Category: Trembling With Fear

Serial Killers: La Serenissima (Part 1) by Susan Anwin

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

Holly found the squalid little theatre during one of her urban exploration trips. She loved sneaking into houses in her free time; the more decrepit the building, the better. She had a particular fondness for attics and cellars – to her they felt like the secret heart of a house. Such ventures helped her get away from her life a bit, they offered a welcome variety to the drudgery of a dead-end job, the loneliness and the uniform days. 

Broken furniture cluttered the stalls. A tattered script with some of the letters missing hung in front of the mouldy velvet curtains, that read ‘Ope a Garn  r‘. The colourful panes were mostly missing from the stained glass ceiling lights, so the patterns didn’t make sense anymore. Spiderwebs fluttered in the air current coming through the holes. It was the decaying carcass of a once majestic building. 

“Hello?” Her voice echoed in the dusty void. Holly had been a fan of the Phantom of the Opera as a child, and this place fit the fancies of that long gone eleven year old perfectly. How many times had she and her best friend at the time daydreamed about being Christine, the object of the Phantom’s obsession, of being whisked away into his lair? They’d even planned a visit to Paris for the sole purpose of finding him. Holly let that child take the reins once more. 

“It’s Christine,” she trilled, “oh Phantom, are you here?”

Here… here… the echo replied. It had a weird hissing quality that Holly ascribed to the haphazard forms the sound bounced off, that messed with the acoustics. The dust motes swirled in a stray sunbeam. She went on a discovery tour, but the doors leading into the bowels of the building were locked. Holly left disappointed. 

Even so, she kept returning to the Paris Opera (she couldn’t think of it in any other way) in the following weeks. It inspired her in a way she couldn’t quite explain. It was almost like the gateway of another world, one that was probably messier, yet much more interesting than her own.

“Oh Phantom, come save me from my sad life,” she called out in a breathy voice. 

Life… life… life… 

She was lounging in box 5, reserved for the Phantom in the original story. Her fingertips left marks in the dusty velvet cover of the parapet. 

“Take me to wild adventures.”

Ress… ress… yess…

Holly sat up with a start. She searched the gloom. Did something move in the depths of the stage? She kept listening for some minutes with breath held, then decided it was just the building’s atmosphere and the peculiar acoustics playing tricks on her. Nonetheless she kept standing, her eyes darting from dark nook to odd shaped shadow, ready to bolt. “Hello?”

Hello… hello… hello…

Nothing moved apart from the cobwebs. 

“Is anybody there?”

There… there… there…

“I’m Holly, nice to meetcha.”

Cha… cha… cha…

A cloud swam in front of the sun and the auditorium darkened. Noises she didn’t notice before reached her ears; the rustle of some small creature burrowing under the debris, pigeons cooing outside the ceiling windows, creaks and groans, as the old building breathed around her. 

“Hello?”

Hello… hello… Holly…

She nearly fell off the gallery. Holly turned her head, trying to see all of the theatre at the same time, eyes so wide the white was visible all around her irises, heartbeat thundering in her ears. “Is anybody there?”

There… there… there…

The silence felt deafening. There was something, someone else here; she felt it in the prickling of her skin, in the hair that stood on edge on the nape of her neck. Holly didn’t know what has gotten into her; perhaps it was the predictability of her antiseptic, risk-free life, but she decided to play with it a little, whatever it was. On her best coquettish voice she called out. “Care for a dance?”

Dance… dance… yes…

It all happened too fast; before she could react in any way she was flying towards the rickety stage in the arms of a black-clad stranger. He held on to a rope and even through the clothes sack he was wearing, Holly could feel how thin he was. She held on for dear life, too frightened to scream. 

Before she knew it they were waltzing on the stage twisting, turning, the whole theatre spinning around them, colours she never saw before flashing in a crazy kaleidoscope, the other guiding her with a steady hand, sunlight glinting on the featureless mirror mask he was wearing. 

Once it ended Holly stood on the stage quivering, breathless, staring up at her own wide-eyed, distorted reflection.  

“Wh… who are you?” she finally managed.

“I am who I am. Who are you?” 

She couldn’t be absolutely sure it was a man judging from the voice alone. She decided to think of him as a ‘he’, but only for the lack of a better option. 

She stretched out a shaky hand. “Uh, name’s Holly. Sorry about the noise earlier, I didn’t think there was anybody here.”

Her reflection moved as the mask lowered a little, the person behind it contemplating her hand, then a pale, slender hand stretched out and grabbed hers. It was much stronger than it looked. 

“So, um, what can I call you?”

The other made a barely perceptible shrug. “Whatever you like.”

“You don’t have a name?”

Seemingly losing interest he was watching the auditorium, arms akimbo. 

Holly thought for a minute. She didn’t know if it was going too far, but she had to try; after all it was the Phantom’s real name in the novel. “Can I call you Erik?”

The minute she uttered the question she knew it was a bad idea. The mask turned back to her; Holly didn’t know how she knew, but she was sure the other was bristling against her suggestion. “Is that the best you can come up with?”

“Okay, how about, um,” she remembered some fanfic she’d read online. “Kian?”

“Will do.”

Holly cleared her throat. “So, Kian, what are you doing here?”

“I’m an artist.”

“What kind of artist?”

The mask tilted to the side the slightest bit. “Just artist. I live here with the others.”

She glanced at the auditorium, then at the catwalk above them. It was just as empty as before. “Others?”

He was already heading towards the wings; now he stopped and turned back to her. “Do you want to  come see?”

Holly considered. Did she really want to follow this stranger into whatever lunatic asylum he was about to lure her into? That was exactly how women ended up in some psycho’s torture chamber. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea actually.” She uttered a nervous snicker. “I mean what if you lock me up for the police to find my skeleton twenty five years later?”

He gave her a long look. At least she guessed that was what he was doing; he was just standing there motionless. She suppressed the urge to fidget under his gaze. “I said I was an artist, not a serial killer. But if you don’t want to see, it’s fine; doesn’t make a difference to me.”

“Alright, show me then,” Holly offered, hoping she wasn’t making a mistake. 

Susan Anwin

Originally from Budapest, Hungary, Susan Anwin graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 2019 (Creative Writing postgrad). She has 50+ publications to date; my flash-fiction Talk of Armadale trees was published in the anthology My Favourite Place (Scottish Book Trust, 2012). Her name appeared on the cover of Aphelion Webzine in March and July 2017, February and August 2018 and November 2019. Starting in March 2019, Art Here Art Now serialized her stories. Reprinted in Horror Without Borders, an international anthology, one of her stories has been translated into Russian.

Trembling With Fear 08/09/20

​Time is ticking by and the news keeps reporting about schools opening in a few weeks. That will probably be the case but it is serving as an unwelcome reminder my holiday is beginning to pass quite quickly – so I’d wish they’d keep quiet!!

Much of my writing lately has been focussing on building up my next poetry collection and I’ve a fair number now but I am getting twitchy and really missing not working on something novel length. It didn’t help that as I researched my family in the Victorian East End, I felt the tug back to the world I created in Asylum of Shadows. Reading Poor Law records for my family, knowing they were in and out of the Workhouse, sometimes dying there, started me thinking. It also gave me an extra source to use for research purposes and I would recommend a subscription to ancestry.co.uk (or .com), not just to track down family but to research from primary sources to give your work an extra authenticity. And I am also desperate to get back to writing about my unholy trinity of Tommy, Betty and Fiddler from the Five Turns of the Wheel novel. I feel haunted. Do the characters you create haunt you?

A quick reminder here that the Infernal Clock Inferno callout for LGBTQ+ submissions is still ongoing. It closes 15th August, so please get your stories in, there are several slots available! Details here https://horrortree.com/taking-submissions-infernal-clock-dantes-inferno/. The only change I would throw in to this, is that we have plenty of Circle Eight stories now, so it would be a good idea to avoid that particular bit of Hell.

TWF Contributor Promotion Time!

This week has seen a few releases. First up is someone who has always proved entertaining – and master of the occasional gross-out – Justin Boote with his new collection, Fear is Forever. He’d like to give a shout-out to the Red Cape Publishing team and Peter for doing the cover and formatting. Grab a copy here.

I’ve combined forces with TWF writer Alyson Faye and we’ve put four of our gothic stories together in Shadow Bound, A Gothic Quartet. It’s out on kindle and will be available as a paperback in the near future. This little venture is very much for people to grab a taster of our work and so we’ve kept prices as low as we can. It’s available here: http://mybook.to/ShadowBound.

Note: I used Booklinker for the first time to create the buy link for Shadow Bound. What I didn’t realise is that it shows you how many have clicked on your book. That has now become a new obsession 😊

Plus the boss has been busy and you will find Stuart Conover inhabiting the pages of this little lovely, The Dark Frontier with his story, “The Hard Cases”. Western horror is definitely on the up tick. You can snag a copy here.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned Mark Anthony Smith’s latest collection, Keep it Inside and Other Weird Tales because it’s not due out until October; however, just in case I forget, I’ll mention it now! For more information go here. (And if I’ve already mentioned it, this is a bonus!)

 

Very Short Story Time! Remember this is very much a ‘just for fun’ section.

Evidence by Steven Holding

Monsters exist. He’s sure of this. The things he’s thinking of are proof enough.

 

Trembling with Fear this week, leads with Visitation by a. stump. Reading this story, its details of setting and build-up of atmosphere put me very much in mind of those small-town scenes featuring youngsters, so beloved of a certain Mr King. It felt very cinematic in quality and I could just see it being shown on the screen, a perfect little film to be viewed via the page.

Compulsion by Mike Rader takes you to church and gives you his blessing. Every step is one you are drawn to take with the character, a perfect pacing.

Sardines Sarnie by Steven Holding. Firstly, ugh I can’t stand sardines and a sandwich – even more gross but fear not this is sardines of another kind. Nice settling of dread over this child when realisation dawns.

The Spirit of the Harvest by Patrick Winters is a rural delight and anyone who knows me knows I have a soft spot for a touch of folk horror. The countryside brings its own sense of ‘other worldliness’ and is a place I feel has the greater capacity to touch the soul and pull it on – for good or evil.

Enjoy the stories and send us yours!

Take care

Steph

 

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

We’re pretty much ready to order proof copies. There are a couple of MINOR adjustments left but honestly, everything is good to go aside from that. HURRAY!

On top of that, our Instagram followers should have noticed an uptick in new content. I’d like to send a warm welcome to Lucinda who is doing a fantastic job so far and likely we’ll see one other person joining too in order to help out! (THANK YOU!) Our YouTube still needs some help but, this is major progress that I’m thrilled about!

Thank you all, each and every one of you! I hope you enjoy today’s fiction and if you’re digging anything in particular please do leave a comment!

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

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Unholy Trinity: The End by R.J. Meldrum

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.

Treatment

I wake and find myself on a trolley being wheeled quickly down a corridor. I’m pushed into a hospital ward, with nurses fussing around. They insert various tubes into me and attach wires to my skin. They do not speak to me, even though I am conscious. I realize I’m seriously ill; if I wasn’t, they wouldn’t fuss so much. I glance round the room. I see an unnatural darkness in the corner and a cowled figure watching me. I recognize him and know he is waiting for me. I realize with a sense of sadness the treatment won’t work.

Transition

I wake to find I’m floating. I feel freer than I ever have before, but I know this isn’t real. My body lies below me on a hospital bed, wired up and connected to machines to keep my blood flowing and my lungs moving. My body is dead, kept alive by artificial means, but my mind is still aware. I know I’m in transition, waiting for him to come and collect me, so I can move onto whatever is next. It might be something, it might be nothing, but in the meantime I float and watch my still form below.

Finality

I wake to a world of shadows. I find myself surrounded by wraiths, all drifting in the same direction. I find myself unwillingly following them. I know that Death came for me and freed me; now I have to continue on the final journey on my own. I arrive at the first recognizable feature, a river. I see small row boats, arriving and departing. My fellow wraiths mill around uncertainly on the bank and I understand. To cross is to leave the mortal realm forever, to stay is to remain as an unsettled spirit. I have to choose. I go.

R.J. Meldrum

R.J. Meldrum is an author and academic.  Born in Scotland, he moved to Ontario, Canada in 2010.  He has had stories published by Sirens Call Publications, Horrified Press, Trembling with Fear, Darkhouse Books, Smoking Pen Press and James Ward Kirk Fiction.  He is an Affiliate Member of the Horror Writers Association.

Facebook profile: https://www.facebook.com/richard.meldrum.79
Website: http://wolfstarpublishing.com/meldrum/
https://twitter.com/RichardJMeldru1

Check Out This Trailer For The Recent Serial ‘Single and Looking’

So this is cool. The fine folks behind the serialized story which we’ve published, ‘Single and Looking’ have released a great trailer worth checking out!
About the story:

The first journey into the Cooked Continuum created by Joseph P Hutchinson. Come meet Samantha, an artist trying to live her best life until fate reopens a door to the darkest aspects of her past.
…Single And Looking now available to read exclusively on

Horror Tree!

You can read the story here:

Serial Killers: The Man in the Mirror (Part 2) by Connor Long-Johnson

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

In the morning, the boy’s mother was startled to see her son slumped over the kitchen table. How odd, she thought, he’s never up before 11am

“Son, are you alright?” She inquired, trying to mask the uncertainty in her voice. 

The lethargic grunt that she heard was enough to confirm her suspicions, he had most likely spent the night browsing through nonsense on his phone, he would probably be in bed within an hour and wouldn’t be seen for the rest of the day. 

“Would you like some Chai tea, honey?”

Another grunt and with that she began preparing her own coffee and tea for the boy. The sweet aroma of sugar and coffee beans began to circulate the room and filled her with a renewed sense of optimism for the day ahead. 

Meanwhile, the boy lay with his head on the table, his head concealed by a black hood and his hands hidden inside the sleeves of a teal cotton sweatshirt. 

The high-pitched whistle of the kettle rose up to dance with the blissful smell of sugar that was still sauntering through the kitchen air. 

“Honey, your tea is ready.” 

As she turned to give the boy the beverage, she was slapped hard by the pangs of shock as she saw that his outstretched hand had a paper-white glow that was sickly and alien. Running across the hand also were great lumpy veins that had taken on the colour of a decaying grapefruit ready to burst. 

“Jeezus honey, your hand…It’s awful. What have you done? Have you been taking your meds?” 

Taking the cup and drinking long greedy gulps from under the hood, he exhaled with an eerie satisfaction. 

“I’m fine mum,” he said, licking his pale red lips, “Just fine.”   

Wary of her son’s state of mind, she turned for the stairs and went bounding two steps at a time up to his room. 

Clambering over mountains of clothes and dodging the piles of books and dirty plates she finally found what she needed. Clicking open the lid of the medication that her son had been given the week before her eyes widened with disbelief. 

Lonely in the bottle were just three tiny white pills. 

She raced down the stairs, this time taking three steps with each stride. 

“What have you done?” she pleaded, “You know what the doctor told you about changing the dose!” Her face was taut and her voice was buckling under the strain of her emotions. 

Fuelled by her anger and worry, she did not notice that she was speaking to an empty room. The cup of tea lay squat on the table. She turned, her head snapping from left, to right and then back again. 

He was gone. 

The slight, cold grasp of the morning breeze touched her left shoulder and she knew that he had gone through the front door.

She ran across the threshold and onto the front step. He was standing there, swaying and listless like an old photo in a breeze.

“Son, you’re sick. Please, come inside.”

“I’m not sick, mum.” Tears were streaming down the pale hills of his cheeks. He shuffled closer to the curb. “I’m just a little tired.” 

“You’re hallucinating! You look like you haven’t slept in days, and you’ve barely left the house lately!” 

“Yes I have!” He snapped back.

“What were you supposed to do yesterday? Go to Greenwich wasn’t it? Weren’t you supposed to see the counsellor over there?” 

“I did go! Didn’t I?” 

“No, honey you didn’t. You might think you did but you didn’t, you were in bed all day. You’re sick; and you need rest. Please, just come inside. It’s okay to say that you need help. We’ve been through this.” 

“I DON’T NEED HELP!” his voice was steadily growing louder as he became more agitated. 

“That’s it, I’m not asking anymore.” 

She strode forward quickly and caught him unsuspecting. Her hand was clasped firmly around his wrist. Her red, puffy hand looked like a flashing alarm against his pale hue. If she had to drag him kicking and screaming into the clinic as she used to do when he was a boy, then so be it.  

Instantly he began to resist, he planted his feet firm on the ground and stood rooted to the spot like a solid concrete sculpture. 

Grunting in anguish she pulled harder, desperately trying to get him to move from the road. 

“Come on!” She screamed; her voice was shrill with anxious fury. 

“FUCK you.” He screamed in reply and kicked her. She felt a hard thump in her abdomen as his leg pulled away. She winced and released his hand, dropping to the ground.

He looked up and saw past his mother crumpled on the floor; in the reflection of the kitchen window he saw him again. The same reflection that had terrified him the night before, but he wasn’t knocking anymore. One hand still lay flat on the glass, but the other was outstretched, the index finger pointing past him and into the road ahead. 

“I can’t do it!” He sobbed. 

“What can’t you do?” His mother asked through gritted teeth, still reeling from the kick to the stomach.

“He’s showing me the way!” He screeched, clutching at his temples with scrunched fists and ignoring her question.

“Who?” she said through erratic sobs. 

“The man in the mirror.” He replied with startling clarity, it seemed like such an obvious answer to him, like he was one side of a conversation that no one else could see him having. 

He closed his eyes and looked to the floor, smiling. 

“Goodbye, mum.” 

With that, he turned and took a tentative step into the road. Hearing the welcoming sound of an engine rumbling in the distance he bent down on his haunches behind the Toyota parked outside the house. He rose up and down in rhythm on his heels, he was on his own wavelength now, listening to a tune that only he could hear. 

As the rumble grew louder and louder and the car moved closer his whole body began to shake with anticipation. 

Freedom was closer now. The car was droning along, the sound of the engine getting nearer. He peered out from behind the Toyota and held his breath.

He pushed hard and sprung out into the road.

Timed perfectly, crunching against the car he suddenly had the surreal sensation of feeling his own body flying. The last thing he felt was the sharp stab of pain as his head careened off the lamppost on the other side of the road. 

As she crouched beside him, his mother saw the light slowly ebbing from his eyes as the tears began to stream from her own. Upsetting the most was the look of peace on his face, gone was the taut strain that had been there for so long before. Now his muscles were relaxed and his lips began the slow upturn into a smile.

When the sirens first announced the arrival of the ambulance and his breathing had stopped completely, she told the paramedic what had happened and sat, lost and staring into space on the side of the road. She felt a knowing sense of guilt growing inside her. She couldn’t explain it but she almost felt happy. Her son was a bloody corpse on the road and she felt happy. Her cheeks arched upwards as a surprising smile sprung across her face. 

For the past eighteen years she had watched her boy grow into a man and she realised the pain he was going through must have been unimaginable. He had always kept quiet, she only noticed something was wrong a year ago, when his behaviour suddenly became more apathetic and he began to grow distant. In the past year it had been like living with a ghost, some gothic memory of her son that still stalked the rooms of her house. She began to think that was why he had become so vain, so focused on his outer beauty, because it hid the deformity within.  

She sat alongside the body of her son; both were smiling.

Connor Long-Johnson

Connor Long-Johnson, currently writing his thesis on the fiction of Stephen King at the University of Greenwich in London, England. He enjoys writing short stories in the Gothic, fantasy and Science-Fiction genres inspired by the stories of Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson.  He can be found at cljohnson.co.uk.

Trembling With Fear 08/02/20

August already, and I know many are beginning the countdown to Halloween. Me? I prefer to hang on to the summer vibes a bit longer as August is my one month of the year of ‘freedom’. I’ve just been on a very short visit to Shropshire and Wales to visit family. Surreal seeing Mum and Dad and not being able to hug them, they made up for it by giving us cake! Over in Wales we were unable to visit my mother-in-law due to the first reported instance of covid in her care home. They are back in lockdown but we are keeping quietly optimistic as they have been so good in controlling things in the home. We were also able to have a socially distanced meetup with my sister-in-law and wife-to-be on the seafront. A bit breezy but a nice catchup.

I’m still reading – after all that’s the best way to learn to write, isn’t it? You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. I finished The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones whilst in Wales, it was raining so what else could I do? It took me a little while to get into but worth it in the end. I’ve also read 324 Abercorn by Mark Allen Gunnells which is a great ‘feel-good’ horror and I’m halfway through Relics by Tim Lebbon. After that I hope to make a dent in my ebook TBR pile where I have Catherine McCarthy’s Door and Other Twisted Tales collection waiting for me amongst others. Give Catherine a read if you get a chance, she is one of the terrific authors in the charity anthology Diabolica Britannica. So much reading, so much learning!

Charity Spot. The charity anthology, We are Wolves, is due for publication in the autumn. Raising profits for money to help survivors of sexual abuse, it has been collated by Gemma Amor and Laurel Hightower and will be published by Cina Pelayo of Burial Day press. With a cast of names including those just mentioned as well as Hailey Piper, V. Castro, Samantha Kolesnik, Sadie Hartmann and so many others of that calibre, it’ll be one to watch out for.

If you want to find other great books to read, remember to check out the reviews on Horror Tree itself.

Very Short Story Time! It seems the very short story slot has caught on! Remember this is very much a ‘just for fun’ section. We have a few for you this week:

Will H. Blackwell Jr.

I was smitten!—her radiance concealing the feathers and talons—until, she took flight.

Christina Nordlander

“I was playing in the sunlit attic studio when I smelled smoke.”

Birthright by Steven Holding

Twilight. Dogfight. Bad bite. Take flight. Not alright. Night-time. Bright moonlight. Skin-tight! Frightening sight!

 

Now to the meat of TWF. Our first story this week in Trembling With Fear is Happy Meal by Tiffany Michelle Brown. Envisage a creature dining out, sucking up their favourite drink, enjoying their food – but what are they eating or drinking? The sense of taste is fully engaged in this particular tale, not just examining the flavour of the food itself but its seasonings, its emotions. All of this heightens the dining sensation, human weakness and human frailty become a distinctive bouquet. Taste is an underused sense in writing and it’s nice to see it take centre stage here, alongside that of smell – a change from sight and sound.

Mind Movie by G.A. Miller gets into the head of a writer and a reader. This is actually me as a reader, seeing that movie in my head, the words disappearing from the page. But hopefully not with the same outcome!

Time for Change by Radar DeBoard brings your sins chasing after you. Playing on a persons’s guilt can manifest itself in so many ways.

Victim by R.J. Meldrum turns an apparent stalker situation on its head. Using standard tropes and then a little twist and you get a completely different outlook.

Enjoy the stories and send us yours!

 

Take care

Steph

 

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

I am super thrilled to say that we’ve got the artwork for Trembling With Fear fully figured out, we’ve just got a few minor manuscript changes to make and I believe that the preview copies will be ordered. For once, I think this process might have ACTUALLY HAPPENED before this update has gone out. I can’t even express how excited I am that we’ll finally be moving forward here.

Moving on with good news, while our YouTube still doesn’t have someone who has volunteered to help us out, we do have someone who may soon be helping out with our Instagram. More on that soon!

Finally, we have a new Patreon and are SO close to our next target goal. It may be a few months away still but we’re closing in (and can, I think, start fulfilling some of it soon!)

Thank you all, each and every one of you! I hope you enjoy today’s fiction and if you’re digging anything in particular please do leave a comment!

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

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Unholy Trinity: Earworm by Tabatha Wood

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.

Rupert, the Curator

I believe the disc itself was some kind of first pressing. Real silver, not vinyl, very unusual. I’d not seen the like before. 

Naturally, I’d heard the stories. Never play it in reverse. Never play it while inebriated. Absolute rubbish, of course. Whatever happened to Michael Hunt was unfortunate, but I believe it’s very foolish to attribute such things to a song. 

What’s that? No, I’ve not listened to it myself and I don’t intend to. My job is to preserve these particular, peculiar, artifacts, and right now the disc is sealed up in the museum vault where it belongs. 

Annabelle, the Psychiatrist 

Yes, I know about what happened. Michael has been a patient of mine since the late eighties, after he had his… accident

He doesn’t talk about it, and I’d thank you not to trouble him with any questions. It’s been a long, hard road for him to regain stability. His hearing loss played a major part in that. 

His work with Lou Zephyr was phenomenal, groundbreaking even, but their relationship cost him a great deal. That song destroyed him. No one but Michael knows what really happened the night they recorded it. 

He says it should never have been made. 

George, the Bandmate 

It was Vinnie’s fault we were late to the studio. We stopped at the 7-Eleven to grab some beers. The sexy, pink-haired chick was at the register, so he stopped to chew the fat with her. 

We got to Mike’s place just after ten. They’d finished recording the song by then. 

Mike was hunched over, screaming and wailing, blood pouring down the sides of his head. He’d rammed his fingers into both ears. All the way. Right up to his fists. 

Lou was just standing there, watching him. I thought maybe he was in shock. 

No… 

That bastard was smiling.

Tabatha Wood

Tabatha Wood lives in New Zealand and writes weird, dark horror fiction and uplifting poetry. A former English teacher and library manager, her first books were guides for professional educators. She now teaches from home and writes in her spare time, usually under the influence of strong coffee.

You can read more of her stories, articles and blog posts at https://tabathawood.com.

Serial Killers: The Man in the Mirror (Part 1) by Connor Long-Johnson

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

The street outside was being bombarded in a deluge of rain. The pitter patter of pregnant raindrops crashing down to the ground punctuated the stillness of the night; the faint sound of cars passing by in the street with low groans gave the raindrops company as they fell. 

These sounds gave the boy companionship too. 

He lay alone on his bed, his eyes heavy from the exertions of a day that was slowly dying. In a charcoal black ocean of darkness, he looked up at the ceiling. The only light to guide him was the artificial light on the screen of his mobile phone. In the darkness the bright beam seemed like a holy prophet, guiding him through the dark into a brave new world of knowledge and entertainment. 

He reached across to the bedside table and grasped for his phone. In the darkness he heard a loud rattle break the silence in the room as his medicine bottle hit the ground. Unable to find it, he shifted his body onto his side to look and finally clasped it in his hands. He returned to laying on his back and began to scroll, his thumbs being exercised with movement at regular intervals. 

As he gazed into the screen his eyes narrowed, focusing in on the latest stories being told by his peers. Soon after, he decided to check upon his own, earlier status with the autumnal theme. His pupils dilated with delight as he saw that his last post had now gained over two thousand likes.

Two thousand!

 The image, a photo of him standing amongst the crisp, brown leaves with chestnut-brown conkers shining in the morning light around him earlier that morning atop the hilly grounds of the Greenwich Maritime Museum, was a personal favourite of his. 

After the shoot he had spent the next hour in a local café sat in front of his computer; delicately he had edited the photo, altering his complexion to remove the ugly, red raw pimple that was growing in the middle of his forehead; after he had done so and changed the filter to alleviate the gun metal grey of the London sky, then he had posted the image to the internet. 

Now, when he looked at the photo, he felt honest, authentic, genuine even. It was a true representation of him, it was who we wanted to be. More importantly, every like provided a shot of dopamine, an orgasmic feeling exploded in his mind with every ping of his phone. It was glorious.

As the tranquillity of the room continued to be disturbed by the rain and sleep eluded him, the boy felt the sudden urge to urinate. Swinging his legs to the left and laying his feet gently on the floor, he slipped into his brown chequered slippers and walked to the bathroom. He brought his phone along with him; it was a constant friend to populate the emptiness of the night with him, like a child holding a stuffed bear. Taking care not to make too much noise – his parents sleeping soundly in the next room – the boy closed the door to the bathroom with great care, sure not to rouse anyone from their sleep. He flicked the light switch on and began his stream.

As he finished and was drying the last of the soap suds from his hands, he noticed himself in the mirror and turned to inspect his image. He had never liked the structure of his face. His cheekbones that lined his jaw were not like those of the people he saw everyday on the internet. His eyes were blue, but they were a dull, pallid blue. They looked like a fabric that had spent too long in the sun, or had its vibrancy worn away by the tide of time; they did not shine or shimmer like those of the people he so admired. 

Despite his own ill-will toward his image, he felt that a late-night selfie might brighten his mood. He turned back to face the bathroom mirror and ensure that his face – besmirched by the passing day – looked suitable enough to be exhibited to the internet. After agreeing with himself that it was – at least – passable, he flicked open the camera on his phone and held it high above his head, angling it downwards as he stared back up to meet the camera’s gaze. He puckered his lips slightly and smirked, turned his face to the left (what he believed to be his more photogenic side) and then tapped the screen of his phone ten times with the sound of clicking bounding around the empty room as he did so. 

Ten photos, one would be superior to the others. 

He scrolled through them, unhappy with the results: the first looked too forgettable, the second made his lips look as if they were about to burst, the fourth was terrible, the sixth one made him look gaunt and ghost-like. The ninth picture, however, he favoured above all the others, although all the photos were of himself, he felt that number nine was the one that reached out and spoke to him. It seemed to show a childlike cheekiness that he thought people would be attracted to. 

Satisfied, he locked his phone, snuck back into his bedroom with soft steps, took off his slippers and crawled back under the covers. He would edit and upload the photo now and by morning he would wake to a shower of likes, love and comments. 

He swiped up to unlock his phone, ready to edit the image and post it to the world. 

It was then that he noticed something had changed.

The photo that stared back at him was not the one that he had taken in the bathroom only moments ago, it was almost identical, but something was different about this picture. 

The face had shifted ever so slightly to the right, turning as if to face the camera directly, the veins that ran underneath the coffee brown tanned skin were more pronounced, looking like rivers flowing across a muddy plain and the eyes looked drawn in. 

The boy’s face scrunched in confusion; he did not understand it. He had not edited the photo yet and the image now facing him was not his own. 

It was impossible, he put down his phone and picked up the sleek silver tablet lying lazily on his bedside table. He needed to scrutinize the picture on a bigger screen, to see if he was finally going insane, or to see if the picture he took was that awful. 

He opened his tablet and began to scroll through the photos. There they were, all ten of then. The ones that had made him ghostly and forgettable were still their same undesirable selves, they were mirror images of what he had looked like in the bathroom. As he swiped intently through the photos, he became more and more sure that what he had seen on his phone was false; it was some side-effect of his meds, or of staying up this late into the night. Yes, that was it. It was his mind telling him that he should be asleep, instead of addictively abusing his phone. 

The next image proved himself wrong. 

The photo was different again this time. It was now incomparable to the one that he had chosen earlier, it was a twisted, demented painting, an artist’s impression of all the human suffering in the world. 

This time the image was staring directly into the camera and out back at him, the eyes now had charcoal black bags sagging under them and yet still seemed full of life. The veins, where before they were slightly elevated, were now raised above the skin and looked like purple tunnels of blood cavorting across his face. He no longer recognised the person who stared back through the screen. This was a stranger masquerading as him, his face turned to a cheap Halloween mask. 

He began to feel the tiniest droplets of sweat rolling down his back and his heart steadily beginning to pound against his chest, like a trapped animal desperate to escape captivity. If it was his tired state or something else, he did not know, but the world around him became a swirling mass of colourful confusion, with the room around him becoming a nightmarish vortex of panic so powerful that felt he could reach out and grab a handful, thick and smouldering.. 

He checked his phone again, hoping against hope that this was all some awful fever dream from which he would wake, or maybe some other side effect of the medication. He had read online that the side-effects could range in severity, but he never imagined anything like this. 

What he saw surprised him.

The photo was normal. 

He swiped through them all with the eagerness of a child opening a sought-after gift. All the ten images were now normal, the face in the phone was his; the eyes were blue and bagless, and skin was dark and without cracks or crevices and the hair was the colour of the night sky. He pinched his forearm gently, just to be sure he was awake; the sweet pinch of pain told him that he was. 

The tension drained slowly from his body, dissipating around him. He was like an overfilled cup; the emotions were now spilling down his sides until the relief surrounded him in a puddle of sweat. He needed a drink; with a deep, grateful breath we got up and walked back to the bathroom. 

Taking a cup and filling it with precision and holding it with a steady hand he swung it back and took long greedy gulps. He watched as the water disappeared, leaving nothing but the transparent bottom of the cup, through which he could see the mirror. 

With a jolt the cup flew from his hand and landed with a smash as it hit the cold, tiled floor. 

Staring at him from the mirror was now the image that he had so desperately thought was gone. He raised his hands to his eyes to shield himself from the horror when he noticed the purple lumps running across the palms of his own hands. They were veins. Veins like that of his reflection. They were rough and lumpy and gave his skin a look as if it were mottled. As he brought his hands back down, he noticed his forearms; gone was the pure, light-brown complexion filled with the deep colour of caramel coffee. His arms had taken on a lighter hue and now looked more like a lukewarm cup of tea that had been left for too long and was now undrinkable. Etched across both forearms were scratches and cuts, some red and raw, others faded and jagged.  

Anxiety began to return in tidal wave-like feelings that rolled up his throat from somewhere deep within him. Before he knew it, he was on his knees, retching and heaving. 

He could feel something forcing its way up. It was as if a balloon was expanding in his chest and was about to burst, releasing a combustible mixture of feelings. 

He staggered back to his feet, swaying violently as he did so. He lurched forward and reached for the door. Grabbing a hold of the metal handle, he yanked the door open and stumbled through into the hallway. 

He looked back into the bathroom and saw the mirror. Inside it he saw himself, now pure and unbesmirched. His old self had one hand lain flat on the pane, the other pounding hard like a heartbeat against the glass. The look of terror in the eyes of his reflection fired bullets of worry that hit him hard in his midriff. 

After he had staggered back into the dark retreat of his bedroom, all of a sudden, he felt the comforting embrace of sleep there to greet him. The trauma of the night’s events had sapped the energy from him and now he no longer cared for his image. He collapsed, exhausted, onto his bed and within moments his breathing was steady and he was at rest.

Connor Long-Johnson

Connor Long-Johnson, currently writing his thesis on the fiction of Stephen King at the University of Greenwich in London, England. He enjoys writing short stories in the Gothic, fantasy and Science-Fiction genres inspired by the stories of Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson.  He can be found at cljohnson.co.uk.   

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