Trembling With Fear 01/26/2020

​Welcome to another edition of Trembling With Fear. We’re only a few weeks in to the New Year but already the world around us is beginning to resemble those celluloid imaginings of many a post-apocalyptic film. Fires rage out of control and a new virus jumps from animal to human causing concern amongst governments. Who needs horror when we’ve got all this going on? Answer we do. We can write reality onto the page and work out our fears in safety. Horror writing is a catharsis of many a nightmare.

Now to the nightmares in Trembling With Fear. The first story up is A Country Cottage by Fiona Jones. The writer paints a perfect picture postcard image of the rural idyll. So many little details of flowers and foliage are coloured in, with just the right hint of something dark lurking beneath those plants and within the cottage itself. Gradually the sense of colour changes, the dark rises up and out. The contrast and the change in the balance of colour moves the story along as well as the physical interaction with the cottage’s owner.

Bone Tree by Catherine Berry is typical of the torments of a younger sibling at the hands of their older brother or sister. The story leads to a nightmare or is it real? Childhood fears and torments are always a rich source for material.

7% by Melissa Elborn reminds us of the stuff of life, what is truly central to our survival – almost simply so.

Zombie Prank by Norbert Gora focusses on the conflict between what you know is real or unreal and what you see. Playing on this idea of the possible versus the impossible and what a person believes can lead to many interesting scenarios.

 

Steph

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

Valentine’s Special Call for Submissions

Ahh, Valentine’s Day…a celebration of undying love and romance, a time to do something special for the one you love. But it’s not all hearts and flowers, is it? For the upcoming Valentine’s Special, we’re looking for stories that crawl upon the underbelly of romance…obsession, crimes of passion, and love that continues perhaps long after it should. Relationships that have run their course. Evil deeds done in the name of love. Love letters to the damned.

Need to get rid of the foul taste of bad romance? Pick up your poison pen and write about it. Send us your short stories, drabbles, and Unholy Trinities that reflect upon the dark side of love.

Stories can be sent directly to Catherine at [email protected] Catherine Kenwell

Editor, Trembling With Fear

As you’re reading this, my project for work has launched and I (in theory) have some breathing room again! We’ll see if that actually happens but I’ll need to play catch up wither way.

A couple key notes!

  • TWF needs more shorts and drabble! (Specifically drabble) 😉
  • Our WIHM features aren’t full yet. If you’d like to contribute, PLEASE reach out to [email protected] soon!
  • I’ll be hunting down a cover in the coming weeks and we can hopefully push forward on our next anthology release soon!
Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

A Country Cottage

A sweet, chocolate-box picture of an old cottage: thatched, low-gabled, timbered in mediaeval style, with leaded windows. A traditional-style garden: rambling roses on trellises against the house, geraniums in flowerpots, lavender at the borders, sweet peas in hanging baskets beside the door. Scents and colours crowded so vividly you would never notice the slender green-black spikes of something like cacti standing here and there between the livelier plants, pushing upwards from every patch of soil—even from the red clay flowerpots and painted window-boxes. 

“Eh, I know who lives up along there,” Mr Parry said. “Course I do, lived here going on eighty-nine years myself. Old Mrs Kennaway, that’s her. Old as the hills she is. You want to steer clear of her.” He shook his head and would say no more. 

Mrs Kennaway pottered in her garden on fine mornings, a small, tidy-looking figure always in floral pinks. Her eyes, pale-grey and slightly dazed in expression, seemed to look past you, but she would pass the time of day in a mildly plaintive, faraway voice. She would offer a newly-potted flower or a home-baked scone, or invite you in to share a pot of tea in delicate china cups and saucers. 

A smell of fresh baking seemed always to fill her cottage; and under that, the clean-swishing scent of laundry—and below that again, a hint of lavender, thin-bluish as a distant plume of wood-smoke. You would have to have a keen nose indeed to discover, beneath it all, the iron tang of blood, old blood, impure like the fluids of an uncleaned wound. 

Strangers, tourists, would pause by Mrs Kennaway’s front gate to admire her classic little dwelling. They marvelled at the old-fashioned cottage with its beautifully-preserved windows and perfect thatch, or they gazed in delight at her picturesque old garden, brimming with all the right blooms in all the right places. They would photograph the scene, and some would return to photograph it again, disappointed with their first attempts, which never seemed to capture the beauty of the place. 

A long-established garden will withstand a few months of neglect without any startling change. When the doors and windows of the picture-postcard cottage stayed shut for three months and more, the garden hardly seemed to alter. Only a few of the red-potted geraniums, standing out of rain, withered, leaving pointed, thorny dark spikes visible in their place. All the other foliage and flowers still thickly disguised the long, fanglike growths intruding into their midst. 

“Eh, well, it’s been a while now,” Mr Parry said. “She’s in the hospital, just a chest infection, but she’d nearly died this last Easter, and they do say…” He lowered his voice. “They say a sudden illness changes you like. Changes your character.”

He coughed and took a swig of his tea—strong milky tea in a thick mug stained with nothing else but tea. 

“You know what though, I don’t believe it,” he resumed. “You can change your clothes and suchlike: can’t change who you are. When the walls break down, what you see’s what was hiding back there all along.”

Mrs Kennaway must have recovered soon after, enough to return home, for doors and windows opened again in the little white cottage, and her pink-floral form moved to and fro near the house—perhaps a little less frequently, a little more hesitantly. She would no longer call “Good morning” or “Good afternoon”, but would mutter to herself as though angry or afraid. Once or twice that autumn she straightened up as though recollecting herself, smiled a disconcertingly toothy smile, and repeated her customary offers of cakes and teatimes, but the occasional smells of cooking or cleaning could no longer disguise the thick-seeping odour of blood. 

“Ah, well, it’s a sad life for her now, poor old gal,” Mr Parry commented. “You’d think she’d get a home help in, or even just a gardener now and then, but she’ll none of it.” He nodded sagely. “No, she don’t want anyone coming in. Secrets, that’s what. She’ll not have eyes and ears round her place that she can’t pull the wool over.”

Mrs Kennaway’s health improved over the winter and following spring; at all events, her movements became gradually more agile and she made herself as busy as ever. But the flowers of her garden began to wither or go to seed. Sometimes the old woman could pull a couple of geraniums into leaf, or coax a rose-bush into pink-yellow flower, but the mysterious dark protrusions spiked upwards out of shrunken, colourless foliage and dull shedding blooms all around her, and the darkness of earth would gleam on her gloves like oil, dripping slowly downwards back into her soil. 

“Do come in,” she said. “So lovely to see you. I’ll make a nice cup of tea.” She took her gardening gloves off, spent a long time washing her hands. 

“No, it’s all right,” she said, suddenly snappish. “It’s my kitchen. No, I don’t need help. You go and wait in the dining room.”

The tea tray, when she finally brought it, held the usual china teapot, three cups and saucers, a light sponge cake and a heavy-duty bread knife. No plates or spoons. 

“Yes, that’s right, three cups,” she said impatiently. “Three of us for tea. You, me, and Luci. He’s always been kind to me, Luci has. Sit down!”

She poured the tea, placing one cup in front of an empty chair. The teacup stood there on its saucer, unmoving, of course—but the level of tea within it seemed gradually to fall as though the cup had cracked… and yet no leak made itself visible either in the saucer or on the tablecloth.

Mrs Kennaway began to cut the cake. 

Suddenly she turns towards me, her pale eyes focusing for the first time just behind my own, like a snake remembering how to strike. And I turn, too, and run, unharmed I think, out of the house and through the short garden, dodging the knifelike spikes of blackish vegetation that seem to bend, to lean towards me. I run and run, searching for the gate, trying to remember where it stood open just a short while before. The snake eyes never leave mine, twist and turn as I might, my breath giving out and my legs slowing as though in treacle. I duck and dodge again to avoid the quickening touch of the spiking forms around me. They do not look like cacti now. 

Fiona Jones

Fiona Jones is a creative writer living in Scotland. She is a regular contributor to Folded Word, and has short fiction on Silver Pen, Buckshot Magazine and various others. Her published work is visible via @FiiJ20 on Facebook, Twitter and Thinkerbeat.

Bone Tree

She lies in the dark, watching the shadows, waiting. Her cousin had told her the truth about the apple tree. Gnarled and barren, it sat like a squat, dark figure in the front yard. The hollow trunk and brittle branches were more sinister than she’d realized.

“It’s a doorway,” her cousin said. “At night, skeletons creep out, tear the skin off people, and steal their bones.”

Creeeeaaaak!

Pulling the covers to her chin, she holds her breath. The tree groans and screeches. The shadows begin to jerk and sway. A soft clattering grows louder. A rattling gets closer.

She screams.

Catherine Berry

Catherine Berry lives in Michigan, sings with her dog, and loves potatoes. Her work has been published in Horror Tree’s Trembling With Fear and in the anthologies Trembling With Fear: Year 1 and Trembling With Fear: Year 2.

More of her work can be found at www.caterinaberyl.blogspot.com

 

7%

If you cut me then I bleed red blood. Red for danger. Red for passion. Red for life – for the dead don’t bleed.

But the vampires have it wrong. Only 7% of the body is blood. A mere five litres compared to the 45 litres of water inside us. We’re told to drink two litres of water a day; we’re dead in four days without it. 

It is every drop of water you need to suck from my empty vessel; vacuuming my skin until it glues to my bones forever. We don’t need flesh and blood; we are immortal. 

Melissa Elborn

Melissa Elborn writes short horror fiction and is a former award-winning journalist. She haunts deepest, darkest Bedfordshire in England with her husband, daughter and two black cats. Her work has previously featured in Siren’s Call eZine.

Twitter: @MelissaElborn
Author blog: melissaelborn.com/

Zombie prank

Zombies don’t exist, I thought, seeing the bloodthirsty horde in front of me. Their stench, however, assured me that what I saw was real. The first of the clumsy undead approached me and leaned toward my head. I was sure it was going to bite my skull at any moment.

“Don’t eat my brain,” I squeaked.

“Oh, I won’t deny myself such sweetness,” it replied and then a second voice came from somewhere in the crowd. “Got it!”

A camera slid out from among the roaring zombies.

“What the hell?” I asked, incredulous.

“It’s Ashton Zombietcher and you got punk’d.”

Norbert Góra

“Norbert Góra is a 29 years old poet and writer from Poland. He is the author of more than 100 poems which have been published in poetry anthologies in USA, UK, India, Nigeria, Kenya and Australia”.

Links:

https://www.facebook.com/norbert.gora.94

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14606147.Norbert_G_ra

Trembling With Fear 01/19/2020

Welcome back to Trembling With Fear, January certainly seems to be whizzing by. Thanks to keen-eyed readers for letting me know Richard Meldrum had managed to unofficially sneak into TWF last week instead of Alyson Faye’s story. Apologies to Alyson.

I hope your writing year is going well, I’ve only just found the time and energy to start a new short story which is tough when I’m supposed to be writing a story a month for my writing group. How do you motivate yourself in these dark winter months?

It’s good to see others have no such issue with writing and are continuing to send us their stories. TWF wouldn’t be here if you didn’t!

The first story this week in Trembling With Fear is a Rain-Faded Photograph by DJ Tyrer. The opening paragraph is a good example of showing and not telling, capturing the mood and atmosphere perfectly. Even before you get to the explicit statement about taking a life, you already know this is what’s happened. This well-crafted story continues in the same vein, painting feelings, pulling you inexorably along to the end.

My Place in the Family by Will H. Blackwell, Jr. is a neat little exercise in twisting perceptions and thereby creating horror.

Dark Space by Edmund Stone is the stuff of nightmares and plays on common fear.

Something Good to Eat by Clint Foster is a straightforward trick-or-treat tale with a nice twist at the end. In this particular version, there is a heavy emphasis on trust given to a person due to their appearance.

Steph

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

Valentine’s Special Call for Submissions

Ahh, Valentine’s Day…a celebration of undying love and romance, a time to do something special for the one you love. But it’s not all hearts and flowers, is it? For the upcoming Valentine’s Special, we’re looking for stories that crawl upon the underbelly of romance…obsession, crimes of passion, and love that continues perhaps long after it should. Relationships that have run their course. Evil deeds done in the name of love. Love letters to the damned.

Need to get rid of the foul taste of bad romance? Pick up your poison pen and write about it. Send us your short stories, drabbles, and Unholy Trinities that reflect upon the dark side of love.

Stories can be sent directly to Catherine at [email protected] Catherine Kenwell

Editor, Trembling With Fear

I’m hitting the final 2 weeks of a major project launch at my day job. After that, I honestly feel I’ll be able to breathe a bit again! 

In the meantime, I just wanted to remind you that WIHM is next month! We’re still looking for women who work in the realm of horror publishing (authors / reviewers / bloggers / editors / publishers) who would like to contribute guest posts to the site. If this is something which would interest you, please do reach out on our contact page or at [email protected]

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

A Rain-Faded Photograph by DJ Tyrer

He felt awful. He felt as if there were something crawling about in his guts, gnawing at him from within. Guilt.

John glanced at his speed, keeping it low. He’d been driving this route to and from work for years, knew it by heart. Maybe that was the problem. He’d grown careless, like disrespecting a lover whose presence has grown too familiar. This was his first day back along this road in a month. He’d been taking taxis, but the toll on his wallet was growing too high and the counsellor had said he needed to confront his fear.

“Get back on the horse.” As if you could compare what had happened with taking a tumble!

“I never should have listened,” he told the empty car, but he knew he hadn’t had much choice.

Then, he was turning the corner and he felt a surge of panic. His foot pushed down on the brake pedal and the car slowed to a crawl. The twin beams of the headlights caressed their way across the tarmac and along the grassy verge until he saw it: A pile of bouquets and wreaths.

This was where it had happened.

He steered onto the roadside a little way past the mound of flowers and engaged the handbrake.

He sat breathing deeply for a while, trying to regain a little composure.

John considered phoning work to tell them he’d be late.

“Screw ’em.”

He released his seatbelt, then opened the door and slowly levered himself out.

The morning air was chill and damp. The road in front of him sparkled under the lights of his car. Behind, the hazard lights sent odd shadows flickering across the scene. There was just enough light to make out where the memorial lay.

Slowly, he walked towards it. He should’ve brought something. Or, would that have been construed as offensive? He had no idea how you were supposed to act when you took a life. Careless driving, they’d called it. His lawyer had argued it down to some points on his license and a fine. But, fancy words couldn’t heal the ache he felt.

The woman had been little more than a blur when he’d skidded round the corner and a lifeless sack of flesh when he’d stared back at her while a passerby screamed into their phone for an ambulance. Then, he’d read the newspaper report, a tiny article that barely seemed sufficient for the enormity of what had happened, and had realised she was a wife and a mother. He felt sick at the thought.

He approached the makeshift memorial. A bunch of withered flowers was tied to a lamppost with a rain-faded photograph. The lamp was as dead as the woman. Around it, more flowers were gathered. Some had been blown away down the road. He started gathering them and returned them to their proper place. It was a gesture he felt compelled to make, yet was a hollow one.

Nothing he could do could undo what he’d done. He growled at his impotence, the injustice of it all.

If only…

There was no point. Ifs were useless.

He turned away and started to walk back towards his car, but the soft sound of a rustle behind him made him halt.

There was no breeze.

John turned. He couldn’t see anyone in the darkness. He’d half-expected to see someone there on the verge, brushing against the bushes that framed it; had dreaded it, in case it were a friend or relative come to lay another wreath, someone who might recognise him. But, there was no-one there. Nor was there the spooky glow of a cat’s or fox’s eyes. There was nothing that might have made the sound in sight.

And, there was no breeze.

He almost turned away, only he heard the sound again. It had come from the piled-up flowers. He looked at them; he could see they were moving, shifting. He shivered.

There was no breeze.

As he watched, the wreaths and bouquets seemed to fall upwards from the bottom of the pile to the top. The pile was growing taller and slimmer and, he realised, seemed to be taking on a shape reminiscent of a person.

John couldn’t believe what he was seeing and wanted to turn away, run back to his car. But, a horrified fascination compelled him to keep watching until the figure of a woman composed of flowers stood before him. There was a head, but no features he could discern, save those of a rain-faded photograph that perched somehow at the centre of where a face should have been.

The figure took a step towards him, faltering and horribly loose.

John gave a scream and turned to run.

Headlights flashed around the corner and seemed to transfix him with their beams.

Hands that were gentle and soft, yet had a grip like steel, seized him by the elbows and thrust him forward, out into the road.

A car veered towards him. Light blinded him.

In that second, John realised that, while there was nothing he could do to change things, there was, perhaps a sacrifice that might balance the books.

He felt himself flying.

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 CallHinnom MagazineRavenwood 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/

My Place in the Family

My parents said, near my grandparents’ farmhouse, there was a well with water close to the top—that this well was special, because it had a ‘being’ in it, at a seemingly impossible depth. Because of the water’s preserving purity, they said, this ‘being’ could eventually be seen.

I looked, year after year, but saw only my own, deceptive reflection—nothing beyond that.

After many years of peering over the well’s stone-rim, I finally saw this ‘being,’ at the very bottom of the well. I realized, then, that what I had seen all along was me, down there, looking up.

Will H. Blackwell, Jr.

Will H. Blackwell, Jr. is an emeritus professor (botany), Miami University, Ohio, presently living in Alabama (USA), where he continues research on microscopic, parasitic, freshwater fungi. His fiction has been published in: Brilliant Flash Fiction, Disturbed Digest, FrostFire Worlds, Outposts of Beyond and 365 Tomorrows. His poems have appeared in Aphelion, Black Petals, Illumen, Scifaikuest and Star*Line.

Dark Space

I wake to a suffocating weight on my chest and darkness all around. I can’t breathe! Cursed consumption has taken my health. But I feel better now. I’ve been in a deep sleep but the fog has lifted and I’m awake. I reach forward into the night and my hand hits something solid. I retract, then lightly run my fingers over it, feeling the texture of wood. Where am I? I make my hand into fists and pound into the small space in front of me. No, it can’t be. I know where I am. “I’m not dead!” I scream.

Edmund Stone

Edmund Stone is a writer, poet, and artist who spins tales of strange worlds and horrifying encounters with the unknown. He lives in a quaint town on the Ohio River with his wife, a son, four dogs and two mischievous cats. You can contact him at edmundstoneauthor.com, Twitter @edmundstonehwr, or on [email protected] 

Something Good to Eat

I always have the pleasure of opening the door for kids on Halloween.

“Trick or treat!” Their screams are music to my ears as I welcome them in finishing the fresh meat-pie in my hand, offering a warm, grandfatherly grin. 

“Halloween’s my favorite time of year!” They believe me because of all the decorations, and though sometimes they balk at coming so far into a stranger’s home, they never turn back. They follow my outstretched hand, “I have candy inside, there by the basement.”

Soon enough they’re all inside. The heavy door latches and bolts.

Looks like I tricked them.

Clint Foster

Clint Foster lives with a herd of four cats, a beloved Basset Hound, Zero, and his wonderful wife, Nik. He has written for magazines and anthologies in the past, published a novel, and is working on a series for which he has big plans. As a lover of stories, he is excited to share his own.
 

Unholy Trinity: Three More Bad Habits by Justin Boote

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.

Bad Habit # 1

Wendy had long since realized that love was not forever, despite what the songs said. Forty years of marriage told her differently. Her husband’s bad habits emphasized it. She could live with the flings, the binges; she told herself it was to be expected.

But not this.

The way he ate. Smacking his lips like a flapping fish on dry land.

Slap. Slap. Slap.

Like walking through fields of wet cow shit.

It resonated in her head, like a metronome.

It tormented her. Tortured her. 

No more.

She thrust the kitchen knife deep inside his mouth. 

Slap now, you pig.

Bad Habit # 2

To Peter, it sounded like a thousand drains being unblocked, the water sucked down into the sewers. In this case, though, it went down their throats. If it was so hot, why not blow the damn stuff? But no, tiny drops sucked up into stinging lips. Like a vacuum cleaner.

He finished his own coffee and stood to leave. He couldn’t take it anymore. A dozen clients slurping at his coffee in his own bar. It had to stop.

He returned later and poured laxative into the various coffee pots. 

Let’s see you slurp now. 

But your butts slurping instead.

 

Bad Habit #3

Clink, clink, clink.

Faster, louder, slower, quieter; it didn’t matter. It wasn’t hypnotic, it was maddening. The sound resonated in Mike’s head, his ears.

Clink, clink. Clink, clink.

Round and round went the spoons, making Mike dizzy. Angry. Furious. 

Clink, clink.

He wanted to scream at them. How long to stir your damn coffee? Stop that godawful noise! They weren’t even looking, completely oblivious reading the morning newspaper.

Like an early morning alarm clock ringing in his head. Reverberating constantly.

Enough was enough.

He returned with a baseball bat and smashed at fingers and wrists stirring coffee. 

Stir now, assholes. 

Justin Boote

Justin Boote is an Englishman living in Barcelona for over twenty years, who has been writing short horror/suspense stories for two years. To date, he has had published or accepted for publishing around 20 stories in diverse magazines. He is also moderator for a private writer’s forum, The Write Practice.

He can be found at Facebook under his own name.

Trembling With Fear 01/12/2020

It’s been a long week. I’m now back at work, although not as early in the morning as previously – just as well as I haven’t been sleeping properly. I considered writing a book about it but Stephen King beat me to it with Insomnia! In amongst all that there’s been my work here and the gradual build up to the release of my novella, Bottled, by Silver Shamrock. Thank you everyone for the kind comments and support online at what is a nerve-wracking time. I would also like to throw in here, that if you are looking for a publisher, Silver Shamrock have been extremely supportive and professional all the way through.

A couple of editorial ‘asks’ before we go to the stories. Firstly, when you submit, please could you make sure indented paragraphs use the ‘indent first line’ feature in Word. Do not use spaces or tabs as this causes problems and extra work on formatting. You will have my eternal gratitude! I am also doing a bit of housekeeping and tidying up TWF author files ready for 2020. A number of you are regular contributors and I sometimes feel I might be using out-of-date bios. Please could I ask everyone to send in a bio with their next submission, even if they are regulars, so I can make sure all bios are current. Thank you!

Our selection of stories this week in Trembling With Fear kicks off with Sprox by Ryan Benson. This is a bizzare, but unique, story. I had to read it a couple of times because of its surreal effect but the feel and tone drew me in straight away. Stuart was able to recognise a lot of social commentary on the state of affairs in the US – which was something I don’t always pick up on being in the UK. Using horror as social commentary doesn’t always happen at TWF and is something we could see more of. Use horror to protest, use satire and dark humour – all is welcome.

A New Parent by Patrick Wynn has an excellent and very dark twist to one of the most innocent and joyful of scenes.

Hungry, Hungry Fools by Jackie Allison, maps the unknown. An exotic location, ancient and hidden entities, all add up to a chilling little story, particularly with its guardian an apparently harmless s woman.

Little Boy Lost by Alyson Faye brings us into Psycho territory with Robbie’s penchant for taxidermy and his relationship with his mother but she dresses it in gothic clothes. Neatly told and centring on a skill not often referenced in stories to create distinctly creepy images as you read.

 

Steph

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

Valentine’s Special Call for Submissions

Ahh, Valentine’s Day…a celebration of undying love and romance, a time to do something special for the one you love. But it’s not all hearts and flowers, is it? For the upcoming Valentine’s Special, we’re looking for stories that crawl upon the underbelly of romance…obsession, crimes of passion, and love that continues perhaps long after it should. Relationships that have run their course. Evil deeds done in the name of love. Love letters to the damned.

Need to get rid of the foul taste of bad romance? Pick up your poison pen and write about it. Send us your short stories, drabbles, and Unholy Trinities that reflect upon the dark side of love.

Stories can be sent directly to Catherine at [email protected] Catherine Kenwell

Editor, Trembling With Fear

I feel like I’m barely treading water right now. I’ve got a HUGE project at my day job going on which has really put me behind on my writing and Horror Tree. (Somehow, we’ve been managing to continue our weekly posts on schedule! Honestly, Steph is a HUGE reason as to why posts have been continuing so stably!)

Next week should mark the end of the current big push so I’m hoping that things will be back on track soon.

Outside of that, I’m currently hunting for covers for this year’s release of the TWF anthology and a few other fun things.

More to come soon! Until that time, I hope you enjoy this week’s stories. Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

Sprox by Ryan Benson

“We don’t have enough damn paste,” said a man in a white button-down shirt and modest gray slacks. He removed his thick black-rimmed glasses and wiped the sweat from his brow, leaving a bit of brown goop in its place. “Did you hear me, Daed?”

“Stop whining, Jonah,” said Daed, dressed in similar attire except with navy blue pants. “I’m sure Caasi gave us the correct amount.” Daed dropped to his knees as he spread the paste as thin as possible over the cracks in the grey wall.

Jonah returned to his desk, a meter away, and picked up a six-inch red rod. He placed it on his typewriter, and under the dim fluorescent lighting, the rod to Sprox process began. The small cylinder went into the left of the machine, and as Jonah typed, the Sprox formed at the right side of the device. Beautiful cube Sproxes.

“If THEY get through the cracks, THEY will make the Sproxes,” said Daed. “And demand fewer Sproxes in return.”

“I don’t see why Caasi couldn’t refuse to use THEM, instead of making us fill cracks,” Jonah muttered to himself. 

“I heard you, and if you’re not careful, Caasi will too. You’ll be out on your ass. A lot of people want to work in this room. Look at Gregor.” Daed nodded to an empty desk. “He had a bug and never returned. His family owes Caasi too.”

“Somewhere else. Something else,” said Jonah. “Let’s get married.”

“Yeah, right.”

“I have the forms,” said Jonah. “We are around each other so much people would think we were in love.”

“Love? I guess that makes sense, but I can’t take time off.”

“We could do it here.”  

“Jonah, I want to do it right. Big ceremony.” Daed paused. “Maybe I’ll ask Caasi.”

“Caasi? But I came up with the marriage idea. Remember? I’m the one that wanted more. You marrying Caasi does nothing for me.”

“I need more Sproxes. We live for our Sproxes. You know the deal.”

“You have enough Sproxes to afford rods to eat. What will you do with the rest?”

“Grow up, Jonah.” Daed grabbed his typewriter. He patched the wall with one hand and Sproxed with the other.

Jonah turned his attention to his rotary phone. Damn thing took forever to dial. He never had reason to call anyone, but a pushbutton phone would surely call out faster. Dreams of marriage returned to Jonah’s head. A quick look around the room revealed others who he’d intimately labored alongside. Love is love.

Settling on the raven-haired beauty, Iza, he made his move. Iza sat slightly above him in the room’s hierarchy, but she always seemed impressed with his rod to Sprox efficiency. 

“Iza?” Ants filled Jonah’s stomach as he approached. Her well-ironed button-down white shirt and brown slacks caught his eye. Iza turned to him, but before either could speak, a brilliant glow filled the room. “Hello!” A grinning man in a blue pinstripe suit held his arms high like a conquering hero or game show host. Caasi returned.

“Excuse me, Jonah. Gotta talk to Caasi,” said Iza.

Before Iza could stand Jonah darted in front of her. “I’m first in line.” He stared at her and remembered Daed’s rejection. He couldn’t do that again. “First in line… for Caasi.”

Iza rolled her eyes. “Don’t upset him. I’m thinking of drafting a wedding contract with him. I know we’d—” 

Jonah left Iza talking and marched to Caasi. “Sir?”

“Yes?” Caasi straightened the picture on the wall near his desk.

“I need to talk about my position in the room.”

“Do you like my art? Just bought it.” Pinned within the frame sat hundreds of destroyed Sproxes arranged in a haphazard pattern. More Sproxes than Jonah earned in a year. Hell, more Sproxes than he could produce in a year.

“I would like to explore advancement.”

“Advancement?” Caasi ran his hands over his jacket sleeves to smooth the wrinkles. “I’m not so sure you could handle it. Besides, you and Daed make a great team.”

“Sir, I’m feeling constrained by my place in the room. If I don’t receive an advancement, I request you scale back my quota.”

Caasi sat at his desk, pulling out a rod and biting off the end. The rod cracked like a crisp carrot. He held a rod out to Jonah, who waved it off. Caasi leaned back in his chair. Two of his assistants approached. One placed a bib around his neck, and the other began applying shaving cream to his face. After a few swallows, Caasi pointed the stump of the rod at Jonah. “What will you do when I reduce your quota? Idle hands are the devil’s playthings.”

“I figured I’d travel.”

“Sure. Take the rest of the day off and visit the file cabinets. See the copier. Clear your head.”

“I thought I might leave the room,” said Jonah as he looked at the floor.

One assistant dropped the shaving lotion, and the other gasped. Caasi stopped chomping on the rod. 

“If I see other rooms,” said Jonah, “I’ll have a different perspective.”

Caasi shook his head. “No, no, no. Our perspective is all that matters. If their rooms were any good, THEY’d stay there.”

“I want to watch them harvest rods.”

“Rods? We turn them into Sprox.”

“But you can’t eat Sprox.”

“Jonah, a man can’t live on rods alone. Think of what the Sproxes bring.” Caasi waved his hand to show the room as if Jonah won it. All four gray walls.

“I suggest you apply yourself and prove how valuable you are to the room. If you’re dissatisfied with the job, you could reduce hours. But ‘could’ doesn’t mean ‘should.’ Someone would love to pick up your Sprox time.”

“I understand,” said Jonah. He looked at Caasi’s pushbutton phone. The boss had it all.

“Remember Josef’s breakdown?” asked Caasi. 

Josef had received a reprimand without explanation. Jonah recalled the man rubbing his head bald as he completed stacks of HR forms. Rods sat unSproxed until two men took Josef away.

 “We used some of THEM to finish Josef’s job,” said Caasi. “I don’t want to resort to that with you. Our room wouldn’t be our room with THEM. Besides, it took forever to eject THEM after we met the Sprox quota last month.”

“Why don’t we set a policy that makes it against the room to hire them at all? Or share some of our Sproxes, so they stay in their room?”

“First, they are called ‘THEM,’ not ‘them.’ Second, send Sproxes to other rooms? Give my hard-earned Sprox to some laze-about from another room? Next thing, you’ll want me to give you more Sproxes. Why don’t you share your Sproxes? No one is stopping you.”

“I don’t have anywhere near the number of Sproxes you do. You could give them more Sproxes than I own and wouldn’t notice any were missing.”

Caasi chuckled and placed his hand on Jonah’s shoulder. “You’re living in a fairy tale land. Frankly, I blame society today, not you. Look at my suit. It’s a little flare of me. We share the Sprox, and next, we’ll share everything. Don’t you like being an individual, Jonah?”

Jonah surveyed the room. A dozen or so people in white shirts buzzed about the room making Sproxes. He looked down at his white shirt—so many damn buttons. 

“If you want to travel, why don’t you train to glow like me. I see beautiful rooms, and people love me. Not to mention the Sproxes.”  

Glow? Sproxes, renown, and travel. Jonah could aim higher than Daed or Iza. Caasi even.

“Glow training is intensive and lasts at least four years,” said Caasi.

“Four years?”

“During which you will make all payments on time.”

“But then I’ll have to keep my Sprox job here. I have zero time now.”

“I’ll give you the opportunity, but I can’t do it for you.” Caasi held up a rod. “Now, you’re a rod.” He winked. “After the glow, you’ll be a Sprox. Who doesn’t love a good Sprox? The sides, vertices, and angles—all equal.”

“You completed the glow while working?” 

“Not exactly. My parents paid. Too bad you didn’t plan ahead like me, but fortunately, this is the room of opportunity. If a man has enough grit.”

“Thanks.” Jonah walked back to his desk as Iza crossed his path.

“Warm him up for me?” she said.

“What year is this?” said Jonah. Iza ignored him.

At his desk, Jonah found Daed patching the wall. 

“What year is this?”

“Stupid question. Best not to watch the clock. Rod to Sprox. Rod to Sprox.” Daed smiled. “With a little pasting thrown in between your rod-to-Sproxing.”

“We need more paste.” Jonah sat at his desk and turned rods to Sprox, soothed by the clickety-clack of his typewriter and his daydreams. 

I’ll be Caasi someday. I’ll show them. I’ll have the glow. The love. The art. The pushbutton phone. Sproxes to spare.

Ryan Benson

Ryan Benson previously found employment as a researcher/professor in Boston, MA. He now resides outside of Atlanta, GA with his wife and children. Ryan hopes to one day complete a novel, but until then he keeps himself busy writing short fiction stories. Trembling with Fear, Suspense Magazine, The Sirens Call, ARTPOST, Short Fiction Break, Martian, and The Collapsar Directive (Zombie Pirate Publishing) have published his work.

 Twitter: @RyanWBenson

A New Parent

Joy sat down on the wooden bench and watched the children enjoy the playground. The children ran, and giggled as they flew high on the swings,  climbed the bars or took turns on the slide. Joy smiled as she enjoyed watching the children almost as much as the children on the playground and she knew that she was going to be a great mother. Another woman waved to her little girl as she ran off to join the other children then sat on the bench next to Joy.

“Which one is yours?” The woman smiled.

“I’m still deciding,” Joy grinned.

Patrick 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..

Hungry, Hungry Fools

Maya’s beloved home, the forest, bespoke ancient. Twisted tree roots snaked above the ground as if seeking something beyond the soil. The canopy cradled a diversity of life beyond comprehension.

Maya greeted three more cartographers, sent by the logging company, to map the largest trees.

“Real shame the last crew went missing. Lost map makers, who would think?”

“Who would think?” Maya smiled.

“We’ll come back, job done, guaranteed.”

Life came without guarantees, but Maya did her part to keep the better of fools safe. The men entered the forest. As long as the trees were hungry, Maya guaranteed food.

Jackie Allison

Jackie Allison is a writer from Pennsylvania who is also a spouse, parent, and dog toy medic. Franken toys worthy of a few more tugs litter her home. She’s happiest barefoot at the beach or in the forest. Her work has appeared in Funny Times and Chicken Soup for the Soul. www.jackieallison.life

Little Boy Lost

These days he was never short of company, not like when he’d been Momma’s precious little Robbie Richardson, who no one had wanted to play with. 

He’d saved all Momma’s clothes too. They were vintage, just like his friends. He snickered at his wit.

Robbie pulled open the wardrobe door. Inside hung racks of dresses and nightgowns. It was a treasure trove of dress-up for the dead; for all those who sat waiting in his basement. The missing, forgotten and abandoned. 

The evening course Momma had paid for in taxidermy, ‘cos young men need a hobby’  had really paid off.

Alyson Faye

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

Serial Killers: The Waiting Ruins by Martin P. Fuller

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

The Waiting Ruins. Part 2/2

Davies arrived at Gaunt’s house, finally accepting the invitation to return.

The death of his father still weighed heavy on his heart, and although Gaunt could be pompous at times, his jokes and wit did much to lift Davies’ spirits. 

As he looked out on the garden on the morning of the third day of his visit, he remembered his interrupted quest. A determination settled upon Davies to conquer the hill and reach its summit.

He again borrowed his host’s sturdy walking stick and collected his knapsack. Into this he placed the gardener’s billhook and a light luncheon provided by the cook, together with a small jug of cider. As an afterthought he packed a hand-held oil lamp and matches. He had no wish to walk the rough byways of the area in the dark.  

With his earthly comforts seen to and equipment stowed away, he practically marched to the hill. 

He sought out the previously discovered gate stones at the hills base and commenced to slash and cut a way through the buried driveway. Occasionally, parts of the cobbled surface emerged as he crept around the sides of the hill.

The effort involved was prodigious and Davies blessed the cook who had provided the sandwiches and the cider. After five hours of exhausting work he finally approached another set of gate posts in a less ruinous state than those at the bottom of the hill. Fallen stone spheres lay on the ground, toppled long ago. A partly demolished wall seemed to run from the posts, although the trees and undergrowth were even thicker here than at any time during his climb.

By now afternoon had given way to early evening. Davies prepared the oil lamp and took a rest by the moss-covered stone sphere. 

He had been so engrossed in his task, it was a shock to realise he was surrounded by silence. No birdsong or buzzing from bee. Flies, usually the plague of any walker in the countryside, were absent. Even the trees rustling had ceased. This green gloomy silence was unnatural and disturbing. The first element of fear began to touch Davies’ consciousness. 

Darkness. A deep longing for the non-light, when its malign heart can reach out from rubble filled cellars to trap the spirit of the trespasser. Words of dust and web, incantations of horror and malice, ooze from the mortar binding the hewn rock edifice.

Davies went through the gateway, cutting through thick tendrils of blackberry thorn. The blasted things clung around his legs, wrapping around his ankles like dying men begging for help. The only concession the humid air free of biting insects.    

The remembering. Obsessive lives, the hate and twisted emotions of the long-ago residents who wore away its stone steps, opened gateways to differing hells. The sweet longing for power to trickle through its joints and body. The true corruptions of the creatures who had lived behind its walls, sustained it and gave it such bloody memory.

Twilight gnawed at the dappled light. Davies considered turning back, giving up this mad obsession. But something eroded his doubts, urging him on. 

This combined with a curiosity to see what lay behind the curtain of vegetation made him press on. He swung the billhook into the thin branches, cutting into bramble and leaf, stamping on black green foliage. His reward came as the ruins were suddenly revealed, just as the sun touched the surrounding hills.

The building was more complete than he had assumed. It stood in a rubble-strewn clearing, its façade showing signs of ancient burning. The holes in the stonework indicated battle. He speculated on something from the English civil war but knew of no siege in these parts. 

Davies walked through ruined garden walls to the shattered stones. The door frame had caved in and he was able to walk over the threshold into the house proper. Wooden staircases and panels had long since rotted to sheds of fibre, but the stone remained.

Shadows congealed with the twilight and he lit his lantern slowly walking forwards with his walking stick raised. He realised the strangeness of this place and those fears and intuition started to demand his attention.

Carefully watching his steps on the moss-covered stones and fearful of any holes in the floor that would pitch him into the recesses of the cellars of the house, he explored the structure.

With each step he thought the shadows twitched. There was movement like ink dropping in water. As the heat of day evaporated into the cool of the night, so did Davies courage evaporate as he walked the path towards the hell hiding in the stones.

The sun was near set and the shadows of tree and stone combined into a gloom of fading greys. His path led to a door, its timbers somehow uncorrupted by the elements and age. His heart raced with trickles of perspiration chilling lines of skin under his shirt and down his face. 

Here, before that dark door of oak and iron, it was if two voices whispered into his mind. One he knew was his own self, screaming run, Run, RUN. The other strange, enticing, hypnotic, drawing him to the door, which even now clicked open and slowly to reveal a solid blackness in which something twisted and squirmed like maggots in a corpse. His lamp light refused to penetrate the hateful obsidian portal, merely describing its edges. And the blackness caressed his thoughts.

Wavering, he stood at the dark door’s threshold as the last rays of the sun left the dry silent air, his will being fought over by self-preservation and the darkness beyond. He swayed as almost in a dream he edged towards the sharp line of utter nothingness beyond the door frame.

What brought him out of the trance he never knew, but he snapped back to the real world; a world of murky shades and hard ruined stone.  

He turned and ran, ran through clawing branch, tripping over root and blackberry tendril. Twigs scratched, stones fell in his path, scraping arms and legs. He kept the lantern high, pushed forward like a crucifix to try and dispel the evil of this place. He cleaved to that warm light, his only hope, never daring to look back at that open door, despite the awful sounds he heard.

On he ran, onto the cobbled driveway. Slippery moss and lichen caused him to slip, brushing against the stone gate posts. The stone sang to his mind, a song so cruel he wept at the implied terror. It was here as he sought firmer footing, he glanced backwards into the heart of the ruins. The stones moved like wobbling flesh, and a sick green luminance revealed the silhouette of some creature that must have been the pet of the Devil. The brief glimpse Davies had was of loathsome, corpse white skin, claws and tentacles writhing in agitated anger and red burning eyes. Those eyes scarred his soul, branding his folly and commanding he return to the dominion of death.

He ran, scrambled, staggered away from the vile structure, gripping the lamp in his left hand and slashing at any vegetation seeming to creep into his path. His knapsack fell from his shoulders, but he would not stop. He breathed in the hills stagnant air, the stench of rot and the grave filling his craving lungs. All sense of time withered as he plunged on, falling, stumbling onto the hard cobbles. The trees hid the stars making his lamp the only light in the universe. And all the time he heard it behind him; enticing, roaring, commanding his return and surrender. 

He emerged from the hill’s domain at the foot of the hill, his sides twisted with pain, lungs bursting, blood painting his torn and scuffed skin, his clothing ragged and ripped. Still he clutched the lantern and still he ran. 

Behind him a sigh of some huge beast and a foul breeze grabbed at his hair and clothing. Run, crawl. Never stopping, in case the thing could leave its realm of horror and pursue him through the deepening night.

He reached Gaunt’s front door on all fours, his hands blistered and cut. This feeble pounding on the painted wood was eventually heard by the butler, who upon opening the door and seeing his master’s guest in such distress, raised the alarm.

Davies, half dead with fear and exhaustion was taken to his bed and a physician called. Davies could not be undressed as no matter what persuasion was spoken or force used, the lantern could not be prised from his hand.

 

Midnight’s embrace came to the land and night folded around the hill and its palace of deep wickedness. Plant, root, leaf and branch grew back to keep out the reckless adventurer, who would dally within its malevolent realm. An enchantment of forgetfulness and disinterest is generated easing memory.

Despite it being confined by nature, the hill and house plan new delights to play upon the flesh and creep into their thoughts. Those that stay beyond the realm of day, remain forever in its night.

It grieved about the loss of fresh meat, so nearly brought into its maw.

The ruins could wait however, always damned and always very hungry.

Martin P. Fuller

Martin P. Fuller lives in his shoebox house in West Yorkshire. He was in his previous exitances: –

a beer salesman, a pall bearer, a car delivery driver, and oh yes… a police officer for over 34 years.  

He started to write in 2013 after attending a creative writing class and since then has become a writing course junkie. 

Discovering his dark side, Martin has had a number of stories published in Trembling with Fear and several other anthologies including Deadcades published by Infernal Clock.

 

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