Funny how Stuart says I have time off Well, I have been away but IF there is internet, then I do try and do a bit of work. I’ve been away again this week, this time to visit my parents in Shropshire. It’s one of those counties in England that most people, even those in England, go ‘Shropshire? Where’s that?’. It is actually a very rural county situated between the West Midlands (home to cities like Birmingham) and Wales. The sky is a pastel blue, the blossom’s out and lambs abound. It really is beautiful around here when it’s like this.
Before we head into this week’s stories from Trembling With Fear, I just want to give a couple of shout-outs to TWF contributors. Congratulations to:
G.A. Miller, a regular contributor at TWF, who has recently published his short story collection Thirteen: A Collection of Dark Tales. I’ve read, and really enjoyed, his pages of darkness (as I have said in my review over at amazon and goodreads) and I’m sure you will too.
J.B. Toner, a new contributor to TWF – look out for his serial, The Knowing, this year – has just had his first novel published. It’s called Whisper Music and is available from Sunbury Books. I’ve not read this one yet, but I’m sure I will at some point. Good and evil clash in this vampire story which starts with a great ‘what if’ premise – ‘What if the Virgin Mary was bitten by a vampire?’. That thought just draws you in, doesn’t it?
In addition, two of our writers are joining me in Demain Publishing’s Short Sharp Shocks series (and I will be reading these):
Kev Harrison’s Cinders of a Blind Man Who Could See, is out April 19th: Something old lurks in Leonard’s Wood and something – or someone – in the sleepy village of Wincham is feeding it. Now Owen must face it or risk losing his son forever.
Kev’s author interview can be read on Demain Publishing’s blog. A screamer and a pantser, who knew? You’ll have to read the interview to find out more.
Alyson Faye’s Night of the Rider, will be available in May. I’ll post links to this when it’s up on amazon.
Always feel free to drop us a line about any publication information. We love sharing your successes with everyone.
Now for this week’s Trembling With Fear:
The Meat Reigns by Evan Marcroft. Suicidal porkduck. If you want to grab my interest and keep me reading, implant a bizarre image in my head. This creature snagged my interest as it reminded me somewhat of Douglas Adams’ Restaurant at the End of the Universe where the diners get to meet the ‘Dish of the Day’. In this story, these creatures arrive following an alien invasion. As the human population has become unsustainable and the planet damaged, these animals provide the food they need. The way to a person’s heart – and in this case, mind – is through their stomach. This story brings some of the critical issues facing us on this planet and takes them in a direction which might seem extreme. Tales featuring the issues we face are few and far between, yet environmental disaster, civil war, terrorism (the list is endless) all provide material which can be developed further. Already horror stories in themselves they can be seen in an even darker light or perhaps allow the writer to give guilty parties their come-uppance, at least on paper. A dark satire is always welcome.
Lucky Buckle by Kevin M. Folliard. The buckle of a leprechaun turns out to be lucky for Seamus but not so for its former owner. A straightforward story whose twist at the end provoked an emotional response from me, made me feel distinctly sorry for the leprechaun. I just kept imagining what such a fate must be like. There has to be something in a story, even a drabble which hooks me and for me, it’s that ending.
Rest in Peace, Mother by Hailey Piper. This is wonderful in its down-to-earth conversation between the children and their buried mother. Roles are reversed as the mother asks the children ‘Can I come out now?’ and apologises for whatever she’s done. ‘We’ll think about it, Mother,’ they say. This matter-of-factness adds a layer of dark humour which is terrific without being forced.
Under the Bridge Downtown by Matthew R. Davis. Lyrical and poetic taking down of a troll. From those initial fiery comments implying power in the writer’s invisibility to the end when the troll beneath the bridge is punished, reduced to hiding, no longer speaking out, hides. Great use of troll imagery and language, a unique poem.
Finally, remember our Summer Special. We’ve just received a story which looks like it might be a perfect fit for this. Anyone else got dark tales set under blue skies, on beaches or in a tent in some field. Caravan holidays I’m sure must warrant something or perhaps that Bank Holiday traffic jam. Then you’ve got the piers and arcades, candyfloss and mirror mazes … oops that’s been done, think Bradbury and Us got there first. But you could do it again, in your own inimitable way …Stephanie Ellis
This last week has run the full gambit of good to bad but with both of these areas, it has been BUSY.
Star Wars Celebration, Game of Thrones, Kid’s stuff, WORK, and all kinds of stuff in-between.
What I’m trying to get at here is I’m impossibly behind and I apologize on anything I owe anyone.
‘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
The Meat Reigns
Sir, my mission was to gather information, and I’m telling you, this is the information. No, don’t take my word for it, I brought plenty of footage. Not that it matters to me anymore. And bring more of that chicken, would you? God that’s good.
So anyway, yes. From all available records, First Contact occurred around three years after the Earth crossed the Bjurman Threshold—the point at which food production could no longer keep up with the mouths needing it and began to break down, just like your ancestors and mine all predicted it would. How? Oh, a collision of things. Mutant smartplagues gone rogue; radiation leftover from resource wars; oceans as lifeless and plasticky as bottled water. Pretty much all boxes ticked. Earth had turned out its pockets and found only lint. By the day my recon ship touched down, the population we abandoned had been cut in half.
The aliens landed in Europe first. Not the capitol of anything, just this cinder of a shanty-town in Normandy where the kids all sat around with toothpick limbs and bowling ball bellies just waiting to die. This visiting aid team happened to get the whole thing on camera. The ship came down in the middle of town, middle of day, with everyone looking on, and let out a dozen or so of these creatures at once. They don’t say anything, not so much as a we come in peace, just start carving half of their own into thighs and breasts and put them over a fire. You watch that video, now—it doesn’t take five minutes for all those hungry, spidery kids to make their choice. Us humans, we don’t have the brains we think we do. Just stomach accessories.
Every surviving language has a name for them. The official taxonomization is Sus alienus funestus. In English, the suicidal porkduck.
I think it’s accurate, anyway. That picture there is typical. A claw-footed boar about yea high, potbelly that drags when it walks. Face like a duck, with fingers on its bills to hold stuff with. It can’t run fast, and its got dappled skin like velvet, which is convenient, I suppose, since it doesn’t mind humans slaughtering and eating it. I’ve seen porkducks disembowel themselves and live long enough to crawl onto a flaming barbeque. If you want to know the evolutionary logic behind that, I couldn’t tell you. Ask the bees and ants, I guess.
Their invasion incurred zero human casualties. Their technology is centuries ahead of ours up here in the Union, but their ships have no weapons anyone perceived. In the course of the war they tanked everything Earth threw at them and turned the other cheek. They employed only one tactic throughout, and it won them the planet in less than a year; those that resist do not eat.
For months they airdropped themselves over those nations that welcomed them. Thousands of alien bodies per day swamped the slum-cities of London and Beijing and Monaco in all the fatty meat and vitamin-rich entrails they could want. Those governments that fired on them got to watch the rest of the world gorge on a steady downpour of flesh. It didn’t take long for the willing to overthrow the stubborn. By the time those great food-dumping ships touched down and disgorged the first porkducks who didn’t happily die on impact, they were welcomed with open arms and empty plates.
They say Jesus Christ conjured loaves and fishes from nothing. They say he gave up his life for our sins. But what had he done for humanity lately? And the messiah couldn’t have tasted half as good as a rack of smoked porkduck ribs. Speaking of whom, I could use a top-off on my wine here. Just bring the bottle. And don’t give me that look, sir. You have no idea what I had to do to make it back here. Not a fucking clue.
When I returned to our homeworld approximately ninety years into the porkduck occupation, there were more of them than there were humans. Had to be, to keep the population fed. Where we had come to be the planet’s apex predator, the porkduck instead established itself as its apex prey. Grass and flowers and trees had been replaced by machines that converted carbon dioxide into oxygen. Every creature more complex than an earthworm had been rendered extinct. No birds broke the blue of the sky. Shells had ceased to wash up on the shores. The Earth I found was stripped of every sustenance that was not porkduck.
No sir, you can’t understand. Up here in the stars, we’ve only a microcosm of a real ecosystem, the bare minimum biological diversity, but it’s not nothing. You can’t picture nothing.
Down there, the cell membranes of all societies have dissolved; our species has at last become homogenous, if only out of need. The porkduck itself can subsist on particles and rays we haven’t discovered yet. What it wants instead is power, and comfort, and all human effort has been bent towards that purpose. Your typical John or Wang spends fourteen hours per day waiting on his dinner-to-be, grooming, massaging, shoveling waste, capering about for their entertainment. An individual may attend as many as a dozen in a day. No time for school, or leisure, no time to grow in different directions. The universities lie in ruins; alien palaces coil above all. Existence is binary; work and rest.
You can opt out, sure. They don’t force you to do anything. I met plenty who tried. They just don’t last long. You don’t work, you don’t eat. And you think maybe your neighbor will feed you, but they won’t. Because all of you are always being watched, and they know they won’t eat if they do.
It’s simple, like a guillotine. Blade plus gravity. Hunger plus time.
It’s what they did to me, when they found me out.
They didn’t bother to lock me up. They let me wander around like I’d been doing. But I figured out quick it didn’t matter how hard I worked—they wouldn’t feed me. There was only one thing they wanted, and I wouldn’t give it. They weren’t going to let me die though; not as long as I could be useful. Every time I thought I was getting close, somehow they’d know too, and they’d throw me a drumstick or something. Just enough to push me along to the next spot I’d drop.
But you know me, sir. I’m a good scout. I held out. I reconnoitered like I was told to do. I got a lot of good video of me getting thinner and thinner.
The oldest myth in our history is this: the strong rule the weak. It’s the amoeba from which all other stories evolved. The hero defeats the villain because he’s smart and tough, yadda yadda. Like all myths, it’s wrong. Totally backwards. When we fled to the stars, we took mankind’s best and brightest, the powerful and wealthy, and the first thing we did was build zero-g farms with asteroid dirt to grow corn and avocado. Look how quick we are to replace our agrimechs when they break down. We’ve come so far from our monkey days but we’re still only stomachs with accessories. Mouths to chew, hands to beg, minds to obey, knees to kneel.
To the meat.
Sir, I held out as long as I could.
I brought a tracking device back in my recon ship. It’s been pinging our coordinates ever since I got back. I’m sorry. Honestly. It was the only way they’d let me come home.
Maybe they won’t follow me. They’re happy as pigs in mud down there. But you never know. I expect the Earth-people will help, if they do. We’re the ones that fucked off to space and left them on that dying planet to starve, and besides, it’s that or go hungry. Even if they could, they’d never fight back. They’d have nothing else. I doubt you’ll so much as see a porkduck until you’re ready to eat its heart raw. At that point, they’ll have won.
Ah. Okay then. Saw that coming. Just let me finish up here before you lock me up. I really am sorry–I’ve got family here too. But I had no a choice. Up here, we don’t know what hunger is. You’ve never felt yourself begin to drag across that event horizon in your gut. Without food the belly starts to break down everything it can. Stomach lining. Fat reserves. Principles. Morals. Sanity.
No, they didn’t promise me anything. I never expected to be anyone special after they conquered us as well. I came back for this. Chicken, greens, mashed potatoes, gravy. You saw me—I wept when I smelled it coming. Even if it was just the once, I had to taste something other than porkduck before I die.
“Snatched it off a leprechaun’s boot!” Seamus’s father claimed of a silver buckle. “Always brought luck!”
Though skeptical, after Dad’s death, Seamus pocketed the charm as instructed.
Alone in the funeral home, he witnessed a 10-inch creature searching the corpse.
Its knotted face grimaced beneath tangles of gingery hair. It wore a crimson blazer, and its left boot lacked a buckle.
The leprechaun pointed at Seamus’s pocket with a gnarled finger.
Seamus slammed and sealed the coffin.
He told no one of his lucky buckle, but those who visit his father’s grave hear the muffled curses of a tiny immortal.
Kevin M. Folliard
Kevin M. Folliard is a Chicagoland writer whose published fiction includes scary stories collections Christmas Terror Tales and Valentine Terror Tales, as well as adventure novels such as Matt Palmer and the Komodo Uprising. His work has also been collected by The Horror Tree, Flame Tree Publishing, Hinnom Magazine, and more. Kevin currently resides in La Grange, IL, where he enjoys his day job as an academic writing advisor. When not writing or working, he’s usually reading Stephen King, playing Street Fighter, or traveling the U.S.A.
Author Website: www.KevinFolliard.com
Rest In Peace, Mother
“Mother’s bleeding again.”
“Should’ve cremated her.” Anna helped Kylie dig through damp soil. Blood stained every layer. “Never heard of a bleeding grave before.”
“Never buried a possessed parent before.”
Their shovels hit the wooden box buried a foot below the earth, where crimson stains seeped through the panels.
“Out of bandages again?” Anna tossed a white bundle under the lid. “Here you are.”
Her mother’s face peeked through the black line. “Can I come out now?”
“Not yet, Mother.”
“I’m sorry. Really, I am. I’d like to come home.”
“We’ll think about it, Mother.”
They buried the box again.
Hailey Piper was raised in a creepy patch of woods up north, haunted by ghouls and monsters. Today she keeps her childhood nightmares alive by writing them down.
Under The Bridge Downtown
Uppity bitch. Posting shit. Pagan-hippy-feminist, witchy-bitchy-snowflake.
Wrote comments. Got flamed. Again, again.
Watched, tracked. Tuesday nights. Her, alone.
Found spot. Under bridge.
Almost midnight. Boots rapping.
(Pulled down. In shadows. My revenge.)
Boots pausing. Right above.
Gasping, choking. Retching, stretching.
Bones melting! Skin rotting!
Boots rapping. She’s gone.
Water lapping. Moon reflected.
Not same. I whimper.
Eat trash. Sometimes, fish. Overhead, feet. Shoes tap. Boots rap.
No speak. No move.
Matthew R. Davis
Matthew R. Davis is an author and musician based in Adelaide, South Australia, with over forty dark fiction publications to his name thus far. When not writing, he plays bass and sings in alternative rock/metal bands, judges for national spec-fic awards (this year it’s the Australian Shadows Awards), performs spoken word shows, edits videos, and explores derelict buildings with a like-minded photographer looking for inspiration. His first collection of short stories is slated for release this year.