. 

Cupid let out a loud cackle. “Sometimes the truth is not easily visible and

appearances may be false. Venus envies them because she imagines they live a perfect life, but her thoughts are based on her romantic ideas, that are seldom true of reality.”

How can I make Levin love me? thought Venus. 

It was then Venus remembered the witch who had helped her a long time ago. 

Cupid glared, for he too knew the witch who lived in a cottage made of stone.

***

Moonlight struck the arch of Cupid’s wings as he landed on top of a redwood tree.

He fixated on Venus as she walked through the dark forest surrounding the town of Gembrook. A glow in the distance led her to the witch’s cottage. 

Cupid’s ears perked up ready to listen. Venus knocked on a little wooden door. No 

one answered. She turned the handle and the door opened. As Venus entered the cottage a lambent light emitted from burning candles. She looked around with wonder at bottles filled with bubbling liquids and herbs that were scattered on a cluttered table. 

A vapour rose from a cauldron creating a stench in the air and a witch stood by a

table hovering over a book with ivory pages. Her skin was akin to a deathly pallor and 

strands of silver hair poked out from under a black hood that shrouded her eyes. When she became aware of Venus, the witch crossed the room.  

Venus’ breath grew deeper. 

“What does your heart desire?” asked the witch. 

“Love,” replied Venus, earnestly.   

Venus trembled as the witch drew nearer.  

“I love a man.”  Venus’ voice shook. “But he does not love me.”

Cupid grew green-eyed. 

“He loves Natalia,” continued Venus. “Natalia triumphs in everything she does.”

The witch undid a leather pouch tied to her cloak. “I cannot give you a spell that

will make him love you, but I can give you a spell that will cease his love for her,” she said, with a low voice. “It is only Cupid’s arrow that holds the power to make people fall in love.” The witch pulled out an object from which blood seeped. 

Venus screwed up her nose. “What is it?”

“It’s a heart,” said the witch, placing the heart back in its leather pouch. “He will

be rid of Natalia if you place this near the bed where you sleep.” 

A sudden shadow of guilt emerged on Venus’ face. Natalia’s love won’t endure. 

Venus reassured herself. Venus reached into her pocket, she laid three golden coins on the table, grabbed the heart from the witch’s bloody hands and left. 

Cupid turned red with rage as he trailed Venus through the forest back to 

Gembrook. 

***

An evocative tune from a violin pervaded the centre of the town. Venus stood on

the outskirts of the crowd that had gathered to listen to Natalia as she immaculately performed. When Natalia finished her tune, the crowd broke into applause. Natalia gave a slight smile to her father and then to Levin; both stood at the front of the crowd. 

“Your daughter plays so beautifully,” said an old woman to Natalia’s father. 

“Thank you,” he said, his round face filled with pride. “I arranged violin lessons 

for her when she was a child.”  

“It’s very generous of her to play for the townspeople,” said another woman. 

Venus frowned at the townspeople’s praise of Natalia. When Natalia walked to

Levin, their lips met. Venus walked away in a huff.  

Cupid sat on the rooftop of Levin’s home, watching Venus walk towards the forest.

She had grown even more desperate for Levin’s love. Her face sagged, dark shadows encircled her eyes and the jealousy that gnawed at her mind had spawned hatred for Natalia. 

Cupid followed Venus’ steps through the redwood forest to the witch’s cottage  

again. He peered through the window and listened to a frantic Venus. 

“I’ve laid the heart by my bed for days, but Levin still loves Natalia.”

“Cupid’s arrow binds Levin to her,” The witch’s face was concealed behind her

dark hood. She stood by a smoky cauldron. “The ox’s heart is no match for Cupid’s magic.” 

“I thought love would bring me happiness, but it has brought me grief,” said

Venus. “Why does Cupid torment me?” 

“Cupid was once in love with a fair woman, Psyche, but she betrayed him. She

burnt his skin with hot oil while he slept by her side,” said the witch.

Cupid scowled. 

“A quarrel between lovers,” said Venus.  

The witch languidly walked to Venus, while finishing her tale. “He flew away in

despair and never saw her again.” 

“Does he want me to suffer as he did?” asked Venus. 

“Love has become Cupid’s unscrupulous game. We have all become his

playthings. He cares not who he hurts, as long as the outcome pleases him.”

A momentary silence ensued. Cupid clenched his teeth. He could not hear the

witch’s thoughts.  

“Too many people have been tormented by Cupid’s arrow,” said the witch with a 

quiver in her voice. “He has come back to Gembrook to create more mischief.” 

Venus let out a loud sigh. “If I had the courage to speak with Levin, things could

be different.”  

The witch took out a small bottle from a pocket in her cloak, a chain dangled from

its lid. 

“This shall give you courage.” She removed the lid with her elongated fingers and

an overpowering odour filled the air. “The liquid inside will protect you if any harm should come your way.”

Venus screwed up her nose. “Must I drink it?”

“No,” said the witch, placing the lid back on the bottle. “Hang it over your heart,”

she said, handing it to her. Venus placed its chain around her neck.  

When Venus left, Cupid attempted to descend and enter the witch’s house, but

couldn’t get any closer.  

“The witch has grown powerful. She shields herself from me,” he said, with a

worried countenance. 

When the witch’s gaze met his, he caught a hint of wickedness in her eyes.

 

***

“Love is excruciating,” said Cupid, sitting on the chapel’s rooftop. “Fate has set me a cruel path,” he looked down at his bow and arrow. “Everyone is quick to blame my arrow, but even without my interference love can be catastrophic. Venus’ fixation with love causes her misery, as it causes misery to many others, including me.” 

Venus walked along the street. She stopped and looked through the window of the

town bakery. The baker glanced at his wife tenderly, as she took the freshly baked bread out of the oven. 

They have been married for ten years. They must be so happy, thought Venus. 

Cupid groaned. 

Venus turned her attention to the wooden bench near the chapel, where a bony man

with a creased face, beamed as he held the wrinkled hand of a woman sitting next to him. Venus smiled. 

Cupid’s wings fluttered over the rooftops as he trailed her steps. She entered a tiny

shop with a rosewood violin displayed in its window. Handcrafted violins hung on every wall and the shine of the burnished wood reflected a burgundy hue on the floor. 

A tall man with red hair stood behind a table, fixing the broken bridge of a violin. 

“Levin,” called Venus.   

He stopped repairing the violin and looked up at her.  

He placed the violin on the table. “Do I know you?” he asked, exploring her face

for familiarity. 

“No, you do not,” said Venus.   

“Have you come to buy a violin?”

“No,” she said.  

He looked puzzled.

“I have one. My mother gave it to me before she died, but unfortunately I cannot  

play it,” she said, looking at him coyly. 

“It’s a difficult instrument to learn,” he said. 

She nodded. 

They were silent for a while; Cupid could tell they were wondering what to say.

“You have walked by my window for years,” Venus said, finally breaking the 

silence. 

“Do you live near here?” he asked. 

“Yes, I live on this street.”   

“I am surprised we have not met. I have not seen you in the violin shop.”

“I seldom go out,” she said, nervously. “My name is Venus.”

“That’s a lovely name. You must be the namesake of the goddess.” A hint of desire

crossed his face. “What can I do for you?”

She coloured. “I- I-,” she stuttered unable to speak or meet his eyes. I have

loved you for years, she thought. She could not say it aloud. 

Cupid felt a stab of despair.

 The shop door creaked open and a woman entered. It was Natalia. 

Venus pursed her lips. Levin reached for Natalia’s hand as she approached with a

grin. They exchanged a besotted look. Natalia shot Venus a frosty glance. 

“I must leave,” said Venus, she began to fidget nervously with her hands. 

“Good day, Venus,” said Levin. 

“Good day,” said Venus. She left the shop with her head bowed. 

When outside, she ran to the back of a nearby chapel, hid her face behind her hands

and wept. As Cupid watched her tears flow, in a moment of pity, he descended. He sensed Venus’ fear as she heard the flutter of his wings. 

“Venus, I can find you a love that will make you happy.” His gaze traced her 

heart-shaped face.   

Cupid aimed his arrow at her. She looked at him in horror. The arrow bounced off

the witch’s bottle hanging around her neck and returned to Cupid, wounding him on the shoulder.

With a loud cry Cupid pulled the arrow from his wound. The bottle around Venus’

neck began to shake on its chain. Cupid’s face filled with surprise and he aimed the arrow at Venus’ heart once again. But before the arrow was released, Venus removed the lid and threw the potion at him. The potion seared his skin. 

Memories of what Psyche had done to him assailed him. Cupid shrieked in pain. 

He dropped the bow and arrow. His breath grew erratic. 

“I only wanted you to love me,” he said, looking at Venus as he drew his final

 breath. 

She stood for a while looking down at his lifeless body. Venus was puzzled. What

did Cupid mean? “He wanted me to love him?”

Cupid’s body was covered in old scars. Venus realised these must be the scars 

inflicted by Psyche. Cupid had small limbs akin to a child. A trace of guilt filled Venus. But she thought of what the witch had told her: “Too many people have been tormented by Cupid’s arrow.”

“The witch will be pleased that you are unable to hurt anyone ever again,” she said,

angrily. But then she froze. 

Venus grew pale. The witch has fooled me, she thought.  The ox’s heart, did

 not cease Levin’s love for Natalia, but it filled my heart with desperation and the bottle of potion that I wore around my neck, filled my heart with courage to kill Cupid. Venus recalled the quiver in the witch’s voice. The witch was seeking her revenge!

Cupid’s arrow glinted on the floor. She picked it up. It felt heavier than she

 imagined, and it was icy cold. 

Venus remembered something else the witch had told her. “It is only Cupid’s

arrow that holds the power to make people fall in love.” Venus smiled.

***

Venus drew the curtain in her bedroom, the morning light revealed her bright face. Her hand held tightly onto the golden arrow. 

This will be the day that Levin will love me, she thought. She placed the bow and 

arrow in a bag. 

Venus walked down the street with a wide smile. But her joy faltered when she

saw Natalia turn the corner into the same street. Natalia’s face was puffy and red and there was a remnant of a tear at the edge of her eye. 

How unhappy I am.  A voice that was not her own had popped unbidden into 

Venus’ mind. 

Whose voice am I hearing? thought Venus. It sounded like Natalia, but Natalia had

 not moved her lips. 

Natalia walked past sighing. I don’t believe he loves me. 

I can hear Natalia’s thoughts!  I must have the power of Cupid’s arrow! thought 

Venus. Was Natalia talking about Levin?

Venus approached the chapel; she passed the old couple that had sat on the bench 

each day. With the magic of the arrow, she knew they had both loved each other for six decades and would continue to do so until death. Venus’ joy returned. 

Venus removed the bow and arrow from her bag as she neared the violin shop. 

Familiar voices were shouting angrily from the other side of the street. They also appeared to be heading towards Levin’s shop. 

“Levin had an affair with my wife!” yelled the baker. 

“My daughter cries every night because of Levin!” exclaimed Natalia’s father.

“My sister was convinced he loved her!”  A stout man angrily shouted. 

Venus walked faster, now in a panic. Who are they talking about? Venus 

wondered. Surely not the Levin I love? 

Her brows rose. A man with red hair was sneaking out of the side window of the

violin shop. When the townsmen caught sight of him, they ran after him, furiously waving their fists in the air. 

It can’t be Levin, Venus thought. He is honest, good and heroic. 

But when the man with red hair turned his head with a look of terror, she realised it

was Levin. With a sombre stare she watched Levin and the angry men disappear into the distance. 

She glumly looked down at Cupid’s bow and arrow. Maybe another time, she

thought, putting them away in her bag. 

Sometimes there’s a reason someone won’t love you in return. Perhaps I will be

happier without him

***

The violin music sounded sweeter as it floated out of Venus’ window. Venus’ lashes lifted at a knock on the door; she put the violin on her bed. When she opened the front door, her friend’s kind smile greeted her.  

“Good morning, Venus. You’re becoming better at the violin.”

“Good morning, Beky,” said Venus. “Thank you, I have had a few lessons.”

“I’m sorry, I’ve arrived a little late.”

“There’s plenty of time to get there, the recital doesn’t begin for another half an

hour.”

Venus closed the front door behind her. 

Their shoes clattered as they both walked down the narrow street. 

“Someone else is managing the violin shop,” said Beky. 

“Who?” 

“Natalia.”

Venus’ head perked up, looking through the window where the rosewood

violin was displayed. 

“Her father bought the shop and asked Natalia to run it,” said Beky. 

Venus was surprised. Natalia had her hand in a brace.  

“Poor Natalia. A broken wrist. I hear she may not be able to play the violin 

ever again,” said Beky, with a sad look. 

Venus noticed a smile on Natalia’s face. “She looks happy.”

“Well, I don’t think she ever liked playing the violin. Her father forced her to have 

lessons as a child.”

“Has she heard from Levin?” asked Venus. 

No one has heard from Levin,” replied Beky. 

“I was told Levin was hiding in the mountains.” Venus held back laughter.  

“Yes, I think so. Natalia has a new beau now.” 

The aroma of freshly made bread reached them as they walked by the bakery. 

Venus turned to the bakery window where an unknown man stood behind the counter. 

“Is there a new owner of the bakery too?” asked Venus. 

“Yes,” replied Beky. “As of today.”

Venus looked at the baker’s dark curly hair and his warm gaze lingered on her. A

hint of hope crossed Venus’ face. She was silent, deep in thought. Venus had hidden Cupid’s arrow and didn’t intend to take it out. She had a newfound happiness with her friend Beky and her violin playing was improving. If he loves me, he can chase me, Venus thought. I know I can create my own happiness.

Helen Mihajlovic

Helen Mihajlovic is a published author in books and magazines. Her work can be found in Horror Novel Review and Siren’s Call.
She is very grateful for a good editor Louise Zedda-Sampson and proofreader Roger Smith.

Romance In The Botanic Gardens

Merv raked over the dull patch of muddy ground which was completely devoid of plant life, slowly and lazily, the emblem on his overalls telling anyone who cared to look that he was an employee of the Botanic Gardens. He was not doing a great deal, working the same area since turning up before any other worker here, but no-one really seemed to take any actual notice of what he was doing, especially not on such a nice and cheery Valentine’s Day morning. The sun was shining and the park was filling with couples who only seemed to have eyes for one another

It looked so sweet; it filled Merv with the memory of that very dawn with his own lovely Darlene. They had snuck into the Gardens before opening – he had a key to the small employee gate, after all, and it was not the first time they had come here alone out of hours – and had then spent the early hours doing what lovers, even middle-aged ones, did. And they talked. They talked a great deal. Not enough people talked nowadays, Merv decided.

“Do you remember the first time we came here?”

Merv looked up from his work as an elderly couple ambled slowly past. The old man had been the one who had spoken, and the response from the woman was a slight smile and a slow, contemplative nod, but the impression she gave was one of joy.

Merv smiled as well. The first time he’d brought Darlene here had been maybe four, four and a half years earlier. It had been after hours, so he could show her where he worked. It was after only their third date, and he was sure that bringing her here had been the thing to seal the deal between them. He had taken her on a very personal tour, finishing right here, in this very spot, when this new garden bed had still been a patch of soft, luxurious grass, and where they had subsequently made love for the first time.

Yes, Merv certainly did remember the first time they had come here.

A young couple now walked by, both appearing downcast, gazing at their feet as they trudged on. “You said, ‘No,’” the young man whispered hoarsely, tears glistening on his cheeks.

“I only said, ‘Not yet,’” she replied carefully.

‘So there’s still hope?” His eyes flashed with desperation.

She reached across and took his hand. “Yes,” she replied. “Just give us time, okay?”

“O-Okay.”

She kissed his cheek. “Okay,” she repeated.

Merv watched them go, both appearing slightly more sprightly, and sighed. When he’d asked the question, Darlene hadn’t said, “No.” She’d said, “Yes,” ten times or more and then she’d kissed him over and over. That was as they sat beside one of the park’s ponds, watching the gentle breeze create small ripples across the surface of the water, giving the lilies a strange sort of a life all their own. That had been the best day of his life, that Sunday eighteen months before. His first marriage had been forced upon him by circumstance; when their son had died young, the end was already in sight, it just took them eight more years to realise it. But with Darlene… that was different. She was the one he actually chose, her own two previous marriages things of the past, leaving her a woman looking for love.

Merv had been sure that in one another they had found that love.

And still he raked that very same patch of earth, his mind filled with memories of Darlene and no-one or nothing else.

A man maybe ten years younger than Merv sat heavily on a nearby bench, staring at nothing anyone else could see; Merv watched him curiously. There was an air of profound sadness about him. It was as though his personal emotional self was an actual aura that radiated out of him.

Then a woman strode across, seemingly out of nowhere, and sat down beside this man without awaiting an invitation. “Hey, sis,” he greeted quietly.

“Thought I’d find you here,” she replied casually.

The silence that passed between them was brief, but felt much longer. “Why’d she do it?” he suddenly asked plaintively.

“She found another guy. It’s really that simple.” There was a pause, an even more uncomfortable one. “Look, it’s been a year since…”

“A year today,” he mumbled. “And we were sitting right here at this bench when she told me. And I let her go.” His head dropped to his sister’s shoulder. “I just let her go,” he added so sadly it was almost heart-breaking.

“Please, listen to me,” the woman said in a firm but compassionate voice. “You need to move on. You really do. Don’t let Valentine’s Day be like this for you, filled with bitterness. Get on with your life. Please.”

“But I miss her.” He wiped his face. “I haven’t even seen her since then. Do you think they’re still together? Do you think she remembers me?”

“Let’s get out of here.” The woman was clearly not happy at all about being here and doing this. “This cannot be healthy for you.” And with that she almost forced him to his feet and made him leave the place, him looking all the while like a condemned prisoner.

Merv felt for the poor guy. And he knew how he felt; there’d been a similar wall of unhappiness being built between himself and Darlene for a few months now. He’d hoped today with Darlene would be the end of what was happening between them. And, in a way, it was. He’d confronted her after they had made love right here, where they had first done it all those years ago. Her response was to burst into tears and admit everything, including her feelings for the other man. Merv had talked to her. She had talked back. But talking just didn’t cut it, not after he told her what he knew and not after she did not deny a thing.

That poor guy who’d just left had let his girl go with barely a whimper. Merv was not like that. He loved Darlene too much to let another man have her. So he had done the only thing he could. He had made sure that Darlene would be with him always.

And always the Botanic Gardens would be their special place. Theirs together.

And he continued to rake over the empty flower patch that had not been there the night before, and which a hand-made sign proclaimed to be, ‘Darlene’s Bed.’

S.Gepp

S.Gepp is an Australian who has been writing for a number of years in the horror, fantasy, sci-fi and humour genres. Tertiary educated, former acrobat and professional wrestler, a father of two and well past 40 years old, he hopes to be a real writer when he grows up.

Liberty Bell

The scratched and worn upholstery irritated the back of her bare thighs. She tugged on the hem of her shorts, trying to cover her pale skin. Jeans would have been preferable, but Greg wanted her in shorts. Said he loved her in shorts. So she wore them. It was easier than starting an argument. She found herself doing that a lot lately, giving in.

A silver bell hanging above the doorway tinkled as people came and went.

Tink-Tink

She turned her head, but she knew it was Greg. She always knew. Like a change in air pressure before a storm rolled in, darkness crept ahead of him. She was the only one who felt it; everyone else only saw light in his bright smile and outwardly affable nature.

Their eyes met, his boring into hers before she looked away.

She always looked away.

Without a sound he appeared behind her, his large hand heavy on the side of her neck, stifling. He bent down and kissed her cheek, talking louder than he needed to.

“Darling, what a great surprise, meeting me for lunch!”

It wasn’t a surprise, he told her to be there. Greg always told her where to be.

She managed a smile and avoided his gaze as he slid into the seat across the table from her. Their booth was in a corner, he needn’t have bothered with false pleasantries, no one was listening to them. They were all too busy stuffing their faces with greasy burgers, limp french fries, and tepid colas. Staring at their phones instead of talking to one another. How she envied them.

Greg waved to the waitress with a toothy grin and she hustled over, blushing. No one was immune to his charms. The sweet and pungent odor of cheap perfume trailed behind her, catching up to their table and engulfing them all in its cloud. She rustled in her apron for her notepad, smiling.

Everyone loved him.

Greg ordered for them both. A salad for her, because apparently she had to watch her figure. He loved her figure. She despised salads, but it was easier to go along with what he wanted.

He rambled about his day, never asking about hers. He didn’t have to. She was home, then she was there with him. And what she did there was no mystery, he watched the security camera feed regularly. He loved knowing she was safe, secure. His.

Above the door, the bell clanged.

Behind her, a boy begged his mother for ice cream.

On the counter, tea pots rang out; shrill, piercing.

A cash register slammed shut.

Her chest was heavy, suffocating.

Angela took a ragged breath and stood up.

He leaned back and watched her, amused, “What do you think you’re doing?”

She didn’t dare look up, she wasn’t strong enough. It was taking every bit of willpower she had just to stand. Keeping her head down, Angela turned and hurried out of the diner and away from him.

A bell tinkled on the breeze, singing of freedom.

Holly Rae Garcia

Holly Rae Garcia is a photographer on the Texas coast. Her short fiction has been published by The Sirens Call eZine and The Bookends Literary Review. Her novel, Come Join the Murder, will debut March of 2020. 
 
 
 
Twitter: @HollyRaeGarcia

Happy Anniversary

After seven years of marriage, Sarah knew that the holidays were not a good time to ask her husband for a favor. She learned over the last two years to never ask David for anything. The real favor she wanted was a divorce, but for now she’d settle for spending Valentine’s Day without him.

 David’s computer beeped and reminded him of his upcoming wedding anniversary on Valentine’s Day. He deleted the notice and shook his head. His assistant asked, “Bad news?”

“Can’t believe I married Sarah. It’s not the seven year itch, it’s the seven year bitch.” 

“She seems nice enough.”

“Christmas was a nightmare, and you haven’t lived with her for seven years. She’s been on a mission to transform herself from a cheerful and charming twenty year old into a caricature of a harpy from Greek Mythology. She’s more shrill and strident than a banshee on steroids.”

David’s assistant asked, “Why don’t you leave her?”

“Divorce is out of the question. I own half the law firm and Sarah owns four wine and cheese shops. We’ve got the house in Aspen, the yacht in Carmel, and our offshore bank accounts to think about. Money is truly the tie that binds. I can’t imagine the cost of splitting up. Even if we could agree on the money, I’d shoot myself before I let her one think she came out ahead. The bitch ruined my life and she has to pay.”

The assistant said, “I suppose a little revenge is good for the soul, but I believe happiness is better.”

 

***

Sarah and her assistant manager, Carla, rotated the champagne bottles to keep the sediment suspended. Carla askedsaid, “Do you and David have plans for your anniversary?.” 

“Not yet. If it was up to David we’d have fast food or leftovers. He’s such a cheap bastard. David was always frugal, but he’s morphed from frugal to Ebenezer Scrooge. He can’t plan anything beyond the next meal or the next drink. All he does is work and complain.”

Carla said, “I don’t understand why you two can’t get along. I love working here. You’re one of the most rational, patient, polite, and helpful people I’ve ever worked for. I’ve waited on several of David’s coworkers and they say the same about him. He was charming at the Christmas party.”

“Lawyers are like actors. What you see in public is not what you get at home. He only speaks to me to tell me what I’ve done wrong. I think he’s seeing someone. If I leave him, he’ll cheat me out of everything we own. He screams at me and I get upset and scream back. The neighbors called the police three times last week. I’m so embarrassed.”

***

Fred pushed his trashcan to the curb and stopped to visit with his neighbor, Martha.

“Trash pickup is tomorrow, right?”

“Welcome to the neighborhood and yes, pickup is tomorrow. You’ll like it here.”

“I’m not sure. I tried to talk to the man in the two story colonial. He scowled at me and stomped into his house. He and his wife fought until almost midnight.”

“That would be Sarah. David’s a lawyer and Sarah owns wine and cheese shops. After work, they come home each evening and start their daily brouhaha. You can set your clocks by the regularity of kickoff time. I’ve never seen bruises. I’ve been in their house and never found any damage. I don’t think they throw dishes, knickknacks, books, shoes, or any of the other ammunition scattered inside a normal house. Their battles are loud, but entirely verbal. David is quite adept in the slings and arrows of the accusation, the quip, and the retort. Sarah’s not so bad herself. She’s become skilled in the give and take of their shouting matches out of self-defense.”

“Is she afraid of him? He sounded angry.” 

“No, she told me she hates the screaming confrontations, but she’ll never give an inch. It’s better than television. The best screenwriter who ever lived never wrote a single scene containing the vitriolic intensity you’ll hear during any randomly selected five-minute exchange between Sarah and David on the night of your choice.

***

The bell rang and a policeman entered the wine shop. The officer introduced himself and said, “Excuse me, but I’ve got some follow up questions about last night.”

Sarah said, “Of course. I thought I recognized you.”

She read his badge, turned to Carla, and said, “I’ll need to go over the police report with Officer Craig Mendez. Please open a bottle of that twenty year old ruby port that came on Saturday and fix us a wine and cheese plate.”

Carla looked at the chiseled features and strong arms of the policeman and winked at Sarah. “Yes, ma’am.” 

They discussed the police report and opened a second bottle of wine, and then a third. Sarah and Officer Mendez spent the afternoon at a motel around the corner. 

The policeman apologized. “My follow up visits don’t normally turn out like this. I’ve been very unprofessional. I’m sorry.”

Sarah covered herself with a sheet and said, “I don’t feel the least bit guilty. My husband is an ass. If anything, this afternoon has convinced me of that. He’s selfish and mean. My skin crawls whenever he bothers to touch me. What’s worse is I married him on a Valentine’s Day and that ruined Valentine’s Day forever. Hell, he ruined my life. I deserve some happiness.”

“This was great, but I don’t think you should plan to leave your husband after one afternoon together.”

“I’ve been trying to figure out how to leave him for five years. It’s bad enough that I have to plan our seven year anniversary celebration, but what’s worse is it’s on Valentine’s Day. Family and friends expect the event to be observed properly and I have to create the appearance of an acceptable anniversary. David won’t help, he never plans anything. Today has made me face the truth. I still have to plan for our anniversary to keep up appearances, but I have to move on with my life. I have a month to plan the event and a lot can happen in a month. David could get hit by a car. Hopefully, a big car.”

“You shouldn’t make veiled threats, especially not when a policeman can hear you.”

“Was that a veiled threat? I must not have worded it strongly enough.”

***

Sarah and David continued their evening jousts with no change in subject matter or intensity. The policeman stopped by the shop a few times a week. He and Sarah had a regular room at the nearest motel. Sarah told Carla the policeman was only interested in her safety. 

Carla snickered, “Tell that to the Marines, I’ve seen how his tight butt looks in that uniform. You’ve got twenty motel room keycards in your desk. I suggest you throw them out. Have you told David?”

“The hell with David.”

***

David reviewed his notes and met his two o’clock appointment in the lobby. The attractive blonde insurance adjuster shook his hand and followed him into the small conference room. “Janice, Janice O’Conner. This is a complicated case. I understand you represent nine of the plaintiffs. I have no authority to resolve this today. Consider this an exploratory meeting.”

“Certainly, I don’t want to rush to settlement at the detriment of my clients.”

“Save it for court, counselor. Let’s get to the first file.”

They reviewed the fourth file and Janice said, “It’s almost noon. I didn’t have breakfast this morning. Can we continue this over lunch?”

David hesitated and Janice said, “My treat, I’ll put it on my expense account.” 

Lunch lasted three hours and a bottle of scotch. Janice put the last file in her briefcase and said, “There are some other matters we should discuss. I have a room at the Hilton, perhaps you’d care to join me.”

David’s frugal nature responded to the invitation of afternoon delight on the insurance lady’s unlimited expense account. He billed his client for the hours he spent with the insurance representative. He felt like a high class gigolo and loved the feeling.

After a week of three hour lunches, his assistant snipped, “Do you want me to cancel your two o’clock tomorrow or have them meet you in the bar at the Hilton?”

“Have I been that obvious? I can’t help myself.” 

“What are you going to do?”

“I have to maintain appearances until our seventh anniversary. I’ll try to convince Sarah to have dinner at home. I’m sick of fighting in public. Besides, the families on our cul-de-sac anticipate an anniversary battle with the intensity of football fans. I bet they have Valentine’s Day circled on their calendars. Sarah and I have to live up to the hype.”

“Why don’t you just tell her you want a divorce?”

“I haven’t figured out how to say it yet and I’ve got a month until my anniversary and a lot can happen in a month. Sarah could get hit by a car. Hopefully, a big car.” 

***

Sarah spent Monday afternoon before Valentine’s Day with her policeman. “David makes me crazy but, but I can’t see any solution to our financial entanglement. His name’s on everything and if he finds out about you, he’ll take it all.”

“I understand. This friends with benefits thing is great, but I want more.”

So, do I, sweetheart. I wish I could catch him with another woman. I could kick his butt in court with proof.”

The police tossed a folder on the bed. “Be careful what you wish for.”

 She smiled at the explicit photographs. “I’m not sure how to use these. Pot calling the kettle black.”

“Sarah, you can’t ignore his cheating. It’ll get worse and the verbal abuse may become physical. Make a clean break on Valentine’s Day. I’ll confront him if you won’t.” 

She shook her head. “No, I’ll handle it. 

***

Janice showered and dressed. “This is fun, but it’s time to get serious.”  

“I think we’re already serious, but Sarah will leave me in the poorhouse if she finds out. You have to give me time to figure out how to negotiate a financial disentanglement from her.”

“The clock’s running and you can’t bill this by the hour. I’ll wait a while, but not for long.” 

“I wish I could catch her with someone. A lover would make her more amenable during settlement talks, but I can’t be the one to bring up infidelity. He who blinks first, loses the fight.”

“If you don’t leave her by Valentine’s Day, I’m moving on. David, it’s time to make a decision. It’s bad enough you’re still going to spend your anniversary with that witch, but the next morning one of you better be out of that house.”

David said, “I promise I’ll settle things with Sarah on our anniversary.”

***

Sarah discussed the anniversary with her assistant the next morning. “The appetizer will be salmon pate accompanied by an unpretentious Australian chardonnay, followed by spinach salad and a sauvignon blanc. Filet mignon, new potatoes, asparagus soufflé, and a pinot noir for the main course. I’ll confront David over the entrée. If he doesn’t kill me, I’ll serve a bottle of Iron Steed Champagne with dessert.”

“You’ll confront him over the entrée?”

“I’ve got pictures of him and some bimbo. I wouldn’t be surprised if he knows about me and Craig.”

***

David ordered Flingenhauer Truffles for dessert. Sarah loved the damn things. At four hundred dollars for a two-ounce truffle, she should love them. He bought two hazelnut truffles for her and a single chocolate truffle for himself. He scheduled delivery to his office by courier on their anniversary date. He’d poison Sarah’s. 

 There was always a chance that she wouldn’t eat the truffles and he practiced telling her he wanted a divorce. He paced the office like he was rehearsing a closing argument, but he couldn’t think of any way to say it where he didn’t sound like a complete shit. His assistant walked in with a folder of photographs. 

“I took these on three different days last week. Your wife is seeing some cop. You’re welcome.”

David smiled at the photographs of Sarah and the cop, but two people having lunch didn’t really prove anything and the danger with confrontation is that turnabout is fair play.

 “Thanks, but these don’t prove Sarah’s conduct with the policeman is inappropriate. I hope it is. It would make my life easier.”

“They went to the motel on Sixth Street, but I couldn’t follow them into the room.” 

“Good, I bet she knows what I’m doing and is waiting for the right time to confront me. God knows it was the only thing that she hasn’t bitched about.” 

He kept his last thought to himself. “And if she has to die, so be it.”

***

Sarah faced the same dilemma. She couldn’t imagine how to tell David what she wanted without giving him the advantage. Attorneys are trained to exploit any weakness and she didn’t want to hand him ammunition. She couldn’t transfer ownership of her wine and cheese shops into a trust or a corporation to protect them. His name was on the ownership papers and she couldn’t make changes without his consent. She’d think of something. If not, she’d poison the champagne. She deserved to be happy.  

Sarah arrived home first on their anniversary. She brought the wine and chilled the whites. No matter how difficult the upcoming discussion, at least the wine would be excellent. 

David arrived home after work with the truffles and a dozen roses. “I can’t believe you bought three truffles and roses. The flower shops mark up roses by a thousand percent on Valentine’s Day. That’s a waste of money. If you’d eat hazelnuts, we could split one truffle and save eight hundred dollars.”

“If you didn’t insist on hazelnut, we could split a chocolate truffle and save the same eight hundred dollars. If you weren’t so damn picky, I could’ve bought chocolate at the grocery store and saved twelve hundred dollars.” 

Sarah bit her tongue and poured two glasses of the chardonnay. She sipped the wine and put the truffles in the refrigerator. She didn’t put the roses in a vase, she just tossed them at the trashcan. The truffles smelled faintly of almonds. She had an excellent nose, trained from years checking the bouquet of several thousand bottles of wine. The almond smell was strange. First, it shouldn’t be in the truffles. Second, it wasn’t quite almond, it smelled too sweet. Was it poison? Had the bastard poisoned the truffles? No problem, she hadn’t trusted David to order dessert and she’d ordered truffles herself. She’d switch her chocolates with David’s.

They sipped wine and ate the salmon pate. She spread it on sourdough toast points. In spite of the tension, they made it through the appetizer without any reference to what they both wanted to talk about. They fought halfheartedly over the maid service and who was responsible for directing the quality of the cleaning. “You hired them, it’s your job to tell them what to do!”

“You don’t like their work. Fine. I’ll fire them and you can hire someone else or clean the house yourself.”

The carping match moved on to the landscaper, the cable provider, and then focused on the house painter hired three years ago. The chardonnay went bottoms up. 

They moved on to salad and sauvignon blanc. The combination of walnuts, spinach, and truffle oil-vinegar dressing with the clean French wine was perfect, but not perfect enough to detract from their argument about the poor color choices made when the house was repainted. “The pale blue grey in the living room makes the couch look like we rescued it from the curb in front of a fraternity house. I can’t believe you picked that color. You have no taste, even when you finally make a decision.”

“I didn’t pick the stupid color. You picked the color, just like you picked the hideous baby-puke green paint in the guest bathroom. It looks like someone vomited on the walls. I want to apologize every time someone goes in there.”

“Liar. You picked all the colors, I didn’t pick any of them.” They fought through the salad and the sauvignon blanc. 

Their wine glasses were less than half full and the bottle sat empty when Sarah served the main course. “Can you at least open the pinot while I get the food? Try not to drop the bottle or stab yourself with the opener. Actually, go ahead and stab yourself with the opener, just don’t bleed in the wine.”

David opened the wine without skewering himself and filled the glasses. Sarah carefully placed the entree on the table. Not as neatly as she would have liked, but as neatly as her wine consumption allowed. Neither commented on the slight wine sloshing when David poured the pinot.

Dinner was delightful from a quality standpoint. The conversation stayed confrontational, but remained at a volume level low enough that the neighbors were deprived of the expected fireworks. “We don’t have any friends in the neighborhood because they’re all afraid of us. They think we’re crazy. Your behavior has them terrified.”

“My behavior? Look in the dictionary, your picture is next to the phrase, ‘screaming maniac’. Until I met you, I thought banshees were only fantasy creatures made up by a drunken Irishman.”

“If being a loudmouth cheapskate was an Olympic sport, you’d have five gold medals.”

“I can’t believe I married you on Valentine’s Day. I’ll never enjoy the holiday again. The best Valentine’s Day I ever had was the year before I married you.”

David sneered, “Did you have a date with the football team?”

After the main course, Sarah opened the champagne and poured some into a fluted glass for David. “I’m going to finish my pinot before I have any champagne. Try not to drink it all before I have a glass.”

“If I don’t drink it before you start on it, I won’t get any,” snarled David and he drank the entire glass like a shot of whiskey. Sarah poured herself the last of the red wine, staggered into the kitchen, and brought the chocolates from the refrigerator. She placed them on the table. She was pleased and a little surprised the chocolates didn’t slide off the plate. David reached for the truffles and deliberately knocked the candies to the floor. 

He cursed and drained another glass of champagne, apologized, and picked up the truffles. “I’ll clean these off and we can still eat them.”

He switched the truffles with the ones in the refrigerator. 

They were quiet for a minute while they enjoyed their first taste of the sweet chocolates. There was a reason they cost four hundred dollars. Sarah finished about half her truffle, put down her fork, and said, “We have to talk. I know you’re seeing that slut from the insurance company.”

David took a second bite of truffle and considered making the obligatory denials, but decided what the hell. “Yeah, so what. I deserve some happiness.”

“We both do. I’m not happy and if you’re happy, you’re an idiot. I want out. I want to get on with my life without you. I want my wine and cheese shops and you can keep everything else.”

“Wow,” said David. “Are you serious? You’ll agree to a divorce and all you want is your businesses?”

“I’d like my clothes and a share of the things in the house. Half the offshore bank accounts seems fair to me. Mostly, I want away from you.”

“That sounds too good to be true. All I want is away from you, I never expected you would be remotely fair. I came here tonight wanting revenge because you’ve ruined my life. I believed you would do whatever you could to kick my butt in a divorce settlement. I’m shocked you’re being rational.” He finished the truffle and refilled his glass.

Sarah took another bite of the hazelnut chocolate and said, “You’re okay with this? I never suspected you had a rational bone in your body. I wanted revenge and I’m ashamed of myself. I’m sorry.”

David chugged another glass of champagne and asked, “Sorry? Why are you sorry?”

“I never believed you’d be reasonable. I’m still not sure that I do. I poisoned the champagne. I know you poisoned the truffles. I switched them.”

David swirled the refilled champagne flute, smiled, toasted her, and drank half the glass. “I know, I saw you. I switched them back.”

Sarah stared for a moment, shrugged her shoulders, and ate half a truffle with one bite. She lifted a glass of champagne. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

David answered, “Happy Anniversary.” They touched glasses and drank their champagne.

***

The next morning, Janice came looking for David. No one answered the door and she called the police.

 Sarah’s policeman was the first on the scene. He entered the house and Janice followed him. Sarah and David were face down on the table. The policeman stepped around the broken champagne bottle and glasses on the floor. He touched David’s neck and then Sarah’s. 

He leaned close to Sarah, inhaled, and said, “They’re dead. I smell almonds.”

Janice waited on the porch steps while the police finished their investigation. After the bodies were trundled off to autopsy, the policeman joined her. 

The policeman said, “I expect that the autopsies will confirm that the poison in the chocolates and the wine is the same as the poison we found in the kitchen cabinet. There’ll be a coroner’s hearing, but it appears they poisoned themselves or each other. We can’t be sure. Both their fingerprints were on the poison jar.”

She smiled and said, “It looks like they got their just desserts.”

He smiled, offered his condolences, and stood to leave. He stopped at the door and asked, “Hey, would you like to get lunch sometime?”

“Very much, now would be good.”

Robert Allen Lupton

Robert Allen Lupton is retired and lives in New Mexico where he is a commercial hot air balloon pilot. Robert runs and writes every day, but not necessarily in that order. He has been published in several anthologies and his short stories are online at www.horrortree.com and www.crimsonstreets.com. His novel, Foxborn, was published in April, 2017. His collection of running themed horror, science fiction, and adventures stories, Running Into Trouble, was published in October, 2017. Dragonborn, the Foxborn sequel will be released in April, 2018

 

www.amazon.com/author/luptonra

www.goodreads.com/author/show/15292457.Robert_Allen_Lupton

https://www.hometownreads.com/books/foxborn

 

Cupid, Playing

This part was always the cherub’s favorite, discovering the right couple alone on exactly the right park bench on a cool and perfect spring night. The young lovers seemed barely out of their teens, their faces fresh with the wonderful promise of life’s possibilities. They might even have been enjoying a first date judging the tentative (and charmingly awkward) manner of the man’s initial moves. The youthful suitor managed to get his arm around the woman’s bare shoulder, although the spirit concealed in the bushes couldn’t make out what words of love he was saying to her. It didn’t matter. Clearly the girl desired this man close, and once her young man made his move she leaned her head against his shoulder.

“Beautiful …  Just beautiful … ” the winged cherub muttered to himself, drawing nearer the two, hoping to overhear some snippet of dialogue. The words that came just before a couple’s first kiss still fascinated him and the tiny saint wanted his timing to be just right.

“I feel like I’ve known you all my life,” he heard the girl tell her beau.

“Maybe you have,” her date answered, taking her face into his hands.

“This feels right, doesn’t it?”

He smiled. “This feels more than right, Julie. It feels perfect.”

Valentine’s Day was already two months past, but that made no difference. For young lovers every day was Valentine’s Day, every moment magical. The kiss was coming right now, no doubting that. Words like these required a kiss to seal the magic of this enchanted instant for all eternity. Steadying his hand Cupid readied his bow.

“I’m so happy we met, Danny. So happy. Who could have known?”

“Only God.”

The young woman’s lips parted, her eyes closed. The man lightly touched her chin, kissed her. She responded with fervor, leaning into the kiss and holding him close. Lips pressed together, they fell into a tight embrace, their heated passion making them oblivious to the winged seraph standing so near their bench, crossbow in hand.

“All the world loves a lover,” the spirit whispered.

Cupid took careful aim for the woman’s heart first, a difficult shot while she was being held so closely, but timing was of the essence and the cherub was an excellent marksman. The taut string of his bow twanged in the silence as he let his arrow fly. 

He scored a direct hit. The woman clutched her chest, too startled to say anything. But that reaction turned quickly to shock when she discovered the blood spurting in thick bursts from the arrow embedded in her heart. It spilled into her hands and she held the palms before her eyes as if inspecting the sudden horror of the moment.

Spattered with his lady’s grue her lover’s mouth fell open.

“What the–!!”

The young man hadn’t completed his sentence when the second arrow struck him in the eye. His skull split, the eye exploding in his head and dripping down his cheek like a runny egg. 

Cupid knew he couldn’t stay behind to watch the chaotic scene he had created. He would have to settle for reading about it in tomorrow’s headlines, maybe catching the story on the t.v. over coffee and cigarettes. Right now he would run like the wind because paper wings served no purpose whenever he needed to sprint along one of the park’s paths, and running with a crossbow made escape especially tricky. Fortunately, a cherub was nimble and he had always managed to pull off his getaway without a problem.

Thirty seconds from the scene a nearby jogger passing him did a double take that stopped the runner dead in his tracks, but Cupid never broke his stride. The jogger turned and gaped at the lone figure darting along the path in nothing but his underwear. No doubt when the guy resumed his trot he would discover the two bodies that lay just beyond the bend slouched over the park bench. But by that time the spry little archer would be back in his jeep and headed for the Interstate.

The thrill of this moment was worth the risk. Christ, he always felt so wonderful afterwards.

That’s what love really was all about, wasn’t it? That wonderful rush of adrenaline coursing through his veins felt better than any drug. Love was such a glorious feeling.

Almost as glorious as seeing all that blood …

Ken Goldman

Ken Goldman, former Philadelphia teacher of English and Film Studies, is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association. He has homes on the Main Line in Pennsylvania and at the Jersey shore. His stories have  appeared in over 900 independent press publications in the U.S., Canada,  the UK,  and Australia with over thirty due for publication in 2019. Since 1993 Ken’s tales have received seven honorable mentions in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror. He has written six books : three anthologies of short stories, YOU HAD ME AT ARRGH!! (Sam’s Dot Publishers), DONNY DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (A/A Productions) and STAR-CROSSED (Vampires 2); and a novella, DESIREE,  (Damnation Books). His first novel OF A FEATHER (Horrific Tales Publishing) was released in January 2014. SINKHOLE, his second novel, was published by Bloodshot Books August 2017. 

Close To You

From the very beginning, it was always apparent to her that this would be the outcome; the two of them united, together at last. Finally, alone, behind closed doors, safe from the snooping eyes of his inquisitive audience. Gazing upon his perfectly formed features, known intimately by so many, only clichéd conceit seemed capable of providing an explanation towards the how’s and why’s of such an inevitability. Considering the profession that was responsible for placing his face in a million households, tired talk of Shakespeare’s stage seemed to her to be entirely apt. 

Smiling, she pushed all these thoughts to the back of her mind, focusing instead upon the immediacy of the situation. To be here, staring down as he stretched out before her, was the culmination of a lifetime spent dreaming of the very moment itself. So often had she indulged in this fantasy, that for a fleeting second, she found herself questioning the nature of reality itself. Surely this couldn’t be just another product of her subconsciousness? Her fragile mind, perhaps, torturing her again with such vivid images of the unobtainable?  Stretching out a trembling hand, she gently ran a fingertip across his smooth, bronzed skin, putting all her doubts to rest.

She was a super fan of his work, of course, just like so many others. Had been one right from the beginning: sold upon him since that very first performance, watching him as he lit up the cinema with a smile, still but a child herself. From the outset she had felt a powerful connection with him and the roles he had chosen to portray. How one so young could convey such emotion through the simplest of gestures, capturing hearts with just a mere expression, had fascinated her. She, along with audiences everywhere, had fallen hopelessly and devotedly in love. As the years passed by, she had revelled in the shared symmetry as they both seemed to grow up together. It was such an easy thing to do. Where her development had been a private affair, hidden away in her bedroom from a cruel and uncaring world, his had been trapped forever in celluloid, documented upon the silver screen for all to see, again and again.

As the child star became the leading man, she had watched his every move, his life outside of the characters he inhabited becoming as much of an obsession as the fictions he created. When he was receiving his first Oscar, statue in hand, humble as ever, she had been graduating from medical school, penniless and exhausted but equally as thankful. When the first nude photos had leaked, she had just secured her first job, the blurred black and white images carrying her through many a back-breaking shift.

She was not foolish, yet still maintained a belief in destiny that was absolute. Despite leading an existence where nobody seemed to even look at her twice, she still knew in her heart that she would have an important part of her own to play in the story of his life. 

His numerous public stints in and out of rehab had been the first time she had truly entered his orbit. Lunch in the hospital canteen suddenly became an act of worship; the joy felt knowing he was mere floors away transcendent. His departure had left her hollow, so when she saw the breaking news of how one last hit had been exactly that, her sorrow was quickly erased by the realisation that the stars finally were aligned. 

Her department wasn’t exactly the end of the line, but it certainly was close. She relished her job. There was nowhere else where her fascination with the mechanics of death could be so openly explored. That his untimely demise finally allowed her to combine this passion with her passion for him, could be seen, she reasoned, as definitive proof of the existence of some higher force.  

As she gazed down at him in silent repose upon the cold, clinical surface of the mortuary slab, she found herself reflecting upon the nature of attraction. Like all the others, it was impossible for her to deny the magical spell that his faultless complexion seemed to cast. But, in her heart, she had always known that real beauty was more than skin deep. That she was the one blessed with the task of demonstrating this truth was indeed a great honour. Raising her scalpel, she gave a quiet prayer of gratitude. 

Then slowly began to unpeel his layers.

Steven Holding

Steven Holding lives with his family in Northamptonshire in the UK. He currently has stories featured in TREMBLING WITH FEAR VOLUME TWO, SPLASH OF INK and the anthologies MONSTERS and BEYOND published by Black Hare Press. He is working upon further short fiction and a novel. You can follow his work at www.stevenholding.co.uk

Vadha  

In Budapest, on the islet of Szechenyi, stood a Gothic-renaissance castle; a raven carved in stone holding a ring in its beak festooned the finial of its tower. The castle was adorned with rose-coloured windows with arched frames, rows of turrets and statues of armoured soldiers on each side of a balcony where Vadha stood each night.     

A beam of moonlight struck her pale skin; she had a narrow face with an aquiline

nose, dark eyes, arched brows and no colour to her lips.

Perhaps some people are meant to be alone, thought Vadha. Everyone has slowly

been taken from me. Her ebony hair fluttered in the wild night wind and her white dress touched the ground. But I feel lonely. I would search an eternity for love. 

She gazed into the distant misty hills, where a figure appeared amid the towering

trees: a tall man, slim in stature, with a black hat and dark hair that hung below his shoulders. As he drew closer to the castle an angry tempest followed. Vadha was filled with interest. 

Vadha closed the balcony doors, descending the dark oak stairs; she walked

towards a loud knocking on the front entrance. The windows rattled with a raging wind. She opened the cumbersome door. 

“Good evening, Madam,” the man said, removing his black hat. 

“Good evening,” she said. 

“I am Aleister Alpar. I am looking for a place to stay for the night,” he said with a

self-assured voice. He wore a long coat, worn around the edges and his shoes were covered in dirt. “My horse became ill and I have walked for miles.”

She opened the door fully and stepped aside. “Come in.”   

Aleister followed Vadha to a decrepit antechamber with faded wallpaper, a

broken chandelier and a mouldy odour in the air.

“I was told about a castle in this region,” he said, intrigued. “My grandmother told 

me as a child. I thought it was a tale.” 

“There is a chamber upstairs I can offer you.”

“I will pay you for my stay as a courtesy.” 

“I am a rich woman, I don’t need money,” she said. “I am happy to help a stranger

in need.”

“That’s very kind of you,” he said, with a slight smile.

They walked through a Gothic archway leading to a large room with vaulted

ceilings that hovered oppressively; the windows were concealed behind heavy burgundy curtains and elaborately carved wooden tables and chairs furnished the middle of the room. The lack of light and silence, created an impression of melancholy and loneliness. 

“I have been at a Lodge meeting for most of the evening.”

“Then you must be tired,” she said. She picked up a silver candelabra from the

table. “I will show you to your bedchamber.”

They ascended a long staircase to a dark hallway, filled with peculiar artwork

on each wall. On one side, Gustave Moreau’s The Victorious Sphinx, with the cruel sphinx resting on a cliff, waiting for her victims; carnage hung below her. 

On the other wall, a large painting of a man lying limp, bound in a woman’s

embrace. Her mouth kissed his neck; her molten hair sheathed his head. It was a painting well known for love and pain. The woman in the painting had similar  features to Vadha; they were both of European descent. The artist’s signature below: Ed Munch. 

Vadha sensed Aleister’s fear as he looked at the paintings, but when he turned

to her it was with a hint of fascination in his eyes.

She led him to a bedchamber lit with a single candle. In it was a mahogany four-

poster bed, a tiny window, bookcase and a hint of soot in the air from the fireplace. 

“My eyes and skin are sensitive to the light,” said Vadha. “I tend to avoid daylight.

I wake later in the day. You may see yourself out in the morning.”

“Thank you,” he said. “What is your name?” 

“Vadha,” she said and shut the door behind her. 

***

The following night, a red hue pervaded the sky. Vadha stood on the balcony

looking below onto withered shrubbery and a row of barren rose bushes adorned with thorns.  She looked at the window of Aleister’s bedchamber and filled with a deep despair, assuming he had left at dawn. 

A surprised look appeared on her face, as she smelt a familiar scent. She turned

to see Aleister, walking wearily onto the balcony from the sitting room. His complexion had changed overnight; his thin face wore an ill pallor, the shine had left his cerulean-blue eyes and his limbs trembled in the cold evening breeze. 

“It was a bright day; the storms have passed,” he said, approaching her. “You’ve

missed the warmth of the day.” 

“My skin is very fair and burns easily. I haven’t walked in the sun for a long time.”

Aleister eyes explored her marble white skin. “I couldn’t find you in the castle,” he

said, his voice faint. “I called for you.”

“My bedchamber is at the far end of the castle,” she said. “I must not be disturbed

during sleep.”

“I will not disturb you,” he said. “I would like to extend my stay at the castle, if I

may?”

“You may stay as long as you wish.” 

He wiped the perspiration from his brow. “I have spent the day reading a book I

found in my chamber. It’s about Paschal Beverly Randolph.”

“The Occultist,” she said. 

“Yes. I would like to finish the book and I’d like to read any others on

the occult you may have.”

“I have a private library in the baroque wing of the castle. It contains many books

that may be of interest to you.”

“Thank you,” he said. “I’m giving a lecture in a few weeks for the Lodge, on

Randolph.”

Vadha’s gaze shifted to a solitary black bird, wailing in the gardens.  

“Last night, I heard loud shrieks below my chamber window.”

“There are many nocturnal animals in the woods,” she said. “They often feed late

at night.”

“I had a night of broken sleep and woke feeling a trifle weak.”

“There’s no need for you to wake at dawn. You may wake later in the day.”

Fear filled his eyes. “I felt as if something was coming for me. But I saw nothing.” 

“The castle doors are locked at night. No one can enter your chamber.”

“But I felt something powerful,” he said. 

She glanced at the wound just below his ear. 

“I dreamt of you,” he said. His words filled with desire. “Perhaps you were in my

thoughts.”

Vadha momentarily filled with hope, but when she remembered all the pain she

had experienced through love, all hope left her. 

“You look sad. I have not seen you smile,” he said. “Do you have a family?” 

“My family have died.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. “Do you feel lonely?”

“Yes,” she said. “But… –”

There was a silence between them. 

“I am looking for an eternal love,” she finally spoke.  

His eyes widened with curiosity. 

“I have not been fortunate in love,” she bowed her head. “I have never been

made happy.”

“I am trustworthy,” he said and shut his eyes. A sheen of perspiration was on his

forehead and he began to violently cough. 

“You must lie down in your chamber to rest and regain your strength,” she said.

 “Are you pleased with your chamber?” 

“Yes,” he said. “The painting on the chamber wall, it’s one of Goya’s monsters. 

The castle is filled with art of villains.”

She nodded. “I always relate to the villains and the monsters. I understand them,”

she said, with a solemn tone in her voice. 

Aleister reached for her hand with a poignant stare; her flesh was cold. As he held

her hand, his frame appeared ailing, his back was slightly arched and at times he drew a deep breath.

Vadha wished she could kiss his flesh as he left for his chamber. She felt

an intense emotion that surprised her. It immersed her blood and shook her spirit. 

***

A black-winged creature with flames in her eyes flew into Aleister’s bedchamber

window while he slept.  Her wings gave a slight shake and turned into slender arms. When her torso and legs quaked, her form was altered from that of a bat to the figure of a woman. 

Vadha stared at Aleister with a hunger. His white flesh a disparity to his ebony

hair, and his thin face appeared tranquil. 

Vadha covertly walked to him. She stroked his ivory forehead with an enchanted

touch. He stirred. She laid a furtive kiss on his lips. He opened his eyes and looked at her in a haze, his eyes unfocused. She removed the sheet that covered him.  

She wrapped her body around his and her torso moved in an unbound desire

arousing him. Her limbs clasped onto him, like a wild animal that had caught her prey, prevailed by a primeval urge. She salivated at the scent of his blood. 

His heart violently pounding; his breath erratic and deep in his eyes she saw a

strange light: a glimpse of his soul. Their bodies intertwined; they moved with ardour for hours. 

He grew tired, he turned to his side and lay resting beside her. His limbs limp. A

smile played on her lips; she took a savage pleasure in his vulnerability. Her hand crawled to his back and her claw made a small cut in the nape of his neck. She licked her blood-stained-hand. Her lips pressed against the wound and she tasted his blood with a depraved need. It flowed into her mouth; its warmth caressed her throat. 

For a moment, his eyes focused and a look of terror emerged on his face.  His body

began to tremble. Unable to bear the terrifying reality, his eyes once again unfocused. She feasted on his body with a demoniacal thirst. 

When she’d satiated her blood thirst, her victim turned to her. With a final

unfocused glance his eyes shut. He lay cold and weak, as he had done for the last four nights. 

Perhaps Aleister is the love that I have waited for. Vadha thought. He is young, but

he appears bright and sincere.  Perhaps he will be worth eternal life. I will not do any

harm to him. She looked at his white skin. I only kill men who stop loving me.

***.

The next night, Vadha searched the castle, but Aleister had gone. She found a letter he had left in his chamber, explaining he had an urgent matter to attend; he had left at dawn and didn’t want to wake her. The letter had a symbol with a square and compasses and an address for the Freemasons.  

Vadha’s love for Aleister increased night by night. Three more evenings came and

went. When he did not return she wrote him a letter.  

To Aleister, 

I hoped your stay would be longer. I would have made a gift of the book on Paschal Beverly Randolph to you. 

 

I plan to travel to Geneva, Switzerland in a few weeks. I would like you to accompany me. I await your return. 

Regards,

Vadha

***

Vadha was no stranger to sitting alone in the theatre. She often booked a private gilded box seat. She was clad in a long dress of black satin and when she removed her dark fur scarf, on her lithe neck hung jewels that glistened a blood red. 

She heard a gravelly voice nearby; a richly attired old man and his nephew sat in

the box seat next to her. 

“The theatre is full tonight,” said the old man to his nephew. He cast his eyes on

the box seat on the side of them. “I see many familiar faces in the crowd. Leopold and Emily are always here for every Shakespeare play.” 

“And Aleister Alpar! Look, he is with the young woman who will become his

bride,” said the nephew. 

Vadha elevated her eyebrows and tilted her head to the stalls below. Aleister

walked along the aisle with a young woman with golden hair and an innocent face. When Vadha saw them together she felt wounded. A look of pain crossed her face. 

“The young woman has been his betrothed for a year,” said the nephew. 

Vadha’s eyes widened with shock. 

As the lights dimmed, the stage curtain rose. The sound of drums and trumpets

flooded the stage and a poised actor delivered his line. 

“Noble Patricians, patrons of my right…”

Vadha hid in the darkness. She bent her neck but was barely able to see a

silhouette of Aleister throughout the play. She bowed her head in her hands in defeat, wondering why she was once again unfortunate in love.  

Screams flooded the theatre as the character Lavinia’s hands and tongue were cut

off in a violent rage. 

Vadha could barely concentrate on the play. Her thoughts were plagued by

Aleister; she realised she was never of any real importance to him. 

On the stage, the villain Aaron shouted with a diabolical tone. 

Vengeance is in my heart, death in my hand, blood and revenge are hammering in

my head,” he said. 

Vadha’s blood pulsed and red flames blazed in her eyes. 

Towards the end of the play, loud gasps filled the theatre as the character Tamora

ate the pie that Titus had baked.

A hint of delight glinted in Vadha’s eyes as Titus took out his vengeance.  

To a roar of applause, the actors gave a bow and the curtain dropped. 

The old man’s gravelly voice once again caught Vadha’s attention. 

“It’s a gruesome play,” he said. 

“Yes,” said his nephew. “Would you like to have a word with Aleister before we

leave?”

The old man nodded and his nephew guided him down the stairs. 

Vadha remained unseen. Aleister’s eyes were fixed on the woman by his side. 

The old man and his nephew approached Aleister; they shook hands. The old

man’s gravelly voice carried to Vadha’s box seat. 

“I’m looking forward to your lecture on Randolph.”

They parted after a brief discourse. But Vadha could still hear the old man’s voice

as he walked away. 

“Aleister’s fiancée is a pretty young thing.”

His nephew agreed.  

Vadha glared at Aleister and his fiancée as they left the theatre. 

***

A black-winged creature with flames in her eyes rested on a branch of an oak tree, 

gazing onto a tall young man as he laid a parting kiss to a pretty woman. 

“Goodnight, Aleister,” said the young woman. 

Aleister smiled as he watched her enter her home. 

The creature waited until he had gone. An ache grew inside her, a hunger. Her stare

fixated on the windows of the house and as the candlelight was blown out, all was dark. Moonlight captured the silhouette of the young woman, in the far-right window.   

The creature spread her wings and ferociously flew towards the house. She

watched as the woman fell asleep. Her sharp claws scratched and dug into the window frame. Opening it the creature went inside. 

With a violent flail, her wings transformed to the arms of a woman and her body

followed.   

Vadha stealthily moved to the young woman who lay in her bed in a slumber. Her

golden hair sprawled on her pillow and her flesh glowed with the freshness of

youth. 

As Vadha smelt the scent of the woman’s blood, she pined for it. Her teeth pierced

the woman’s neck. The woman’s eyes opened in terror and she began to struggle in vain. Vadha tore at the flesh with an innate brutality, feasting on her body. When the woman attempted to scream, Vadha covered the woman’s mouth with her lips: a deadly kiss. 

With the devil’s pleasure, she drank the last drop of her blood. All that remained of

the woman was a grey sagging flesh over her skeletal frame: empty and lifeless. 

*** 

The following night was silent, with the exception of a whistle of the wind. Vadha sat in her library, where leather-bound books rested in tall mahogany shelves. She spent the day reading until dusk, unable to sleep since she had quickly flown in before dawn. She reread her favourite poem. 

Oh, stars, and dreams, and gentle night 

Oh, night and stars return!

And hide me from the hostile light

That does not warm but burn.

-Emily Bronte.

Her mind was penetrated by thoughts of the night before, of Aleister at the theatre

with the young woman. 

A loud knock on the door roused her. She walked to the front door and opened it. 

“Good evening, Vadha,” said Aleister, with a slight smile. He had regained the

crimson in his cheeks. 

“Good evening,” said Vadha, hiding her anger. 

“I received your letter requesting that I visit.” He followed her into the 

antechamber. “I am unable to come to Switzerland with you, I’m afraid I have travel plans too.” 

“Where will you go?”

“To Germany, I am visiting my fiancée’s family for a month.” 

“Is your fiancée the woman who accompanied you to the theatre?” she asked,

trying to conceal the pain in her voice. 

“Yes, I have not spoken to her today. I have spent the day travelling to the castle,”

he said, puzzled. “Were you at the theatre last night?”

“I was. Shakespeare is my favourite playwright,” she said.

“Did you enjoy the play?” he asked. 

“I did. But I prefer Hamlet, Othello and Richard III,” she said. 

“I think Titus Andronicus is a better play than Hamlet.”

“No, Hamlet is far superior. It’s a very philosophical play,” she said. “But both are

about revenge.”

There was, again, a silence between them. 

“We are catching a train tomorrow morning. I have come to say good-bye,” he

finally spoke. 

“I am sad to see you leave,” she said. “Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if these

deep emotions that I have for you, were for a man who wanted to love me and no one else. We may have been happy.” 

His eyes widened with her frankness. “I’m no stranger to unrequited love, one 

can only hope to make peace with it over time.”

“Why did you do it?” she asked, hiding her anger. 

“Do what?” he said, glancing away deceptively. 

“Lure me in just to hurt me.” 

He stood silently. He appeared to want to say something, but said nothing.

His silence enraged her, but she kept her feelings contained. 

“Will you do an act of kindness, Aleister, before you leave?”

“Yes,” he said. “Of course.”

“I’ve had trouble opening a few wooden boxes.”

She led him to the dungeon that held a morbid stench. He clawed his way

through the cobwebs; the contents of the cavernous room were barely visible.

She could sense his claustrophobia in a vaulted room with no windowsThinking

of his unrequited love, she screwed up her face in anger. She turned to him, her hands grasping his shoulders, tightening. He grew pale as he fought back. 

A look of terror crossed his eyes as Vadha buried her teeth into his neck. She

delighted in his mortal fear and his pain; his blood intoxicated her. 

As his body grew limp in her arms, a hint of sadness emerged on her face. She 

hung his body on a hook beside a decaying body of a red-headed man. 

Several skeletons hung in a row, all the men who had held the hope of love. 

She ascended the stairs to the balcony where she looked onto the horizon. She was

willing to wait an eternity for true love. 

Dedicated to Budapest.

Helen Mihajlovic

Helen Mihajlovic is a published author in books and magazines. Her work can be found in Horror Novel Review and Siren’s Call.
She is very grateful for a good editor Louise Zedda-Sampson and proofreader Roger Smith.

Holding Hands

  Jacob and I hold hands as we skate tiny circles. Even through my gloves, his hands feel so cold they burn. 

  When Jacob was alive, we couldn’t hold hands. 

  Tonight, it looks to the others as though I’m skating alone, hands out for balance. They don’t see Jacob pulling me along, nor the two sets of grooves in the ice, circles on circles.

 

  “Be not afraid,” he would say, reaching for me. I’d swat his hands away, glancing scared over my shoulder. Two boys seen holding hands would be put in the stocks, or driven from the village.

 

  So, though it’s a Grievous Sin, it’s good that I killed Jacob last Spring.  

  On Sundays, as my father thunders from the pulpit, I bow my head, fold my hands, and ask Forgiveness.   

  We did the Bad Thing but once. Jacob wanted to again. I did as well, but was sore afraid. I Pray God understands: My Sin of drowning Jacob in the lake was to avoid further Sinning. 

 

  I kissed Jacob, quickly, underwater. Then, my hands on his shoulders, I held him under until he stopped thrashing.

 

  I’m dizzy from skating. “Let us rest,” I whisper. Jacob clasps my hands harder, digging in his skates; we practically spin, skating circles so tight. 

  I hear it, then. The ice cracking.

  Jacob smiles, icy as the lake. The circle breaks, the freezing water scoops us in. His hands hold me down, and Jacob kisses me with lips so cold they burn.     

Lin Morris

Lin Morris lives and writes in his hometown of Portland, OR. His work has appeared on Unlikely Stories and in the anthology Flashes of Brilliance, and his short novel The Marriage Wars is available on Amazon. Left-handedness is the answer to any question about what made him into the person he is today.
 

Wedlock

Derrick coasts through their new neighborhood. Michael, always the passenger, watches once-majestic houses now reduced to patchy shingles. Scratched paint. Spider-webbed windows.

Derrick parks, and Michael forces an unreturned smile. “Our adventure begins,” he says, perhaps sounding chipper to someone who doesn’t know him. Someone like Derrick.

Before them stands Derrick’s father’s house. Or, per the will: Derrick’s house.

The house Michael did not want.

In the town Michael does not know.

With the man Michael no longer loves.

It is the best-maintained house on the block. Fresh-ish paint. Less-mangled shrubbery. And that blackness seeping from the windows, the doors, the foundation? A trick of twilight.

 

 

Later, while Derrick entertains more lawyers, Michael sits at an unlevel table, drinking coffee with Derrick’s mother. Jane is a tiny woman, forgotten by family except for holidays. Forgotten by her husband’s will except for a hastily scribbled ‘tenancy clause.’ As Michael plays dutiful son-in-law, she murmurs, creaking jagged fingers around a pristine Father of the Year mug.

“Sorry you missed the wedding, Mother Jane.”

Jane grins, revealing several missing teeth.

No. Not missing.

Replaced.

Replaced by seeping blackness.

“Weddings,” Jane whispers. “Where they trap us.” More teeth are gone.

Michael almost spills his coffee. “Trap us…? Who?”

Michael follows her gaze to an ornately framed photograph. Derrick’s father. “It’s called ‘wedlock’ for a reason,” she says.

“I don’t follow you.”

“You will.” Her smile seeps total blackness.

Michael awkwardly drops his gaze. In his mug, a rotten tooth swishes to the top. 

John Adams

John Adams (he/him/his) writes about teenage detectives, pelican-people, and cursed cowboys. His publication list includes Australian Writers’ Centre, The Drabble, Siren’s Call, Weird Christmas, and 101 Words. His plays have been produced by Whim Productions and selected for readings at the William Inge Theater Festival. Web: https://johnamusesnoone.com/. Twitter: @JohnAmusesNoOne.

Windowsill

  In a lonely apartment building, Thomas Powell sat wondering where his life was now to go.  Four months prior, he had a loving girlfriend of seven years and a hound dog purchased from the local shelter.  He had partial ownership of a house with a white picket fence and a large garden. His job as an attorney brought in enough money to purchase whatever came to mind.  Now all that was gone. Emily, the girl he met in college and settled down with, had left with a man she met at Planet Fitness. The dog, Muffy, was put down after a long bout with hip problems.  And the house, oh the house. It had been paid for, or so he thought, when he gave Emily the money to bring to the bank at the end of each month. However, the bank came the week before Emily walked out, asking for close to one hundred thousand dollars in back pay.  Tom had money; just not that much so his house was gone. Now, he had nothing. Of course, Tom had his job but once he came home, it was no longer to a happy home but an empty apartment.  

     Usually Tom would stop by a local watering hole on his way from work, ordering two beers to wash down a thick, mostly overcooked hamburger.  Tonight, however, he decided to grab Chinese food and bring it home. He had purchased a case of beer the weekend before that needed polishing off so he headed to his new apartment with a bag of greasy food.  Last year, he was living luxuriously in a three-bedroom ranch. Now he was stuck on a second floor apartment. The good thing was the section below him had gone unrented for two years. The owners of the building had moved down South and want one renter there just to keep watch and the heat running.  Tom’s place had two bedrooms, one used for sleep and the other made into an office. Tom was a workaholic, probably the reason Emily fell into the arms of a man who paid attention to her. He would spend hours a night going over cases and rulings, pounding beer after beer behind a desk he had been able to sneak out of his old house.  

The apartment itself was nice enough for a single bachelor.  It had all the needed amenities and the owners gave him free reign to decorate as he wished.  He started by pulling up the 1970’s moldy carpets and replacing it with wooden floors. Next, he hired some friends to paint and clean the place, top to bottom.  His plan was to live here for a year, buy the place from the owners, and rent both parts out. His job brought in enough money to be able to look for a new house, without a problem.  Right now, though, with a foreclosed house, it didn’t look good for banks to give him credit, even if he explained to them that his ex-girlfriend had stolen the money set aside for the mortgage.  

     That evening, Tom went into his place and sat in front of the television with a beer and his Chinese food.  He polished off an entire helping of Beef Lo Mein and two Spring Rolls in less than half an hour. Though he wasn’t paying attention, one of the local networks was having a Twilight Zone Marathon.  He watched a few episodes, more for nostalgia than interest. Many years ago, he lost his joy at viewing horror movies or science fiction. Law school brought about serious interests like criminal law and court record files.  He had no time for entertainment and fun, finding himself without a real sense of imagination. As a child, he would play for hours in the woods behind his parent’s home. Now, it all seemed so silly to him. Every moment he wasted as a child he could have spent readying himself to be a responsible and respected adult.  So at the age of fifteen, he left behind all the childish loves he enjoyed, packing up box after box of action figures and sports cards. In its place, he focused on his studies. Tom already knew what he wanted to become, unlike most of his friends. They tended to focus on sports and girls. He enjoyed both of those but Tom kept his eye on the prize.  He could have fun after he was well entrenched in a job.  

     Tom retired to the back room to do some work at his desk.  On his way past the kitchen, he stopped at the fridge and grabbed two beers.  Though the walk wasn’t far, he never minded the taste of warm beer so decided the best way to save time was to double fist.  His work might suffer after a few of those but by that point it would be time for bed. Most nights Tom kept the blinds closed in the back room but that evening desired some of the cool Maine fall breeze.  He slid the curtains open and pushed the window up as much as it would go. Immediately, he was hit in the face by the chilly air. For a moment, he closed his eyes, taking it all in until the rustling of papers awoke him from his momentary trance.  Papers were strewn all over the floor; the unfortunate target of a wild breeze. Tom closed the window almost all the way, leaving only a crack at the bottom. He would take the chance of a gust of wind sneaking through the tiny area in order to keep the room nice and cool.  He’d work better this way.

     Minutes turned to hours and before Tom realized it was well past midnight. He never worried about time on Fridays, sometimes working until the sun rose on the following day.  But tonight, for some reason, he felt the need to turn in. He had a long day and the beers had made him groggy. As he went to close the window, something caught his eye. In a house adjacent to his window, a single light was illuminating a room on the second floor of a gray ranch.  He had never noticed this place until that evening and was captivated when a beautiful young woman came to the windowsill and sat on the edge, combing her long, black hair. Tom thought about closing the shades and ignoring what he saw, but something about the woman was captivating. Her skin was a milky chocolate and her long hair hung well past her shoulders.  She had it thrown over one side, stroking it with an old fashion ivory comb. She wore what looked to be only a silk nightgown, though Tom could not be sure. He must have stared for close to an hour, watching this woman brush her hair. Finally, the woman stood up, walked away from the window, and turned out the light. Tom wanted to scream for her to return, this black beauty he’d never noticed before.  Instead, he went to bed, finding he couldn’t sleep. His mind kept racing back to the woman in the window. When the morning came, Tom rushed to the room and pulled the shade. There sat the house but the woman was not there.  

     Tom spent the entire Saturday trying to get the woman out of his mind.  She had stolen his day away. Finally, Tom decided it would be best to go into work.  The office and that atmosphere would help. But when the evening came, Tom was rushing into his office to work, even avoiding dinner.  He needed to see the woman again. He worked with the window open again, pushing the desk to the corner so he could continue to peek out.  For a while, he thought that luck had only come once but at midnight, the light in the house next door clicked on and the black woman came back to the window, sitting again on it and combing her hair.  With the window open, Tom could hear her now. She was singing to herself, but what song he could not tell. All he knew is she had the voice of an angel. She wore the same clothing as the evening prior but that didn’t matter.  Her beauty was beyond clothes. How he desired to run his fingers through her hair and touch his fingertips against her skin. When she disappeared an hour later, he still desired her and for the first time in many months, took a moment out of his working day to take care of himself with her image in his head.  It would stay there, a permanent mark, throughout the evening and into the next day. Soon, Tom found himself coming home from work to sit at the window and watch this woman each and every night of the week. She never missed and, like clockwork, the light would click on at midnight and she would appear stroking her hair an hour later.

     This series of events occurred every evening for close to three weeks.  By the end of the third week, Tom found himself leaning out the window the entire hour, completely taken by her beauty and singing.  Now, he knew what she was singing. He had heard it at a friend’s wedding once and it stuck. Each night, in a sweet yet sad voice, the woman on the sill would sing “At Last” by Etta James.  Once she got through the entire thing, she would hum to several verses to herself before starting over. But she never looked down, only forward. Tom questioned whether the woman knew he was there.  He’d bet money she did. He made it a point to leave his light on in hopes she would look down and acknowledge him. Up to that point, it hadn’t happened.  

     One day, after spending the entire day thinking about the woman, Tom gathered some courage and walked to the house next door.  Even as he walked up the steps, he had no idea what he was going to say. There was no alcohol in his system, only the desire to finally come face to face with the woman he had wanted for almost an entire month.  Before he could stop himself, Tom knocked on the door. He waited a moment, listening for any footsteps coming from the other side before knocking again. After several moments of silence, Tom turned around, dejected and headed home.  That evening, it was harder to work and he questioned whether he made the right decision when at midnight, the woman returned, combing her beautiful hair. The next evening, he waited a while before returning to her house, this time carrying flowers.  There was still no answer. Tom returned home to drown his sorrows with a few beers. By the time midnight rolled around, he was drunk and ready to watch his unrequited love.

     As the clock ticked closer to one in the morning, Tom became more and more anxious.  Soon, she would be leaving for the night. The alcohol seemed to have clouded his judgment.   Before he could stop, Tom had his head out the window, yelling for the woman in the window. She continued to look straight ahead, acting as though she didn’t hear him.  Tom continued to call to her, keeping one eye on his watch. Yelling did not work and just as he exhausted his attempts by closing the window, he said something that caught her attention.

     “I just want you to know you have a beautiful voice.  I love Etta James.” Tom started to close the window when he heard what he thought was a voice calling back to him.

     “Did you say something?”  he said, as he looked up at the woman.

     She had stopped combing her hair and was staring directly at him now.  Her doe eyes were large and brown, her look intoxicating. “You…you like my singing?” 

     “Yes, I do.  I listen to you sing every night.”  Tom smiled, finally getting what he thought he had wanted.

     “Thank you, sir.  My momma taught me.”  The woman smiled at him but quickly lost the smile.  “Goodnight, sir.” And before she could be stopped, she disappeared from the windowsill and turned out the light.

     Tom sat there, waiting, wondering what had just happened. He sat there for over an hour before he realized she was not coming back.  He was saddened by her sudden disappearance but optimistic that he could continue the chat the following evening.

     Tom called in sick to work the next morning.  This was the first time he had ever done that, even when his ex-girlfriend begged him to.  Work was always important but not currently. Today, his thoughts went to last night’s encounter and the prospect of another.  When midnight rolled around, Tom was already at his window. But when the light went on, the woman was not at her place at the window.  Tom watched the hour tick away, nervously awaiting her presence. Did he scare her away? Did he anger a jealous husband? Tom waited until the light in the room clicked off at one before heading off to bed.  Sleep eluded him, the thoughts only of the woman who had finally spoken to him. Though he went in to work the next day, his mind was on the woman who kept him awake at night. When he returned home after a long day, Tom immediately got out of his car and went to the house next door.  He knocked once, twice, three times but no answer. Instead of walking away, Tom turned the doorknob. At first it was locked in place but after two jiggles, it turned and the door opened. Almost immediately, Tom had wished he wouldn’t have even come over to look for his lost love. Except for a few pieces of covered furniture, the house was completely empty.  Tom walked around the living quarters, checking the dining room and kitchen. There was a long white cloth draped over the table that hadn’t been moved in many years. Cobwebs and a thin layer of dust covered the top of it. The kitchen was empty except for a refrigerator with both doors propped open. Tom ran a finger over an island, pulling off a thick layer of dust.  Not only hadn’t someone cooked in this kitchen, no one seemed to have stepped foot in here in many years.

     Tom went back into the living room, looking around at the veiled figures around the room.  Over a mantle sat an old painting, partially covered with cobwebs. Tom wiped it off, looking at what looked to be a plantation with slave quarters.  In the background, there were tiny dark specks. He was shocked that someone would still have this kind of painting up in a home considering the racism.  While it might be worth money, it made no sense to portray such a negative part of US history. After leaving the painting, Tom’s thoughts focused on what brought him here in the first place.  The woman in the window was upstairs.  

     The steps creaked under Tom’s weight as he ascended the stairs.  He grabbed the railing in case the steps gave way but even that felt old and waterlogged.  When he got to the top of the steps, he looked around, noticing two closed doors. He decided to check the one that wasn’t located in the view of his office.  Even though no one was downstairs, that didn’t stop him from knocking on the door several times. No one answered so he pushed it open. The room was filled with old cardboard boxes.  Closing the door behind him, Tom took the box closest to him and lifted the top, revealing several manila folders. Taking one out, Tom flipped through pages of what looked to be tax records and paid receipts.  The same people filled them all and quickly he came to the realization that maybe the owner of the house had passed, probably years ago. Each folder covered a month of expenses of a now closed men’s clothing store in the area.  Tom had gone there every summer with his parents in order to purchase new clothes for the school year. Two elderly men, ones that met each person at the door with a smile, owned the store itself. When the two men passed away, the business slowly slipped into bankruptcy.  It had closed its doors long before Tom had left for college and since then, it had not entered his memory, until now. He spent roughly forty-five minutes in the room, flipping through boxes and files. There was nothing out of the ordinary in the room.

     Tom left the room now knowing the owner, or owners, of the house he stood in.  The problem was that those two men died close to fifteen years ago. That meant the house had stood vacant since that time.  He was nervous, yet excited, to go into that final room, the one that looked down on his apartment. Before he tried the knob, Tom knocked on the door and waited for a response.  When he did not receive one, he slowly pushed the door open. He peeked in to see that, like the other rooms, there was no one there. Boxes surrounded an old bureau but nothing else.  Tom closed the door behind him, walking around the tiny bedroom to look for clues. He went first to the window and checked it. Not only hadn’t it been open recently, it looked like it hadn’t been touched in years.  All along the windowsill was a thick layer of dust. The glass itself had years of grime built up on it. Tom sat down on one of the boxes and buried his head in his hands. He questioned his sanity yet knew he indeed saw a woman here.  There was only one conclusion but reality would not allow him to believe this. Deciding he needed to go back to his place and look up more on the two men that lived here, he got up to leave when Tom heard a loud crashing sound in the kitchen.  Instinctively, forgetting he had broken into the house, he rushed downstairs to find the first floor empty. Whatever was in here wanted him out and he decided that was a fine plan. As he went to leave, he saw something at the front door that sent shivers up his spine.  On the floor, right by the door, was an ivory comb. He picked it up, turning it in his hand. The handle was quite warm, perhaps from sitting out in the sun. He had probably merely missed it on walking in. He placed the comb back on the ground and quietly slipped out of the house.  

     For the remainder of the afternoon, Thomas Powell sat in his office, doing extensive research on the local business.  It seemed there were some shady dealings, perhaps with local underworld bosses. But what stuck out the most was a short court appearance back in 1940 to discuss the disappearance of a maid hired by the brothers.  She had gone missing and only after a massive push from the family did the police even bother to look into the situation. Since she was African-American, her disappearance was quickly pushed aside in order to handle other local issues, such as an impending war in Europe.  

     Everything came into focus now.  By this time, it had gotten quite dark and just as the lights went on in Tom’s head; it clicked on in the apartment next door.  Tom looked up instinctively. The woman was not at the window but unlike the previous evening, he could hear the singing again. It seemed to be coming from the street.  Tom leaned out the window and saw the woman in the white nightgown standing in the middle of the road. She looked up at him and smiled as she ran her fingers through her hair.  The woman went back and forth between looking at the ground and seductively looking at him. He waved to her, caught by her beauty but lust turned to fear.  

     From behind her, a car’s lights glared.  Tom yelled, begging her to get out of the street.  But she kept combing her hair. The car got closer and closer to the woman.  Tom screamed at her to move but it was too late. He turned his head, not wanting to see the accident.  But there was no squealing of tires or honking of horns. Slowly, he raised his head to see the woman still standing in the road.  The car had gone right through her.

     Tom quickly pulled the shade down and rushed into his bedroom.  He was frightened. It wasn’t a woman but a ghost that stood in the road.  He waited until one in the morning before he was able to look again. The woman was gone and the light was now off in her bedroom window.  He spent the rest of the evening researching the paranormal. Something was wrong with this one however. Most of the time, local haunts continued to follow a similar path.  This was different. The woman had moved. Initially, she sat in her window every night for an hour. Something happened though. He thought back to everything he had seen and done for a month and realization came to him like a punch in the face.  It was his fault. He had broken her pattern of waiting for someone else by calling out. She was coming for him now.

     That evening, Tom waited by his window with his cell phone and notepad.  He ran the video at 11:58, documenting everything. At midnight, the light clicked on the room and again, for a third day in a row, the woman did not appear.  He pointed the phone towards the street to try and catch a glimpse of the ghost but she wasn’t there. He waited a moment, whispering to whoever would listen that he heard singing again.  Grabbing his stuff, he went to the front door and looked out the peephole. Standing on his steps was the beautiful black woman he had fantasized about. Though he couldn’t be seen, he knew she could sense him close by.  She looked up, batting her eyes at the door. She never spoke, only sang her song, so seductively. He found his hormones were overcoming his rational thoughts. Tom reached out at the doorknob, slowly turning it in his hand.  Closing his eyes, he pulled the door back. The woman was gone. He looked both ways, checking the porch. No one was there. He closed the door and locked it, returning to his office. It was only 12:30 but the light in the vacant house was off.  He thought nothing of it and went to bed, sleeping soundly for the first time in months. The following morning, he woke up rested and re-energized. Tom left for work early, with a travel mug of coffee as his partner. He worked long hours but never once thought of the house next door.  Even when he went home that evening, he sat in front of his television instead of sitting in his office. He had no desire to have his life filled with ghouls and ghosts. That was for children.  

     Tom had just fallen asleep on the couch when he heard a click close by.  It was loud enough to awaken him. He jumped to his feet, looking around to grab a handle of a broom that sat close by.  Someone was in his apartment.  

     “Hello?”  Tom said, his voice shaking.  “If someone’s here, get out before it’s too late.  Please leave.” No one responded. Tom walked into the kitchen, checking quickly.  It was then that he noticed a light on in his office. He never remembered turning it on and he began to walk towards it when he heard a familiar song right behind him.  

Alan Derosby

I live in Maine, where I work as a high school history teacher.  My job and my family provide me with the inspiration to write.  I have had three short stories published, one online on The Line-Up, and two in print, the 20 18 anthology Unholy Night in Deathlehem, and the 2019 Ink Stain Anthology volume 13.  A fourth short story is currently in development to being published and should be out later this year.

Whole Lotta Roses

Pete tiptoed across the icy sidewalk over to Joe’s Floral Arrangements, the only flower shop on Rezanov Island, Alaska. Valentine’s Day was the shop’s busiest day of the year yet it was devoid of the usual last-minute buyers. Pete approached the storefront and pushed his hand against the front window, wiping off frost before peeking through the glass. The ceiling lights flickered inside, the dull hum of music flowed, and fresh, vibrant flowers brightened the shop’s dreary interior. There were signs of life yet no sign of Joe. 

Pete opened the door and entered the shop. He stood in his tracks, admiring the variety of flowers on display. Bouquets of tulips, carnations, and daisies were nice enough but the rose selection floored him. Never before had Pete seen so many in one place and it came as a huge relief. For weeks, his girlfriend Adrienne dropped not-so-subtle hints of her Valentine’s Day expectations, “red roses” and “nice dinner” the recurring phrases. With plenty of bouquets left, Pete could buy the flowers and thus, avoid his beloved’s wrath. 

Behind a set of saloon doors, the sound of scraping metal echoed off the shop’s walls. A man’s voice mumbled along with Bon Scott as AC/DC’s “Let There Be Rock” played on a nearby stereo. Pete walked up to the counter and tapped his finger on the service bell. 

The scraping stopped and a man pushed through the swinging doors. He wore a Megadeth shirt and tattered Levi’s, his hair blonde and wavy. A striking man in his late twenties, he was a dead ringer for a young Robert Plant. Pete wondered how the two had never crossed paths before but figured there was an easy explanation. After all, Rezanov was a fishing town with a regular stream of new faces coming and going throughout the year. People searching for seasonal jobs, either processing salmon at the canneries or working on a commercial fishing boat headed for the Bering Sea. Yet, Pete surmised the florist was neither. 

Aside from his current occupation, the man’s stubble-free complexion, his overall tidy appearance, and his Drakkar Noir aroma confirmed his suspicions. There were no callouses, cuts, or scars on his hands, peculiar for someone handling thorny flowers. Weighing in these factors, Pete approached the man with both caution and intrigue. 

“Sorry if I interrupted something,” Pete said.

“No worries,” The man said. “Just sharpening an old, dull blade. What can I do for you?”

“Just something for the girlfriend,” Pete said. “You got a whole lotta roses here, I see. I’ll take a dozen red.”

“A dozen roses on Valentine’s Day,” The man scoffed. “Every guy gets his girl red roses on V-Day. A predictable and expensive mistake. Go against the grain and get her something more meaningful, something no one else is getting.”

“Well, she kind of has her heart set on roses,” Pete said, wrinkling his forehead. 

Rose bouquets saturated the shop and, in a few days, they would be dead—unsellable. Discouraging someone from buying them seemed illogical to Pete but he tried to sympathize. Maybe the guy was a just a flower nerd. Someone as passionate about underappreciated flowers as a cinephile was for Eraserhead—a movie Pete himself failed to comprehend—so, he warmed up to the guy’s suggestion.

“But,” Pete said. “If you think there’s something better…”

The man turned around, plucking a bouquet of white flowers out of ceramic vase and covering the stems in red wrapping paper. He secured it with a rubber band then placed them on the counter.

“They’re chrysanthemums,” The man said. “These ones have incurved petals so they hide the center and have a cool, spherical look. You’re still sporting the Valentine’s colors—white flowers, red paper—and you’ll save a few bucks.”

“Alright, you convinced me,” Pete said. “One bouquet of chrysan-the-somethings it is, mister…”

“Chrysanthemums,” The man said, pointing to the flowers then to himself. “Ted.”

“Nice to meet ya’, Ted. I’m Pete.” He reached for his wallet then asked, “Hey, does Joe Delano still own the shop?”

“I took over for him.”

“Oh. Did he retire or something?”

“Something,” Ted said, his gaze fixed on the cash register as he pushed the buttons. “That’ll be forty bucks even.”

“Wow,” Pete said, handing Ted two twenty-dollar bills. “Pretty and cheaper than roses. I like that. Thanks a lot, man.”

“Anytime.”

Pete saluted Ted then walked towards the door but stopped when a photograph on the wall caught his attention. It was a picture of four men on horseback, each rider with a different colored horse. Ted sat upon a white one, his face beaming with pride. 

“An equestrian, huh?” Pete asked over his shoulder. 

“Something like that,” Ted said. “Been dying to reunite with the posse and go for a ride but they always tell me, ‘When the time is right, we will unite!’. You know how it is.” 

“Oh yeah, sure,” Pete lied, still studying the photo. “You know, your horse looks kind of sickly in this picture. Is she usually so pale?”

“Yes,” Ted growled. “She is.”

“Right,” Pete said, laughing nervously. He turned around and saw Ted glaring at him with fire in his eyes.  “Well, I’ve kept you long enough. Thanks again.”

“Don’t mention it, Petey,” Ted sneered. “Be a sport and close the door behind you.”

Pete nodded, speed walking out of the store and closing the door behind him. He headed for the docks, where a dinner reservation for two awaited him at Jane’s Clam House, the island’s best seafood restaurant.

        ***

“You got me chrysanthemums?” Adrienne squawked. 

“Uh, yeah, babe,” Ted said. “New flower shop guy suggested them.”

“Well, he’s either a frigging moron or a sadist,” She said, throwing the bouquet at Pete’s face. He placed them back on the table. “They’re funeral flowers. They symbolize death, Pete.”

“But, I—”

“Women want roses on Valentine’s Day, babe! It’s not that complicated but, by the looks of it, you’re not the only guy in the doghouse tonight.”

Pete scanned the dining room, noticing that at every table, bouquets of white and yellow chrysanthemums lay next to the folded arms of infuriated wives and girlfriends. 

“So much for going against the grain,” He murmured. 

Looking around the restaurant, Pete felt increasingly uneasy as he watched several customers displaying odd behavior. Waiters struggling to balance trays of food, customers wobbling in their chairs. It was an unsettling sight and, not before long, Pete started feeling strange, too. 

His eyelids grew heavy, his chest tightened, and a sudden wave of fatigue overwhelmed him. As Adrienne hurled expletives at him, he noticed the chrysanthemums blooming before him, their incurved petals peeling backwards to reveal a dark center. The flowers then let out a piercing hiss and sprayed a pungent odor from their core.  

Pete’s muscles weakened and he gripped onto the table’s edge to keep himself upright. He watched as every chrysanthemum in the dining room sprung open and released its stench. Couples slumped out of their chairs, their heads bouncing off the hardwood floors upon landing.

Adrienne experienced similar symptoms, her body swaying and her speech slurring like a drunk. Pete reached out and tried catching her before she fell but he was subdued. His larynx collapsed; his limbs froze but he retained his sight. His hearing also remained intact and he heard an ominous noise coming from outside.

As the noise drew nearer, Pete prayed his eardrums would give out because he knew what he was hearing: it was the sound of galloping hooves at full speed. With their voices silenced and their bodies immobile, the patrons of Jane’s Clam House listened and watched in horror as four riders on horseback came crashing through the front windows. 

Pete’s vision started deteriorating but he recognized one of the horsemen hovering over him. A ghoulish version of his former self, he saw Ted, no longer wearing his Megadeth shirt nor his jeans. Instead, he wore a tattered robe of white gauze with a hood covering the bald scalp where his glamorous hair used to be. He sat upon his pale horse, gripping the wooden handle of a scythe, its sharpened blade glistening off a chandelier light. 

Ted looked down and whispered, “Doesn’t look so sickly now, does she, Petey?”

Jennifer Canaveral

Jennifer Canaveral is a librarian and writer from San Francisco, CA. After serving nine years in the Coast Guard and a little soul-searching, she decided to pursue her passion of writing. Her biggest influences are Angela Carter, Clive Barker, and Stephen King. Jennifer holds a BA in English with a Concentration on Writing and is finishing up her MA in Humanities through American Military University. Her work has previously been published in Sanitarium magazine, Canadian journal Blood & Bourbon, Trembling with Fear, and Siren’s Call Publications. For the last ten years, Jennifer has lived in Kodiak, AK with her husband and three children.

                                    www.amazon.com/author/jennifercanaveral

 

Perhaps Love

“You look the same as you did, last I saw you,” the man says. He sits in a wing-backed armchair far from the window, where the rains lash against the glass. Ashy prints lead from the hearth to where I stand in the middle of the room, made warm by the roaring fire.

“It is possible for some beings to remain unchanged by time,” I reply. He lifts his head, and I recall him years past; broad-shouldered, head bowed, the same want pouring from him as from any other past or since who so stood before my master. He peers up at me, brows thick over sharp eyes unchanged by the onslaught of age. 

“It has been some time since I have heard another’s voice. I suppose I should not be surprised I can hear yours.”

“Your physical failings are of mortal ilk.”

He inclines his head in thought, touches two fingers to his temple. “You are inside my mind, I think.” I indulge in a shrug, and hear my scales whisper against each other with the movement. 

“Understand it as you wish, the fact remains you can hear me, and I, you.” He regards me seriously.

“Yes,” he muses, “something at which you have always been exceptional.” I turn from his gaze and study the room. Heavy tapestries hang on the walls, and candles burn in black sconces. The curl of smoke is soothing in this mortal realm, a taste of home.

“It smells of rot,” I tell him unprompted. “Your home,” I explain at his frown, and reach to trail black fingers down a wall.

“It is a new build, only some decades old,” he defends. I turn my gaze back to him, where he has stood to stoke the fire, and see his stooped shoulders, his halting movements.

“It is you,” I say. “You are closer to death than I thought.” He chuckles, surprising for a human, when they so often shy away from the idea of their own mortality.

“Some beings may remain unchanged by time, but not I,” he tells me, and sits back in his chair. He gestures to its companion on his left, a low table separating the two. “Will you sit?” I study the chair, the angles of the seat, and shake my head.

“I do not possess the physical qualities to sit in such a position.” His gaze travels down my form, brow creasing slightly when he sees the bend of what, on a human, would be knees.

“Yet you can alter your appearance,” he says, meeting my gaze once more. “You were here, in Vienna. At the Akademie, dressed in black,” here he squints in recollection, “and yet no other patron seemed to notice you.”

“It is possible for some beings to be seen or not as they wish,” I reply. “I chose that night to keep myself hidden, for it is not only my appearance that may cause unrest, but what I leave behind.” He looks to the wall I touched earlier, the sooty fingerprints a short streak on the white, and back at me.

“If it pleases you, I would ask that you change so you may sit.” He stretches his lips in a poor facsimile of a smile. “I prefer to discuss business affairs while seated. Particularly ones with such a heavy bearing on my eternal life.”

It is an easy thing, to take on a human form, and for him, I do it, yet I would even if it required pain on my part. I shift as I step to the offered chair, and I sit down as a human, dark hair, dark eyes, proper knees, and we regard one another. “You know why I have come.”

“Yes, yes,” he sighs, leaning against the back of his chair and closing his eyes. Lightning cracks outside and fills the room with a thrilling brightness unheard of at midnight. He blinks his eyes open and looks at me over the small table, half of his face cast in faint orange light from the fireplace. “I admit, I have long thought this overdue.”

“Why?” I ask, and he rolls his shoulders carelessly.

“It is not just Vienna I have seen you. At first, I believed any appearance of you to mean imminent death, yet you have been at every performance of mine, for the past thirty-odd years, and I have yet to feel the cut of the reaper’s scythe.”

“Death would not trouble with you, seeing as your soul belongs to my master.” I take irrational pleasure in running my fingers over the soft arms of the chair I occupy, remembered senses lighting up with the feeling under fingertips instead of claws. 

“Death would beg for mercy from you or your master, I would think,” he tells me, and again I see mirth in his eye when I would expect less.

“Death be not proud,” I quote softly, and his chuckle turns into a sharp cough.

“Another of your charges, I assume?”

“Yet no rival to you,” I say. He looks at me. “The written word has never held the weight that music has for me.” I shift as his gaze turns calculating.

“My talent is what you admire, yet it never has truly been my own,” he muses. “It comes from your master.” I shake my head.

“The gift was always yours; merely it laid dormant until it was…coaxed out.” He laughs then, and I swallow against the rising tide at his vocalization; true, at every performance he gave over the years, it was his voice I sought out among the multitude of mortals, rallying above the din to proclaim his thanks, or whispering to the elite in the audience, a voice I wished was lowered to my ear, to speak words more personal, focused. With every uttered syllable, I heard notes, a scale rising and falling, yet never directed towards myself. The few instances his eyes flickered to mine in the crowd, I took hope, a hope I thought fruitless at the time, for by no method could he guess my true identity, as the one who heard his plea at a dark altar years previous, and led him to my master, and in doing so, set him on a course that would change his life. 

“You are unlike any other I have ever known,” he tells me thoughtfully. “It seems a shame I realize this, in the twilight of my years.” We observe one another for a moment in silence, then he nods towards me, gaze skirting about and abruptly stilling. “What is that gem? It has an ethereal glow, unsettling yet hopeful.” I glance at the ring on my right hand.

“One of a kind,” I say. “And of great import to your situation.” He looks curious.

“How so?”

“I am here for your soul, but not in the way you expect.” I meet his gaze. “This gem, as you name it,” I lift my hand between us and the ring glitters in the firelight, “holds the soul of one from many years ago.” His brows raise and he leans forward, beginning to reach for it but pauses, looks to me for permission. I nod. He takes me by the wrist with one hand and leans in, eyes screwed up. I bid the fire burn brighter, and he relaxes and inspects the jewel with a curious eye. The warmth from the fire, the pounding of the rain on the glass, fade to nothing at the touch of his fingers on my skin, now pale and warm instead of charred black. “I will give it to my master, let him believe it is yours, and,” I pause, as his fingers tighten on my wrist to turn it, “and when you die, your soul will go where it’s meant.”

He lifts his eyes to mine, and I swallow, the distance between us minimal. “Where is it meant?” he asks quietly. I shake my head.

“It’s not for me to say.” He leans back, pushing my arm away until I lift it of my own accord and let it drop back to the arm of the chair.

“Whose soul was it?” he asks, gaze flicking between mine and the ring. I smile, the stretch on the corners of this mouth unfamiliar.

“Long dead, best forgotten,” I tell him, “their dues paid to my master in full.” I feel he finds the answer unsatisfactory but he does not press.

“I have been occupied with the thought of death for some time now,” he admits. “Sometimes I don’t know if still being able to play, to compose, is more of a gift or a curse. I cannot hear any of it anymore. I do not write for myself.”

“Your work is still well-loved,” I tell him clumsily before I can ask if he knows, perhaps, who it is he writes for. “The sonata,” I blurt, and I badly hum the opening three notes. Before I finish, he is joining in, his hand half-raised at his waist, and suddenly he stands and crosses the room to stand before the piano, tucked in a corner lit by dim candlelight. 

Quasi una Fantasia,” he speaks to the closed piano, and sighs deeply. “A hint of love, in my youth, only to lose it, and soon, my one true sense to follow. It happened, over the years, sometimes not getting any worse, but never better.” He sits, the bench eager to take his weight once more. He runs his fingers over the lid, voice soft. “And to see the furious movements of a full orchestra, to read the music on their faces, the exertion, and to hear nothing—” he breaks off and shakes his head. 

 

“Will you play?” He looks up at me, seeming startled by my proximity, but relaxes. He smiles at the keys, reaches one finger out but doesn’t press down.

“A private show,” he says, “it has been some time since I was asked for one.”

“I am not nobility nor royalty, but I am as appreciative as any. And perhaps,” I study the keys before us, “a tutorial. Of the sonata.” He looks mildly interested at that.

“Are there pianos in hell?” I sit next to him on the bench, a careful distance between us.

“No, but I never forget something I am taught.” He considers me, half his features cast in firelight, the other in cool shadow, yet equally well-known to me, for it is not by sight I know him. He nods then, and faces the piano.

“Have you any skill in playing?”

“Not the slightest,” I reply, and his eyes crinkle. “However, I have a suggestion, if you are open to it.”

“Let’s hear it.”

“You play, and I—” I hold my left hand above the keys, then lay my right hand overtop, line up my fingers— “follow along.” He is watching my hands, and I quickly glance at them, aware there’s a chance I have two of them same as has happened before, but when I look back he is watching my face, and he nods once. I stand and move behind him, letting my arms grow to encircle him without touching him as he straightens his back and snaps his wrists over the piano.

He holds his fingers over the keys, and I gently lay mine on top of his. I keep myself from pressing against his back, but I feel his inhale all the same. I close my eyes and nod. “Begin.” Our hands move as one, pressing down, and through his fingers I feel the give of the ivory, and through his skin I feel the fervour in his heart. We begin at the start, the adagio sostenuto, and he stiffens and freezes, wild hope swelling to untold joy, heard as his first notes come out hesitantly, as though he is tiptoeing, and all at once he leaps. 

I hear his shuddering breath as we go. The room, so set by age, by wear and tear, seems to come to life as the music paints the walls, the fire burning brighter with accompaniment, and under my hands he plays desperately. I am taken back to an overwarm hall, watching him take his seat at the grand piano. The crowd has settled around me, murmurs of anticipation gone quiet. 

When he moved, when the piano announced itself, it was a physical brush against my mortal form. I’d reveled in how it made my human body feel; sensations long-forgotten brought roaring back to life, absent in my day-to-day existence, but all-consuming any instance I heard him play. It felt like swallowing a star, but instead of darkness I retained the light, and was flooded from my core out. 

I come back to the present and the last notes ring through the room. I realize my arms are resting against his, our hands still together, and I pull back, but one hand is caught and held steady. He turns his face to mine, looks up at me through shining eyes, and his voice is hoarse when he speaks. “In any of my dreams, I never imagined I would hear again.” He closes his eyes briefly, and his voice trembles when he says, “I have not heard that so clearly in my life.” He squeezes my hand, looking up at me. “I truly thank you.”

“You are happy,” I say. He nods wordlessly. “Then you have nothing to fear from death.” I look down at where he grips my hand. “Something I cannot stop, as much as I may wish.” I pull my hand free and step back. Being in this skin is becoming uncomfortable, and I cross to the fire, shifting back as I stand before the hearth. My claws stretch gratefully, and the ring has disappeared, the soul gem back under my tongue, where it has sat for millennia, hidden, a secret as old as me.

“I have never feared death,” he says from behind me. I hear his footsteps as he brushes past to stand next to me. The fire is dying, yet he makes no move to add wood. The circles under his eyes are more pronounced under the orange glow. He reaches for my hand and I avoid his reaching fingers. 

“They will leave marks,” I warn. He looks at my coal-black hands, up at me, and reaches once more. His fingers feel impossibly delicate against my roughened hide.

“Memories,” he corrects. We both look at where charred black stains pale flesh. “Whose soul do you sacrifice for mine?” he asks, suddenly intent. He raises his eyes to mine.

“One that pales in comparison,” I murmur. “Do you wish to play more?” He lifts his hand, and I hold my breath when a finger trails over my mandible, catching on broken, burned skin. He doesn’t flinch, doesn’t frown when his fingertip comes away black.

“Yes,” he whispers, and I see in his gaze, he has his answer. “Until the end.”

Laura Coruzzi

Flesh-Eating Hearts

They’re awfully smart

Those flesh-eating hearts

Designed as replacement transplant parts

Engineered to stay alive

Inexplicably learned to thrive

Cloned in tubes in a scientist’s lab

Unleashed on his lover when he went mad

They rendered his former sweetheart apart

Deadly as a poison Cupid’s dart

All muscle, membrane, and serrated aorta

They invaded the unlucky town of Aurora

They lurk in shadows, slither through mud

Leap at victims and suck their blood

They latch, slurp, pump, and drain

Without the aid of a complex brain

But when the airstrike rains from above

Those flesh-eating hearts won’t feel the love

Kevin M. Folliard

Kevin M. Folliard is a Chicagoland writer whose fiction has been collected by The Horror Tree, Flame Tree Publishing, Hinnom Magazine, Thrilling Words, and more. His recent publications include “Halfway to Forgotten,” featured on The No Sleep Podcast, and the Short Sharp Shocks! Halloween tale “Candy Corn.” Kevin currently resides in La Grange, IL, where he enjoys his day job as an academic writing advisor and active membership in the La Grange and Brookfield Writers Groups. When not writing or working, he’s usually reading Stephen King, playing Super Mario Maker, or traveling the U.S.A.

You can follow his work at www.KevinFolliard.com

Conversation

“Would you like a heart?” the man at the bar asks.

I stare at the yellow conversation heart in the palm of his hand. Three words printed on it. TALK TO ME.

I put the heart in my mouth, allow the chalky goodness to dissolve. 

My head swoons. My tongue loosens. 

I’ve been talking non-stop for three days. My throat is sore. Sometimes I can get water into my mouth. 

The man says he loves my voice. 

I’m still waiting for the heart with BE SILENT printed on it. Eventually he may give it to me.

If it even exists.

Shannon Grant

Shannon Grant had a vivid imagination as child. Then she grew into an adult and decided to use her imagination to try to scare the bejesus out of the general public. Her first body horror story, “The Butterfly Queen,” is in the anthology Invocations by Great Old Ones Publishing. Her second story, “Grandpa’s Bears,” is the last story in the anthology Exploits in the Adirondacks by 518 Publishing. Issue #2 of the Necrocastizine holds her tale, “Serum.” In her spare time she enjoys movie marathons, cosplay, and traveling to weird and unusual tourist attractions. She is currently working on more creepy tales to share with the world.

 

A Meaty Valentine’s dinner

Robert poured himself another glass of wine. 

He took a small sip as he made his way back to his

 seat. Placing his glass down next to his plate he took 

his silverware and delicately carved himself off another

small bite of meat. 

He had made it a tradition of sorts to have a 

nice Valentine’s dinner every year. Even though he was 

single, he still found he could enjoy the holiday. 

He just wished he could find a good date. They

normally disappoint, he thought. “Except in flavor,” he 

chuckled to himself as he took another bite of Taylor. 

 

Radar DeBoard

Radar DeBoard is an aspiring writer who just wants others to find enjoyment in his work. Even though he lacks publication and experience, he hopes his work will have an impact. He has a passion for horror and finds it the most interesting genre to write. 

 

https://www.facebook.com/WriterRadarDeBoard/

We Need To Talk

 

Lila nibbles a chocolate, waits for her lover to stir. The candy and roses Mark brought home are nice gestures, but she deserves better, more. His repeated cold shoulder treatment is getting old.

 

The room is dark but familiar, with drawings on the refrigerator, the family calendar, an heirloom cookie jar. Though she prefers it during the day, with sunlight streaming through the windows, the back door unlocked, the house empty.

 

Mark wakes, yanks at the ropes binding him to the chair.

 

“We need to talk,” Lila says.

 

“Where’s my wife? My children?” He stares at her. “Who are you?”

Madeline Mora-Summonte

Madeline MoraSummonte is a writer, a reader, a beach-comber and a tortoise-owner. Many of her creepy little tales are prowling in print and lurking online. Visit her at MadelineMora-Summonte.com for a taste of her work. Just be careful something doesn’t taste you back. 

Valentine’s Dinner

There was a hunger in her eyes, although she’d barely touched her meal. A hunger unrelated to food.

“I love you,” he said as he put down his empty wineglass.

She mouthed the words back at him as she stood and pulled gently at his arm, leading him upstairs to her bedroom.

They slipped into each others’ arms and onto the bed.

Finished, she leant on one elbow and looked down at him. He was surprised to see she still had the hungry look in her eyes. It was time for her Valentine’s dinner: They’d mated and, now, she’d feed.

DJ Tyrer

DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Chilling Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree), All The Petty Myths (18th Wall), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), What Dwells Below (Sirens Call), The Mad Visions of al-Hazred (Alban Lake), and EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness (Otter Libris), and issues of Sirens Call, Hinnom Magazine, Ravenwood Quarterly, and Weirdbook, and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).

 

DJ Tyrer’s website is at https://djtyrer.blogspot.co.uk/

 

The Atlantean Publishing website is at https://atlanteanpublishing.wordpress.com/

10 Forgotten or Ignored Horror Novels

The word TOP 10 written in vintage metal letterpress type on a soft backlit background.

I am pushing 50 years old. My mum taught me to read before I started school. That means I have over 40 years of reading under my belt. I was not even 10 when my grandmother introduced me to pulp fiction, especially science fiction, some old horror, and the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. However, after being introduced to Stephen King on my 12th birthday, I found my true reading love. And so more than 30 years of horror reading began (although, as you will see, it did start before then, it just wasn’t quite so all-encompassing).

 

I don’t exclusively read horror (nor exclusively write it), but it is my first love. The problem is, many modern horror books just don’t do it for me. They go for gore or overt sexuality at the expense of a tight, taut story, or are cliché-filled bore-fests. And talking about this with some other writer/readers, I decided to present ten horror works produced in my lifetime that have disappeared from the collective consciousness, and yet that I think are well worth re-appraising.

 

Now, we are not going to have any of the usual suspects here. No Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Dean Koontz, et al. And no anthologies. These are stand-alone stories that I like.

 

And, tempted as I was, I am not going to include my own work Sins Of The Fathers (https://www.amazon.com/Sins-Fathers-S-Gepp-ebook/dp/B07XBDP2RF/ and https://www.bookdepository.com/Sins-Fathers-S-Gepp/9781947227408 and Barnes & Noble…). Even though I am amazingly biased, I think it is a fine horror book.

 

I present these in order of year released, except the last one… but I’ll explain that when I get there. And I will try not to include spoilers. So, hopefully, here are 10 books that you will seek out and enjoy as much as I have.

 

1) Uncle Gustav’s Ghosts by Colin Thiele (1974)
This was the first horror story I ever read. I was apparently 6 years old and I loved it. It is more a children’s/young adult book (as most of Thiele’s works are) but even reading it as an adult, he mixed horror and humour and great characters so brilliantly. With an introduction like this, it’s no wonder I fell in love with horror. Set in South Australia (where I have lived my whole life), a missing bride comes back with poltergeist activity to afflict a family. Simple, yes, but so well written. Amazing book.
I will add here I was fortunate enough to meet Colin Thiele when I was in primary school (I would have been about 9 or so) and he autographed my copy of this book. It is still one of my most cherished books.

 

2) The Curse Of Loch Ness by Peter Tremayne (1979)
I did not read this until over ten years after its release, but it was something that struck me because it took a thing so common – the monster of Loch Ness – and turned it on its head. None of my friends liked it, but I didn’t care. The way the build-up of terror is done is quite eerie. There is a lot of foreshadowing, though, and some of the appearances of the true monsters feel a little contrived, but it feels like the pulp fiction I love and it just rattles along at a nice pace.

 

3) The Shaman by Frank Coffey (1980)
Quick side-story. I wrote my first “long story” in 1982, at the age of 11. Around 30k words long, it was as crap as you would expect from that sort of a kid. But it told me I could do it. I started high school the next year, and by 1985 I was again writing long stories. After a few attempts, a friend gave me this book because, according to her, I wrote like this guy. Not as good (she was always honest with me, for which I will be forever grateful) but the same sort of style. So I read it. Reading it again recently – yeah, this is the pulp fiction I write. A tale of Aztec magic and human sacrifice, its horror is mixed in well with a history of the Aztecs without it being info-dump time. And it also showed me that the ending can be a happily ever after one in horror. I also like that a lot of the horror is implied; there is not a lot of gore. Yeah, this one resonated with me as a teenager.

 

4) Tricycle by Russell Rhodes (1983)
A blind teacher, a sex-starved woman with a creepy five year old son who rides a squeaking tricycle, a flood, mysterious deaths – this story has a lot in it, and yet it manages for the most part to keep up a sense of dread. The story is well-written – there are some literary allusions throughout, which feel a little odd – and the blindness of the teacher is well-written. Only the ending lets it down. Still, up till then, a strange little story.

 

5) Monkey Shines by Michael Stewart (1983)
A former athlete becomes crippled, and is given a monkey helper. So far, so good, possibly a tale of man and animal working together. Well, yes… and no. See, the monkey is given psychotropic drugs to increase its intelligence. Then the owner starts to take the drugs as well. And they share dreams, and things spiral out of control from there. This is a slow-burn horror novel. It’s a style I have tried myself, only to be told it does not sell that well any longer, but I enjoy it. However, again, the ending leaves a bit to be desired, with things wrapped up a little too neatly. But until then, a nice study in terror.

 

6) The Long Night Of The Grave by Charles L. Grant (1986)
The final book in a trilogy I have not read, but it stands well enough on its own. This is a story of the mummy, the good ol’ Universal monster. An ancient Egyptian mummy in a small town in England is brought back to life by some priests, people are killed and it feels like it was pushing for a chance to be made into a movie. Despite this, there is a nice feeling of impending doom over everything. Maybe not complete terror, but there is an uneasiness, and the characters do come to life on the page. And the ending definitely left the story open.

 

7) Saurian by William Schoell (1988)
When I first read this in the mid-1990s, I did not like it. I think I was comparing it to the works of Stephen King, which I was devouring completely (I was working and could afford to fill in the gaps in my collection). However, I had the chance to re-read it a few years ago, and I was much more impressed. Okay, sure, it has one of the worst-written female characters I have come across in modern horror, and the monsters seem to gain new powers as the book goes on, but this is an incredibly original monster. Alien mutant things crash-land on Earth, and adopt the first form they come across – dinosaurs. Fast forward and one can also become a human now, and he destroys sea-side communities (as a monster) so he can build more expensive properties there (as a man). What takes this above crap territory is Schoell’s amazing grasp of place. His descriptions of where things are happening are so good, they really do add to the book and make it better than it otherwise would have been.

 

8) The Wrath by David L. Robbins (1988)
Let’s go back to ancient Egypt again! But we don’t have mummies this time – now we have a plague. It turns people into a strange undead dog-like creature. It reads like Indiana Jones meets 28 Days Later. There’s martial arts, the army, a stupid woman putting everyone’s lives at risk and it is a fun ride. But… the women are portrayed as such 2-dimensional ciphers they might as well be cardboard cut-outs. They are given no real character. And the ending is, frankly, stupid and too neat. I think it might have over-reached itself. Still, fun read, just turn your brain off to do so.

 

9) On The Edge by Margaret Visciglio (2014)
Wow, there’s a jump in years! And it shows what I came to think of horror produced in that time not by some of the big names. Unfortunately. We were dumped with more vampires than you could shake a stick at, or gorefests with all the scares of a House of Horrors at a carnival. Then Margaret (who has been a supporter of my work as well) released this. It is for young adults, it is almost fantasy, but it is so well-written and the characters live on the page. In rural South Australia, a family find a three-headed cat and they have to decide between protecting it and letting vested interests take control. It is a bit preachy about ecological issues (I don’t mind that, personally), and the horror diminishes in the last half, but still a great book well worth tracking down.

 

10) Pig by Kenneth Cook (1980)
Now, first, the reason this is at the end of the list. This is my favourite Australian book. Ever. Any genre. Bar none. It is easily in my top 5 books of all time. I am biased – I love this book. Basically, it is the story of one conservationist’s desire to kill the largest feral pig he has ever come across, leading a horde of other feral pigs across the Australian outback. The final third of the book is just such an exhausting roller-coaster ride of adventure that I could not put it down. My aunt gave me this book when I was about 13 years old or so and she discovered I liked horror; this was the first ever “adult” book I read in less than 2 days. I could not put it down. Unfortunately, it was overshadowed by the far inferior Razorback and its awful film adaptation with a terrible puppet pig. This is so much better. I know some people have an issue with the lack of chapters; don’t care. This is so well written and so well plotted and so well described, it stands head and shoulders above so many books that are better known and regarded more highly. If you can find a copy – get it. Read it. I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

 

Now, I am the first to admit that not all of these will appeal to everyone, and that many are quite clearly of their time. The 1980s have a lot to answer for, and some of the story tropes visible here are proof of that. But these are fun reads and something different in light of the horror that is available today.

 

Good reading!

Trembling With Fear 10/20/2019

Pleased to announce that I will be able to shed my temporary role of Review Co-ordinator. Catharine Jordan has very kindly volunteered and I am in the process of handing things over to her. Lovely to see people stepping up for Horror Tree like this; now all we need is an Interview Co-ordinator. Who knows, I might be able to find a bit of time to write soon, writing has had to take a horribly consistent back seat lately and I was thinking NaNoWriMo might be an impossibility this year. I’m hoping that might now change. 😊

And still on a slightly personal note, Happy Birthday to my lovely husband, Geraint. He is usually on hand to provide either tea or wine when I’m working on either TWF or Horror Tree posts!

Freebie time. Thanks to Aly Faye for sending me a copy of Dimension6, a free Australian spec fig magazine featuring The Tea and Sugar Train, a suitably twisted (literally!) story by Deborah Sheldon. Download your own copy here.

Congratulations to Alyson Faye also for her latest crime novella publication, Maggie of My Heart from Demain Publishing. Available to pre-order from amazon here. I’m looking forward to giving it a read.

TWF writer S. Gepp currently has his book, revenge tale, Sins of the Fathers (pub. Grinning Skull press) out on amazon, as well as a stand-alone short story Rex the Rotten, via Alban Lake Publishing. When he dropped us a line about these, he said both works were as a result of finding the opportunities on Horror Tree (yay Stuart!).

Trembling With Fear leads this week with Anchovy Whispers by Kevin M. Folliard. Bizarre, surreal, gross. A story of how a person can be pushed to the brink. Descriptions of the slobbish houseguest, the congealing food, the anchovies are all written with such great relish you can practically smell that flat. Who wouldn’t sympathise with Kenny?

Death Walks In by Fayth Borden twists things round into a tale of deserved comeuppance. I really liked the idea of a mere mortal telling Death where to go.

Hole by Patrick J Wynn shows that not only can you make a mess of your life but sometimes you can also mess up something supposedly as straightforward as suicide. It was the dark humour of those last two lines which carried this story through to acceptance.

Sharps and Flats by F.M. Scott gives a new meaning to being absorbed by your music and is, in its way, another tale of madness of an obsession. A more literary tone is adopted for this drabble which suits its topic perfectly.

Thank you to all, for writing and submitting to TWF.

Steph

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

….And… Good morning, afternoon, or night depending on when you’re reading this! I hope that you’re ready for a fresh new batch of fiction to enjoy. We’re closing in on the holiday that horror authors love to celebrate year-round and I suspect everyone could use a bit of additional reading in their lives right now.

A quick update on the site, we may have a new review coordinator lined up but still could desperately use a new interview coordinator. Also, we’ve made some headway on the slowdown issues of our backend but still are working through it.

At any rate, enjoy the following tales my friends!

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

Anchovy Whispers by Kevin M. Folliard

When I open my bedroom door, the stink of Mitch hits me like a right hook. My roommate stayed up all night—like every night—generating a stench that would offend the Duke of Bumsville.

Three months ago, that slob moved in. Three months ago, he took over.

The Mitch stink is a hurricane of body odor, discarded gym socks, cigarette butts festering in a lidless kitchen trashcan, and a special ingredient—3 leftover slices of Savvy Sicilian anchovy and garlic pizza. In the small hours, drunk on Evan Williams, Mitch orders this pizza like clockwork. It pushes the stench into strange new territories, infusing the air with a salty, pungent kick of spoiling fish.

Mitch never falls asleep in his own room—a hoarder’s den of unpacked boxes and heaps of soiled laundry. He passes out to infomercials on the living room sofa. By now his rankness has soaked into the upholstery.

There he lays now, lawnmower snore thundering from bristly nostrils. Drool runs down his grizzled chin.

“Mitch!” I shout. “Mitch!”

He reaches, exposes the gold pit stain of his undershirt, scratches himself, grunts, and resumes his snoring. 

I open my mouth to shout again, but stop myself. Completely hammered like this, he could sleep through a marching band.

I scowl at the grease-stained cardboard box on the kitchen counter, where the usual 3 slices of thick crust garlic anchovy fester at room temperature. The cheese has congealed to hardened slime. Gray-brown fish cling to it like waxy leeches.

Bile creeps up my throat. I struggle to keep it down.

Mitch’s snores rumble like a volcano. A wet belch erupts.

And crimson hell-scape filters over the shitstorm that has become my home.

“PSST! Kenny!” a voice whispers. “Hey, Kenny!” 

It couldn’t be Mitch who continues to snooze.

“Kenny, what’s with this guy?” The voice is slick as oil.

My eyes gravitate to the countertop. One brown anchovy wriggles on cold pizza, worming its headless body at me.

The anchovy whispers, “There’s foil and plastic wrap in the drawer, right?”

A second fish slides upright. “He could have packed us up in the fridge for lunch today. It would have only taken 30 seconds.”

An anchovy half, sliced between two triangles, slithers upright. “Because of him, we’ve been spoiling all night. We’re no good. Just like that fat slob Mitch. He didn’t even use a plate.”

“He never uses a plate!” I say. “He never cleans. Hasn’t washed a single dish.”

A susurrus of disapproving whispers floats from the box. More anchovies poke up, headless, slug-like bodies undulating. “What a pig!” “Complete idiot!” “Who would put up with this?”

The biggest, fattest anchovy snakes and flops onto the cardboard. It rears up. “We’re dead fish, cooked on a pizza, and we’re offended. How do you deal with this, Kenny?”

“I-I don’t know.” I struggle for breath, choke on the rot in the air. “He doesn’t even shower! It’s disgusting—it’s—”

“Kenny,” the fat fish states, slick as a card shark. “You gotta fix this.”

“I’ve tried! I told him a hundred times—”

“That meathead has the IQ of a sledgehammer,” the fat one says. “And the breath of an elephant seal.” The chorus of anchovies erupts into scratchy snickers. “What makes you think a guy like that can be taught basic hygiene?”

“Enough words, man,” another anchovy hisses. “It’s time for action.”

“He has no job!” I say. “He can’t keep making up his half of the rent. Sooner or later—”

“You spineless jelly!” an anchovy snaps. “Stop making excuses. Problems like Mitch don’t go away on their own. They need to be solved. Taken care of.”

Mitch snorts, scratches his thigh.

I gag on putrid oniony air.

Greased laughter erupts from the box. “He’s not going to run out of money, Ken.” “One of his lady friends loaned him 200 dollars last night.” “His sugar momma gave him 500 last week. He didn’t even wash his hands before he ate after counting all that cash.”

“No . . .”

“His parents emailed last night too: They’re wiring him enough to support him until he gets that big break.” The anchovies hissed with laughter. “Mitch is slippery like us.” “He greases his palms while doing as little as possible.” “He’ll coast, he’ll slip—he’ll slide—for at least another year.”

“No.” My eyes water. My stomach churns. I cover my nose and mouth with my shirt and approach the reeking, wriggling brown fish. “What do you know? You’re dead fish!”

“We know why guys like Mitch move in with guys like you, Kenny-boy.” The fat one’s neck scrunches with each syllable. “It’s because he knows you’re spineless. He can smell it from miles away.”

I shake my head. Tears burn my eyes.

“You’ll move out before you force him out.”

“Not true,” I whisper.

“Prove it,” the fat one says. 

Its pals snigger. 

“Get rid of him.”

My eyes travel from the thundering, snoring wreck on the couch, back to the grease-stained cardboard.

The fat anchovy slops forward and slithers onto the counter. It inches toward a pizza-stained butcher knife and taps the handle.

“Go on,” it whispers. “You’ll be the one cleaning this knife either way.”

“You’ll be sterilizing the whole place one way or another—” one anchovy whispers.

“—what’s a little blood?” the others finish.

The stench is overpowering now, searing my nostrils, numbing my brain, like I’m breathing sour paint-thinner.

“Don’t puss out, Ken.” The fat anchovy taps the knife. “We could have been leftovers. Now look at us.” “Every day you wake up to this.” “Mitch must pay.”

“He will.” I reach for the knife. The fat anchovy swirls back toward the box. “Do it,” they all whisper. “Do it!”

I grab the handle. Crusty sauce and strings of mozzarella cling to the soiled blade.

“Do it!” 

“Do it!” 

“Do it!” 

“Do it!”

Mitch snorts and snores.

I enter the living room.

The anchovies laugh as I tilt the blade toward Mitch’s swollen gut.

My hands shake. The knife trembles. My eyes swelter from Mitch’s rankness. “I-I can’t . . .”

“It’s okay, Kenny,” comes a hoarse whisper from the carpet. A half-eaten anchovy clings to a dropped crust, amid a sprinkling of crumbs. It tilts up. “I have a better idea. Easier. Safer. You won’t even have to watch.”

The carpet anchovy points one slick end toward a silvery rectangle with a greasy fingerprint. It’s Mitch’s lighter, dropped on the ground.

I study the slumbering behemoth. A white cigarette, unsmoked, lies nestled between the couch cushions at Mitch’s side. Fury pumps through my veins.

“Hey almost did it,” the carpet anchovy whispers. “For real! He was seconds from lighting up. He would have killed you.”

“Son of a bitch.” I grit my teeth.

“But who’s to say when or why he did it. Maybe you woke up this morning and Mitch was still awake, drunk out of his mind.” 

“And maybe you left for work,” whisper the kitchen anchovies.

“And maybe then he lit up,” the fat one says, “one more time . . .”

They all laugh. “You’ve got renter’s insurance, Kenny, don’t you?” “All your neighbors have jobs. They’re in no danger. They’re already out the door.”

Mitch snorts. Grunts. Rumbles.

“Think how fast he’ll burn up with all that whiskey in his blood,” the carpet anchovy says. 

I pick up Mitch’s lighter, metal greasy to the touch. I flick it, and a plume of blue flame dances. I can feel the heat, burning away the hideous particles in the air. The bits and pieces of Mitch poisoning everything. 

“Fire,” the anchovies chant. “Purifying fire.” “He has no prospects, Ken.” “None at all.”

I smile. “It’d be crueler to let him live.”

Kevin M. Folliard

Kevin M. Folliard is a Chicagoland writer whose published fiction includes scary stories collections Christmas Terror Tales and Valentine Terror Tales, as well as adventure novels such as Matt Palmer and the Komodo Uprising. His work has also been collected by The Horror Tree, Flame Tree Publishing, Hinnom Magazine, and more. Kevin currently resides in La Grange, IL, where he enjoys his day job as an academic writing advisor. When not writing or working, he’s usually reading Stephen King, playing Street Fighter, or traveling the U.S.A.

Author Website: www.KevinFolliard.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kevinfolliard

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Kmfollia

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kmfollia/

Death Walks in

So, Death walks into my hospital room. Guess I wasn’t pulling through this mysterious illness with the stomach pains and vomiting, after all.

Naturally my wife, Sandy, was having none of the intrusion.  Sandy deplored uninvited guests. 

Standing up she looked death in the face yelling, “NO!!  Not on my watch, bone boy!”

Atta Girl!

But, without warning, Sandy wrenched the pillow from underneath my head and pushed it over my face. Then she set her ample body on my head, pushing the pillow particularly over my mouth and nose.

Uh, OH!

Damn! I reckoned both found out about Nancy.

Fayth Borden

Fayth Borden has loved horror and ghost stories since she was a child, from listening to relatives share such stories they recalled from Sicily. She began writing horror stories and paranormal poems in her teens and has never looked back.  She is also an avid reader of the genre. She is from the USA and lives in an old Victorian Mill town rampant with ghost stories, ghost hunters, psychics…the lot. And she is located near Salem MA, the Witch City, which she often visits and keeps vigilant for any macabre tales often shared by declared Witches to tourists. So, that’s what she does.  And she enjoys all of it!

Facebook : Fayth Borden

Email: [email protected]

HOLE

Jerry tried to ignore the mess he’d made of the kitchen, his wife wouldn’t  have been pleased. For most of their ten years of marriage she’d not been pleased, a fact she threw in his face as she grabbed the kids and walked out the door. When he told her he couldn’t live without her she just laughed and slammed the door. He stared at the wall across from the table, his shadow dark against the wall except the one clean hole where the bullet had plowed through his head. With a laugh, he decided to give it another try.

Patrick J Wynn

Patrick J Wynn is an author of short stories that contain shades of horror, humor and are just a touch weird. His works have been published in Sirens Call, Dark Dossier, Short Horror and Trembling with Fear. You can follow him on his Facebook page and look for his short story collections on Amazon.

Sharps and Flats

I stumble over them every time at the piano.  I’ve never mastered their basic chords, let alone playing a whole song on them.  Those elegant sharps and flats—perched over the C-based octaves because they’re prettier, enjoying their status as color makers that give you a blue note, a suspended chord.  But I know they want more. They know I know. This time they pierce, attach to, suck at my fingertips. The pain sears as I play and listen and watch as the keys swell, growing fat with my blood.  And they won’t let me stop. I’m now their song.

F.M. Scott

F.M. Scott is from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he lives and writes.  His work has appeared previously in Trembling with Fear, and he was a finalist in the inaugural Flash Fiction Contest sponsored by The Tulsa Voice and Nimrod International Journal.  His short story “Isolated Drums” was recently published in the first issue ofThe Rock N’ Roll Horror Zine.

http://writprodsm.wixsite.com/fmscott

Facebook and Twitter @fmscottauthor

Trembling With Fear – End Of Summer 2019 Edition

Welcome to the Summer Special…you might want to grab a sweater because there are stories here to chill you to the bone!

The waning days of August mean many of us will try to eke out the last hot, lazy days of the season. In Toronto, the last two weeks before ‘back to school’ means the Canadian National Exhibition, where carnies compete with midway rides, novelty foods and ‘guess your weight and age’ type of games.

I was always mesmerized by the carnies—the shifty-looking, unkempt characters who cajoled the rubes and the couples on dates to toss a ring or shoot a balloon: “Make her happy, win a big prize for your girl!” they’d shout, “Five tosses for two bucks!”

We all knew it was nigh impossible to beat the odds on those rigged games, but we’d play anyway. Most likely, the worst outcome would be losing a few or more bucks and a hunk of hubris. But you might think twice about your odds after reading Ray Beer’s The Ring Toss. Ray writes about a carnival game that has consequences much grimmer than expected…and yet, his characters can’t stop playing until they ‘win’. Ray’s surprise conclusion will leave you wondering what could possibly happen next…for everyone involved.

And who hasn’t, at one time, been wrapped up in the nostalgia of a summer friendship? Years later, we can recall the sights, sounds, and smells of those endless summer days. In The Old Grey Dungeon, Timothy Wilkie returns to his beachside community to bury a friend and reminisces to the point where it feels real all over again. Alone with his thoughts, he’s haunted by memories of the past in an almost-deserted seaside community.

In A Drought For the Dead, Kirsten Baltz delivers a short shot of horror with witches, zombies, apocalyptic drought, and…hope for the future! It’s chilling, given the alarming rate in which our climate is changing…could this be us, 100 years from now? Despite the horror elements, I laughed out loud when I read Kirsten’s clever tale, and I’ve read it several times since.

Now, ants are a nuisance at a summer picnic, but be thankful you’ve never had to deal with ants like the ones in Gary Wosk’s The Raid. Poor fella can’t bring himself to kill the insect invaders…until they start to take over, and then all bets are off as to who will win the war. Gary’s visceral descriptions of the tiny predators will prompt even the most benevolent of pacifists to squash bugs that come too close.

Quick note about the Summer Special: this is my first ‘special’ since taking on the role of co-editor for specials, and wow, I have to admit I was knocked out by these stories and their authors. Thanks to Ray, Timothy, Kirsten, Gary and Ferdison for your superb submissions!

We’re still accepting stories for the Halloween and Christmas Specials so keep writing and submitting, and thanks again, everyone, for keeping us…Trembling.

Catherine Kenwell

Editor, Trembling With Fear

All good things must come to an end, such as the Summer which is in its final days. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Fall. It likely is my favorite season. 

However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to despise the winter and it is fast approaching. Thankfully, we’ll have some great stories to keep us going through the cold nights and help ease the ending of having the sun beat down on us all day long. 

Enjoy! 

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

A Drought for the Dead

Arica pushed open the patio door to join her husband in the oppressive heat of the California summer.  The birds whistled languished songs in the too-dry trees and in the distance, she could see the haze of the wildfires barreling down thirsty mountains.  Arica handed her husband a cup of iced coffee, envious of how cool his skin was even beneath the punishing sun.

“How are my two favorite witches doing this morning?” Andy asked, kissing Arica’s rounded stomach.

“Restless and in need of rest,” laughed Arica as their child kicked her bladder.

“I can’t wait to meet you, little girl.”

“Soon,” cooed Arica, “soon.”

“Could you call down some rain this morning?  The reservoir dried up last night, we have maybe two days of water for the cows in the cistern.”

Arica reached into the air around her, searching for any moisture.  The warm breezes crackled like lightening and reminded her of the bones of long-dead cows she would find in the pastures above their home.  Frowning, she sent her conscious further abroad, reaching toward the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Finding nothing she stretched to their peaks, where she found ancient snows.  She was ready to pick up the snows and drop them over the farm when she sensed them; little tornado spirits just waiting for an excuse to start ripping across the Midwest. A less considerate weather witch may have ignored them.  Arica sighed.

“I’m sorry, love. It looks like we will just have to make do for a while longer,” she said as she took Andy’s hand.

A sharp pain struck Arica’s stomach and she curled over in two.  She thought that she may have started contractions, but the smell of ozone suggested something else was happening. 

She slowly straightened. Her husband stood above her, looking confused.  All her senses were drawn to the end of their driveway where a shadowy silhouette stood.  Sensing her gaze, the figure stumbled toward them, its legs bent at painful angles and head lolling from side to side.

“Oh, not again,” Arica whispered.

As the figure limped closer she could see the bright red nails that dug the remains of the woman out of her own grave.  The see-through once-white dress left little to the imagination about the condition of the putrid flesh that lay beneath it.  The smell alone made her glad she was well out of the first trimester.

The corpse girl opened her mouth and a slurry of wet mud and greenery fell out. As it hit the patio a single small fish began to flop about.

Arica groaned in disgust. The mess!

“Baby girl found some water,” whooped Andy.

Arica looked at him like he had grown a second head, never mind that his actual head was heavily jeweled and in a lockbox beneath their bed.  A lich didn’t just keep his phylactery on his person.

“What? That much mud means water.”

As if understanding, the dead woman stumbled back in the direction she came from, Andy quick on her skin-bare heels.

Arica sighed and waddled after him, thinking of the strange complications of this pregnancy.

They followed the dripping corpse for nearly a mile through the dry forest. Sticks cracked under their feet.  Just as Arica was thinking of turning back, they came to an opening in the paper birches. Dead leaves circled a dark pit.  Without pause the woman threw herself into the hole and it was long seconds before they heard the plop that said she reached the bottom.

Andy whooped again and knelt to kiss Arica’s belly.

“Oh, who is my smart little necromancer? Oh yes, you are! My little girl!”

Arica shook her head. “This is your fault you know; she isn’t even born yet and she is already raising the dead.”

“Isn’t it wonderful,” exclaimed Andy, “she will be a force to be reckoned with!”

“We have to survive her first.”

“We can figure that out as we go.  First, we need the water.”

“The dead lady water?”

“Let’s go get some hoses, it shouldn’t bother the cows too much after we put her through a filter.”

Arica gagged a little to herself and hoped that storm forming over Hawaii would get there soon.

KB Baltz

KB Baltz was born in a Cosmic Hamlet by the Sea a month early and sideways. She has been doing things backward ever since. She is still new at this short story thing, but you can find her poetry in Inquietudes Literary Magazine and in “A Storm Glass Heart”.

I’m Still Here

The crow’s guts were tough. Dave wedged his teeth in between bone and sinew, but the rotten carcass wouldn’t budge. The briny air bathed his sun-bleached skin as clotted blood and maggots oozed down his chin. He snapped a tiny bone in his blackened maw and munched on feathers, meat, and gore. 

The waves rippled alongside his campfire and the earthen mound he sat beside. The flames spat onto his flesh, but Dave felt no warmth. Corrosive nausea consumed his mind. Soon, soon, soon, the words repeated in machine-gun succession.

The mound throbbed.

Caw, caw.

“They’ll come. They must come. I’m still here.”

Caw, caw.

“I know they’ll find me. Soon.”

Caw, caw.

Dave observed the moon as it crept away from an engorged cloud. He counted the stars and sketched constellations with the swipe of his fingers. For hours he watched the bright lights twinkle and for hours he waited. He waited, and he waited, the stars scintillated, their cold, dead light but a reminder of—the mound throbbed. 

“You know they’re dead,” he sighed heavily, “all of ‘em. Dead.”

 

#

 

Caw, caw.

“I’m hungry too.”

Caw, caw.

Dave trudged along his usual track. It was an unwieldy stretch of land flecked with deformed roots, vines, and trunks. The air was thick with fumes of sulfur, he was unable to wander for too long. Each footstep discharged a wail, each breath and blink wracked Dave’s nerves with malady.

The muck had worn holes into his once brown leather boots and stained the cowhide scarlet as he wandered with a gnarled stick in the shape of a spear. Dave whistled to pass the time but shuddered as the forest echoed his voice. It was a garbled mess of chords corrupted into a guttural hiss.

Caw, caw.

“Leave me alone!”

Caw, caw.

Dave passed an ebon stream that made no sound as he trudged through the sludge. With his spear-like stick, he aimed for a nimble streak that wove around his feet. He dipped and stabbed the water but was unable to prick the agile shadow. An effervescent boil belched onto his thighs and melted his taut flesh. The shadow dissipated.

Caw, caw.

His lips quivered and eyes watered. “Not again. I’m so hungry. I—I—not like—”

 

#

 

A toll ensnared Dave with a sense of dread as he lay by the crow’s decay. Blowflies dug into her marrow and mated amid pus. This was the harmony of the island and the symphony of his night. The mound once more.

Eyes shut, Dave fell into the marsh. His limbs, swallowed, his torso and neck, constricted. He couldn’t breathe nor could he open his eyes. His heart raced, Dave clenched his teeth as spines delved into his belly. No blood, no liquid, no tissue, the marsh boiled, popped, and clogged his pores and wounds with infected spores. Invaded, his body sundered as he was eaten from within. The marsh ingested Dave’s bones. His arm, still aloft, blackened, and crumbled into ash.

Caw, caw.

“Shut up!” Dave yelled and flicked sand onto the meatless crow. He knelt by her bones and fingered her beak. They came apart with ease.

#

 

Dave dredged bones, gold, and rusted metals as he scoured through the sandy, barren mesa. Not far from his campsite, the mesa was terribly warm, too warm considering the sky was still enveloped in shadows.

Dave snapped the crow’s beak together with his thumb and forefinger. With his other hand, he buried his fingers into the sand and threw aside more bones and gold. 

“We should take some back,” he muttered and unveiled a mildewed sack befouled with lice and weevils.

He looted a gem-encrusted chalice, some golden doubloons, an emerald ring with the finger still attached, and a skull with a dagger embedded by the temple.

He snapped his fingers together but there was still no answer. “Maybe it’ll be different once I go home. Maybe she’ ll—maybe she’ll—”

 

#

 

Dave sighed as he knelt by the trove, toes deep into the coarse grit. He lay over the mound as it throbbed yet again. The waves crashed but he was unable to blot out the mound’s pulsations. An oily shadow obscured the crow’s remains, the trove, and even Dave in a bitter arc of dimness. The jaw of the skull fragmented into shards as the shadow clasped onto the dagger.

“I’m here, I’m still here,” Dave cried atop the mound.

The shadow careened around his torso and pricked his gut with the dulled point. There was only a numbness as Dave fell by the fire.

The mound’s throbs turned into quakes.

“I’m still here. I’m still…here,” he mouthed and felt for his wound. There was no blood on his fingers, just waxy pus.

The shadow pricked him again and again. Sand, brine, and muck seeped from the punctures.

“They’ll find me. They…must.”

“Caw, caw,” the shadow’s tone wormed into Dave’s brain. “Caw, caw!”

A huff, Dave crawled towards the crow’s corpse. “Not…again.”

The shadow overwhelmed Dave and his trove and suffused him with guilt.

“I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be. I shouldn’t be.”

Caw, caw.

A woman’s voice chimed amid the wind, “But you are, aren’t you?”

The mound’s quakes grew unbearable, “But you are, aren’t you, Dave?”

Caw, caw.

Dave wept as the shadow lay by his side. A waifish hand sheathed him with a miasmic malaise. “I’m…still…here.”

The engorged clouds blotted out the island as Dave sunk into the sand alongside the crow, his trove, and the shadow. The waves crashed and thunder lashed the grit.

       Caw, caw.

“But I’m still…here,” Dave whispered as he sunk into the mound alongside his lover.

Dann Lewis

Dann Lewis hasa PhD in creative writing from Deakin University, Melbourne. His thesis was about writing cyberpunk fiction in the post-2010’s.

Dann has also been published in various magazines such as Aurealis, Phase 2 Magazine. and The Horror Zine. He is also a frequent contributor to Grimdark Magazine. You can follow Dann on Twitter here: DNN_Lewis.

The Old Grey Dungeon

     Day after day I sat on the front porch of my father’s seaside cottage, listening to the soothing kiss of the waves upon the shore. There was a cemetery on the hill behind the cottage that just two days ago I had put my best friend Terry in. Tomorrow the stone was to be delivered and I would have a decision to make. I would have to decide if I was going to stay here on the island or go back to my cramped flat in Boston.

      Terry had been fighting cancer for almost a year and I had spent a lot of time commuting between the island and Boston, burning the candle at both ends so to speak. As much as I loved her there was a part of me that was relieved that she wasn’t suffering anymore.

     The last two days I had spent a lot of time walking the beach. It was late September so the summer tourists were long gone, and I had the rugged shoreline pretty much to myself.  I would walk along the beach, climbing over boulders and listening to the sharp cries of the seagulls.  I was really in no hurry to return to Boston there was nothing for me there.

     Most of the houses I passed along the shore were empty. All the houses were solidly built with unpainted shingles that had turned silver from the salt and surf. I was suddenly distracted by a movement up by the cemetery. There was a little girl standing by the gate wearing a black hooded sweaty, and as I watched her she turned and gave me a kind of a half-wave. She looked to be no more than ten or eleven and I wondered who she was and where she had come from. I walked slowly up towards her but she turned and ran away evaporating in the cold gray mist that seemed to encompass the island in autumn.

     I walked down the beach a ways and then cut up towards the old Truman place. When it was first built it had been the ultra-modern beach house of the future now twenty years later it looked old and beaten like all the rest of the houses. I was eleven when the Trumans first moved in. Mister Truman had been a lawyer in Boston and they had, had a daughter Terry just my age.  We became the best of friends and even dated for a brief time in our teens. However the whole boy-girl thing effected our friendship in a negative way so we went back to being best friends.  

      We kept in touch for a while after high school, but as old friends often do we slowly were erased from each other’s lives as new circles of friends were formed. The old seemed to fade away with a whisper not a scream. It wasn’t until she returned to the island with cancer that we got together again. 

      Her father had suffered a stroke and lived his last few years in a nursing home in Salem and her mother maintained the house alone until about five years ago when she died of a massive heart attack. They had both been laid to rest in the island cemetery. Both of my parents were long gone too and placed neatly up on the hill with the Trumans. Terry had no one to take care of her, just an empty house with a lot of memories.  Life had thrown me one disappointing business deal after another until I

found myself on the balls of my ass, depending on my inheritance to bail me out. Terry had sworn she’d never come back and that her future lay far from this cold, misty island in New England, as far as I knew she didn’t, not to visit her parents or even drop in on the holidays until she got sick. 

      Looking out at the ocean I found myself thinking about Terry and how much I missed her. It had been nice to have a best friend that I could share all my secrets with when I was growing up.

      Under overcast skies, I walked along the beach towards the Truman house and climbed the wooden stairs from the beach to the house and looked in the glass doors. I was just checking to make sure everything was secure, doors were locked and windows were closed that sort of thing. With their whole family gone the estate would either go into probate or to some distant asshole relation. Either way my work was done here. I had cleaned up the house and covered the furniture and sadly this part of my life was over.

      I was just about to leave when I decided to walk around the house one last time. I walked around the side admiring the construction. It really was a beautiful design. I pushed on the front door and to my surprise it swung open. Popping my head inside I hollered, “hello!” All I heard back was that hollow empty sound that all vacant houses possess.

      I don’t know why but I opened the door the rest of the way and stepped inside. I got this strange feeling the minute I did. My entire being was filled with her sweet essence. It was as if Terry had been here all along and had never left. I got a lump in my throat and I started to tear up.

      There was what had served as a living room off to my right and I remembered Mrs. Truman had used it just to entertain guests. We kids were never allowed to play in there. Now it seemed empty and bare without a heart or soul.

       With the sofa and piano gone, not to mention the huge marble coffee table that Terry used to brag about how expensive it was, it was just a room. The plush white carpet was still there but it didn’t look quite so plush anymore.

        I walked down the hall to the kitchen and looked out the double glass doors in the dining-room. The ocean waves crashed on the shore down below. When I opened them the gulls were crying out like they did when a storm was coming. I wiped the tears from my eyes with my shirtsleeve and wondered why I had let it all slip away. I had, had the true meaning of happiness in my hands and I had let it all slip away like grains of sand through my fingers.

       As I stepped out on the deck I could see and feel it all– the mellow sun of a late summer’s day and the smell of hamburgers cooking on the grill while Terry and I played chasing games on the beach with her golden retriever Marley. It was all there, all I had had to do was hold on and I didn’t, or couldn’t.  I don’t know which one was sadder. I knew it was time to go so I stepped back inside, closing and locking the patio doors behind me. I double checked the front door before I left to make sure it was locked this time.  On the way back to the cottage the seagulls screeched as they swooped down low over my head.

      Just after midnight I woke suddenly to the sound of a child’s laughter. Before I was fully awake I jumped off the couch and was looking all around totally disoriented. By the time I realized that I was probably dreaming I was wide awake. I stumbled toward the kitchen in the dark and poured myself a glass of milk and stood out on the deck watching this thick gray fog roll in.

     The laughter had been so real it was hard for me to accept it was just a dream. I turned and looked up the beach towards the Truman house. Of course it was concealed completely by the fog but suddenly I thought I saw someone walking on the beach. As I stared out at the figure my eyes straining for more detail the wind began to blow and the fog cleared there was no one there.

      My thoughts wandered back to the little girl by the gates of what we kids use to call the Old Grey Dungeon. At one time long, long, ago there had been a fortress on the island to protect the mainland. When they started digging graves up there they dug up the stone foundation.  Terry and I had played up there by the hour. We had pretended that she was a princess and I was her knight in shining armor, there to protect her from the monsters; but the real monsters in life were never that simple. We had named it the Old Grey Dungeon.

      The next day I watched them set her stone. When the two guys were finished they both just kind of stood there waiting like they were expecting something so I tipped them each twenty bucks. They both looked at me kind of funny as they were leaving but I didn’t know. Was there an admission charge to the Old Grey Dungeon now?

      “The gates of the Old Grey Dungeon had taken another soul,” I whispered. I didn’t know where the words had come from but Terry had said it often when we were kids.

      I sighed and stood up from the concrete bench at her grave-side. Sorrow could be a lonely place especially here on the island. I thought of the words to Taxi by Harry Chapin.

 

                                                                     She was going to be an actress,

                                                                    And I was going to learn to fly.

 

     But she had learned to fly first on the wings of the angels.

     “Wow! Where did that come from?” I thought.

     Later I threw a couple of Hot Pockets in the microwave and was sitting on the steps leading down to the beach having my dinner. The stars glittered overhead like precious jewels. It was one of those perfect September nights when it was still warm enough to be outside and star gaze.  Back in Boston you never got to see the stars unless you went to one of the shows. Terry and I had sat on these very steps and looked up at these very stars wondering what the future had in store for us.

     Suddenly it was as if she was sitting on the steps next to me.  It was like my senses were filled with her essence. A wonderful, magical, merry-go-round of her swirling around me like a twister, but then the merry-go-round began to slow down to a stop and a feeling came over me as if I was lost in a huge labyrinth of shadows. I became frightened of the darkness that surrounded me, and started to shake all over as a cold wind skipped across the waves turning them into whitecaps that relentlessly pounded the shore.

“It’s me, Terry,” a voice whispered in my ear and in the true spirit of the chase games we played on the beach so many years ago the voice whispered, “come and find me.”

Timothy Wilkie

Timothy Wilkie is an author living in Kingston New York. He has two grown sons and a Golden Retriever named Marley. He is active in the local music scene as a folk singer.

The Raid

As I waited for the nurses to wheel me into the operation room for surgery on my mutilated right arm, a reporter from the Los Angeles Time suddenly appeared by my bedside. I don’t know how he got past security, but here he was. He wanted the full scoop.

“Okay, but I only have about twenty minutes,” I said.

“Can you give it to me in fifteen?”

That’s fine.”

With that, I began to describe the events that led up to the surgery I was about to have. 

It was an unusually hot summer in Los Angeles and the ants desperately needed water and they would do anything to quench their thirst. 

I discovered the little pests inside the bathtub, an undulating mass of red. The predators were stacked on top of each other. They must have numbered in the thousands. Soon, my wife, Karen, and I were sure they’d figure out how to climb over the top of the porcelain lip and begin colonizing our home, leaving it uninhabitable for humans.

A lover of science fiction and horror films, clips of giant ants from the movie “Them!” began flashing through my mind. Granted the ants in our house were small, but clustered together, this species was a formidable force.

Karen and I needed to eradicate them soon or we’d be forced to take up residence in a hotel and hire an exterminator. We knew one, but first we’d give it a try. Why pay someone hundreds of dollars, or even more, if we could do it ourselves.

So, we fought back. We had first dibs on the house. 

“What are we going to do?” asked my wife. 

I handed the can of Raid to her. No, I was not a Buddhist, but my natural inclination was to relocate uninvited guests such as these to their outside insect world. She had no qualms about carrying out annihilating the nuisances. She was experienced. A real trouper. Still, there was no denying the fact, I was an accomplice to mass murder. I was concerned we had created bad karma.

Karen lightly pulled the trigger of the Raid spray can twice. The ants didn’t know what hit them. There they were, motionless, ready to be washed down the drain with the turn of the faucet, a task I volunteered Michelle for as well.

Since we were now in the business of pest control, the perfectionist in me came out.

“There, Karen, you missed one.”

“You’re a big help. Thanks. I should make you do it.”

Suddenly I had a flashback. It occurred to me that I’d seen these particular ants before. Yes! The ficus trees in the backyard. A tree trimmer we’d hired destroyed their hiding place located in four-foot tall thicket of tiny twigs. Not only were they thirsty for water, but also revenge.

After the bathtub incident, every morning, from then on, we’d check the inside and outside of the house for any signs of the ants mounting a new offensive. They were few and far between. A spray here and a spray there did the trick. Amazing, “Peace in our time,” as England’s prime minister, Neville Chamberlin, said many years ago. Was he ever wrong, and so were we. 

One night when I had awakened to use the bathroom, my right arm also was itching like crazy. The culprit was an ant that was strolling along my forearm. I wasn’t going to wake up Michelle for this simple execution. Surely, I could handle one ant. I showed it no mercy and swatted it to kingdom come.

As I walked down the hallway I was shocked by the sight of hundreds of thousands of ants gallivanting around. Some had also taken to the air. The ants were everywhere. I could feel the antennae of the drones brushing against my skin as they flew by. What type of freakish hybrid of ants were these? Was this their D-Day? Were the bombardiers getting ready to drop some type of deadly insect acid on their enemy? My imagination was running wild.

I called out to my wife.

“Karen, quick, wake up. The ants are back and they can fly too!” 

No answer. She was sound asleep. I tried to wake her by gently shaking her shoulders, but she remained unresponsive. With no time to spare, I’d have to destroy the invaders all by myself. Maybe Karen would consider me a brave domestic hero. I wouldn’t expect a decoration. A nice home-cooked meal would be just fine. 

Wearing slippers, I quickly made my way into the laundry room, trying the best I could not to slip on the one-inch high pile of ants which had grown in size substantially since I had last seen them. If I had to take a wild guess, they must have one quarter of an inch in length. The damn drones targeted my right arm and stung me over and over again, incensed that I had squished their larvae. I reached into the cabinet and grabbed the can of Raid bug spray. It was empty. What else could I fight them back with? I tried a plastic bottle of Windex, which surprisingly worked well until it went dry too. One hundred ants down, and hundreds of thousands more to go!

I didn’t know what to do. I broke out into cold sweat. I needed more ammunition and Karen’s help as well. “Karen, you have to wake up. Ants, ants, everywhere!” I was hyperventilating.

Her eyes slowly opened.

“What’s all the commotion about, Benjamin?” she weakly said.

“Ants, ants. Everywhere! There’s probably a million of them!”

“You can handle it,” she babbled. “Leave me alone. I want to sleep.”

“Sweetie pie, please. They’re in the bedroom, about to climb into bed with you.”

“I need a vacation. I need to get away,” she mumbled.

Fine then, I thought as I stormed off. If she wasn’t going to lift a finger, then she couldn’t complain when she found herself covered from head to toe with the little monsters.

“Okay, I’m just letting you know,” I whispered into her ear.

With the Raid and Windex all gone, I decided to dress quickly and drive to the twenty-four-hour local market, however, there were too many ants on my jeans and shirt, so I decided to stay in my pajamas.

 “Ahem, excuse me sir,” said the market manager.

“Yes, what is it?”

“Do you realize that you’re still in your pajamas?”

“And?” I wasn’t in the mood for a lecture.

“Well, it against our dress code policy.”

“Well, I don’t give a fuck about your dress code policy.

“Excuse me. That’s no way to talk. You don’t want me to call security, do you?”

“Since when do markets have dress codes.”

“It’s an unwritten rule, but I find your choice of attire to be very offensive. Our shoppers tend to be very conservative, even at this time of the day.”

I was nearly at the end of my rope. I contemplated knocking him senseless, but then I would have been arrested and the ants would have won. And what would have happened to my dear wife?

“I’ll just be a few minutes. I have an emergency at home. I’m in a rush, that’s why I’m wearing pajamas,” I said.

He continued to read me the riot act which was taking up some valuable time. At this pace, I didn’t know what I’d find when I arrived home.

After warning me for   umpteenth time not to ever return to the market in pajamas, I was finally able to find what I came looking for. Several cans of Raid. My trip to the market had taken longer than expected. The chitty-chatty checker for the ten items or less lane exacerbated matters even more. She was as slow as molasses, which, thankfully, we didn’t have at home.

Getting back into the house proved to be a chore. I know it sounds crazy, but the ants somehow had barricaded themselves inside. I feared my wife was in mortal danger. I shouldn’t have left her alone. I climbed in through a window.

“Karen, Karen, get dressed. You need to leave the house.”

She was still peacefully asleep.

“Karen! What’s wrong with you?” I screamed. “Damn it. Wake up.”

That’s when I awakened from one of the worst nightmares of my life. Thank God, there were no ants. What a relief.

It was the crack of dawn. Time to get up anyway and get ready for work. My God, I hoped I wouldn’t have the same dream the next night. Maybe someone spiked my food at the deli with marijuana, which caused the nightmare. It all seemed so real.

I turned to my wife who was on her side. 

“Good morning, Karen. Are you awake?”

No answer.

I tried again and again.

Finally, I gently rolled her over. She felt cold to my touch. 

There were black holes where her eyes used to be. The flesh from her cheeks had been gnawed away, leaving blood vessels and other jelly-like innards exposed. I shrieked in horror.

If only I hadn’t been delayed at the market, I could have saved her. 

And then I felt a shooting pain along the length of my right arm. And there she stood, on my shriveled right arm, proud and powerful, the Queen Ant. At one-half inches in length, she had a hearty appetite and satiated it by feverishly chewing and digesting my flesh, picking my hypodermis layer of skin clean, exposing an   only a coroner would be familiar with. She was now holding and nibbling on miniscule pieces of gooey tendon, and sipping on driblets of my blood to wash down the meat.

“Damn it   hell! Get off of me you filthy ants,” I screamed.

With the palm of my left hand, I flattened the Queen. So much for my Buddhist tendencies. That’s when the angry drones arrived, diving toward me from all directions.

I ran outside the house in my pajamas. There was nothing I could do about Karen.

I frantically knocked on the next-door neighbor’s front door.

“Help,” I yelled in panic. There’s ants in my house and they’ve killed Karen.”

He seemed completely underwhelmed. Maybe he had just smoked a joint.

“And she was such a sweet woman. Jeez, Louise, and I thought we were the only ones that had the ant problem,” said Jim. “Man, you’re dripping blood all over the place. It looks like something’s been chewing on your arm.”

“That’s a fair assessment.”

You stay outside. Let me get you a few band-aids.”

I didn’t know what world he was living in. As if a few band aids were going to do the trick.

“Just call an ambulance!” I implored him.  “We’ll worry about the band-aids later.

I have to go now. My gurney ride is here. They’re ready to sew me up. Later on, I’ll undergo an MRI to see if any of the ants are inside my body. I told the doctors that something was crawling in my stomach. They suspect that the bastards started a colony in my gastronomical tract. A blood test revealed that my blood sugar levels were too low, but that it probably wasn’t Type 2 Diabetes.

“It’s time to go, Benjamin,” the nurse informed me. 

“Sorry, if you have any additional questions, come back to the hospital tomorrow.”

That’s some story, Benjamin,” the reporter said. “Before they wheel you off, can I take a few photographs?”

“Of what?”

“The arm.”

“Sure, but the paper would never print something like that, would they?”

“Probably not, but I collect grisly photographs which I share with my colleagues. They think I’m crazy. I’ve always had a morbid curiosity about these types of things.”

I shrugged my head.

And now, as they move me into the operating room, my thoughts are of poor Karen. She was a great wife. My life will never be the same without her. I’m also thinking about Joe Bullock. I had warned the exterminator about going into the home alone. All that was left of him was a shrunken head and ants traveling in and out of his nostrils, mouth and ears. What a way to go.

After I’m released from the hospital, I’ll go live with my brother. My house is no more.

“We’re sorry, Benjamin, but your house is unsalvageable. The only way to stop the ants is set it house ablaze,” said an official with the Los Angeles County Department of Vector Control.

As I said earlier, bad karma.

Gary Wosk

Gary Wosk mostly writes creep science fiction/horror and fantasy short stories and introspective essays about real life situations. The former newspaper reporter and transit agency spokesperson currently works in the field of media relations. He lives in North Hills, California with his wife Mina and Australian Cattle Dog Shelley.

The Ring Toss Stand

“Hey there, lassy,” said the thin, mustached man at the ring toss stand. He wore a wide-brimmed hat, tan with a red stripe along its base. “The booth’s booming with winners today. Only five dollars for five rings. Ten dollars for fifteen. Want to win your sister a prize?”

“No,” the young girl said, “for me!” With playful giddiness, she hopped, arms flapping at her sides like a bird, pink slip-ons bouncing in the dirt and kicking up dust. She wore a bright, yellow T-shirt underneath denim overalls. Her mother stood behind her with arms crossed against a plain blue dress.

“Good,” the man said with a grin that foregrounded his mustache. He bent over and spoke in a hushed tone to the girl. “That big fella – the one right over there with the black fur and floppy ears – he saw you walking by and told me to try my darndest in getting you to play. He wants you to bring him home.” The prize, who sat between a divergent cast from centaurs to dinosaurs, was a stuffed dog. His eyes glinted blue. To the mother-daughter pair, he looked like their black lab, Cal, who passed away the previous year.

“Dogs don’t talk.”

“This one does.” The man winked at the girl before straightening and raising his voice once more. “So, will you be wanting five or fifteen?”

No one else was tossing rings at the booth. The whole area lay deserted, untouched in its remote corner of the carnival save for two teal porta potties. The mother and daughter had discovered the ring toss stand behind the large “May’s Mirror Maze” tent after locating the nearby toilets.

“We haven’t decided if we’re getting any rings yet,” the mother said.

“Please, mommy! Please.” The girl tugged at her mother’s purse, then put on a large smile—fake but endearing—with eyes closed and mouth agape revealing rows of miniature teeth.

“Alright, fine.” The mother took a wallet out of her purse and drew a five-dollar bill. She handed it to the man, who, after pocketing the payment, grabbed five rings from underneath the booth’s counter. The rings were brightly colored: two yellow, two blue, one red.

The man handed the rings over to the girl. They looked just wide enough to fit over the glass bottles populating the center of the ring toss stand. The girl set the rings on the counter and picked up a yellow one.

“Good luck,” the man said with his mustache-grin. Then, his face turned dour. “If you miss all five, you die.”

“What?” the girl said.

“Hey,” the mother snapped, “that’s not funny! She’s just a kid.” The man shrugged. The mother wanted to take her daughter and leave, but she had already paid. Another part of her wanted to confront the man further, going so far as to demand a word with his manager, but she didn’t want to be that kind of mother (not here, not in front of her daughter). In the end, she stayed. “It’s okay, sweetie. He was just joking.”

“Oh.” The girl’s look of confusion morphed into a baby-toothed smile once more. She looked up at the man for confirmation, but his face remained grim, stone-like in its stillness. A crow cawed somewhere in the distance.

Like a slot machine lever, the girl threw the yellow ring overhand into the tent. It bounced off one bottle near the center, then another, and another, until finally sliding between two green glass bottles. The man stood in the corner of the ring toss stand with his hands linked at the waist. His face remained unfazed.

“Ah, man,” the girl said. “Mommy, I missed!”

“It’s okay, sweetie. You still have four tries.” The mother gave her daughter the placating smile that all mothers knew. Grey clouds gathered above. “Hurry, though. It looks like it’s about to rain.”

This time, the girl picked up a blue ring and tossed it underhand. The ring propelled so high that it nipped the Black Lab and fell to the dirt-covered ground inside the booth.

With a sudden shift, the thin, mustached man jumped to the booth’s counter with arms splayed and hands gripping the outer-edge. He recited a rhyme—each scheme emphasized by pitch, each word pressed through a gritted grin.

“Five rings were started for fun, but moods may change when the game is done.

You had four rings, but here’s one in the dirt. Let’s hope that no one gets hurt.

Now three is the number left to throw. Make one count, and the girl may go.”

The girl giggled and clapped.

“More! More!”

The man, no longer fanciful but again grim, had already crept back into his corner.

“Let’s go,” the mother said as she pushed on the small of the girl’s back to leave.

“No! I still have three rings left.”

“You have three throws remaining,” the man said. His voice was now monotone. “The contract is bound.”

The mother ignored him. “Hurry up, then, sweetie. Throw the rings and let’s go.”

The girl picked up the other blue ring and held it with both hands close to her chest. She smiled and peered up at her mother, then threw the ring overhand into the boxed enclosure of glass bottles. It clinked and clanked until finally clunking outside the box altogether, where it joined the preceding blue ring on the ground.

“Ah, I missed it again,” the girl said as she drooped into an over-dramatic slump.

The mother contemplated the rings on the ground: each was blue, each had missed its mark, each had landed atop the dirt in nearly the same spot. She scanned the rest of the booth; no other rings littered the ring toss stand ground.

A flash of lightning shot across the grey-clouded sky and thunder cracked. The girl jumped. Soon after, her look of surprise transformed into one of wonder and awe.

“Whoa,” she cooed. “Mommy, did you see that? Did you see the lightning?”

The man stood still in his corner like a gargoyle. He stared at the mother and daughter in waiting.

“Come on, now.” The mother’s voice had a slight tinge of panic. “Hurry up.”

The girl skipped from her mother to the counter where the two remaining rings—one yellow, one red—lay. After eyeing each, she picked up the yellow ring and, stepping into the throw with her right foot, thrust it at the glass bottles. The ring bee-lined toward a bottle, where, despite the lack in altitude, appeared on track to connect with success. The mother’s heart fluttered. The man, who broke his stillness for a brief moment, raised his bushy, salt-and-peppered eyebrows. The velocity of the ring, however, proved too much. It hit the round, cap-less opening—even going so far as to travel an inch down the bottleneck—then reverberated off and fell into an abyss between the glass bottles.

“Shoot!” The girl stomped her foot. “It bounced right off. Did you see?”

“Yes. One more, hurry now.” The mother’s distress leaked through in her voice. She glanced around with evident nervousness. Rain trickled onto the carnival grounds and a murder of crows sat atop the mirror maze tent. With a swift motion, the man leaned over the ring toss counter. Once more, his demeanor contorted. The mustache-grin—now appearing unnatural, grotesque even—grew broader than before while his voice pitched higher on every word.

“With two to go, you almost made the throw.

But now there’s one; the danger grew. Miss again, and he’ll kill you.”

Just as before, the man slunk back into the ring toss corner. He was a gargoyle again, a maleficent sentinel over the mother and daughter.

“Mommy,” the girl whimpered, “I’m scared. Can we go home?”

“Yes — yes, baby. Let’s go.”

The mother attempted to grab her daughter, who stood close by the ring toss stand’s counter. She instead tripped with hands flailing in the air. The mother remained grounded as her top half fell forward and her face met the shackles binding her down. Sprung from the soil, earthy tendrils wrapped around her and her daughter’s feet. They looked like enlarged roots of condensed dirt.

“What the hell is going on?” the mother sputtered.

“I can’t reach you,” the girl said. She stretched her arms, hands grasping air, fingers straining. She cried.

“Let us leave,” the mother said at the man while struggling against the tendrils. “Whatever carnival trick this is, it isn’t funny!”

“You have one throw remaining,” the man said to the girl. “The contract is bound.”

“What contract?” the mother demanded. “You’re deranged — I didn’t sign any contract.”

The man, reaching into the canvas pouch that hung from his waist, held up the five-dollar bill.

“My cousin’s a lawyer! He’s civil litigation — he’ll shut this place down, I promise you.” The mother gasped for air. “He’ll do it. It’ll be paying my bills till I’m in the ground.”

“That might not be too long,” the man said.

The crows fluttered and cawed as more perched atop the mirror maze tent. The birds all faced the ring toss stand. From an adjacent corn field, a group of people in the distance walked towards the stand.

“Help!” the mother screamed. “Please, help us! This man is crazy!” The group did not react, but walked on. The mother shouted again and again. As the figures drew nearer, the mother eyed them with a look of familiarity: a mannish woman who wore a yellow and pink polka-dotted dress, a hairless, muscular man in a black leotard, and twins, conjoined at the hip, who shared a ripped and ragged grey gown. They were the carnival workers. The mother-daughter pair had seen them throughout the fair.

The group—unaffected by the screams of the mother and sobbing of the girl—moved methodically toward the ring toss stand. More figures emerged elsewhere. A dwarf with a thick beard, flannel shirt, and blue ripped jeans strode in from one side of the mirror maze tent, while a clown, face painted white with enlarged blue eye paint, came around the other side. The clown had an orange poof of permed hair, a rainbow jumpsuit, and tiny, bare feet. From in between the porta potties, a skin-and-bone girl with a crooked nose slithered through.

One-by-one, the carnival workers emerged into view of the ring toss stand as each one marched onward. All of them stopped together. They formed a circle around the ring toss stand. Each person stood with the same blank, motionless presence, until, like a choir of Tibetan monks, a low, guttural hum emitted from the mouth of each figure. In unison, they harmonized into one ominous requiem.

The mother wanted to tell her daughter that she loved her very much, but she could not form the words.

“I want to go home,” the girl said, half to her mother and half to the man.

“You have one throw remaining,” he said. “The contract is bound.”

Barely able to reach the final ring, the girl stretched her arm forward and fiddled the object into reach with the tips of her fingers. After a struggle, she grasped it in her small hand.

The girl leaned forward, snapped at the elbow, and flicked her wrist as if tossing a frisbee. The ring left her hand and glided toward the glass bottles.

Every eye shadowed its path.

The cacophony of chants, blocking out all other noise around the ring toss stand, rose to a crescendo. With his hat now off and crumpled against his chest, the thin, mustached man—bald head riddled with tattooed markings in a foreign script—bit his lower lip.

The mother fainted.

#

When she regained consciousness, the mother found herself slumped in a rusted fold-up chair beside the ring toss stand. Her mouth was dry and she felt weak. In the grass field a few yards away, her daughter danced around with a large stuffed animal. It was the Black Lab.

“Baby—”

The girl spun around and skipped over with the dog wrapped in her arms.

“Mommy, look! I won! I won the big doggie.” She let out a giggle and shoved the dog in her mother’s lap. It’s fur felt soft, almost real. “You fell and the ring toss man helped you into that chair. Are you okay, Mommy? You hit the ground pretty hard.” She tugged against the neckline of her bright, orange shirt.

“Yes — sure, sweetie. But…” The mother looked around. The carnival workers were gone and the only noise was the chirping of some sparrows overhead. “But, the —”

“Ah, I see you’re finally awake, m’am. You took quite the tumble after walking over here. Must’ve been the heat, I say.” The man pointed to the clear sky, which spread bright sunshine all around them. “Your daughter turned all sour — a tad scared even — but she was mighty brave. So, I gave her five throws on the house! And, what do you know, she just went on up and won that big doggie there.”

“Yeah, Mommy,” the daughter chimed in. “Just like Cam!”

“Cam?”

A sharp shout drew the mother’s attention towards the mirror maze tent, but it was just a surprised little boy. The clown had surprised him with a jump, so the boy yelped and ran off. Then, the clown turned around and caught the mother’s gaze. He smiled and sent her a wave, his palm rigid, his fingers rippling in rapid fashion. The mother’s head felt dizzy. She needed water.

“Oh…well, thank you, sir. Sweetie, let’s go back. Mommy has a headache.”

“Thanks again, Mister! Buh-bye!” The girl waved the Black Lab’s paw in the air toward the man, then walked away hand-in-hand with her mother.

The thin, mustached man stood still in his stand. Underneath the ring toss counter, a little hand poked out from the shadows. Connected to the little hand was a little body, clothed in a little yellow T-shirt and little denim overalls. The man nudged the limp hand back into the darkness with his foot. Against the mother-daughter pair, he held a steady gaze, transfixed on the dog, who the girl now carried over her shoulder like a baby. Its eyes burned a deep blood-red.

“Another sacrifice lay here at my feet. The master’s journey is almost complete.”

Ray Beer

Ray Beer originates from the exotic suburban landscape of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where he grew up participating in such American pastimes as bowling (except on Sabbath), “hanging out” at the mall, and attending local dive bars, of which he definitely did not get kicked out. Ray graduated from Penn State at University Park with a degree in Information Sciences & Technology, so it only makes sense that he now aspires to write speculative fiction. Currently, he resides in Arlington, Virginia.

5 Unforgettable, Must-Visit New York City Destinations!

Now I’m no NYC native, but I’ve got family there and I visit them every chance I get. With them as my guides I’ve seen parts of the city that you couldn’t find in a thousand tourist-trap guidebooks. Here’s a couple of my favorite places to eat, walk around, or just hang out!

  1. THE HIGH LINE

Yeah, yeah, I know what I said. “Can’t find it in a guidebook.” So what if a bunch of you already know about this place? If I teach just one person something new, convince just one person to spend more time in New York City, I consider that time well spent. The High Line was a dilapidated, crumbling railway, and now it’s one of the most startling and innovative parks on the planet. And something about nature taking this place back from mankind, right in the heart of the city, really speaks to me. Check it out!

  1. GRAY’S PAPAYA

Also not exactly a secret. Gray’s Papaya has been featured in movies and television alike as one of the best eateries in New York. There’s two of these, both fantastic, but I like the one in Midtown better. You’ll have to try ‘em both to be sure, but I promise you that you won’t regret it! Without exaggeration I can tell you that these are some of the best hot dogs in the United States. Nothing beats a Gray’s Papaya hot dog at 2 A.M. when you’re staggering back home from a night out. Fatten yourself up! We won’t regret it.

  1. JEFFERSON MARKET GARDEN

A perfect place to relax or just take in the atmosphere. It’s a wonder how this place never seems to have too many people in it at once. Colors riot as flowers bloom, especially in the springtime. The surrounding neighborhood has been fighting for and maintaining this place for decades. You can really feel the love they’ve poured into this place. Jefferson Market Garden is an oasis of calm amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, and you owe it to yourself to experience not just New York’s famous restlessness, but all its tranquilities as well.

Experience everything. You must remember to experience everything.

  1. OLD CITY HALL STATION

If you know what you’re looking for, you can find ways to go even deeper beneath New York than any subway ever has. The New York City we see today is a product of hundreds of years of expansion, not only upwards but downwards, into the earth. It’s a paradise for urban explorers. There are lower levels that are hundreds of years old, and when you stand in them you can feel the weight of the entire city in the air, pressing down upon you. You can almost hear the foundations of the city creak.

 

Doesn’t that sound fun?

 

In any case, before your tour starts be sure to check out the rest of the New York Transit Museum! I know it’s a name that might have already put you to sleep, but it’s way more interesting than you think, I promise. A tour through New York’s subway stations is a tour through a century of American architecture, ingenuity, and innovation. Don’t pass up this chance to see what really makes the world go round. So come on down.

 

If you dare!

 

Haha, I’m kidding. Obviously.

 

Just kidding.

  1. CATHEDRAL OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE

One of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world. Worth a visit, even if you’re not religious. Of particular note are the Chapels of the Tongues, seven chapels built in different regional styles, meant to represent the ethnicities most common in New York City during the construction of the cathedral.

 

You know, this place actually wasn’t the easiest to recommend. My family has an old, old history of Christian persecution, and St. John’s is just one big reminder. It’s a painful place for them. But not for me. For me, beauty overshadows pain. The peals of that organ rippling up and down those high cathedral walls are a sound that will be forever etched into my mind.

 

Have you sinned recently? Hell, have you sinned ever? Don’t lie. Of course you have. While you’re here, take this opportunity to confess.

 

Come on, you’ll feel better! Just talking about your problems helps, sometimes. Get that weight off your shoulders.

 

You should purify yourself for what is to come. Where I come from, purity matters a great deal.

 

Purify yourself.

Please.

  1. ROOSEVELT ISLAND SMALLPOX HOSPITAL

Yes, they are ruins. No, that does not make them any less beautiful, or any less worthy of your attention. It is a magnificent place.

 

Smallpox often ravaged the immigrants who poured into New York in the early twentieth century, and those desperate attempts to keep the disease confined to one tiny part of New York gave birth to this hospital, erected and then left to ruin.

 

Left to ruin, perhaps, but not to memory. Oh, how my family has a long memory.

 

“The Smallpox Hospital could easily become the American equivalent of the great Gothic ruins of England,” writes the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and standing among these overgrown walls you will see that you have no choice but to agree. Here you walk on truly hallowed ground. Not St. John’s, no. Never St. John’s. Here.

 

Here, where masses of vines crack the foundations and split the stonemasonry and threaten to bring down the very walls themselves. Here, where the air still reeks faintly of blackened lesions and rancid pus. In the subways you witnessed the lifeblood that courses through the veins of New York. Here you will face death.

 

It is truly a magnificent place. And you want nothing more than to visit it.

You want to visit the hospital.

 

You want to visit the hospital. You want to visit the hospital. You want to visit the hospital. You want to visit the hospital. You want to visit the hospital. You want to visit the hospital you want to visit the hospital you want to visit the hospital you want to visit the hospital you want to visit the hospital you want to visit the hospital.

 

And more importantly, you want to break the rusted lock on the trapdoor in the corner of the basement, and use that ladder to climb down into the darkness, down, down, down, down down down down down…

  1. ATLANTIC AVENUE SUBWAY TUNNEL

They don’t let people down here. Not anymore.

 

But that won’t stop you, will it?

 

Here, at last, is the most hidden place in all of New York City. The most secret place. And it will itch at you, won’t it, that you’ll never get to see it, really see it, with your own two eyes. Curiosity will overwhelm you. That is an unarguable fact, set in concrete. In a month’s time, a year’s, a decade’s, it does not matter to us. We’ve waited far, far longer between meals.

 

We wait, because we know that the urge to see the subway tunnel that runs beneath Atlantic Avenue will become greater than even the urge to preserve your own life.

 

You will descend into the depths and into madness. You will cut padlocks and trample fences and wade through sewage as New York groans over your head, searching for us at the bottom of the world.

 

And you will find us.

 

We are here. We have always been here.

 

And we are so very hungry.

Ferdison Cayetano

Ferdison Cayetano is a current student at the College of William & Mary, where he contributes to The Botetourt Squat and is majoring in computer science. He lives in New Jersey, but he would very, very much like for you to visit New York City. 
 
You can find more of his writing at https://www.quora.com/profile/Ferdison-Cayetano, or if you want to give him a real job, his LinkedIn can be found at https://www.linkedin.com/in/fbcayetano/

No Mercy

Summer shakes its death rattle; breathes one final humid breath. Around the towering straw man the village children dance. The girls wear red, the boys blue. Red signifies their ripening into women.

“Come hither, child.” Mistress Jouncy places a gnarled hand upon each sun blonded head. “This be your husband, this be your wife. Pair bonded.”

No one leaves the village. If they do, it’s whispered, the monsters beyond devour them.

Only one girl remains; thin, sickly.

Mercy, her mother named her, in desperation.

The straw man scoops up the offering, mouth ripping open, gaping.

Insects pour onto Mercy’s flesh.

Alyson Faye

Alyson lives in West Yorkshire with her husband, teen son and 4 rescue animals. She has been a teacher, a carer, a road safety instructor and a lifetime film buff. Currently she teaches creative writing workshops and writes dark fiction, both short (flash) and long. Her short stories have appeared in print in the anthologies, Women in Horror Annual 2, Stories from Stone, DeadCades:The Infernal Decimation, Coffin Bell Journal 1 and Crackers. Her debut flash fiction collection, Badlands, was published in January 2018 by indie publisher, Chapel Town Books and her own Trio of Terror – Supernatural Tales (all set in Yorkshire) came out in December 2018. Her flash fiction has appeared in several charity anthologies and can be heard on several podcasts. Her fiction has won, or been shortlisted in several competitions.

Her latest horror story is out as an ebook from Demain publishing, on amazon, Night of the Rider.

Her blog is at www.alysonfayewordpress.wordpress.com.

Her amazon author is at https://www.amazon.co.uk/l/B01NBYSLRT and she’s on twitter as @AlysonFaye2.

Bucket and Spade

“Got your bucket and spade, honey?”

“Yes, Daddy. Got yours?”

“Of course, sweetheart.”

They soon found themselves a secluded corner of the beach. One woman sunbathing nearby.

“Can I dig?” asked Laura.

“Go ahead, sweetheart. I’ll have a swim first, join you in a bit.”

Laura dug as the sunbather looked on.

“Wow, that’s a big hole for a little girl.”

“It’s for Daddy. Test it for me? Please?”

The woman laughed as she covered her. Stopping only when the grains clogged her mouth, covered her completely.

“That’s right, honey,” said her father. “Pat it down good. Now, ice cream?”

Stephanie Ellis

Stephanie Ellis writes dark speculative fiction, finding success in a variety of magazines and anthologies, the latest being Asylum of Shadows as part of Demain Publishing’s Short Sharp Shocks! series and The Way of the Mother in Nosetouch Press, The Fiends in the Furrows anthology.  Her own collection of short stories has been published in The Reckoning and her dark verse has been gathered in Dark is my Playground. She is co-editor and contributor to The Infernal Clock, a fledgling press which has produced three anthologies to-date. She is also co-editor of Trembling With Fear, HorrorTree.com’s online magazine. 

 

She is also an affiliate member of the HWA.

She can be found at https://stephanieellis.org and on twitter at @el_stevie. 

The Horror Tree Presents…an interview with Angela Y Smith

Angela Y. Smith

Ruschelle: Thank you for chatting with us here at the Horror Tree. I was peeping your titles online and what grabbed my peepers first…was the adorable lizard on your Literary Lizard Adventures series. It’s a children’s book. I’m a fan of adorable little illustrated lizards. What made you pen a fun book for kids and about the library to boot?

Angela: The Literary Lizard was originally a short story I wrote off the cuff to fulfill a personal challenge I was doing—seven stories in seven days or something. I worked at a newspaper in Florida at the time and that day we’d had a lizard crawl across the glass door. From the inside, his silhouette appeared to be hugging one of the letters. He became the inspiration for the little lizard that ran away from home to follow his quest for new words. An illustrator friend of mine, Robin Wiesneth, read the story and asked to illustrate it. Since then we’ve done quite a few kid books together.

I identify with “Lit” as well, so it’s lightly autobiographical. I ran away from home at 16. There were a number of reasons to do this, but at the forefront of my mind was the goal of finding a life worth writing about. The thought that every experience is material to work with still drives me. Whatever happens to me, however pleasant or unpleasant, I always find myself appreciating and notating the experience to tap into later.

 

Ruschelle: What do you love about writing children’s books?

‘The Christmas Spiders’

Angela: I don’t consider myself a children’s writer at all. I started reading before kindergarten and by the time I was in third grade I was reading adult books. I had no concept of age appropriate and read everything I could get my hands on. I was exposed to quite a lot of material that I didn’t understand at all, of course. Reading The Succubus by Ken Johnson was one of those experiences. I paged through a lot of sex scenes trying to get to the part where the demoness just killed the guy. Mrs. Whitmore was not happy when she discovered what was keeping me so absorbed at reading circle.

I don’t like the idea of stories being candy coated for kid consumption, and I think many of our kids are also tired of being force fed joy. As a child, reading was how I figured out what life was. I wanted to know about the cycle of death and why people could be cruel. Those questions are often present in my work today, kidlit or adult reading.

In The Christmas Spiders, my seasonal children’s best seller, an old woman goes on a mountain to reevaluate her life at its end. In the original version, she does die on the mountain and the spiders encase her in a silvery, frozen cocoon as a Christmas gift. I thought it was beautiful and I cried as I wrote it. Later, at the advice of beta readers I ‘jollied it up” by having the spiders decorate her tree instead and she returns down the mountain. I don’t think it would have been as popular if I’d kept that ending.

  (more…)

Trembling With Fear 05/14/2017

Another week and another set of stories to enjoy! If you did like any of the works included, please be sure to comment to the authors in the comments below.

As usual, we’re a bit low on Drabble and if you could feel up to sharing 100 words it would be much appreciated! We’re also looking for some potentially interested editors to help out on the installments and grow this into next year!

‘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 Portent

This is the last testament I shall pen on the horrors that unfolded around the incident of December 3rd, 1837. I will not go into the details of the voyage, for it was many months on brutal seas. Instead, I shall tell only of our arrival upon that rock. This brief document pertains to the voyage of Captain Manus from London upon the ‘Old Venerable’ and the fate of the crew of said journey.
The memory of my friends and crew’s execution upon that blighted isle is an image I wish not to recall, as such, I deign to skip to my own survival. That terror made manifest haunts me still, the thing from beyond the veil stalks me to this day, I fear. I imagine it may be the last testament I write, if illness does not claim me first.
I will start my recounting after the death of each and every man who had pledged to my service. I had been in the ancient construction for what felt like a full day. I had discovered each body in manners most macabre than any man should ever have to see. I resolved to flee, to escape; in that moment all the sanity left at my disposal demanded it. To this end, to save myself from suicide and other comforts, I ran away from.. It..
I peered, the gleaming flicker danced along the frame, spilling light down the stone hallway. The thumping footsteps subsided. Perhaps it tired or lost my trail, I could not allow the hope of either eventuality. I turned, fumbling through the archway, catching my sodden garments on the dry stones edge, ripping them further. The oppressive miasma forced its way into my nostrils; it’s unnatural pungency stinging the senses with the very offensiveness of it. How had it come to this? To what end had my fellows come when they beached this pitiless rock? The question that burned deep within my mind, the question that wakes me in fever when sleep ever takes me; what was the being I had glimpsed? That wet, glistening, nameless and formless thing. The human mind was not made to endure such sightings. Yet still, no matter the amount of narcotics I thrust into my veins, I see it.
Instinct pushed me onward. My breath came in gasps as I spied the stair that we had ascended, too blind in our rush for riches. Perhaps a hope was left in this place which sought to suffocate the dreams of man. I crossed the corridor quickly, taking pains to conceal my rush and began my descent. Then the rasping again. I can’t help but convulse somewhat as I write this. It was close. Close enough to echo from the bottom stair. The pulse that pounded in my veins accelerated further. How? How did it pass so quickly? From what pit of an unknown hell had this abhorrence been spat forth?
I doubled back, picking up pace. I still remember how my heart beat was like a cacophony in my breast. I wanted out. I slipped into the hallway again, hoping and praying to God this wretch had spared the fate of the others. There was no sound now. I allowed myself, foolishly, to hope it had gone and as I lay there, miserable and pathetic, I thought it had.
But then it came again. The guttural rasp of air through a violated mouth carried to my refuge and the terror returned like hands around my throat. That noise… It was like nothing the natural world has ever birthed. The palpitations threatened to overcome me. I was unsure if I was exerting extraordinary will, or if I was frozen in a grip too strong to overcome. As I hardened the fabric of my soul to the dread, I took one final, sharp breath. That was nearly my undoing. Silent, but not silent enough.
The grotesquery had spied me. Perhaps he always had. What came next was not meant for mortal comprehension.
The creature, for it could be described no other way, spoke to me. No language of man, no syllables devised by a sane mind. The noise. The thundering, agonising noise of its speech was like the roaring pistons of a dreadnought. At the same time, they seemed to suck the life out of the world. Like the numbing cold that follows a severe burn, they imprinted in my mind.
“Do you fear me?”
I collapsed against the wall, my tattered form destitute.
“You have released me. For this”, it hissed “you have my gratitude. Leave and behold the calamity to come.”
I remained as silent as I could be. I wanted to rip my own veins out for fear their frantic beat would be a beacon to this abomination.
“I have taken your cohorts. ”. A thin trickle of scarlet dripped past my lip, I recall the fecund taste of my own discoloured blood and the pressure that threatened to rip my head asunder. I thought “What has it done?”. A thought. Yet it heard me…
“Harken when I say, what I have done is beyond your comprehension”.
I heard it’s unnatural breaths cutting through the thick smog of this nightmare scape. It’s titanic footfalls slapping against the slab floor. It pressed towards me where I hid, it’s crushing presence threatened to squeeze life from me.
Then it came..
It was something primordial. Ancient. It was both humanoid and utterly bestial. A maw that shifted between hanging down and being ravaged and ripped to bloody shreds, to then retracting and displaying a blossom of teeth. The skin, if it was skin, shifted before my very eyes, taking on a plethora of tones which to see caused me to be seized by a wracking cough and my own blood to come from my eyes.
That truly monstrous effigy stared through me. It seen all my fears, every thought and emotion, all the shards of my sanity. And eviscerated them. When I at last seen the eyes, those orbs of such utter malice, burning in their intesity of sickly light I nearly weep while I write even now… I fled. What else could I do? I ran with rancid air burning in my breast, I ran in a state of terror induced delirium while the choking scent of putrefaction hung around me and the sinister moans pursued me. I left my companions, men I had been at sea with for years. I left them to die in that hellish domain. Those phantom discs plague me. That sighting will haunt me with tainted visitations until I am dust.

I care not for any judgement from whoever shall find and read this. It is my last words to the world and if it condemns me as a madman then so be it. I have left this quill for the past hour, my body was overcome with a sudden malady (apologies for the blood on this parchment). The hour is now ten past the stroke of midnight and I fear I won’t have the sobriety to scribble these last few words so I shall finish what I can now. I have never chosen to write of this event, nor even break breath of it.
Tonight is different. Tonight, after the last thirty years of my life spent in fever and wavering sanity, I have succumb. The beast… it has returned.
I can feel it. I feel it as surely as I feel the opiums seize me, as surely as I feel my pulse. I have felt it for months, but now… Now that palpable tension reached its crescendo when I seen them. Those eyes. Those eyes…. The eyes. They gnaw at me. They stalk me still. And now they have found me. Even as I write I feel it. I feel it. Hell has never birthed a more triumphant son than it did the day my nameless tormenter managed to leave that blighted isle…
….Out the window before me… Good God in heaven, I see them… I see it…
May God forgive my soul for the cardinal sin I am about to commit.

(Found in the empty room of Captain Manus along with a shotgun, blood stains around the writing desk and the log of the ‘Old Venerable’ of the 3rd of December, 1837. Log of voyage on file with London Constabulary. Scattered notes and journals discovered at scene, to be read and recorded. No body discovered.)

 

Shaun Mclaren

Shaun Mclaren is from Glasgow, Scotland where he stays with his fiancee and swarm of (two) rats. Specialising in old fashioned and extremely dark horror and dark fantasy to rival the grittiest as well as poetry. Currently working on his first full length horror novel, ‘Father William’, set for release later this year as well as producing flash-horror collections alongside new-comers ‘Four Horsemen Press’. Check out his Facebook page for updates on his dark secretions.

Ageless

Princess Samira locked herself in her bedchamber, then eagerly retrieved the empty oil lamp hidden in a wardrobe. She’d killed for this. Unable to wait a moment longer, she rubbed the vessel and recited the incantations she had read in the forbidden texts.

Mist arose out of the vessel, taking the shape of a man.

“Milady, I shall grant you three wishes,” the djinn said.

“My only desire is to be young and beautiful forever,” Samira said.

“Your wish is granted,” the djinn replied, bowing with a flourish.

Samira froze in place, her youth and beauty forever cast in stone.

Mary Jo Fox

Mary Jo Fox is so new at writing professionally, she doesn’t even have a website yet. However, she has had a couple of stories published already, “The Beast Outside” in the Shadows of Salem anthology (2016) from FunDead Press and “Dead End” in Deadhead Miles Vol. 2 (2016) from FoF Publishing.

The Good Son

When we left her with our three years old son she smiled and with her
strange foreign accent said:

“Your son look so good. I could eat him.”

When we later returned home, the house was filled with the lovely smell of cooking.

“I have cooked your son” the babysitter explained.

“I have cooked for your son” my wife corrected.

No she said and dragged us into the kitchen. She showed us the pot on the stove and when the steam dissolved, I could see my son’s face under a layer of vegetables and he surely looked good to me.

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.

Sight

Megan squeezed her eyes shut, yet nothing could stop the images from flashing within her mind.
Since the car accident, the visions tormented her.
Relentless, violent, horrific-awake or asleep- they came.
With each day they’d increased in frequency and duration. She felt like she was losing her mind.
The doctors answer to her pleas was a padded room and a myriad of pills that did nothing at all.
Megan opened her eyes to find herself surrounded by decaying corpses.
Their distended jaws mocked her with gaping smiles.
With a distraught howl, she ran headfirst into the door, praying for darkness.

Liz Butcher

Liz Butcher resides in Brisbane, Australia, with her husband, daughter, and two cats, Pandora and Zeus. While writing is her passion, her numerous interests include psychology, history, astronomy, the paranormal, mythology, reading, art and music – all which help fuel her imagination. She also loves being out in nature, especially amongst the trees or near the water. Liz has published a number of short stories in anthologies and currently has a multitude of projects in the works including her upcoming novel, ‘Fates Revenge’.

You can find out more about Liz at her homepage.

Pin It on Pinterest