As I write this, I’m expecting a message from Stuart to say, yes, the Trembling With Fear anthology is going live shortly (yay!). It’s been long in gestation, due in part to the pressures of time as we fought to fit it into our everyday lives – little windows which seemed to get narrower and narrower, but it’s done. Another weight from our shoulders and I hope you’ll be pleased with the result, I know I am and I found when I recently reread it, how the stories seemed so much stronger. Distance from work, a resting time, does have a benefit, bringing greater objectivity. It’s also interesting to look at from the point of view of my time at TWF. I came to the site half-way through 2017 and I was a stranger to many of you. As I compile 2018 (currently ongoing – proactive or what!) it is with a different perspective, this time I feel as though I am working with friends (although that makes me feel even more responsible).
So, please read, please keep writing your wonderful stories for us and we’ll do our best to help you get your work out to the audience it deserves.
Thank you all for being part of thisStephanie Ellis
So… The Trembling With Fear anthology is going live shortly! Am I saying that to make Steph happy or am I serious? Here’s a shot of the cover while I think that over!
Why yes, yes this title is available for pre-order digitally on Amazon at this very moment Right Here for our US readers and Right Here for our UK readers! The physical copies should be available soon if they didn’t appear overnight and I’ll try to update the post with those links as I can (pretty busy Sunday and I’ll be offline most of the day!)
‘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
In the Frame
He’d been trapped inside the painting, suffocated by oils, for half a century. He knew May sensed him and his anger, which was growing steadily and leaking over the edges of the gilt frame into the parlour. His favourite room where he and May had laughed, danced, kissed and fought until that last Christmas. . . here memories bled into oily paint swirls and it was hard to recall what had happened. Except May was out there – alive, albeit now an old woman and he wasn’t. He was trapped, flattened and raging. He peeked out from their bedroom and watched the young woman settle on the sofa to drink tea with May. Youth, ah sweet youth! He could smell her. She might be his way out. . .
Ellie smiled at Grandma May, as she sipped weak Earl Grey. She didn’t like to tell her Grandma she preferred Yorkshire builders, just like Dad. Small deceptions didn’t matter, she told herself.
Ellie glanced at the easel, propped in its usual place in the bay window, supporting May’s current work in progress. The house was May’s favourite subject, she painted it repeatedly in all seasons, from every angle. May did portraits too, but oddly none of her late husband, Grandpa William. Long gone, but never spoken of.
Despite this lacuna in the family history, the front room was preserved as if William had just stepped outside. His slippers resided under his armchair, his pipe and baccy rested on the walnut sideboard, his whiskey decanter gleamed from regular elbow-busting polishes. Ellie didn’t pry. It wasn’t her business.
Ellie’s favourite painting hung above the mantel; an oil, executed in minute detail, depicting all the interiors, like a doll’s house, with one wall removed. Every stick of furniture was duplicated, so too every pattern on the wallpaper. Glossy and luscious in texture, it dangled out of Ellie’s reach for years, until she grew tall enough to touch its curly-wurly gilt frame.
That particular October day, when dusk tapped early at the windows and May closed the heavy velvet drapes by 3.30pm, Ellie pointed at the painting.
‘Granny May is that a face? See – there – in the bedroom? Top right?’ She leapt up. In that moment the face or perhaps it was only a smudge, disappeared. Ellie paused, nonplussed. ‘It was there. I’m sure it was.’
May’s reaction surprised Ellie; the old woman retracted her head, tortoise like, defensive and wary. ‘What? Don’t be foolish child.’
When May left the room to put the kettle on – again, Ellie, her curiosity piqued, stood on tip toe and peered at the painting. The patio doors were depicted as thrown open. Though Ellie was certain they were usually closed. Or were they?
The lights in the parlour dimmed, dipped and flickered – on and off, three times. In the brief flashes Ellie glimpsed a shadow in the painting creep down the main stairs, into the hallway and reach beyond the frame. A thin wisp of smoky darkness hovered, Ellie stretched out her finger to touch the . . .
‘Stop peering at that daub child.’ May’s sharp tones made Ellie jump and drop her hand. ‘You didn’t touch it, did you?’ May added. Ellie shook her head, wondering what May had seen, but not daring to ask.
The weeks flew by in the lead up to Christmas. Ellie, busy with work, friends and parties, didn’t visit May as often, so it was a shock when her Dad warned her May’s health was failing.
‘Like a bird now she is, tiny and frail. Pecking at food. She’s got something to give you though lass.’
Ellie was taken aback by how dilapidated Grandma May had become, her cardigan buttons and wig were askew. May’s smile was as warm as ever. Perched on the familiar easel, in the front room, stood a brown-wrapped rectangular shaped package with an accompanying empty space above the mantel.
‘For you Ellie. You’ll know what to do with it. I trust you to do the right thing.’ The old woman seemed anxious. Ellie wanted to reassure her, so she nodded. May muttered, ‘You give them power when you paint them . . .’
It was to be the last time Ellie drank weak Earl Grey with her Grandma, for May passed on just two weeks later. The subsequent clear out of her house produced a surprise. It was Ellie who unearthed the folder full of faded, foxed newspaper clippings.
‘Dad, didn’t you say Grandpa walked out on you and May? When you were a baby?’
‘Yeah, that’s right, love. Why?’
Ellie felt her stomach lurch. ‘You’d better read this then.’
Several newspaper clippings from January 1966 ran with the story of ‘Local man . . . missing after 3 weeks.’ ‘Not seen since November 1965, William Phelps. . .’ ‘Has anyone seen this man? (A fuzzy black and white photo). Then- ‘Presumed dead.’ The mark of officialdom, the death certificate, dated seven years later.
Ellie squeezed her dad’s calloused hand. ‘It’s OK love, I never knew him. May raised me. Still it’s a mystery . . .’
Ellie hung the oil in her apartment, where it took over the walls. Everyone commented on it. Ellie however had to live with it. For most of that first year of their shared habitation nothing happened, until October rolled around.
Coming home from work, Ellie switched on her desk lamp and noticed a face shaped smudge staring at her from the master bedroom or on another evening in the kitchen or standing in the hallway. The impression grew stronger as the weeks passed – of someone watching her, from within the gilt frame.
The features on the face grew more defined too. Ellie bought a magnifying glass. Yes- it was a man’s face, with tufty dark hair, an open-mouthed expression as if he was shouting, (this development rattled her), hot flushed cheeks and a stain flowering on his shirt front, which began as a pink daisy and transformed into an ugly crimson geranium. It was the face from the newspaper. It was William Phelps.
‘Granddad? Is that you?’ Ellie whispered. In the magnifying glass she saw the man’s face react to her words. ‘You can hear me?’ She felt sick.
As October morphed into November, Ellie took to keeping all the lights switched on, hoping to blast the dark oil painting into submission. Finally she resorted to draping a sheet over the canvas.
Christmas Eve was her last day at work, so Ellie stayed on for a few drinks, reluctant to return to her apartment. The figure was there all the time now, sometimes leaning out of the frame, beckoning her; his face eager and greedy.
Opening her apartment door, Ellie noticed the painting lying face down on the carpet. Cello-taped to the back was a small lavender envelope, covered in May’s copperplate handwriting. Ellie opened the envelope, with a glass of wine at her side for courage, but she left the painting lying blind. Just in case.
‘This is the last letter I will write, dearest Ellie. My darling granddaughter. I think by now you will have guessed my secret. It is hard for the dead to tell lies. You will know your Granddad went missing . . . have you guessed the rest? It was Christmas Eve, he was so drunk and I was three months pregnant. It was an accident I promise. . . he got as far as the patio doors….before he ….’ Ellie gulped the wine down in one go. ‘He never left though. Somehow- I kept his spirit alive in the painting. He wouldn’t let me give away his possessions. Be careful Ellie, he wants to escape. His power grows as my health fails. . . It is up to you now.’
Ellie’s eyes lifted. She gaped at the slow, lazy trickle of cerise paint escaping from beneath the painting, oozing towards her, reaching for her toes. Rivers of vermilion and magenta paint poured forth, swamping her carpet, spilling onto the balcony. The painting began to lift off the floor. A long skinny hand crawled from beneath the frame, its fingers questing and clawing. Ellie cried out and the hand froze, then turned towards her. Another skeletal hand crept out, flexing long bony digits with black nails attached. How long before the body climbed out?
Wine fuddled, Ellie was slow to move, but the sight of the creeping fingers with hairy wrists, replete with raised bulging blue veins, forced her to her feet. Looking round, she grabbed the first object she spotted -a pearl handled letter opener – a gift from May for her 18th birthday. She thrust its blade deep into one questing hand. Paint poured forth, black and viscous, whilst the fingers curled up and scrabbled at the air. One elongated finger scraped her bare ankle, from where tiny droplets of her own vermilion blood erupted.
‘Ow! You bastard!’
Frantic, panicked, she stabbed repeatedly, skewering one of the hands to her once luxurious, vanilla carpet, rather like a bizarre BBQ offering. The fingers went into a spasm, scrabbled, a blackened nail dropped off, then the appendage stopped moving.
Ellie collapsed onto her leather sofa. Sweating and panting, she watched rivers of paint seep into the floors.
Later that night in bed, Ellie tossed and embalmed herself in her duvet, scratching her ankle in her sleep, bleeding blackly onto her bedding. In her dreams she screamed in silence, trapped within a frame; a living work of art. Morning came, then the next- but for Ellie it was endless night.
Alyson lives in West Yorkshire with her family and 3 rescue cats. She teaches creative writing classes, writes noir Flash Fiction and ghost stories. She is one of the writers in ‘Women in Horror Annual 2’, in Raging Aardvark’s ‘Twisted Tales’, her stories can be downloaded at www.alfiedog.com as well as being available on various sites like zeroflash/Tubeflash/101 words/three drops from a cauldron. Her debut collection, ‘Badlands’, is due out soon from indie publisher Chapel Town Books.
You can find out more on her blog- www.alysonfayewordpress.wordpress.com
or at her amazon author page http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B01NBYSLRT
Her twitter handle is @AlysonFaye2.
Bad Habits 2
Disgusting. No other word for it. Why did people have to look in their hankie after blowing, thought young Katie? What did they expect to find there?
She watched a woman on the train now. Blowing violently into her handkerchief, then inspecting it closely. This time though, Katie saw there was blood. The woman looked frightened.
More blood dripped from her nose. She blew again, looked, then screamed. She fell back against the train door and let the handkerchief fall. Something small and bloodied scurried away. A maggoty thing saw Katie.
Katie remembered never to look in her own handkerchief.
Justin Boote is an Englishman living in Barcelona for over twenty years, who has been writing short horror/suspense stories for two years. To date, he has had published or accepted for publishing around 20 stories in diverse magazines. He is also moderator for a private writer’s forum, The Write Practice.
He can be found at Facebook under his own name.
Born in the U.S.S.A.
Attempt 1: I traveled back to the day dad killed mom. I was invisible. I phased through dad when I tried to wrestle the knife away.
Attempt 16: Scratch off writing on the wall.
Attempt 31: Every form of sound waves is officially out.
Attempt 36: I’m running out of ideas.
Attempt 39: I think I need to look to the future instead of the past.
Attempt 40: I’m fucked. I thought I could learn from the future. I learned how to change the past, but I damaged the timeline. Irreversibly. I now live in the Soviet States of America.
Eric S. Fomley
Eric S. Fomley writes Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror short fiction. He is the editor of Martian Magazine and the Timeshift and Drabbledark anthologies. His work has appeared in various venues including previous publications with Trembling with Fear. You can follow his publication on his website ericfomley.com or on Twitter @PrinceGrimdark.
It’s a long walk up from Hell, and her shoes are filled with blood. Every step leaves a crimson imprint on the ground, a serpentine path winding from her crypt, through the town, and back again, where she lay during the day, as The Devil himself cannot keep her interred.
Where the dead walked, Death follows, taking sacrifices to sate its spectral fury at ‘The One Who Got Away.’
I always thought the worst sensation was seeing police roping off a scene to which those stained steps led, but no.
Tonight, her cursed moonlight jaunt ended at my front door.
E. N. Dahl
E. N. Dahl is a novelist and award-winning screenwriter from a shady corner of the USA. She’s the author of Nova EXE, among others, and her short work has appeared with Thunderdome Press, Transmundane Press, Sci-Phi Journal, Helios Quarterly, The Siren’s Call, The Literary Hatchet, and many others. When not reading and writing, she can probably be found doing yoga or watching horror movies.