Serial Killers: The Last House. Part 3

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

The Last House. Part 3

He ran to the doorway, and blurted out, “Oh wow!” Soon all the other kids wanted to know what he saw, and ran up to the door after him. They looked inside, and were overwhelmed by the sight before them.

A kindly old man, who had put on makeup that made him look like a zombie stood in the doorway. There was a smile on his face as he stepped back, and allowed the kids to step inside.

“Happy Halloween, children” he said with an odd intonation. No child in the room remembered ever seeing this man before, but at least he seemed friendly. Whatever suspicion they had vanished when they saw the massive tub of candy in the middle of the room. The old man must have cleared out at least an entire candy aisle just to stock as much as he had.

He stepped closer to the tub, which was almost twice as long as he was tall, and smiled again. “Now then,” he began with a soft spoken, but still strange, intonation, “I want you all to make a nice orderly line here. You’ll each get to take as much candy as you can in, oh, five seconds.”

As much candy as we can take? Ben and Tommy looked at Max. They both had giant grins on their faces. As disappointing as their night had gone, this was definitely making up for it.

“Come on now, make a line.”

The children squished together, and made a long line from the tub to the front door. The pushiest kids, doomed to futures of being high school bullies, made sure they were in the front, while the smaller children were pushed back. Max, Tommy, and Ben were all stuck in the back of the line. The three of them hoped the candy would not be gone by the time they got up there as it had with the good houses.

Beginning with the first child, and lasting through to the kids just before Max and his group of friends, each child was given exactly five seconds to dig through the candy and pile into their carrying bag or container. The line moved quickly, and no child seemed to be disappointed. Not yet anyway.

“There’s plenty for everyone, and there’s a special surprise for the last few kids,” the old man said in that same strange way.

The child in front of max approached the tub, and bent down to start his frantic candy grabbing spree. “Ah. Ah. Not yet, sonny,” the old man said as he pointed his finger up. “Not till I say when.” He looked at his pocket watch, and said, “Go.”

Max watched as the kind in front of him dug through the candy stash. It reminded him of watching a nature show on TV. He was like some carnivorous beast tearing his way through a carcass to get all the good bits before the vultures could settle in. Come on. Come on. The children’s intensity was so great that Max worried he would surely take the last of the candy. At least there’s still that surprise if it’s all gone.

“And time,” the old man said looking at his watch again.

Max saw the look on the child’s face, a look full of unadulterated excitement. Max was ready for his turn, especially after seeing another layer of candy waiting for him.

“It’s your turn, young man. Go on. Step right up.”

Max took a few steps forward, and was now standing directly in front of the candy. As he looked at the pile of confections, he noticed something unusual. The packages seemed to be moving like gentle waves trapped in the tub. The waves were making him uncomfortable, but he thought of it like being in the back seat of a car going down a bumpy road.

“Everything okay,” the old man asked with a puzzled look on his face.

Max looked over and slowly nodded his head. The old man pointed his finger in the air as he looked at his watch. “On your marks. Get set,” he started. The last part felt like an eternity to Max, who was almost too excited to contain himself. “Go,” the old man finally shouted.

Max dove in and began scooping as much chocolate, sweet and sour confections, and lollipops as he could into his hands, dragging them closer to his bag. Before that first shovel full reached his pillowcase, Max tensed up. He suddenly discovered why the candy seemed to be floating. He put the candy in his bag and then moved two more big handfuls off the waving surface. He discovered this to be the bottom layer, and saw something strange underneath. There was a small metal box, about seven or eight inches across, suspended in the water under the candy. The box was lined with what Max interpreted to be hot glue gun cartridges. They were just like the ones his mom used.

He didn’t even bother to put the candy in his bag before he started pulling the rest of it away from that same spot.

“Time,” shouted the old man, but Max took no notice. He frantically dragged package after package of candy away, feverishly digging to learn more about that box. “Your time is up, son. Give someone else a turn.” Max kept digging, and water began to splash up from the tub. Max let out small, nervous panting sounds. The other kids took notice, and grew uncomfortable. The old man darted up to him, and pulled him away. “I said, your time is up.”

The old man pulled right as Max had another good handful of candy in his hands. That handful was just enough to uncover a horrifying sight. The box Max saw was bolted onto the neck of a woman. Her headless body was floating in the tub.

Max let out a blood curdling shriek as he wriggled himself out of the old man’s arms. He ran back up to the tub to look at the corpse floating there. He could see jagged pieces of her skin and muscle folded over her disease riddled neck where the box had been attached.

He kept screaming as his hands gripped the edge of the tub. Other kids soon ran up and shrieked when they saw where they had grabbed their candy.

“Ta-da,” the Old Man yelled as he held his arm out towards the tub. “She always loved Halloween, and I knew she’d love spending it with you all.”

The screams continued, and were now so loud the neighbors must have heard them. Ben vomited as soon as he saw the body, but Tommy leaned in even closer. “What’s wrong with you guys? It’s just a dummy. Bunch a’ wussies.” Tommy reached in to the water, and was ready to show how fake the body was.

Once his hand breached the undulating surface, the woman’s sore covered hand reached up, and grabbed his. He screamed and struggled to break free. Max watched in silent horror as Tommy pleaded for his help.

“Looks like she’s found her favorite kid.”

The traumatized children stepped back as the headless woman slowly sat up from the water, and turned her upper torso to face Tommy. It reached out with its other arm, and grabbed his shoulder.

Tommy looked over at his fellow children for a brief moment. He looked terrified. He looked desperate. He looked like he knew what was coming next. He said nothing as the woman dug her fingers into his arms and pulled him back down in the water with her. The water burst up from the tub as they dived back in. Water shifted and bubbled for what felt like ages. Finally, there came the muffled sound of something cracking under the water. The jerking waves stopped. The last bubble popped, echoing in the silent room. The water seemed still again.

Max and Ben turned, and started running for the door. The old man cackled as he looked down in the water, and then looked at the fleeing children. “Where you going? Don’t you want to say hello?”

There was a loud splash, as if something made one swift movement through the water. All at once, the children froze like statues trapped in the grip of immeasurable fear. Max’s head turned back to the basin. His movement was stiff, as though someone’s hand had pushed it against his weak resistance. As he looked back, he grew more uncomfortable. She’s still moving.

Christopher Hall

Christopher Hall is an author at the beginning of his career. His background is primarily in history, and historic writing. He attended Wesley College for his undergraduate work, and Washington College to complete his MA in history. He currently works for the Delaware State Museums creating history and historical-fiction programs. He lives in Dover Delaware.

Trembling With Fear 10/13/2019

The nights are definitely drawing in now and the days are flying by, bringing with it a wish that we humans could hibernate. All I seem to want to do is sleep – and unfortunately that is what happened to me when I put the latest Stephen King/Joe Hill offering from Netflix, In the Tall Grass. I’ve not read the story and the preview made me want to watch it but sadly that was not to be. I might try again but have a horrible feeling history will repeat. Comments on FB re the film appear to be mixed. I don’t know what anyone here thinks of it.

This weekend I will be accompanying my eldest daughter to visit the Monty Python 50th anniversary exhibition at the BFI in London but she also threw in a ‘by the way, do you mind if we go to Foyles bookshop.’ Do I mind? Do I mind? It’s their flagship store and I’ve always wanted to go. If I go in, will I ever leave, is more to the point!

Publication news this week comes from Justin Boote (he who triggered the original idea for our Unholy Trinity) with the release of his charity anthology A Discovery of Writers: short stories from around the world. Contributing writers include TWF alumni, Justin (obviously), Wendy Pearson, David Rae and Ryan Benson. Stories are a range of genres but with plenty of speculative fiction to satisfy TWF reader tastes. You can buy it on amazon here … and I’m sure they’d appreciate a review or two.

Now to Trembling With Fear which starts this week with The Thing on the Mountain by Billy Lyons. Counting flies sounds a bit like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up the mountain only to have it roll back down, although in Nancy’s case it’s to almost get there only for the insects to fly away. A thankless task but one which appears to allow her not to dwell on her situation. Much as the apparent treat of a McDonald’s takeaway also does. Hints of tragedy start to weave their way in half-way through the story, touching moments of closeness between brother and sister coupled with the knowledge that perhaps a big brother can’t be the protector they want to be. So much is shown here, normal banter between siblings, casual discussions of the merits of French fries, the colour of ribbon but with a couple of sentences towards the end you know all is not as it seems. The little things, the minutiae of life are used powerfully. Terrific writing.

Buttons by Alyson Faye brings horror in the form of a garment and a story which reminds me of Bluebeard. A drabble of a fairy tale a la Perrault. Retellings of those old stories of Grimm, Perrault and others would be a great challenge for a drabble.

Five by Patrick Winters gives us a window into a brain in decay. What are the last thoughts any of us would have?

Losing a Monster by Radar DeBoard is a story of absorption or ‘becoming’. A sense of calmness drifts over the writing, an acceptance of what is coming, the mood so at odds with the final result. I really liked the way this mood washed over everything.

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

 

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

I hope everyone is having a great weekend!

We’re still fighting the good fight against site issues, but on the plus side, our first payments for Trembling With Fear for the upcoming year have gone out! Exciting news! (A personal thank you to the authors who have passed on payments to have them donated to the site instead.)

I’d like to send out another huge thanks as well. This one to Steph for formatting the post this week. I’ve got some things going on which are keeping me busy this week so the extra help is going a long way!

As always, we’re looking for more drabble. That being said, we could also use an influx of Unholy Trinity and serials as well!

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

The Thing on the Mountain by Billy Lyons

Nancy sat alone in the kitchen, counting flies. To win, she had to count each fly on the opposite wall before one joined the group, or flew away. It wasn’t easy. Since every door and window in the house had been open since daybreak, there was no shortage of flies. Big flies, little flies, black flies, green flies. Flies coming in, flies going out. Even if it was possible to get a good head start on the count, it was just as likely they would all blend in with the winter’s worth of soot that had leaked onto the wall, making it impossible to distinguish one fly from five. On top of everything else was the unbearable heat and stickiness. Even in Appalachia, mid-summer weather could be intense. 

“Six, seven…” Nancy sat still as a mouse, counting to herself and digging her nails into her palms until they hurt. Only four more to go. “Eight…nine…”  She knew she was holding her breath, but didn’t dare exhale. The tiniest movement, even to breathe, might cause fly traffic, and she was so close, closer than close. It wasn’t until she got to the tenth one that she finally allowed herself the smallest of smiles. I’m going to make it, she thought, but before she could open her mouth to count fly number thirteen the fattest one of the bunch (second from the top) took off out the window, buzzing in contempt as it went.

“Lost again, didn’t you?”  David asked, as he lumbered in.

“You know I did,” Nancy grumbled, trying hard not to stare at the bag in David’s hand. 

“Well, it’s a stupid game anyway. How many times have I told you that already? Five, ten, twenty?”

“Zero. Just like you. Z-E-R-O. As a matter of fact, that’s your name from now on. Big Brother Zero.”

David laughed. “Hey, now. Don’t be making fun, or I might just have to take this back to Mickey D’s.”

Nancy’s entire being sprang to life. “You got Mickey D’s?”

“What else?” David said, his voice breaking just a bit. “A twenty pack, and all the sweet and sour sauce you can eat. Not to mention fries, two apple pies, and an extra-large strawberry shake. You think you can handle all that?”

Nancy jumped up from the table and threw herself into David. “I love you, Big Brother Zero,” she whispered into his chest.

David pushed her away as gently as he could. “Well, it’s a special night, isn’t it, so the sky’s the limit. Now eat!”

Nancy didn’t need to be told twice. She ripped the bag down the middle and started shoving McNuggets in her mouth, two at a time. David dabbed his eyes with his dirty t-shirt and sat down across from her, tearing the tops off sauce and ketchup packets. He could barely keep up, as she had downed ten nuggets already, and was reaching for the fries. “McDonald’s fries: the only fast food fries worth eating,” she said, her words distorted by said French fries.

“Agreed.” David brushed a tiny chunk of chicken off his arm. 

Nothing further was said until the last slurp of the milkshake. David gathered the trash and tossed it. “Nancy,” he began softly, “Mom and Dad wanted to be here – everybody did…, it’s just that – “

“I know… it’s okay,” Nancy said, and looked up from her feet. “I’d rather it’s you anyways. Just you and me, like always.”

“The One and a Half Musketeers.”

Nancy laughed. “It’s The One-Half Musketeer now, or did you forget you’re Big Brother Zero?”

“Nope,” David said, and left the room. Nancy popped the lid off the milkshake, and peered inside. Disappointed, she threw it in the trash with the rest.

“I think I remembered everything.”  David returned with a couple of Wal-Mart bags. “Dress, shoes, hair ribbons –“

“You brought the pink ones, right? My favorites?”

“Sorry. You know they have to be white like everything else. It’s the – “

“The rules, I know. Oh, well, the white ribbons are okay, I guess.”

“I think the white ribbons are great,” David said, and glanced at the wall clock above the sink. “Well, I hate to break up our little party, but it’s time we got started. We’ve got quite a hike ahead of us.”

“Okay. I’ll put my clothes on and then we can go.” Nancy took the bags and headed towards the bathroom, but stopped. “David, you’re sure it’ll work, right?  For the whole year, it’ll work?”

“It always has, hasn’t it?”

“Everybody eats, nobody gets sick, nobody dies?”

“Yes.”

“Promise?”

“I promise,” David whispered.

“Okay, then,” Nancy said, and left the room.

“Try and hurry,” David said, hating himself for it, but knowing they couldn’t be late. 

The thing on the mountain was hungry, too.

Billy Lyons

Billy Lyons is the author of four previously published horror short stories. Cell 334 was included in the November 2014 edition of Another Realm e-zine. Black-Eyed Children, Blue-Eyed Child was featured in High Strange Horror, a 2015 anthology from Muzzleland Press. This story will also be featured as a reprint in Strangers, an upcoming anthology from Horrified Press. Sheep and Snakes was published in Two Eyes Open, an anthology released by MacKenzie Publishing in August 2017. His latest, Where You Find It, was featured in Home Sweet Home, an anthology released in September 2018 by Millhaven Press.

His debut novel, Blood and Needles, was released in June 2017 by Intrigue Publishing.

You can find out more about him on his Facebook author page:  www.facebook.com/billylyonsauthor.

Buttons

He  watched her fingers fumble over the oval, smooth buttons. He ignored the tears on her cheeks.

The peacock velvet gown flowed over her curves. 

“You are exquisite, my dear,” he crooned.

Hands shaking, his new wife finished securing the last fastening.

“Step nearer.” She obeyed.

He kissed each blanched button, from the cleavage to the hem, naming each one, “Jemina, Louisa, Margarite, Rosalind. Farewell.”

His wife stood trembling, bile in her throat, hate in her breast. For him. Not for them, his dead wives, all eight of them.

Each bride represented by one ivory button fashioned from their bones.

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

Five

There wasn’t a whole lot left in his mind, but at least the numbers were still there. As an accountant, they had been his life — when he still had one. They floated around in his decaying gray matter, dead leaves across a murky pond. 

Soon, there’d be nothing left but the numbers. And then there’d be nothing at all.

Seven days of chaos and news reports. Four major cities overrun in that time.

One bite. Three hours for the infection to spread.

Two fingers left on his hand. Twelve people eaten.

Five — what? The word wasn’t there.

Five . . . five . . .

Fiiiii . . .

Patrick Winters

Patrick Winters is a graduate of Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL, where he earned a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. He has been published in the likes of Sanitarium Magazine, The Sirens Call, Trysts of Fate, and other such titles.

Social Links:

http://wintersauthor. azurewebsites.net/Pages/Home

https://m.facebook.com/ patrickwintersauthor/

https://twitter.com/Weird_Winters

Losing a Monster

That creature always shows up 

just before midnight.

It stands in the doorway silently

watching me for several

minutes. Then its grotesque

form shuffles to the foot

of my bed. It will stay there

till just before dawn, simply

watching me.

Having this creature loom over

me as I sleep is not what scares

me. It’s that I am getting used 

to the image of it. Its once long 

fingers now seem to be the same 

length as mine. The skin now 

has an almost human shade. 

The eyes are now green 

like mine. Its face, now

identical to mine.

Radar DeBoard

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

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

Unholy Trinity: Moon Tales by Martin P. Fuller

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.

Werelogic

How I used to scorn the theory of lycanthropy. Why should the Moon, reflecting the Sun’s light, transform a human into a ravaging beast? The moon is just rock orbiting the earth. No magic powers or secret fields of radiation. And yet I am the Moon’s child despite my superior learning, and when that white disc edges above the horizon, my bones melt, reforming like plastic; my fanged jaws extend, and coarse black hair erupts from my skin. I yearn for the blood and flesh of my victims. What good is logic and science to a beast of the forest.

Where the Goddess will Fall

We blessed the Moon at first. Our silver and white goddess who took the celestial bullet meant for the Earth. It was her body which trembled as the mass of icy rock penetrated into her dust and stone girdle. ‘We are saved,’ we rejoiced. ‘We will not share the fate of the dinosaurs. Humanity will continue because of the Moon’s sacrifice’. But we forgot to ask where her broken remains might rest as she fell from the heavens, her sparkling white blood spilling on the black velvet of space. She fell to Earth, her once radiant gown, now Earth’s shroud.

Moon Hunt

We dwell in Moon shadow, darker than my beloved’s eyes, worshipping our killing moon. We forget former shapes and live for the hunt. My mate trails our prey, the fear scent strong. She prowls ahead, I behind at a steady lope. She will take the honour of first bite and claw. She leaps, a growl in her throat. There is a crack of thunder; she falls dead, changing into what she was before. I leap, kill, feast. Past memory speaks of guns, shiny bullets. Silver like Queen Moon.  I still hunt in the Moon shadow, but now I am alone.

Martin P. Fuller

Martin 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.

Serial Killers: The Last House. Part 2

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

The Last House. Part 2

Max’s face glowed red as the morning sun. He saw the looks on his friends’ faces as they tried to stifle their laughter. He said nothing as he turned around and held out his arms. His mother wrapped her arms around her son, and gripped him tightly. Come on mom, they’re laughing at me. “All right, honey, that’s enough of that. He’s got that candy lust,” his father said as he walked out and pulled his wife off their son. “Have a good time, and be back by seven. Got it?”

Max quickly nodded his head. “Good man,” his father said with another wink. Max saw the small tears pooling in his mother’s eyes. I’m a man now, mommy. She tearfully waved at him as she and her husband walked inside, and closed the door behind him.

“Ready to go, momma’s boy,” Tommy teased.

“Shut up,” Max replied. The three boys walked onto the sidewalk, and began their quest for candy.

They were only one hour into their festivities, yet Max already made a killing. His pillowcase, which he chose to bring instead of the traditional plastic pumpkin bucket, was a third of the way full, and getting heavier. So far, all of the houses on their street was handing out candy in larger piles than the boys had ever seen. If it kept up like this, they’d soon have enough to open their own candy store.

They passed by one of those homes infamous for doling out fruit, and saw a small contingent of outraged children hurling eggs at the front door. “We want candy,” they chanted repeatedly.  Max never liked the idea of punishing people on Halloween; it seemed too mean spirited. He knew he was raised too well to do that, but often wondered if he would become one of those jaded teenagers who turned this innocent holiday into some a dark day of hellraising. He promised himself he wouldn’t.

“I think we’re almost out of houses,” Ben said as he looked at the crayon map in his hand. He looked back over his shoulder at their starting point, and followed their progression on the wrinkled piece of paper in his hand. They were about three-fourths of the way through their quest. They still had a few houses left, apart from the ones giving out fruit or the ones that simply did not participate. “The good houses are coming up though,” he smiled, placing the paper back into his pocket. The good houses, as Ben referred to them, were the ones that gave out  the full-sized pieces of candy, and they were only one house away from the that confectionary paradise. Ben sprinted passed another of those fruit-bearing mockeries, and came up to the front door of one of the good houses. Max and Tommy stepped up to him, and looked with excitement and anticipation. This was the moment they waited for.

Tommy was the first to step up, pushing passed his friends to be the first to the door. Max and Ben quickly followed after him. Tommy rang the doorbell, and held out his back with almost arrogant anticipation. The door opened, and all three boys screamed out, “Trick or Treat!”

The elderly woman standing in the door had a sad look on her face. She held out an empty clear glass bowl and shook her head. “I’m sorry, kiddo. Looks like the others beat you to it. I’m all out of candy,” she said while closing the door.

All out of candy? So much for that damn map. Max was disappointed to say the least. Ben assured both boys that his plan was fool-proof, but the other kids in town knew to get there first.

“Sorry guys,” Ben apologized. Neither Max nor Tommy wanted to hear it.  They turned around from the house, and walked back to the main sidewalk. Surely, Ben must have worried this was a major trial in their friendship. Max kicked a rock out of his way and decided in that moment to pout in response to his disappointment.

“This is such crap,” Tommy shouted while tying the end of his pillowcase.

“I didn’t think anyone else would know to go there first,” Ben tried to make his case, but Tommy would not hear it. He took his wrapped up pillowcase and whapped Ben on the shoulder as they made their way to the next good house, only to find another group of kids hearing similarly disappointing news. This next house had also run out of candy. The night was quickly becoming a disaster.

As the boys reached the end of the street, it sunk in that their trick-or-treating festivities were over. They had passed every house in just over an hour, and had no were else to go. Max, who had looked forward to his first solo trick-or-treating experience was sorely let down. At least if his parents were with him, he could go over to the next street and collect whatever candy remained in some of those houses. He looked at the corner of the road. It was the corner of Cambridge and Chapel where that supposedly abandoned house sat. The house did not look abandoned tonight. Every window was brightly lit with the glow of Jack O’lanterns. Although Max remembered passing by the house when he darted home from school, he did not remember seeing any decorations anywhere around the property. The front door opened, and Max heard the sounds of bubbling liquids, boiling water, and the clings and clanks from a Halloween sound effect album.

As he looked at the house, Max tapped his hand against Ben’s shoulder. Ben looked at him, and sharply asked, “What?”

Max pointed at the house, and replied, “Look. I thought you said nobody lived there.”

The other two boys turned to look at the house on the corner. They were equally shocked by now highly decorated house. “Holy shit,” Tommy blurted out, and the other two boys looked at him in surprise. Tommy’s mom and dad really do let him watch whatever he wants. He somewhat understood why his parents did not like him spending too much time with Tommy. “They’re having a party. Come on, let’s check it out!”

Tommy ran forward a few steps, but stopped when he realized Max and Ben were not moving. “Come on, what’re you scared of? You guys a bunch a’ chickens or something’”

Ben and Max looked at each other. They did not liked being called out as cowards, but neither of them really felt any need to step any further to that house. After all, kids said it was haunted. “I don’t know, Tommy,” Max started, “I’m not supposed to go this far on my own.”

Tommy sighed, and then pleaded with Ben, “But you’re gonna come, right? Come on, think of all the candy they have in there!”

The thought of candy was alluring to both of the boys who now felt cheated by this side of the neighborhood. Ben looked at Max and shrugged, “I mean, there might be some good candy there. Maybe we can just take a little peek.”

Max struggled about what to do. As Ben walked closer to the house, Max looked back down the street. His house was now a tiny structure on the horizon behind him. I can still see my house, so they can still see me.

“Do it for the candy, Max. For the candy,” Tommy argued.

Max still did not like the idea of going, but he turned back around, and followed his friends to the presumably haunted house on the street corner. As they walked, more kids joined them. What’s that story my dad told me? The one where all the kids end up going missing? Max was recalling a story his father read to him when he was a few years younger. He had nightmares all night about being lured away from his bed, but could no longer remember what the story was called, or how it ended. All he recalled was how much trouble his dad found himself when his mother heard about his nightmares. Zombielike, the children all continued towards a house none of them had ever stepped foot in.

The group stopped like a regimented group of soldiers that just heard the command to halt. They all looked around at each other while a few started daring others to be the first to step inside.

“You do it.”

“No, you do it.”

“This was your idea!” The truth is, no one had the idea to venture closer to that house. They all just felt pulled towards it. As the children debated, Tommy stepped forward and declared he wasn’t afraid.

Christopher Hall

Christopher Hall is an author at the beginning of his career. His background is primarily in history, and historic writing. He attended Wesley College for his undergraduate work, and Washington College to complete his MA in history. He currently works for the Delaware State Museums creating history and historical-fiction programs. He lives in Dover Delaware.

Trembling With Fear 10/06/2019

I’ve been let loose in the Horror Tree office this week. For the time being, I’ve stepped in to help Stuart out as and when he needs to take time out for family plus I’m also helping coordinate and post reviews and interviews so I will be wearing a few different hats for the foreseeable future. HT is currently in discussion with a possible Review Co-Ordinator but Stuart also needs an Interview Co-ordinator so if anyone fancies the role, get in touch; same for those who wish to be part of the review team. I have set up posts and done various bits-and-bobs but I am learning so bear with me if you spot any mistakes (although please let me know about them!). This is very much an interim position for me as I doubt I can keep it up forever – and NaNoWriMo is looming! Cue mental breakdown 😊

Now back to my more natural habitat, Trembling With Fear which opens with White Sepulchre by Jude Reid. This is truly dark, playing upon perversions you think are going to be carried out and you wonder how this got past our submission guidelines, then you discover the twist, which is just as dark. Two aspects of horror, both a form of taboo, clearly drawn but never mentioned directly. Not only that, but you are also directed to sympathise with the mortician because of their apparent poverty or difficulty in life? Will you still sympathise at the end? This is a perfect example of reader direction and then pulling the rug out from under them.

All the drabbles this week rely on the twist ending:

Birthday Surprise by Scarlet Berry reminds us that there can be more than one surprise at a birthday party and there are some perks to gathering much-loved(!) family and friends in one place. But don’t try this at home, folks!

Last Day by RJ Meldrum is a short tale of retribution. That longed-for retirement beckons but …

Rocking Horse by Kevin M. Folliard brings us the bitter dynamics that can exist within a family, the complete subversion of a lifetime’s memories by a deathbed confession. Short and brutal, like the denouement.

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

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

First off I’d like to stress that I apologize for a slowdown on e-mail responses. Steph has graciously stept up on some of them while I deal with some real life matters and trying to get posts scheduled with our backend issues.

That being said, we’ve got some great stories this week which I was thrilled to re-read while posting them. Many of our shorts and drabbles are picked months in advance so it is always a thrill to re-read them while preparing these posts.

Also related to the site, our interview and review coordinator recently stepped back. We have a potential bite for the review position though are still looking for someone to help on the interview side. Responsibilities would be to track what we have on the docket for interviews (I’ll help provide opportunities for this), who is currently interviewing someone with a timeline attached (we try to post them every Saturday) and formatting them either on the site to be scheduled or in a document that can be sent over. Please reach out if you like to organize things and have some free time! 

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

Whitened Sepulchre

I take my job very seriously.

The way I see it, people trust their bodies to me, and it’s my duty to honour that trust as long as they’re in my keeping. It doesn’t matter that in a day or two they’ll be incinerated or dumped in the ground to rot. That part’s nothing to do with me. My role is to keep them safe and cared for, from the moment they enter the mortuary until they leave it.

My newest resident was thirty when she died, hit by a car and injured beyond recovery. There’s a soft patch on the back of her head where her skull was shattered, and the bruises under her eyes make her look in need of a good night’s sleep. The nurses did their best, of course, but her long, dark hair was matted with congealed blood when she arrived. It took me two hours to wash and comb it out last night, but it’s worth it to see it lying smooth and glossy over her shoulders.

She donated her organs, this girl. I love the ones who do that. They understand the meaning of life after death – how their sacrifice sustains those they leave behind. It makes what I’m about to do even more difficult. I’m not proud of it – but the job doesn’t pay me what I need to live, and I’ve had to find other ways of putting food on the table.

The mortuary bell rings perfectly on schedule. Four a.m. is the correct time for this kind of business. Even hospitals grow quiet around then. The trickle of drunks and walking wounded dries up, the nurses keep their quiet vigil over tea and toast, and the dead-eyed spectres of junior doctors curl up until morning like dry leaves. There’s no one to notice the man at the door.

I take my time. He’s waiting with his hat pulled down and his collar up, a caricature of a man seeking anonymity.

“I brought the money,” he says, with a nervous laugh. “Gloomy old place, isn’t it?”

I take the envelope and count the contents – brought, as instructed, in ten-pound notes. It wouldn’t be the first time it had come up short, but tonight it’s correct. I like that. It shows he’s approaching the transaction with respect.

I show him into the cold room, where I’ve laid her out on the table, completely covered with a white hospital sheet. I try to accommodate their individual wishes when I can, but in all honesty, usually their requests follow a predictable pattern.

He runs his tongue over dry lips. I can see a flush of colour rising to his cheeks. “May I…?”

I nod permission. He reaches a hand and draws back the sheet. I once had a customer who wanted the body dressed in clothes he provided, including a curly grey wig. I tried my best, but it all ended up messy and on balance I wouldn’t call it a success. Now I give them the choice of a hospital gown or a sheet, and that seems to hit the spot nine times out of ten.

Her skin is yellow-white on top, shading to a mottled purple down her flanks where the blood has pooled. White adhesive dressings cover the long wound from sternal notch to pubis. He looks at me, hesitant. I almost feel sorry for him.

“Do I just…?” He waves a hand towards the body. “Do you wait next door?”

I shake my head. I don’t enjoy watching, but I don’t have the luxury of looking away. If I take my eyes off him, I don’t know what he might do. I heard about another mortuary where the client carved his initials into the body, and that’s the sort of thing that risks bringing the whole enterprise crashing down.

Usually, though, they’re discreet. My customers are all too aware of how society views their particular perversion. Some of them have partners, children and jobs. The ones who make it this far have a keen sense of just how delicately matters need to be handled, and those that don’t, I turn away in the early stages. I don’t know how I’d have managed before the internet made vetting applications almost effortless. I suppose it was all word of mouth back then, or discreet messages in the personal adverts of newspapers. Now I have clients from all over the world, far from anyone who could recognise them even if they were spotted – and that suits me just fine.

He still hasn’t laid a hand on her. “They used to call it a Rose Cottage,” he says, as if we were friends. “A mortuary, I mean. So you can talk about it in front of dying people without upsetting them. Sounds kind of romantic.” I stare at him, and he wilts. “Sorry. I’m nervous, that’s all. Never done this before.”

I shrug. It’s his time. He’s paid for it.

He scowls, upset, I think, by my indifference. “I know what you are,“ he says abruptly.

I feel my muscles tighten. This happened once before, early on, before I knew how to set the proper ground rules. Behind my back, my hands ball into fists. I calculate the distance between him and the door.

“You like to watch, don’t you? That’s what gets you off. I mean, you can join in if you like, I don’t mind.”

The cool tiles of the wall press into my spine.

“Fine. Whatever,” he says.

He undoes his belt and kicks his way out of his trousers. I feel a stab of revulsion, but that has its advantages. He puts a knee onto the table, his intention so focused on the cold alabaster body that he doesn’t notice me behind him.

I’m quick. He’s dead before he realises it, windpipe and carotid arteries severed, six seconds of wide-eyed bewilderment before he falls to the ground and goes still. I do hate leaving it so close to the wire, but it’s important to make sure he’s properly distracted first. Otherwise, things can get untidy, and I don’t enjoy that at all.

By a stroke of luck most of the blood is on him, the sheet and the floor. There’s a tiny splash on the roof, and a delicate diagonal arc across the woman’s bare legs. I fetch a wet-wipe to clean her up. The rest can wait, but I’ve already sacrificed enough of her dignity for my survival.

Once she’s safely back in her locker, I lay him out, savouring the anticipation. In an hour’s time, he’ll be jointed and bagged up ready for the freezer, and everything will be neat and tidy again. When I go through his clothes, I find an organ donation card in his wallet. That pleases me. I like to think this is what he would have wanted.

I should wait, but I can’t resist a snack before I start. It’s silly, I know, but I don’t like the idea of him watching me while I work. Besides, the eyes never freeze well.

Jude Reid

Jude is a Glasgow based horror writer who creates things to unwind in the gaps between full time work, chasing after her kids and trying to wear out a border collie. She is an avid Zombies! Run fan, a keen student of ITF Tae Kwon Do and drinks a powerful load of coffee. You can find some of her work here:

www.hunterhoose.co.uk

Birthday Surprise

He had told them not to make a fuss over his turning 50, knowing full well that a birthday party was already in the works.

 

He feigned surprise when he walked through the door and a house filled with people shouted at him.  He even smiled when the cake was brought out and everyone sang.

 

After blowing out his candles, he managed to slip outside.  As he drove away, he watched in his rear view mirror as his house exploded into pieces.  While tossing the detonator and gloves out of the open window, he softly sang, “Happy birthday to me!”

Scarlet Berry

Scarlet Berry is a Yooper. She’s been married forty years to the same man and they raised four children together. She is a mystery wrapped up in a conundrum, and loves to laugh; both evilly and happily.

Last Day

Collins smiled.  The last exam was marked.  Retirement beckoned.  He thought about the last forty years.  He’d been a tough professor.  Tough but fair.

There was a knock on his door.

“I’m busy!”

The door opened.

“I said…”

It was Davidson.  Collins twitched.  Davidson had been kicked out the program twenty years before.  He’d killed himself three months later.  Collins had felt a twinge of guilt at the time; Davidson had only been an hour late submitting an assignment, but rules were rules.

“I heard you were retiring.  I wanted to see you, one last time.”

Davidson closed the door.

RJ 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

Rocking Horse

My dead twin’s rocking horse sits in my mother’s attic, draped with cobwebs.

“I disposed of Henry’s other toys, his clothes, but he was so happy on that horse.” Mother unleashed a painful series of coughs. “I thought by keeping it, I’d keep his smile, his laughter alive.”

“Of course.” I gripped her hand by her deathbed. “After Dad confessed. Got the chair. How could anything ever be right again?”

“It will be soon.” She smiled. “You see, Daddy confessed so he could be with Henry. We had always intended to kill you, but you boys looked so much alike.”

Kevin M. Folliard

Kevin M. Folliard is a Chicagoland writer whose published fiction includes scary stories collections Christmas Terror Tales and Valentine Terror Tales, as well as adventure novels such as Matt Palmer and the Komodo Uprising. His work has also been collected by The Horror Tree, Flame Tree Publishing, Hinnom Magazine, and more. Kevin currently resides in La Grange, IL, where he enjoys his day job as an academic writing advisor. When not writing or working, he’s usually reading Stephen King, playing Street Fighter, or traveling the U.S.A.

Author Website: www.KevinFolliard.com

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Kmfollia

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kmfollia/

Unholy Trinity: Woodland Encounter by Terrance V. Mc Arthur

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.

Mooned

“So, let me get this straight. You were attacked by an animal-like creature during a hunting trip, you say? Your bullets didn’t stop the thing, but when you clubbed it with the silver-trimmed stock of your rifle, that killed the beast, and it transformed into the dead body of your guide, right? Now, you usually go hunting away from the city when the moon is full, like it is tonight? I suppose that means you’re a werewolf, right?”

The clouds parted enough for a slash of moonlight to shine on a furry, toothsome face which snarled, “You might say that.”

Bitten

“Let me tell you about my trip to Eastern Europe. I went hiking on a break from college. While camping in the ruins of an old castle, just before dawn, I heard a twig snap. I turned to see a woman standing at the edge of the shadows. 

“‘You are a stranger, here?’ she asked. I told her I was traveling to see the world and find adventure.

“She said, ‘Let me give you a kiss for luck, to send you on your way.’ That was a century ago.”

“So, you’re a vampire?”

Two fangs glinted.

“You might say that.”  

Landed

The werewolf and the vampire faced off in the clearing, each confident of victory, feinting, teasing the other into making the first move. The two rushed together, powerful blurs of motion. Claws and fangs slashed, bodies bent, feet dug into the soft earth. Bellows and screeches frightened birds into flight. Rumbling echoes turned to grinding shudders that shook the trees. 

The combatants broke apart, discovering they were mired waist-deep and sinking steadily. Anger turned to panic as they struggled against the gripping ooze.

When the earth was still, the birds returned.

You can’t fight Mother Nature?

You might say that.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a librarian, storyteller, magician, puppeteer, balloon artist, basketmaker, and playwright. His work has appeared in more than a dozen anthologies from Thirteen O’clock Press.. He lives in the Central Valley of California with his wife, his daughter, and the ashes of a 21-year-old cat.

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