Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 3

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

The Knowing. Part 3

When Variol opened his eyes, they met soft golden sunshine. He stirred and groaned, and lifted the back of a pew that had collapsed across his torso.

He sat up. Around him were the charred and smoking remnants of the place once consecrated to the disgraced War-God. Of the demoness, there was no sign.

A louder groan, and he got to his feet. His flute was lost in the wreckage. Behind him were only the pathless hills of the Gravian Forest. A long and lonely trudge through the plains awaited him, with only the ash in his mouth to break his fast.

But with his tenth step, he stumbled. A jagged, jutting board, which, when kicked aside, revealed a sack of wine. He picked it up: by the grace of one god or another, it was still intact. The bard raised it to his lips and drank deep.

“Now that’s a good night’s work,” he murmured. He drank again, and began to hum a tune as he headed West. At his back, the sun climbed higher through the merry blue ceiling of the World.

A few days later, he left the rainy country of Hylomoria behind. He caught a wagon-train in Kenoma, and sang for his passage South. The year was blossoming into Spring, and all the cosmos of blue and green awakened as the leagues unfurled before them.

And there, one morn, was Sendroval. The bard’s old home, walled and mighty, surrounded by the sunlit fields of the South. Variol thanked his new friends and hopped from the wagon to saunter down the Lane of Death.

For this great city, jewel of the Kingdoms, housed a temple to each one of the gods. It was named for Sendra, Goddess of Wisdom; but Yyrkana, Goddess of Death, was honored there as well. Not far off was the temple of Aive, Lord of the Sun, and another disused church of War.

Death’s temple was closed to the public during the day (unless the sky-watchers foretold an eclipse), but Variol knew many things. He walked casually along the onyx wall, away from the front steps and the giant doors, down a small and shadowed alleyway. Then, casually, he caught hold of a seam in the stone and swung himself up. Caught hold of another, hoisted himself up, and caught another: scaled the black wall like a crooning spider till he vaulted the top and dropped into the secret garden beyond.

A tall grey woman was strolling in the flowery aisles. Kindly smile lines marked her face, and the frown of deep thought, and the jaw-set of enormous strength. Variol stepped out from behind a birch tree wrapped in flowering ivy, humming a cheery tune. Her fists clenched when she saw him, but her face stayed calm.

“Lady Nella,” said the bard, “High Priestess of Death.”

“Odd,” she said, “that’s my name too.”

He grinned. “Lovely to see that you have humor, Lady. My name is Variol of Sendroval. I come, ostensibly, for the tourney of the bards two days hence; but in the meanwhile, there’s work to be done. I need your help.”

“You have humor too, little minstrel. Why in all the Seven Hells would I help you?”

“Because you know that Gordash betrayed the God of the Bards. But his treachery did not conclude with his banishment: Yyrkana too is imperiled. You see, you need my help as well.”

“Tell me the tale, bard. Your boldness earns you that, at least. I’ll decide after if your quest is worth my time.”

He shook his head. “First, your word. I cannot risk the tale until I know your loyalty is where it should be. Your predecessor was best of friends with the murdered rhyme-lord, and the Death-Goddess with the Bard-God. But you, I do not know.”

The Priestess stepped closer, and her frown grew deep. “You go too far. Speak your tale or I will cast you out myself.”

“A Knowing, then?” He smiled.

“You’re unwise to challenge me.” She raised her voice in the Hymn of the Tomb, and her avatar stepped slowly forth from her flesh. The power of Yyrkana loomed behind her, an aura like the sickle of a titan. “You are nothing but a feckless fool,” she declared.

“Perhaps.” And his glowing spirit lunged for her grey-clad body.

Anticipating her opponent’s use of Music, Nella drew upon the silence of the grave: the deep, black, sound-swallowing nothingness that waits beneath the grass. But Variol didn’t try to match her strength. The Spirit of the Grass, unworshiped by men, dwelt quietly about them in the budding Spring, endlessly growing and alive. As she drove toward his body on the wings of oblivion, she found herself gently but tirelessly pushed back by a vibrancy no scythe could keep at bay.

Pivoting in mid-idea, she pushed forward with the breath of Winter, foe of Grass and friend of Death—but, slipping behind her defenses, Variol himself now called upon Yyrkana Death-Goddess. His handling of that power was far less efficient than the Priestess’ would be; but the difference in sheer brute force between a mere season and final mortality was enough to break her momentum once again.

She fell back and glared, but a grudging respect was dawning in her face. Nevertheless, she felt, it was time to put forth her true might. She soared above the sunlit garden and descended as the hammer of Apocalypse. “Death is victorious!”

“Yet the battle is glorious.”

As she slammed into his avatar with the full, terrible weight of her Goddess, she saw what he had done: buoyed up by Rhyme, he’d cast out webs of invocation in two opposite directions, channeling Gordash by the call to arms and Sendra by his stoic perseverance. In the figure of the Bard, War and Wisdom met—and he warded himself with all three. It was a brilliant move.

But he was no priest of Wisdom, and War was no longer a God. She pressed him slowly down, and down, until she stood firmly inside his body. Her Known was now his own.

Her opinion, however, had changed in the course of this fight. True, he’d been defeated; but for a simple bard to hold his own against the High Priestess of Death was a remarkable feat. The belief she had sought to impose, she no longer held: and therefore, nor did he. They returned to their own bodies, the Knowing a stalemate.

Variol sat down heavily on the grass, panting. The Lady Nella, her chin held high, walked to a nearby bench and sank onto it with dignity. For a few moments, they sat in silence. Finally, she took a breath and spoke in a calm unwavering voice.

“I will not betray your confidence, rhyme-smith. You have my word.”

He nodded and wiped his brow. “Thank you, my Lady. Here, then, is my tale. . .”

J.B. Toner

jJ.B. Toner studied Literature at Thomas More College and holds a black belt in Ohana Kilohana Kenpo-Jujitsu, he and his lovely wife have just had their first daughter, Ms. Sonya Magdalena Rose.

Trembling With Fear 17/11/2019

Another week has shot by, made to go all the faster with the commitment that is NaNoWrimo 2019. In number terms it’s going well, almost finished, but whilst I had big plans to do a thoughtful psychological post-apocalyptic tale(!), it seems to have gone into creature/pulp fiction territory, not an area I’ve explored before. I suppose I should expect such things if I don’t plot. I hope everyone else has managed what they intended – unlike me!

When not writing, I’ve also been following the revelations of the goings on at ChiZine; their contractual misdemeanours, the abuse of employees, it’s all come crawling out of the woodwork in big style. I’m shocked that all this has been going on for so long, facilitated perhaps by a culture of silence and of fear. Brian Keene is featuring this issue on his podcast this week and I will certainly be listening at some point. It’ll be interesting to see if there are any other publishers who have behaved in a similar manner. I hope not. Remember the HWA has a Grievance Committee which can help members suffering such issues.

Here’s a bit of TWF writer news: Strange Girls: Women in Horror Anthology is due to be published on February 18th and features Alyson Faye and Charlotte Platt. Available to pre-order on amazon.

 

 

 

This week’s lead story at Tembling With Fear is Monsters Three by David Berger. This is an absolute delight with its humanistic exchanges between famous monsters of old, those creatures once famous for their roles in early Japanese films and now seeking alternative sources of revenue. Lovely understated humour and a monster story told in an original way.

Breathless by Tiffany Michelle Brown is one of two scarecrow tales this week and scores highly on the ‘creepy’ factor with its rural setting and sense of isolation.

Just a Scarecrow by Radar DeBoard is a very simple story, straightforward but the matter-of-factness really casts a dark shadow over everything.

One Black Sheep Wreaks his Retribution on the Sleeping Flock by Steven Holding reminds me of the sneaking sympathy I have often felt for Judas and the Devil. Their stories had already been defined, cast into the role of bad guy before they’d even come into being. They never had a chance, so, what do you do? This is a story of revenge but builds a touch of sympathy for the black sheep.

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

Steph

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

Another week has come and gone! Things have been busy (as usual) but the backend of the site had sped up and isn’t erroring out nearly as much as it was for about 2 months there. I’m still feeling a bit behind BUT feel that progress is being made on catching up!

While not there yet, we’ll have a few fun announcements soon so stay tuned. In the meantime, my limited free time is being spent on working to update our newsletter and make a few additional changes on the site (small, likely unnoticeable.) Thank you all for your continued support!

Also, for those who don’t subscribe to the newsletter, we’re currently looking for some help for the site if any of the following sounds up your alley!

– A new interview coordinator! 

– Article writers*! We’re looking for interviewers, reviewers, and original content on the writing/publishing/marketing/etc process

– Original art! For shirts, the website, and more we can always use original art that would fit the site.

– Advertising, need to market your new book? Reach out!

– The obvious one here is also to become one of our Patreons!

If you’re interested in contributing and think you have something that would help out PLEASE don’t shy away from contacting us!
*I have a special interest in someone who would want to do Top 10 lists or crowdsourced Q&A articles which I could help provide a crowd for.*

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

Monsters Three by David Berger

(Names have been redacted for purposes of confidentiality.)

ANNOUNCER: We bring you the latest news from Tokyo. The highest military authorities of our defense force have informed us that the seamount called [REDACTED]’s Sunken Island has risen once again from the depths of the Sea of Japan. And, oh, this just in, two great monsters, once known as the Flying Monster, and the Thing, have arrived on the island and have dived into the crater of Mount Kaiju. What does this mean? 

We take you now to the secret mountain laboratory under Mount Fuji of Professor [REDACTED], famous expert on all monsters. Professor, what can you tell us? Are those three terrible monsters going to attack us? Is there danger? What are the authorities and the Army going to do about this?

PROFESSOR [REDACTED]: No. I don’t think there is any danger at this time. Our super-missiles are ready to defend Tokyo as never before. And our monster biologists assure us that these three monsters are in a quiet period. They are harmless for now. But vigilance is always necessary.

ANNOUNCER: Thank your for those expert assurances, Professor [REDACTED].

Deep in the heart of the rising seamount off the coast of Japan, three of the mightiest monsters of all time have met for an important discussion. The great [REDACTED], host for the occasion, provided a spread the finest monster delicacies that could be found anywhere: sautéed sperm whale; giant squid au gratin and cricket livers. He and his guests, [REDACTED] and [REDACTED], ate and drank enormous amounts, and then they settled down to business.

“So [REDACTED], what’s the occasion?” [REDACTED] roared quietly. “It’s been decades, and we haven’t exactly been in touch since the three of us whacked three-headed [REDACTED]. Nowadays your son is impersonating you and making a bundle off it. Neither Sister [REDACTED] here, nor I, have worked in a while. So what’s on your mind?”

“Yeah, [REDACTED], wassup? [REDACTED] said, breathily. “Somehow a monsters’ soiree doesn’t seem to be your speed.”

“You’re right guys,” [REDACTED] said, his huge back plates glowing slightly. “Tokyo’s been rebuilt, and their missile defenses have got AI, so that’s probably out. And, by the way, that’s my grandson, not my son, in New York doing his thing.”

“Since we’re talking family, whatever, how’s your boy?” [REDACTED] hissed, her wings quivering slightly. “He could puff that radioactive fire, even when he was an eft. Remember how you had to step on his tail to get him going?” 

[REDACTED] blasted softly. “You didn’t hear?”

“No,” [REDACTED] susurrated. “Something happen?”

“After the fight with [REDACTED] and the [REDACTED], [REDACTED] was hurt badly. He never grew to full size, and he was never quite right in the head. Later on, he got mixed up in that Jurassic Park thing. He talked himself into a job doing special effects. Then, in one of the scenes, he burned himself very badly. He hadn’t been well; otherwise, he wouldn’t’ve gotten hurt. And they actually used his accident in a scene. 

“He never regained consciousness. That same year his mother [REDACTED] died. She couldn’t bear losing him. We’d been separated for years, but we got together one last time to plan the funeral.”

“That’s rough, [REDACTED],” [REDACTED], said, her compound eyes turning red. 

“I hate to ask this, but did he have insurance?” [REDACTED] boomed out.

“No. He had it, but he let it lapse, and the studio wouldn’t cover what happened – some loophole that he was only a consultant and shouldn’t have been on the set, and there was no negligence. His medical and funeral expenses put a big dent in my nest.”

“That’s rough, [REDACTED],” [REDACTED] growled. “I almost bought it myself last month. I was winging it over the Sea of Japan, peaceful as can be, when a freakin’ DPRK short-range missIle almost did me in. Talk about air pollution!”

“You know it’s not always about you, [REDACTED],” [REDACTED] spit angrily. “But since you bring it up, same by me. Resting in a quiet field in the USA, Oregon, I think. Taking in some sun to dry out my wings, and that freaking Roundup stuff almost rounded me up! Those chemicals are something else!”

“Speaking of pollution, I don’t even want to talk about the Pacific,” [REDACTED] rumbled with only a few sparks from his back. “Last time I brought the seamount up, it almost didn’t make it for the weight of the freaking plastic. Took me a whole day to burn it off. 

“Either of you reptiles run into any of the old crowd?” [REDACTED] asked?

“Yeah,” [REDACTED] said. 

“I was over the Galapagos about two years ago. I spotted  [REDACTED], that freakin’ turtle.”

“I thought she was running a daycare center on Hakkaido,” the King replied.

“She was,” the Great Insect replied. “But they passed a law there saying only humans could run daycare centers. Broke her heart.”

“No good monster goes unpunished,” the Flying Monster rumbled.

“Changing the subject, why are we here, Old Glow?” [REDACTED] sort of hummed.

“Listen my airborne friends, our time is over. We got to pack it in. There’s younger, nastier monsters out there. Look at those bastards who came out of the Pacific Rim. Brutal mothers. I don’t mess with metal.”

“What about Mecha? You messed with him.” 

“That was my cousin in a tin suit. Can’t act worth shit, but kids seemed to like him. He’s retired now. Got bad arthritis from wearing that thing. But let me go on.”

“Yeah, our time is really is over,” [REDACTED] hissed. “So what’s your proposition? I know you’ve got something up your sleeve, even though you don’t wear sleeves.”

“I do have something to offer. But you’ve got to keep it under your hats.”

“We don’t wear hats,” [REDACTED] grumbled. 

“Okay. Let me burn it up for you. There’s a new theme park opening, called MonsterLand! And I’ve been approached by somebody we all know for us to be a part of it.”

“You’re kidding. Us! A freaking theme park!” [REDACTED] howled, shaking the chamber.

“You’re crazy,” [REDACTED] hissed. 

“Wait a minute,” their reptilian host said, small flames coming out of his nostrils. “Don’t jump to conclusions.”

“Something called MonsterLand is a conclusion!” [REDACTED] roared, curling his leathery wings.

“Can I tell you what’s involved before you wreck my place or wrap it in silk?” [REDACTED] said quietly, the flames in his nose receding slightly.

[REDACTED] and [REDACTED] didn’t reply.

“Okay, it goes like this. It’s being built in Baha. We all show up for the grand opening in about a year. Then each of us becomes the resident monster for three months. What they … .”

“Last time I studied calculus, twelve divided by three was four. Who’s the fourth?” [REDACTED] rattled.

“Uh-oh,” [REDACTED] hissed. “I think I smell a big, hairy … .”

“Yeah, [REDACTED]’s involved. I admit it.” 

“[REDACTED]!” the guests yelled out together. The whole mountain shook.

“That ho! He’s got movies; he’s got a Broadway show; he’s got a chunk of Universal Studios; and now he wants a theme park!” [REDACTED] hissed opening her spinnarets.

“That miserable, mammalian mother … .” [REDACTED] said, spreading his wings.

“Calm down, guys,” [REDACTED] said.

“You calm down,” [REDACTED] cried. “I bound you up in my silk once before, and I’ll do it again.”

“That was your larvae did that, not you. You’re getting senile.”

“Where do you think they get their spinning talent? Don’t get me madder than I am, [REDACTED].” 

“I’m this close to blowing the walls of this place out, [REDACTED]. So talk quick,” [REDACTED] blasted out.

“Listen, guys. This certainly was [REDACTED]’s idea.”

“The park or employing us?” [REDACTED] asked

“Us. The park is being built by the [REDACTED] outfit.”

“Figures,” [REDACTED] said. “I guess they’re bored with princesses.”

“We could end up being very grateful to him. Each of us does a three month’s stint. I’m telling you the money’s good. Really good.”

“How much?” [REDACTED] asked.

“A million a month.”

“Yen or yuan?” [REDACTED] chortled, waving her antennae.

“Dollars. Nice, big, fat, green US dollars.”

“And … ?” [REDACTED] growled.

“Less [REDACTED]’s twelve percent.”

“He’s such a ho!” [REDACTED] hissed.

“Always was,” [REDACTED] roared.

“And always will be,” [REDACTED] thundered, his back plates at full brilliance. “Are you guys in?”

“In,” roared the Flying Monster.

“In,” hissed the Thing.

“Cool,” [REDACTED] roared out, blasting his atomic flame.

“That ape’s still a ho,” the Thing hissed quietly.

“Yeah,” the Flying Monster whispered.

David Berger is an old guy from Brooklyn, now living in Manhattan with his wife of 25 years: the best jazz singer in NYC. He is a father and grandfather.  He has been, among other things, a case worker, construction worker, letter carrier, high school and ESL teacher, a legal proofreader and a union organizer.  Loves life, his wife and the world. Hopes to help the latter escape destruction.

David has been published by Verso with his graphic history of American bohemia: ‘Bohemians’, co-written by Paul Buhle and by DRABBLE for his works ‘Invisible Dudeand ‘Statuary’. His story, Ghoul Days, features in The Sirens Call ezine, Issue 45.

Breathless

A juvenile prank. Nothing more. 

Clarissa peered at the motley assemblage of rags, hay, and wood that mysteriously appeared in her yard. A raven dipped and perched on the thing’s dilapidated shoulder. 

“It isn’t even functional,” Clarissa muttered. “Just creepy as hell.”

Should she call the police? Make a big show of taking down the scarecrow piece by piece to demonstrate her resilience? 

As she considered her options, movement in the front yard drew Clarissa’s gaze. The raven was still as pond water, but the scarecrow’s arms were flapping furiously. 

Outside, there wasn’t so much as a breath of wind.

Tiffany Michelle Brown is a native of Phoenix, Arizona, who ran away from the desert to live near sunny San Diego beaches. Her work has been published by Camden Park Press, The Sirens Call, Gympsum Sound Tales, and Dark Alley Press. When she isn’t writing, Tiffany can be found on a yoga mat, sipping whisky, or reading a comic book—sometimes all at once. Follow her adventures at tiffanymichellebrown.wordpress.com.

Twitter: @tiffebrown

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

Just a Scarecrow 

Tommy and Joseph made their way through old Mr. Barrelton’s cornfield. It was the fastest way for them to get home. The tall cornstalks made it easier to hide, and harder to be spotted.

The boys knew that if Mr. Barrelton caught them they would be in a world of trouble. The two moved past the old and worn scarecrow that was placed in the middle of the field. 

It looked down at the boys as nothing more than intruders. It slowly, and with much effort lowered itself from the post. It wasn’t there just to scare away the crows. 

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/

One Black Sheep Wreaks His Retribution Upon The Sleeping Flock

They sold me the promise of eternal life, but like all miracles, it came at a price. Who’d do that to a child? Delivering false hope, expecting them to embrace such an abominable lie? Filling an innocent with more than just thoughts, then blaming them for the sin.

But if it is the Devil that is truly beneath my skin, so be it. Let them feel his caress through me.

So, I dosed the wine with LSD. Locked the church doors from the outside.

May they finally find their heaven upon Earth.

Before one flickering match brings forth the inferno.

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

Unholy Trinity: The Muse by Michael Kellichner

Our church worships at the altar of the Unholy Trinity. Its gospels are delivered as a trio of dark drabbles, linked so that Three become One. All hail the power of the Three.

I

Though he swore he’d never do it again, Ethan rolled another body down the stairs because he needed a new symphony. The carcass hit the basement’s dirt floor where languid tentacles surrounded a toothy pit exuding a sodden, meaty stench. The tentacles pulled the body, and Ethan grabbed his notebook and pen. Waited. He didn’t look at the creature, didn’t think about who he’d just fed it. When music oozed into the room, he frantically marked each beautiful note, each chord, knowing at once this one would be even better than the last. Certainly, this would be the final time.

II

The orchestra was tuning up, and Jason got comfortable in his seat. His wife had insisted on coming, and he was preparing for a good, two hour doze. Almost asleep, and then the music hit him like a bucket of ice water. Violins screeched, cellos moaned. He went rigid, his mind filled with a city of twisted shadows, buildings impossibly angled. Teeth and tentacles. A pang of immense hunger. He looked around but the rest of the concert hall sat in their usual, slowly nodding attention. Listening to something else. Not hearing the voice in the evanescent silence between notes.

III

Jason contemplated the bloody shovel. “I should thank you,” he said as Ethan dragged himself across the floor. “You showed me something beautiful. Woke me up. Who knows how long I would have just drifted along if not for you.”

He heaved a heavy sigh, bent down, and began dragging Ethan by his shirt. 

“I guess they’re right when they say never meet your heroes. Having something so perfect. And letting it starve. Makes it hard to maintain respect once you know it.”

He shouldered open the basement door. Frantic tentacle slaps. “Sorry about this. But greater things are coming.”

Michael Kellichner

Michael Kellichner is a poet and writer from Pennsylvania currently living and teaching in South Korea. Previous work of his has appeared in Black Denim Lit, Farrago’s Wainscot, Trigger Warning: Short Fiction with Pictures, the Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, The Tishman Review, the Tahoma Literary Review, and Three Crows Magazine. He can be contacted on twitter at https://twitter.com/mithalanis.

Serial Killers: The Knowing. Part 2

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

The Knowing. Part 2

On the outskirts of Rooksnest, in the rainy land of Hylomoria, a ruined church of Gordash stood alone. Beyond the tumbled gravestones and the mossy gates, a broad flat plain stretched away to the West; behind the walls of the sanctuary, all paths were lost in forest hills. Only the crows and the dead kept council here, but the misspent magic of some long-dead cleric lingered in the bell tower, and two deep slow bongs tolled the hour. The moon was nearly full, but she lit only the roofs of the high cold thunderclouds.

Variol the bard paced the sagging choir loft. A single candle shed its shadows in the draughty space, and a half-full sack of wine slumped beside it on the windowsill. Below, in the silent pews, the spiders held their court; above, in the creaking rafters, ravens dozed. The vast cathedral vault throbbed faintly with the ancient grief of the sky.

Pausing for a moment, Variol lifted his wineskin and drank. Stared into the fluttering orange wick-spark. Then turned and resumed his pacing, all the faster. His palm slapped the birch-flute that swung at his hip, but he didn’t draw it yet. It wasn’t time.

The rain was growing heavier. A few dark birds croaked and shuffled in their slumber. Variol strode in fierce, aimless loops, whispering bits of ballads forgotten by this weary generation. The candle burned lower, and he paused again for wine. Slow-trickling, the moments passed.

Then, down at the foot of the altar, a strange red light began to glow. Soft at first, then lurid as it grew. The bard drew his flute.

The great bell tolled again, three times. The glaring light rose high above the altar and the aisles, resolving slowly into man-shape. Long, slender limbs, a graceful curving neck, and flowing crimson hair: a woman-shape, blue-clad, with shining cat-green eyes. Higher yet she rose, and stood on empty air, level with the choir loft.

“Good evening, traveler.” Silken razor voice. “You must be cold—so cold. Come, warm yourself in my arms.”

“Don’t squander your blandishments. I’m here to send you back.”

“Are you now.” A soft red smile, and fangs. “You don’t smell like a priest to me. But perhaps I’m wrong. It happened once before, you know. Long ago.”

“Oh, I’m no priest. But you’ve murdered enough wayfarers for one eternity. I challenge you to The Knowing.”

She clapped her hands. “What fun! I like you, little man. I may grant you a moment of rapture before the suffering begins.”

“We’ll see.” And he began to play. The music rippled in the emptiness, and filled it. The shaded nooks of the sanctuary shivered like tuning forks struck against the stars. He played with honesty, and stripped the armors of his spirit bare. In the resonating space between them, his true self stood revealed.

She flung back her head and shrieked. Her shrieking filled the earth and filled the skies. Lightning blazed overhead, and the chapel’s rotten timbers rattled. In the shocked and trembling space, her true self stood revealed.

This, the bardic sorcery of The Knowing: an astral duel in which one naked soul confronted another with the convictions that defined them, the things they most deeply and truly Knew. For Variol, son of the harpstrings, those things were Music and Joy, Honor and Fellowship; Harmony, Justice, Love, and Fun; the beauty of the maiden Nala Vay, the strength of the swordsman Cundar of Raelor, and the profound certainty that Sendrovese ale was the best in all the Kingdoms. For the ageless, nameless entity that haunted this once-sacred place, those things were Hunger and Hate.

Variol’s avatar speared forward at once, hoping to capitalize on her arrogance. Whichever soul could enter the body of the opponent would thereby impose its Knowledge upon the other. Variol sought to infuse the succubus with his reverence for life, his horror at the slaughter of innocents: he rode upon a tide of loving families, friends rejoicing, laughter and song, shot through with mourning mothers and orphans’ lamentation. But her hatred blazed, a conflagration of beaten children, treacherous lovers, and poisoners gloating over ill-got inheritances. The foaming breakers of Variol’s attack smashed against her spirit’s flame and burst into smoke and steam, dispersing through the pillars of the church.

“You think I care for their tiny affections or fast-forgotten heartbreaks?” snarled her avatar. “Creatures of dust and mud, all of you. You live only to let me feast!” And she drove toward him with the wolves of insatiable gluttony at her back, frothing and yowling, red-eyed and ravenous. Variol was pushed back across the air, straining to keep her barking hunger at bay.

“There is—more than—dung and dust!” he cried out, and a towering cyclone of symphonic music crashed into life behind him, buoying him up. The chorus of the stars and spheres, the orchestras of wind and wave, the striving, yearning, unrelenting guidance of Creation the Conductor. The wolves reared like panicked horses, milled and swirled through empty space, and finally sat tamely to hear the triumphant melody.

Thus bolstered, the bard pushed forward once again, but his Music broke on the bedrock of her Hate. No tune could reverberate in that dense-packed citadel of malice. Her Hunger rekindled, and it slowly pushed him back and back and ever back.

“You exist to feed me, dancing doll. You are nothing but my meat!”

If she imposed that belief, he would give himself willingly to her. Gritting his astral teeth, he held her back with all he had, but her snapping soul was now only millimeters from his flesh. “Damn you!” he roared. “Gnaw yourself forever in the Hell of your own heart!”

And some new force awoke in him and shoved her away. An avalanche of ice, his own cold hatred for his enemy. He opened himself to that power and he hated this devil, this murdering abomination, and his hate was strong.

“Fool!” she screamed. “You think you can out-hate me?”

Her fire erupted, volcanic; his wrath advanced, glacial. The church quaked, and shards fell ringing from the windowpanes. Thunder blasted overhead, and storm winds blew the driving rain into the sanctuary. The ravens leapt from their perches and flapped through the darkness, wildly cawing. Variol’s candle fell from its sill and the floorboards of the loft ignited.

Her laughter echoed, shrill. “We’ll perish together, bard.”

“Not—quite—yet!” One last lunatic gambit: he broke from their deadlock and retreated into his physical body. Shaking himself, he sprang up onto the railing and hurled himself from the balcony. With a great bound, he sailed right over the spot where he knew her invisible avatar was floating, and collided in midair with her still-hovering body. Behind him, the decomposing choir loft went up in flames. And, clinging madly to her neck high above the marble floor, he left his body again and dove into hers.

Her screech of rage and despair reached his astral ears just as he disappeared into her corporeal form, and then all else vanished in the earth-shattering explosion of song. His own fury forgotten, he became one with the life-affirming Music as it filled them both, filled the chapel, filled the heavens. The columns of the church caught fire about them, and a single shaft of lightning lanced down from above to meet the rising inferno. The ceiling collapsed.

J.B. Toner

jJ.B. Toner  studied Literature at Thomas More College and holds a black belt in Ohana Kilohana Kenpo-Jujitsu, he and his lovely wife have just had their first daughter, Ms. Sonya Magdalena Rose.

Trembling With Fear 11/10/2019

​Welcome back to TWF. This last week, being the first of NaNoWriMo has proved pretty exhausting. I crammed a lot of words in last weekend as it was the end of the half-term holiday and I knew that once back at work it would be a killer to keep up at the end of the day. I was right, it’s been tough. Hope those of you taking part are enjoying the experience. If it isn’t working and is making you miserable, stop and do what you want to, not what you think you should be doing because others are. And not doing it is also a completely valid stance. We all write in different ways and use NaNo for different reasons. Just don’t let it become something you beat yourself up with. For me, it’s brought an idea into the light and I’m curious to see how it will all end.

This week has also seen me able to announce that my story, Milking Time, was accepted into Flame Tree Press’ A Dying Planet anthology. Due out in January, it’s going to be a lovely start to 2020. This marks my first pro-sale and shows that it can happen at some point, provided you keep at it (and I still get rejections as well 😊). Resilience, stubbornness, call it what you will, you’ll get there.

This week’s Tembling With Fear kicks off with ’Til Death by Maddison McSweeney. Vegas has a reputation for tacky chapel weddings. The description provided plays up to this expectation as does the sense of a grand romantic gesture in the making. But this is TWF and all rapidly goes south with a wonderful turn of mood. I can’t even mention my favourite phrase which turns things round in such an unexpected way – and with a touch of black humour. This is definitely a wedding with a difference.

I Cried by Patrick Wynn weeps its tears through 100 words, pain of loss leading to making a wish. Repetition of the act of crying, although using other verbs, reinforces and builds the feeling of despair in a strong and emphatic manner.

Ink by Alyson Faye brings us a lovely piece of dark verse. The tattoos of the woman are not just drawn, they are created by the needle ‘attacking’ the skin, ‘bleeding … traceries’. The choice of words used to describe the act of the inking make it seem as violent as the crime or event suffered. It’s always amazing how so few words can create so much powerful imagery. Alyson also provide a link to the article which inspired the poem. You can read it here.

Turmoil by Ximena Escobar describes the violent last few minutes of a person in terms of a literal turmoil mixing inner violence with external reality. This drabble employs a number of devices turning it into a dark prose poem with strong imagery that really packs a punch.

As always, thank you all for continuing to write and submit to TWF.

Steph

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

‘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

‘Til Death by Madison McSweeney 

After several hours of calling around, a chapel in Vegas agreed to bless the union.

The bride was dressed in her grandmother’s wedding gown, extracted from a box in the attic. The groom, feeling grim, put on a black pinstripe suit and fumbled with his tie, red with diagonal stripes of blue. Matching the flowers. 

His hands trembling at his throat, Caleb let the tie fall to the ground. Don’t cry, he cautioned himself. You can do that after the ceremony, not before. Give her family the day they deserve. 

He’d promised to marry her months ago, before everything had gone wrong. Even after it all went down, he’d resolved to follow through on his promise. It had seemed romantic at the time, and at worst he’d thought this day would be bittersweet. But Debbie hadn’t been as sick then. She’d deteriorated sharply over the past two weeks, and now – well, now, even the thought of the ceremony made him ill. 

A knock on the door jolted him from his regrets. His best man’s voice came muffled through the wood: “You ready?”

“Almost.”

The reply was hesitant. “Caleb…”

“Yes?”

“I know this is a hard day for you and all, but…I’m idling in a handicapped spot.”

Debra’s father walked her down the aisle, guiding her path with a riding crop affixed to the leather collar around her neck. He kept her a good three feet away from him as he prodded her forward, yanking her back whenever she lunged at one of the horrified guests in the pews. 

Standing at the chapel’s gaudy altar, Caleb tried not to look at his bride. With her mouth clamped shut, Debra looked more like a pitbull than a woman. Her yellowed fingernails were still sharp; she’d been sedated the day before to allow her Maid of Honour to trim them, but the nails had grown back overnight, long and jagged like claws. 

The guests were mostly from her side of the family. Only the most open-minded of his relations had dared attend – the others told him he was crazy, and tried to talk him out of it. In lieu of a wedding gift, his own brother had mailed him a gift card for the firearm dealership located down the street from the chapel.

Caleb’s in-laws were more understanding, but even so, they looked solemn. Many of them had been ravaged by the plague themselves; some had even been bitten, as evidenced by the peg legs and prosthetic arms taking the place of ghost limbs that had been hacked off before the infection could spread. The sight of it almost made Caleb cry, reminding him that his beloved had not been so lucky.

He willed himself not to think of it. Just get through this. And then – 

And then what?

The organ was out-of-tune. Not sufficiently off-key that any individual chords sounded noticeably sour, but just enough to render the Wedding March ever so slightly discordant. It was yet another indignity, along with the haphazardly-applied glitter that flaked off the flowers and the off-white streamers draping the walls in sets of six, looking like a set of hollowed-out ribs picked clean by some sparkling paper mâché scavenger bird.

Debbie would have hated every second of this tacky charade, Caleb realized. It would be more of an honour to her memory if he refused to go through with it. Had she known the circumstances, she may have seen the humour in him jilting her at the altar. But it was too late to run now. She was slouched in front of him, making strange grunting noises from beneath her muzzle, and the minister was reading the legal document from the website that had authorized him to facilitate this sham of a wedding. 

They’d gone with the stock vows. She’d been halfway through writing her own when the plague had hit, and she wasn’t in any position to deliver them now, anyway. His were already finished, written in a flash of romantic inspiration long before their lives had been upended, but he didn’t feel right reading them now. His speech had been peppered with little in-jokes that only Debbie would have gotten, and hopes for a future that no longer existed. 

The rent-a-minister smiled placidly as he read out the vows, asking if Caleb and Debra would love and honour each other ‘til death did they part (Might as well have kept “obey” in there, Caleb thought; Debbie doesn’t have a mind of her own anymore). The groom muttered “I do.” The bride’s grunts were taken as consent. At last, the dreaded words: “You may kiss the bride.” 

Up until this moment, Caleb hadn’t known if he would be able to go through with the kiss. And even now, he hesitated, searching her yellowed eyes for some flicker of affection, recognition, anything. Nothing. The only emotion was in the desperate faces of Debbie’s bridesmaids, friends from college, struggling to hold her arms behind her back as Debbie fought to free herself. “Hurry up,” mouthed the maid of honour, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to restrain the bride for much longer.

A bridesmaid stroked Debbie’s hair, which soothed her somewhat. She was calmer now, but the calm would not last. Trying not to scream, Caleb bent down and placed a single chaste kiss on his bride’s rotted forehead.

Madison McSweeney is a Canadian writer, poet, and blogger.

Her horror, sci-fi, and fantasy stories have appeared in Unnerving Magazine, Women in Horror Annual 2, The Fulcrum, Horror Tree, 365 Tomorrows, and Dark Horizons: An Anthology of Dark Science Fiction. She also has stories set to appear in Weirdpunk Books’s upcoming Zombie Punks F*** Off and forthcoming issues of Polar Borealis and Deadman’s Tome. 

Her non-fiction arts and culture coverage has been published in a number of outlets. She blogs at madisonmcsweeney.com and tweets (mostly about horror, rock music, and the Canadian arts scene) from @MMcSw13. 

I Cried

I cried when you passed.

Tears flowed and rained down my cheeks as the preacher spoke over your casket.

I sobbed as friends and family tried their best to ease my pain. 

Walking through the empty house brought on wails of pain and loss.

I wept with every picture album I flipped through.

Pictures on the walls brought on howls of despair. 

Pain flowed with the tears and depression brought on thoughts of wanting.

I then called for help and received my heart’s desire.

Now horror fills my soul as I stare out the window at your dead gray eyes.

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.

Ink

For each crime, hers, his, theirs
a fresh inking, needle attacking her skin,
bleeding blue-black traceries.

A lion after the rape to give her courage.
A butterfly and a kingfisher to celebrate
her flight from him.
A tree of tear drops, 

for the losses borne in silence;
each dead babe’s name elaborately
etched in calligraphic swirls.

Over her left breast
a spider’s web, on whose filigree skeins 
insect corpses tangle,
dangling as ebony jewels.

Only her face remains bare,
clean, untouched, rare, radiant.
Each day’s gowning and derobing
presenting a vista of dreams and demons
to the mirror; her lover.

 

Alyson lives in the UK; her fiction has been published widely in print anthologies – DeadCades, Women in Horror Annual 2, Trembling with Fear 1 &2, Coffin Bell Journal 1 and Stories from Stone and in ezines, most often on the Horror Tree site, Siren’s Call and The Casket of Fictional Delights. In May 2019 Night of the Rider, was published by Demain, in their Short Sharp Shocks! E book series and reached the amazon kindle top 10 best seller lists. Her work has been read on podcasts (eg Ladies of Horror), shortlisted in competitions and published in charity anthologies. Future work will appear in anthologies from Things in the Well, Mortal Realm and Twisted Wing Publishers.

She performs at open mics, teaches, edits and hangs out with her dog on the moor in all weathers.

https://alysonfayewordpress.wordpress.com/

Twitter @AlysonFaye2

Turmoil

The inner tide swells, tangles of weed asphyxiate me. His fist closes in my hair, my face keeps hitting the water. Coldness strips me. My soul sways splashing against the walls of my ribs, stirring the mud, lashing, scratching, searching for sins like stones sinking me, but I can’t see them, nor the light I am sad to lose; just feel the roughness of his sandpaper jaw. My hair sticks like eels to my eyes, a blob like a hand to my mouth, drowning my scream. Buried in a killer’s conscience, I only hear Time pound away on heavy boots. 

Ximena is writing short stories and poetry. Her work has been published online in Literary Stories, Spillwords and The World of Myth Magazine, and printed in various anthologies by publishers including Black Hare Press, Clarendon House Publications, Dragon Soul Press, Stormy Island Publishing and Fantasia Divinity. Originally from Chile, English is her second language. She has a degree in Arts & Communication Science and lives in Nottingham with her family.

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