The Unholy Trinity: Crows

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.

Tithes

Crows were everywhere. The black feathered devils saw everything. The villagers cursed and looked away, but no matter, the old man’s pets saw where everything was hid. Every gold piece, every bushel of grain, every flagon of ale. The crows flew to the old man and told him. Then he’d come and take his tithe. The villagers grumbled, but knew better than to argue. They had seen him send the crows like black fiends pecking eyes and flesh and plucking hair. They had seen the old man cackling with laughter and the blind, bloodied bodies of those that crossed him.

Curses.

She had nothing. Blind and crow-pocked. Once she had been beautiful but she had refused him and so the old man had made her pay. First he killed her lover. Next he took her child. Then he took her eyes, her hair and her beauty. Bleeding and broken.

The villagers looked away, ashamed and afraid. Day after day, she sat in the square begging; a reminder of their weakness, of their cowardice. Some tossed crusts of bread, some tossed small coins, and others tossed curses. She picked them up and threw them back. Collecting the curses for the old man.

 

Feathers

The crows congregated around the old man’s house for weeks. Circling and calling. Surely this was an omen, a dark omen. The villagers shuddered, but knew better than to cross the old man. They had made that mistake before.

By the third week, they dared to venture into the house. The crows called a warning that they didn’t heed.

Inside they found the old man lying dead. His tongue and eyes pecked out, his hair plucked from his head. His decayed flesh a broth for black beaks. Through the open window black wings fluttered and dark feathers littered the room.

David Rae

David lives in Scotland. He loves stories that exist just below the surface of things, like deep water.

He has most recently had work published or forthcoming  in; THE FLATBUSH REVIEW, THE HORROR TREE, LOCUST, ROSETTA MALEFICARIUM, SHORT TALE 100 and 50 WORD STORIES. You can read more at

Davidrae-stories.com

Serial Killers: The Black Zone 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 Black Zone – Part 2

By Diana Grove

 

The deafening morning alarm whooped, and I moved to stand ready by the door to my cell. I was in one of the end cells, so I could see the two huge guards standing down the other end. All the guards wear full-length exosuits, which make them pretty much indestructible. The door slid open, and I stepped out along with my fellow unsmiling inmates. Like me, they all wore unflattering olive green shirts and matching skin-tight pants made from Eco-weave self-cleaning fabric. The colour identified us as prisoners in Block B, which was for offenders under twenty-one who hadn’t committed heinous crimes.

We trudged to the cafeteria in single file. They don’t let all of us eat together. Not enough space I guess and too dangerous. I’m in the second group–7.30am breakfast. My stomach rumbled. The food was bland and usually some form of goop, but I ate almost everything served up because the portions were so small. Food was one of the few things to look forward to in Selwyn. Visits were another. My dad has only visited me once. He’s angry and worried I’ve ruined my chances of getting into a good university. Mum comes every week and cries every time.

I sat down next to the only girl I was friendly with, Elly. She’s in here for vandalising her school. Hunched over, Elly cupped her steaming black coffee in her small hands.

Before taking a sip she said, “Poor Kesi. If you’re going to shave off all your hair you really should have a nice shaped skull.”

I knew better than to look directly at the girl Elly was talking about. Haircuts were available yesterday. I didn’t ask for one. I only had one week of my sentence left, and l liked my curly brown hair the way it was. I scooped up a spoonful of lukewarm barley porridge (full of freeze-dried cranberries and bug protein) and looked over casually while I chewed.

Kesi’s hair wasn’t shaved off entirely. A long curl of blue hair fell across the nineteen year old’s sullen face. Next to Kesi sat Blix, a cyborg or ‘morpher’ as they prefer to call themselves. Both her arms and legs were the latest BioTech bionic limbs. She ran her skeletal metal fingers through her platinum blonde hair and then sat with her sharp elbows resting on the table. Blix had opted for no flesh-sleeves. What really made her creepy though were her bionic eyes that allowed her to see at incredible distances and also see the electromagnetic spectrum. It was hard to imagine someone voluntarily having their limbs removed and body augmented like that, but it wasn’t uncommon.

Noticing my gaze, Blix turned and her eerie silvery eyes met mine. She smiled a superior smile. The girls at her table were the ones with the worst reputations and guilty of the worst offences. One of them was missing today. Yesterday Mariko lost it and stabbed someone in the hand with a pencil. She’s in The Box now. Solitary confinement. I couldn’t imagine anything worse. I get claustrophobia sometimes, and being in a tiny windowless room for days is the stuff of nightmares for me.

I’m not a delinquent. My crime was trespass. It doesn’t sound that bad, but the place I entered–one of the Black Zones–was about as safe as a warzone and Atticas citizens aren’t allowed to go into most of them. My stupidity got me shot in the leg and arrested by the police. My virtual lawyer told me I was lucky. Not just because I got a light sentence (six weeks) but because five young women had recently disappeared from the fringes of the Black Zones. It had been in the news, and it was feared that they had been taken by black-market organ traders known as Butchers.

After breakfast Elly and I headed to an art therapy class under the watchful gaze of a poker-faced guard. No computer-aided design for us. This was hands-on traditional art. I’ve never been good at art, but I’d rather be in an art class than back in my cell doing schoolwork. I still have to do assignments, but I get through everything much faster without normal distractions like TV, VR and friends.

Today I planned on finishing my painting of a little girl holding a teddy. The big blue eyes were exactly as I remembered, but I couldn’t get her smile right. She looked sweet, but she’s not. Not at all. While I was lost in thought holding my paintbrush, I felt someone come up behind me. A metal hand clamped on my shoulder and squeezed.

“Oooh. She’s pretty. Is she your sister?” asked Blix, her warm breath reaching my ear.

“N-no.”

“It’s good, but it could be improved.”

Stretching an arm out past me, she drew her index finger across the wet paint. “There. Much better.”

The girl’s smile was smeared; she leered like a burns victim with melted lips. Blix wiped off the paint on the tip of her finger on the back of my shirt. I drew in a huge, shuddering breath. Blix laughed low and walked away knowing I wouldn’t do anything.

Elly made her way over to me at the end of the class, and said looking cross, “You shouldn’t let her get away with that Alissa.”

“It’s ok. I fixed it.” It wasn’t quite the same, but the gruesome leer was gone.

“She’s going to keep poking you until she gets a reaction.”

“Well, I won’t be here much longer for her to poke.” One week. It was my new mantra. One week.

“Can I see your painting?” I asked, changing the subject.

Elly shrugged. We walked over to a tall plastic easel at the front of the room and stared at her artwork. At first the canvas looked just black. Looking closer, I noticed a few blue dots amongst the black and a large round shape that had been painted over.

In a deadpan voice Elly said, “I’m calling it ‘Lost in the deepest fugue with blueberries.’”

I couldn’t help laughing.

 

***

 

We get half an hour of exercise every day. The activities vary; today it’s basketball. The high prison walls left no view whatsoever, just an expansive square of pale blue sky. After a quick jog around the courtyard we were told to pair up. Before I could walk over to Elly, Blix claimed me.

While we were throwing the basketball back and forth she said, “Hey Alissa. Have you ever thought about escaping this place?”

“No,” I said, only just managing to catch the ball.

“Really? I have. With these,” she waved her horrible arms, “I could smash my way out of the MedCare Unit. It backs onto the street. If I hurt my arms so what? I can get them repaired.” She smiled smugly.

“You’d get caught eventually,” I said, unable to help myself.

“Yeah. You’re right. That’s why it’s good to have self-control. Poor Mariko hasn’t got much.”

Blix threw the ball hard and it thumped me in the chest and rolled back to her. She picked it up gracefully, and sunlight gleamed off her arms as she strode over to me.

“But you have a lot,” she said running one of her cold metal fingers from my forehead down to my chin, “Don’t you?”

I pulled away from her and she laughed, shoving the basketball into my hands.  

Our three on three basketball game lasted thirty seconds. Instead of throwing the basketball to a teammate Kesi threw it at Elly who wasn’t expecting it. The ball smashed into her nose breaking it. Blood streamed down her face as she held her hands over her messed up nose.

“Sorry,” said Kesi, not looking the least bit sorry.

“You girls stay right here,” yelled the scowling female Activities Officer, leading Elly back inside.

I watched them go, feeling sorry for Elly. Then I realised I was all alone with Blix and her followers, and my stomach spasmed. They watched me like pitiless Butchers. My breath seemed stoppered inside me.

Blix turned to her friends and said loudly. “So I heard that Soraya didn’t tell anyone Mariko hurt her. It was someone else.” She glanced over her shoulder at me. “Some little skag told one of the guards, and that’s why Mariko is in The Box.”

I swallowed, and hoped desperately that the Activities Officer would come back soon.

“Now, why would someone be so interfering?” Blix asked, coming towards me with her blonde head tilted. “It was a private matter.”

She stopped in front of me, uncomfortably close. “That skag was you, wasn’t it Alissa?”

“No.” Why does she think it was me?

Blix’s cold gaze flicked to the large metal chest on wheels that stored the sporting equipment. Suddenly she grabbed my arm and dragged me towards the chest.

“What are you doing? Let me go!”

She was so strong. Her sharp fingers dug into my arm like talons and it felt like she was going to tear flesh.

“My friend is in The Box because of YOU.”

The other girls sniggered and followed us. Still holding onto me, Blix lifted the lid and then shoved me in. I didn’t fall to the bottom because it was half full with balls and skipping ropes. I hadn’t felt so scared the whole time I’d been in prison. Lashing out like a trapped animal, I hit Blix in the throat and kicked a skinny girl in the stomach. I could tell they were surprised by my fear fuelled strength.

Leaning over me, Blix pushed my legs in. Pressing both hands against her hateful face, I gouged one of her eyes. My thumb dug in deep, squishing her soft artificial eye. With a gasping cry Blix let go of me. Then bizarrely everyone was screaming.

I scrambled out of the box, panting. Spinning around, I thought I was going to be sick. Blix’s eyeball was poking out. You could see the moist pink insides of her eye socket. She was hunched over, kneeling on the ground, with a metal hand cupping the side of her face.

With her good eye Blix glared at me. “You bitch! You’re dead! You’re so fucking dead.”

Helmeted guards ran towards us, weapons ready. Sirens whooped. I stood motionless, forcing myself not to cry. One week. I was so close… One week.

 

***

 

“I’m glad to hear you’ve been practising your piano with VR, but you’re still going to have to practise like a demon when you get out of this place. This Monday isn’t it?” asked my piano teacher.

I nodded.

“Ziggy! Ziggy, stop that!”

Mrs Kerr’s robot dog continued to bark at the Robo-bins. Anytime one zoomed across the floor or reached out with a long arm he went ballistic. One of the guards came over.

“Mam, you’re going to have to leave if you can’t control your robot,” said the sour-faced guard, standing with arms akimbo.

We both watched Ziggy yapping and running in circles around one of the Robo-bins almost knocking it over.

“I think I’d better go,” said Mrs Kerr with a sigh.

We said goodbye without hugging. Touching wasn’t allowed. The tight strap restraining me in my chair released automatically, and I was escorted back to my cell.

Blix never got her revenge. They kept us separated until she got transferred to Block A on her 21st birthday. Her damaged eye couldn’t be mended properly. Selwyn medics don’t have the expertise to repair bionic eyes, so Blix was stuck with an eye that didn’t always move in tandem with her other eye. She hated me. I could see that in those cold eyes.

“You better watch your back,” Kesi said tonight after dinner. “You know who all those Butchers work for?” She smiled an ugly smile. “Blix’s dad.”

I didn’t know if it was true or not. Elly didn’t believe it. She said Kesi was probably going to be a loser career criminal and you couldn’t believe anything she said. Lying on the narrow bed in my cell, wrapped in darkness and whispers, I had a bad feeling that Kesi wasn’t lying and I would see Blix again one day.

 

 

 

 

 

Diana Grove

Diana Grove writes weird short stories for children and adults that seldom have happy endings. Her stories have appeared in the anthology Freak Pure Slush Vol. 13 and the zine Trembling With Fear. Diana can be found on Twitter: @ImaginaryGrove

Trembling With Fear 01/27/2019

This week’s stories bring us humour – much needed in these troubled times – amongst nightmare and horror.

Our lead story is Self-Reflection by Carl R. Jennings. Hutter is a character who immediately demands your sympathy due to his unfortunate appearance and as you read on, you discover he is very much the Igor of the piece to the Master, always willing to please. There are lovely touches of humour here, the desire to oil creaking hinges only to be slapped down, the obtaining of a mirror which allows a vampire to see their reflection – and the result. Wonderful (and heartwarming in a strange sort of way).

Party Time by Alyson Faye is a fun werewolf romp, leading you astray initially as you picture Mike as human. Then you realise he is a werewolf and then the final problem – for him – is his vegan status. He’s not going to get very far with the pack like that!

The Tapping by CR Smith travels over several sleepless nights, and is written with a dreamlike – or nightmarish – quality, building a sense of displacement. A particularly nice touch is the denouement when the character discovers they are the source of their own disturbed sleep.

The Flask by Maura Yzmore. What would you do to survive? What if you found one other person alive? Companion or food. An horrific choice.

***

Belated Birthday wishes to Alyson Faye, regular contributor to TWF and interviewer/reviewer at Horror Tree.

Think only Richard Meldrum can turn the stories out? I asked Patrick Winters for his total acceptances so far this year (not just in TWF I might add) – last time I reported it, it stood at 6 – well now he has reached 14. That is some start to 2019.

On a personal level, I’ve had one short story rejection, one short story acceptance and an expression of interest in my novel. The editor has got the whole manuscript now so I’m waiting … I’m trying not to get hopes up too much, even getting this far is a major step for me. One other iddy, biddy little thing – Nosetouch Press’ Fiends in the Furrows anthology (which contains a story of mine) has made the Bram Stoker Award Preliminary Ballot for the anthology section. If nothing else happens for me this year, just this will be a highlight!

I also read a book recently, It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life, ed. Joe Mynhardt and Eugene Johnson (Crystal Lake Publishing), which I would recommend as a great handbook to all writers. It has a number of essays from some of the best in the business (talking inspiration, character, plotting etc ) and, wonderfully for me (wearing my TWF hat), sections on submitting – reminders of guidelines and how to approach editors – amongst others. This book also has invaluable tips for screenwriters. So, if you’re lacking a little motivation, grab this and play What If with Jonathan Maberry.

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

Carl R. Jennings doesn’t always submit his work to Trembling With Fear, but when he does it tends to be a great read. Today is no different! A great take on an old classic giving us a quite enjoyable twist.

Progress is coming on the anthologies. Steph has split them in two and we’ll hopefully have some artwork to look at soon!

‘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

Editor, Horror Tree

Self-reflection

Hutter climbed the narrow, helter-skelter stairs in, lurching from one pool of torchlight to another. It was a proper lurch too, being almost a hopping from foot to foot. This was due in part to the large hump on his back and spindly, splayed legs. In fact, all of Hutter looked as though a caring if skint god put him together using factory rejected parts; a face that Marty Feldman would take one look at, shake his head sadly, and offer the owner a drink. The other reason for the difficult movement was the large package he carried.

It was easily taller than a full grown main and more than twice as broad. It was three-dimensional but not by much, being hardly thicker than the plain brown paper it was wrapped in.

At last, Hutter reached the wooden door the steps lead to. He gently set the package down and took a moment to mop his forehead with his handkerchief. Hutter then turned the latch and pushed the door open.

Beyond was an opulently appointed room, even if it was like being inside a coal briquette. Glass-free windows were covered by black curtains that billowed slightly in the cool, gentle night breeze that made the candle flames on nearly a dozen wall mounted holders flicker. Several tall wardrobes made of ebony wood nearly obscured one of the black stone walls. Dominating the center of the room was a shiny, black lacquered coffin sitting on a matching table. The only concession the 19th gave to the 20th century was a black Bakelite phone next to the coffin, its wires running across the floor and out of one of the windows.

Hutter carefully leaned the package against the wall next to the door and approached the coffin. Using a gnarled knuckle, he wrapped lightly on its lid.

“Master,” he said. His voice, like his body, seemed to have been thrown together with whatever larynx pieces could be found and glued together. “Master, it’s here.”

With glacial slowness, the coffin lid creaked open. It was a proper creak too, the kind only achieved by hinges rusted to the point of flaking. Hutter bowed low and winced at the floor as he once again fervently wished the Master would allow him to oil the hinges. He had gathered up his courage once to ask the Master just that, but was curtly told the screeching was a part of the image. How sound could have been an image, Hutter didn’t know, but he let the subject drop.

From out of the poofy, black silk lined coffin, the Master rose as though his feet were attached to hinges (albeit silent ones) of their own. The Master wore a dusty black cassock that looked to have been taken from a priest’s buried bones which, in fact, was the case. He ended up standing upright, arms crossed over his chest, while Hutter crossed his crooked fingers that the nails he had driven through the bottom of the coffin would hold this time – he still had bruises from last week’s little slippage incident.

The Master opened his eyes and looked down at Hutter, who remained bowed.

“Rise,” the Master rasped in mausoleum tones. The word, however, was slightly mangled, the reason for which will be touched upon later.

Looking up, Hutter said, hardly able to contain his excitement, “It’s here, Master.”

The Master took a deep, whistling breath through his nose. “Show me,” he said.

Hutter loped as best he could across the room to where the package leaned. He pulled it up so it was a little more upright and turned back to the room. The Master already stood behind him, his tall body looming. The silent movement had long ago lost the ability to startle Hutter, but he suspected that such a lack of reaction saddened the Master, so he made a point to seem startled. The Master scrutinized the package with narrowed eyes.

“Are you sure of this, Hutter?” the Master asked, sounding suspicious.

“Certainly, Master,” Hutter replied, not at all as confident as he made his voice sound. “A mirror made from aluminum using a new technique called evaporation coating.” The artificer had patiently explained what evaporation coating was several times, but Hutter still didn’t quite grasp it. Hoping that he wouldn’t be asked any questions about it, he pressed on quickly. “Absolutely no silver in it at all. You’ll be able to clearly see yourself for the first time in almost a century.”

“Finally,” the Master said with satisfaction. “We shall see how Domina Tempore has treated me.” Hutter didn’t know who the Master was talking about – they hadn’t had any visitors in quite some time – but he made no comment. “If I am to have more interaction with the world in this infant century, I shall need to be able to maintain my image. Reveal it to me.”

With a proud, anticipatory, lopsided grin, Hutter ripped the paper off the package and tossed it aside. Beneath was indeed a mirror. It clearly reflected the room around it and, to Hutter’s masked relief, it also reflected the Master.

Hutter turned to the Master, beaming at a job well done. His smile immediately inverted when he saw the Master’s horrified expression.

“Is this what I truly look like?” the Master viciously demanded.

“Well, yes, Master,” Hutter said, on the verge of fearful tears.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“What, Master?”

“That I’m hideous!”

“I don’t think you are, Master.”

The Master snorted and spat, “Compared to the reflection you must see, Hutter, a sea urchin must be Athena.”

“There’s no need for that, Master,” Hutter said, reproachfully.

The Master’s long-nailed fingers hesitantly touched his dusty bald head and explored his ruined, corpse-like face. “No wonder I have to bespell women with my gaze,” he said. “I almost have to do it to myself!”

“Now, Master –“

“And these!” the Master said, interrupting as he reached his two front teeth. “I had no idea that these were that long! Do they affect my speech?”

“Not so much, Master,” Hutter quietly admitted.

“Oh damnation!” the Master wailed, burring his face in his hands.

Hutter was silent for a moment, uncertain of how to console the Master. He may have been cruel at times, but he was an aristocrat in life – they were just like that. It wasn’t his fault, really.

Then inspiration came to him – a solution to all of the Master’s problems.

“Not to worry, Master,” Hutter said, smiling as appealingly as a broken gravestone. “Over the past few years, something called radio has started becoming wildly popular…”

 

End

Carl R. Jennings

Carl R. Jennings is a man who sometimes arranges words in interesting ways but, more often than not, they’re merely confusing and unsettling. Carl R. Jennings has been published in numerous magazines such as Bête Noir and Grievous Angel, and in several anthologies from companies such Shadow Work Publishing and Gehenna and Hinnom Books. For even more useless information, like Carl R. Jennings’ Facebook page or follow him on Twitter @carlrjennings.

The Tapping

Every night’s the same, my head hits the pillow and the tapping begins. Several sleepless weeks later, I track the sound to the empty house opposite.

Moonshine follows me through the broken window.

From behind a heavy wooden door I hear the tap, tap, tap. I turn the handle.

One room leads to another, on and on, each identical yet smaller than the last.
The further I travel into the labyrinth the louder the tapping grows.

Eventually, I reach a room too tiny to enter where a miniature version of me is beating on the door trying to get out.

CR Smith

CR Smith is an artist and writer living in the UK. Her work has been published by Ellipsis Zine, Spelk Fiction, Visual Verse, Glove Lit Zine, Train Lit Mag and The Cabinet of Heed. It is also to be found in several anthologies including, The Infernal Clock, Drabbledark: An Anthology of Dark Drabbles, Chronos: An Anthology of Time Drabbles, the Trembling With Fear: Year One Anthology, and The Infernal Clock Deadcades Anthology. A poetry anthology, Fourteen, and a Stickleback pamphlet are due to be published in 2019 by The Hedgehog Poetry Press. Her artwork has graced both the cover of Déraciné A Gothic Literary Magazine, issue 2, and the inside pages of issues 2 & 3.  

Twitter @carolrosalind

https://crsmith2016.wordpress.com 

https://www.instagram.com/smith.cr/?hl=en

Party Time

Mike tried to get a date for the Annual Ball. He begged his ex – she laughed in his face. “Not happening, freak.”

His next door neighbours wouldn’t open the door to him.

At the town’s watering hole, he bumped into Johnno, who growled, “Your behaviour is letting the pack down, mate.”

Mike hung his head, sheepishly.

“Take my advice, go solo. Run wild and free.” Johnno laughed, showing brilliant white canines. “The Ball’s our best feeding night of the year. Human buffet. You gotta embrace your inner werewolf. C’mon join me in a warm-up howl.”

“I’m vegan,” Mike whimpered.

Alyson Faye

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 flash fiction debut collection, ‘Badlands’ is out now from indie publisher Chapeltown Books – here’s the interview http://www.chapeltownpublishing.uk/2018/01/badlands-by-alyson-faye.html and is available to buy from amazon.

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.

The Flask

There were still a few drops left in the flask, but Zia hesitated. It hurt to drink. Her throat had been scorched raw, the ozone layer long gone. Her lips were covered in blisters and caked in dirt, her lungs full of radioactive dust.

But she was still alive, unlike everyone she had ever known. She was alive, unlike this guy, the first human she’d seen in weeks… The guy whose flask and life she’d just taken.

And she planned to stay alive. Zia willed herself to take a swig, then pulled out her knife. Sun-dried earlobes were her favorite.

Maura Yzmore

Maura Yzmore’s dark short fiction can be found in Coffin Bell, The Molotov Cocktail, The Sirens Call, and elsewhere. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee. Website: https://maurayzmore.com Twitter: @MauraYzmore.

Maura Yzmore’s dark short fiction can be found in Coffin Bell, The Molotov Cocktail, The Sirens Call, and elsewhere. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee. Website: https://maurayzmore.com Twitter: @MauraYzmore.

Serial Killers: The Black Zone Part 1

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

The Black Zone – Part 1

By Diana Grove

 

Strange clunking sounds came from the back of the Pod. My hands gripped the sides of the seat as I waited for something bad to happen. When an announcement blared through the ceiling speakers I jumped like I’d been jabbed with a needle.

“PODRAIL WISHES TO ADVISE TRAVELLERS IN POD 453 THAT AN ERROR CODE HAS BEEN DETECTED. THIS POD WILL BE REROUTED TO THE NEAREST DOCKING STATION FOR URGENT MAINTENANCE. PLEASE STAY IN YOUR SEAT AND REMAIN CALM.”

I was the only passenger. I stayed in my seat, but it was impossible to be calm. Just my luck. They mustn’t be able to fix it remotely. Peering out the window, I saw my reflection in the dark glass–a transparent girl with wide green eyes and curly brown hair, chewing her bottom lip. A few seconds later the Pod shuddered to a standstill at a derelict docking station.

I was headed to my weekly piano lesson. My teacher, Mrs Kerr, moved house recently and my parents didn’t think it was safe for me to ride to her home on my Zipp-E scooter anymore. They insisted I travel by Pod. I can’t handle confined spaces but usually travelling by Pod is bearable. The large windows help. But being stuck in a malfunctioning Pod, alone and suspended ten meters above the ground, was too much for me. My breathing sped up and my heart felt fluttery. I’ve got to get out. I’ve got to get out. I leapt up from my seat and waved my hand in front of the exit sensor by the door.

As I stepped out of the Pod there was another announcement in the same sing-song, female voice.

“FOR THE SAFETY OF YOUR PERSON AND PERSONAL BELONGINGS PODRAIL ADVISES ALL TRAVELLERS REMAIN INSIDE THE POD.”

I wasn’t sure where I was. The name on the docking station meant nothing to me, but I knew this area must be a Black Zone. The Black Zones are dangerous slum areas outside Atticas City where crime and disease thrive like mould on old cheese. Atticas citizens are not allowed to enter most of them. Only CyCops, two meter tall android police officers, are safe in the Black Zones. CyCops have smooth faces with no eyes or mouth, just a large sphere in the centre that records everything they see.

Head down, I held onto a rusty safety rail while I tried to calm my breathing. After a minute I straightened up and surveyed the Black Zone. Derelict buildings. Rubbish. Emptiness. Then, just as I was about to head back, I saw something unexpected–a toddler holding a pink teddy stumbled out of an alley. She was all alone. I knew going into a Black Zone was all kinds of stupid, and the thought of leaving the platform made my stomach lurch, but I had to do it… That little kid was probably lost and scared.

The docking station’s glass elevator was damaged and covered in layers of graffiti, but still worked. On the ground, I felt as vulnerable as a mouse in the centre of a kitchen floor. I looked all around as I hurried after the kid.

“Hey!” I called. “Are you ok? Are you lost? It’s alright. I’ll help you.”

The kid didn’t stop. She waddled faster and didn’t even turn around.

“Wait! I won’t hurt you.”

A dog barked. No one owned pet dogs in the Black Zones. There were only guard dogs and strays. I sped up and, reaching out a hand, touched the girl on the shoulder. She stopped, and her head turned right round like no human head could. Big blue eyes met mine. One long-lashed eyelid fluttered continually like a broken eye on an antique doll.

I gasped, realising I was staring into the face of a SubChild. Subs (short for Substitutes) are androids that look like humans. Like the CyCops, Subs have artificial intelligence, but they were discontinued due to their tendency to lie and deceive.

I looked around, my mind whizzing like a rotor on a drone. It was a trap. I couldn’t see anyone, but I knew I was being watched. Who’s out there? Organ traders? Ransom seekers? The dirty faced SubChild watched me and chuckled. I backed away from it, and ran for the Pod.

The first bullet hit a rock just meters from my foot. The second pierced the meat of my thigh. This can’t be happening. Grunting with pain, I fell to the ground. I pushed myself up with my hands and saw a bright orange blur. It was another Pod. The Emergency Response Crew had arrived.

“Help!” I yelled, kneeling in the dirt and waving my arms.

I didn’t see the man come up behind me. He kicked me hard in the back, knocking me to the ground.

“Dumb Atticas skag,” the man said with a snort of laughter, “Shoulda stayed and waited for help. Ain’t nobody gonna help you now girl.”

I tasted dirt on my lips. Before I raised myself up, I grabbed a handful of gravel and threw it at the man’s gaunt face. Then I was on my feet again and running. The bloodstain on my pants grew and my leg throbbed, but I had to keep going. Nearing the elevator, I glanced over my shoulder and saw two men running behind me–the one who shot me and another man, even more malnourished with sallow skin covered in oozing cysts.

I made it to the elevator. The glass doors automatically opened and, once I was safe inside, closed behind me. Slumped against the wall, I closed my eyes for a moment. Mrs Kerr had probably called my parents by now. I pictured her standing by the lounge room window watching for me while complaining to her robot dog, Ziggy.

The elevator rose, and I screamed as bullets shattered the glass on one side. Shielding my head with my hands, I crouched down low. A shard of glass slashed my arm, but I didn’t look to check how bad it was. The doors opened, and I stumbled out.

“No!” I wailed.

The orange Pod was zooming away.

There was another gunshot. Gritting my teeth from the worsening pain in my leg, I staggered into the broken-down Pod. It was only a matter of seconds before the men would be on the platform. No one had repaired the Pod, and I had no way of keeping the automatic door closed. All I could do was thump the red emergency button at the front of the Pod.

“TRAVELLER PLEASE STATE YOUR EMERGENCY AND PROVIDE YOUR CITIZEN IDENTIFICATION NUMBER,” instructed the familiar, recorded voice.

I started to speak but couldn’t continue over the rapid gunfire. With the power of a megaphone, a voice below boomed, “Citizens are not authorised to carry weapons. Put down your weapon and surrender.”

The CyCops were here. I peeked out a window. There were two of them. The scrawny gunman swore at the android police officers and continued firing, his face twisted with hatred. A bullet to the head from one of the CyCops silenced him. In the distance I saw the SubChild disappear behind a building with her teddy in tow.

The Pod door opened and a CyCop stood outside. I saw myself reflected in its glass eye.

It scanned my Identity Chip with its palm and said, “Citizen Alissa Bollen you are under arrest for entering a restricted Black Zone. You will be taken to Mercy Hospital for medical treatment and quarantine then remanded to Selwyn Women’s Prison to await trial. You are under police surveillance now and anything you do or say could be used against you in Atticas City law courts. Do you understand?”

I nodded.

“A verbal response is required Citizen.”

“Yes, Officer.”

“Step out of the Pod, please.”

Diana Grove

Diana Grove writes weird short stories for children and adults that seldom have happy endings. Her stories have appeared in the anthology Freak Pure Slush Vol. 13 and the zine Trembling With Fear. Diana can be found on Twitter: @ImaginaryGrove

Trembling With Fear 01/20/2019

Two weeks into the New Year and submissions are coming in steadily which is great to see. We have received our first submission for our Valentine Special but none so far for our LGBTQ+ edition which was intended to be published at the end of January. If you still wish to submit for the latter, please do, otherwise we could perhaps try this again later in the year (during June to link in with Pride?). Let us know your thoughts.

This week’s Trembling With Fear leads with Unburied Horror by B.B. Blazkowicz, a story set on a farm – we don’t tend to get too many rural tales, unless someone is running through the woods(!). Blazkowicz creates a setting which is initially portrayed as normal, even though there are animal hides and skulls, flies buzz and dust is evident – until an antlered skull full of mealworms is seen and the child doesn’t recognise the main character. Then the main character goes to the Silo … This story has a good folk horror feel towards the end which we both enjoyed.

Elvis Says Hello by Hillary Lyon brings a Ouija board story to the table and is great fun. They say children shouldn’t meddle with such things, especially when they can’t spell … a moral here!

Lost and Found by Jacob Kane sends a child into a basement … and we all know nothing good ever comes of that. The simple greeting at the end by a voice in the darkness, which in other circumstances would sound normal, is made sinister. This is something I like in stories, using normality in a horrific setting, the mundane clashing with the abnormal, making the contrast starker, the reader more uncomfortable.

Narcissistic Cannibal by Arthur Unk caught my eye initially because of the title, this writer knows my love of metal and a certain band (check out the track here). Yes, it features a cannibal – the story, not the track – but one who is determined not to let others win the prize of himself … a different twist on cannibalism which lives up to the title.

If anyone else wants to attract my attention in a similar way, I like Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Rammstein, Rotting Christ, Slipknot, Blutengel, Ludovico Technique … lots of tracks you could weave into stories. Lots of excuses for me to post links to their music! I did actually slip a Five Finger Death Punch reference into the blurb for The Infernal Clock’s first anthology but nobody noticed except my co-editor, David Shakes.

As we’re talking about music, well I am anyway, we recently received a drabble from a new contributor which will be published in the near future – and very good it was too. This particular writer (David Berger) also included a little bit about himself on a more personal note including a reference to his wife, Ms. Audra Blu – ‘the greatest jazz singer in NYC’. I asked for a link and watched with my daughter. This woman is amazing (she completely won over my 17-year-old), watch her here.

Congratulations to Richard Meldrum as well on his recent publication, The Photograph in TWF. I didn’t realise until Alyson Faye alerted me to his tweet that this is in fact his 90th short story publication (not all with TWF). I’m sure he’ll hit his centenary this year. Anyone else hit landmarks of any kind?

I feel as if I’m going at a snail’s pace compared to Richard!

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

Richard Meldrum is putting us all to shame. That is all.

Actually that isn’t all! We’re working on various aspects of bringing the 2018 anthologies to life. Yes, I said anthologies! We’ll be splitting up our 2018 output slightly due to the increase in submissions over the past year. Also, I wanted to make everyone aware that we’ve slightly changed up our guidelines which you can find on the Trembling With Fear Submissions Page. The main changes were to add in our holiday-themed calls and details about both our “Serial Killers” and “The Unholy Trinity” selections.

‘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

Editor, Horror Tree

Unburied Horror

Brian was never a social butterfly, but this is starting to get weird. I curse my lack of a four-wheel drive vehicle as I sluggishly make my way up the muddy gravel driveway to his old farmhouse. I involuntarily begin rubbing my eyes, working graveyard shift sucks but it has been three days since anyone has seen or heard from him. There are no lights on inside when I pull up. The car is here, so at least that means nobody has left. It also rules out my theory of him bailing out of town because he got paranoid and thought the DEA was on to the weed plants growing out in the surrounding woods. Besides some meek clucking from the nearby chicken pen there was total silence.

I walk onto to his porch, noticing the neglected deer hide up on a rack. I took a deep breath before heading inside. Normally what would happen, if you walk into another person’s house uninvited, is you’d get a loaded gun pointed at your chest. It’s more than a little strange that being on the business end of an over-under would have actually been a relief. At least then, it would have meant nothing was wrong. While nothing seemed out of place, it gave the appearance of a place recently vacated. Everything was undisturbed and the dust had settled. I swatted a group of flies away from my face and went straight to his bedroom. It was empty, of people at least. It was full of other assorted crap. There was Brian’s ever expanding collection of milk crates filled with Vinyl records, various animal furs hung up on the wall, and a few bleached deer skulls placed lovingly about. Nothing out of the ordinary, except a fish tank. A fish tank with what almost looked like a human skull with antlers that had a mouth full of mealworms. I cocked my head off to the side. Okay, now that is out of the ordinary. Before I could ponder the odd bit of amateur taxidermy any further I heard something outside.

That better be him.

I make a quick pace through the house and back onto the porch. Even the chickens were silent now. I heard a crunch of gravel and looked towards my car to see Brian’s kid standing there.

I thought his mom picked him up already.

“Hey where’s ya daddy at, I was starting to get worried about him. You two go on a hunting trip and lose track of the time or something?” He looked up from my car towards me and replied and a flat voice:

“He went over there, Mister.” He raised his hand and pointed to the old grain silo.

The kids lack of reaction was not putting me at rest.

“Mister? You’re funny. You know I used to change your diapers, right?”

I start walking towards the silo. A few years back we converted it into a man-cave of sorts for him and his kid. “I haven’t heard from your dad in three days you know that? If you all want to take a vacation or something, I understand it, but he has got to at least least tell his work or something. You can’t just be trying disappear on everybody.” I spoke in a casual tone trying to obfuscate my own unease.

“We were not planning to be gone long,” he replied, again in that flat tone. Now that I think about it, Brian sounded about the same when I talked to him last.

We made our way across the field to the old corn silo without event, besides occasionally swatting some flies away from us.

I waste no time opening the door and climbing inside. It was completely empty, save for a fissure teaming with maggots and mealworms. I stumble back only to be shoved forward by a pair of small hands, and I tumbled down about an 8-foot drop.

I roll over, trying to get a footing only to find a swarm of flies on the ceiling clinging onto two skeletal corpses. I begin hyperventilating and my clawing against the tide of slithering grubs becomes more frantic. Something grabs my leg, pulling me towards the center. It’s that same skull with antlers from the house. It rises from the fissure, attached to a humanoid body made of gnarled, blight covered branches and vines. A sharp pain shoots from my chest up my arm as it pulls me down into the wretched earth. The mouth opens and it speaks in a voice that is the thunderous buzzing of insects.

“I… am… the irrevocable poison put on this earth.”

B.B Blazkowicz

B.B. Blazkowicz is a horror fiction writer currently tied to a chair in an Antarctic research facility. A bearded man who smells of Scotch says one of us is assimilated. If you are reading this please send me transportation to your densest population centers.

@BBblazkowicz

https://toiletwineconnoisseur.wordpress.com/

Narcissistic Cannibal

They cannot fool me! I am on to their scheme. I’ve seen it on their faces and heard it in whispered conversations. Cannibals all of them! My secret plan will beat them at their own game. The door is locked, and the straps are tight. I slice into the meat, all the way to through bone, and begin to eat. One leg gone, two legs gone, then my left arm. I dig into the belly; my screams mix with laughter. I can see the astonished looks on their faces before the darkness takes me. I’ve robbed them of their prize.

Arthur Unk

Arthur Unk lives and works in the United States, but dreams of a tropical, zombie-free island. He hones his drabble skills via the Horror Tree Trembling With Fear (Dead Wrong, Flesh of My Flesh, The Tale of Fear Itself, and others yet to come) and writes micro/flash fiction daily. His influences include H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and life experience. You can follow his work from all around the web via his blog at http://arthurunk.com or read his many, many micro-stories on Twitter @ArthurUnkTweets

Elvis Says Hello

“Let’s contact somebody famous!” Marie squeaked. “Like Elvis! Hunka, Hunka—”

 

“Nah—let’s talk to Granny,” Jenny countered. “She’s always happy to hear from us. Some old dead singer won’t—”

 

Marie grabbed the planchette from her sister’s hand and moved it along the Ouija board’s glossy surface.

 

“E,” Marie said breathlessly, “V, I, L—Elvis! Elvis says—what?”

 

Jenny watched a towering, horned figure rise up behind her sister. The unearthly beast grabbed Marie in his cruel talons and dragged her back into the screaming, infernal darkness.

 

“That’s not Elvis, you idiot—” Jenny chided. “You never could spell.”

 

 

Hillary Lyon

Hillary Lyon is founder and senior editor for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. Her stories have appeared recently in Night to Dawn, Yellow Mama, Sirens Call, and Tales from the Moonlit Path. She’s also an illustrator for horror & pulp fiction magazines. Having lived in France, Brazil, Canada, and several states in the US, she now resides in southern Arizona.

hillarylyon.wordpress.com

Lost And Found

The basement of the abandoned house was full of heads. Most were naked bone, and a good many were rotting away, the flesh wriggling with maggots. Then there were two fresh kills, their faces contorted with fear.

 

Recently dried blood coated their necks and the back of the cabinet that was their home. My stomach, already churning, became a whirlpool as I recognized the visages of my friends, missing since yesterday. I retched, vomit slapping the dirty concrete.

 

A sound came from the darkness behind me. A shuffling of feet over the dusty floor.

 

“Hello, child,” a bass voice chuckled.

 

Jake Kane

Jake Kane is a writer and visual artist living in rural Pennsylvania. In his spare time, he enjoys reading occult lore, spending time in the woods, and illustrating the contents of his psychic explorations.

Sleight Of Hand

Plam pocketed some fruit as the merchant before him haggled with a customer.

This wasn’t stealing, just sleight of hand.

His living had been performing before magic was banned.

Walking down the rows of vendors, he bumped into a man in a dark robe.

Glancing down, the bracelet he’d taken would be worth weeks of food.

He slipped it on.

It bit into his wrist, tightening painfully.

Plam couldn’t scream before falling to the ground.

The last thing he saw was the man in the robe.

No.

Not a man.

A creature.

It smiled before lifting him onto its shoulder.

Stuart Conover

Who lets this guy get another drabble in? Your Horror Tree is back with another one just to mix things up, and hopefully, you enjoy it!
This has been a crazy new year so far, and my writing has fallen behind so I’m thrilled that I’m able to get something in, even if its only 100 words at a time.
You can follow me over at my homepage!

The Unholy Trinity: Barrel

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.

The Barrel

A wrong turn led to sudden pain and darkness. She woke to the overwhelming smell of oil and whispered pleas. A blinding light filled her confinement until subsiding, revealing a man with a crooked smile. He welcomed her with an itinerary of her stay. Then, he returned the lid to its place.
His guttural words replayed in her head as slivers of light began bleeding into the darkness, illuminating her escape. Shadows cloaked her as luck guided her way into the woods. Collapsing after days of walking, faint words elevated her to reality.
“Ma’am? There’s no one at the warehouse.”

Back in the Barrel

She attempted to shake off the dizziness as she cursed herself. The pungent aroma of stale oil and rust strangled her senses, verifying her location.
“How could…could I be back in the barrel? Please. This can’t be happening again.”
The familiar thump on the lid signaled his arrival. “Welcome back number five. You’re quite the escape artist. I guess it’s my good fortune your master likes a challenge.”
“Please let me go.”
He let out a guttural laugh. “You should see the new toys he bought just for you. Once the cameras are all set up, the fun will begin.”

Showtime!

“We are all gathered here today as well as those joining us abroad to partake in our planet’s oldest tradition. BURN THE WITCH!” The room exploded in jubilation.
Days of special time with Master led her to here. She struggled against the restraints as the chamber door sealed her inside. Master offered a wink and a smile. Flames filled the chamber, engulfing her. Applause roared above her muffled screams. As they dissipated, she absorbed the shock of her survival. Symbols had appeared on her flesh, shielding her from harm. Her red shrouded sisters smiled, sentencing her captors to the barrels.

Andrea Allison

Andrea Allison currently resides in a small uneventful town located in Oklahoma after moving from a small uneventful town in Texas. She is an author who enjoys writing horror of all varieties and her work has appeared both online and in print.

You can visit her website at www.andreallison.com.

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