Category: Trembling With Fear

Trembling With Fear 08/23/20

This weekend saw a very quick visit to Cardiff to make sure my son is alive. He is, I mean he’s 23 and adult but you never stop worrying if they’re eating enough! Good job the UK government has its Eat Out to Help Out scheme in place! On a more serious note and this is my shameless family plug time, as a musician, he’s lost all chance of live work at the moment. However, he is adapting and if any of you need soundtracks, compositions, recordings or whatever – you can find him over on Fiverr https://tinyurl.com/DylanEllis. This is also a good site to track down book covers by the way. If anyone here has a second string to their bow, eg creating book covers, book trailers, music or whatever, are experiencing tough times and are on such sites as this, let us know and we’ll share your link. (And if anyone’s putting on events next year in the UK, I will also be shamelessly plugging my eldest daughter, Bethan (who’s also lost all work this year). She has wide industry experience in this area, including with Live Nation, and will have graduated by then 😊, you have been warned!).

Book plug time. This is for someone I’ve come across on twitter and who is extremely supportive of writers and a lovely person. She has also come up with something unique for the Horror world which is why I’m mentioning it here. Cassie Lola Daley (of Lets Get Galactic) has created The Big Book of Horror Authors, which is a colouring and activity book featuring many well-known names in our industry. Due for publication 31st Aug, I can’t wait to see it and release my inner child. One of the best things when growing up was getting the bumper summer activity version of your favourite comic!

Has Cassie started a new trend? We see Horror Cookbooks occasionally. Finding another avenue when you’re feeling a little jaded can be just the thing to keep you going. I remember a story we published in TWF based on a crossword, another unique take. Cross-stitch patterns anyone?

Also watch out for Feral, an anthology of stories about feral children, edited by TWF writer Robert Allen Lupton. Due out Sept 1st, it features a number of familiar names from Horror Tree, including Alyson Faye, Catherine Thole Jordan, Richard Meldrum, Stuart Conover (and me).

Very short stories!

We have one this week, albeit quite a sad one.

“The note of your flatline was your cry of birth.” – Christina Nordlander

The first story this week in Trembling with Fear is The Part Where They Die by Nicholas Stillman. Never have two sides been more diametrically opposed leading to a polarisation which can only be overcome by direct conflict. Perhaps this should serve as a moral for our times, the inability to walk in another’s shoes, or perhaps more like the refusal to do so. What you sow, so shall ye reap. Hatred and rage scald the page in this powerful tale.

Everyday People by Matthew Miranda is the one which shows there aren’t always prizes for everyone and it is some of the imagery included in this, as if just a passing thought which gives the kick. Weaving the horrific into the mundane, that juxtaposition, gives it even greater strength.

Mothers and Daughters by Dale W. Glaser also uses the familiar but layers it over a more chilling subtext. Just because your family might be somewhat demonic or steeped in wicca doesn’t mean they don’t face the same sorts of problems normal families face!

William’s Birthday by Leilani Ahia uses the most innocent of settings, a children’s birthday party and breaks the strongest bond – that of mother and child. Again, innocence v horror is a powerful tool.

Enjoy the stories and send us yours!

Take care

Steph

 

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

So. First off my apologies for the lack of a newsletter last week to our subscribers. No, the evil Spam Filter Monster didn’t eat it. I had made all the edits for it to go live and didn’t resume sending after saving them. (You need to pause it in Mailchimp while making edits and I never unpaused it.)
OOPS! Already fixed that for this week.

As to the anthologies, we’ve got them SO CLOSE. By the time you read this I believe our last round of edits and uploads should be completed (I’m working on it the moment I’m done with this!) I’m hoping that means we’re finally launching in the next week or two.

I hope you enjoy this week’s edition of Trembling With Fear and as always, please comment as to which stories you like in the comments at the bottom of the post!

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

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Serial Killers: La Serenissima (Part 2) by Susan Anwin

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

If he was up to anything shady, he could have done it already, she kept telling herself as she followed him down a dark tunnel amidst fluttering cobwebs and blinking gas lamps. Holly had no idea such lamps were still being used anywhere in the city. Saltpeter flowered on the ancient bricks. Ahead of them she spotted a flaming head hovering in midair. “Can you see that?”

Her companion didn’t seem to be bothered by the apparition; he kept walking with the same long strides. Once they passed it, Holly saw it was just a random person going in the opposite direction with a lantern in hand.

“Who was that?”

Kian shrugged. For a while the only noise was the dripping of moisture and her shoes scraping on the paving stones. 

“How did you do that thing with the echo?” Holly asked after a while to break the silence.

“It’s pretty neat, huh?” Kian bragged.

Ahead of them light diffused the smoky gloom and soon they arrived to a gypsy’s den stuffed with all the clichès of the country fair fortune teller, down to the crystal ball, the candles and vials on the shelves. A curtain, embroidered with Kabbalistic symbols covered the wall on their left. 

“This is Lady Cherlindrea,” Kian gestured at the ample lady on the other side of the purple velvet covered table. “She’s a witch.”

“What’s up Gertie? Found a new mousie?” Lady Cherlindrea asked.

“Why does she call you Gertie?” Holly murmured under her breath. “Is that your name?”

“It’s her thing,” Kian murmured back. “She was Above, hollering to herself,” he said to Lady Cherlindrea. Holly felt her face burning. 

“Oh. She might be a perfect fit here,” the witch noted. She took a fat, black candle from the cluttered shelf above her head. “Do you want your future read?”

“Um, no, I’m good.”

Nonetheless Lady Cherlindrea went on lighting the candle. She swept the flame towards herself. “Oh yes, I feel a fair amount of dissatisfaction in you. Is everything okay?”

Holly pressed her lips together. “You said ‘others’,” she turned to Kian. “Who else?”

“She doesn’t want her future read,” he commented and dragged the curtain aside. Holly’s mouth fell open. They were on some kind of subterranean balcony. A whole city sprawled under them, teeming with people dressed in impossible costumes. Some of the mythical beasts looked more lifelike than costumes and masks would allow, but Holly didn’t want to go down that road. It was a cross between a bazaar and some kind of circus. Rope dancers balanced on the clotheslines between the houses, acrobats swung from one swing to the next, caught midair by their companions, trailing golden dust in their wake. Beautiful ladies and ladyboys contorted themselves on hoops. 

A pasteboard moon grinned its cheesy grin amidst a myriad of swirling, undulating stars above impossible shaped houses that leaned drunkenly towards each other above the meandering streets. 

Some of the cobblestones lit up under the feet of the motley crowd. They reflected the changing hues of the gas lamps, playing in all the colours of the rainbow and then some Holly didn’t have a name for. There was music too, alien tunes played on unknown instruments. The discordant tunes should have been jarring, but instead they created an odd kind of harmony. 

“What is this place?” she breathed.

Kian touched her arm. “Come.”

They snaked among the crowd in narrow little alleyways, absurd garments hanging from the cobweb of clotheslines above their head. Fire eaters perched on gables blew flames above them. No risk management at the workplace training for these folks, Holly mused. The buildings they passed looked like they could topple over at the slightest prod. One of them had a transparent wall that waved like water. She couldn’t resist touching it; she rubbed the moisture between her fingertips. One of the people inside looked up at her, and she hurried to catch up with her companion. 

“Kian?”

“Hmm?” he half-turned back to hear her better through the din. 

“Am I dreaming all this?”

“I don’t know. Are you?”

“You’re not helping, you know that?” she snapped.

He shrugged a narrow shoulder. “I don’t know about that. Am I supposed to help you with anything?”

Holly gave up. It was hopeless.

They passed a tavern. A gargoyle – must be some kind of birth defect, Holly thought feverishly, it’s not an actual gargoyle – waved at them. “Come on in, try our speciality wine. It tastes like all the colours of autumn and the song of the sirens.”

Kian stopped, his whole posture a wordless question. 

Holly spread her hands. “I don’t have the local money, whatever it is.”

“Don’t worry about that.” 

They entered the establishment and settled at a table. The gargoyle brought them two cups, or rather chalices; etched crystal panels set in a gemstone-studded gold filigree frame. Liquid the colour of sunshine bubbled in their depths.

Kian gestured towards her cup. “Will you just stare at it?”

Holly lifted the chalice to her lips. The heady scent alone felt strong enough to get her wasted. It tasted silver and scarlet on her tongue, like honey and cinnamon and cloves, like autumn bonfires built of fallen leaves. It covered her throat in liquid fire. She must not have been accustomed to strong booze or it was laced with something as from then on Holly couldn’t recall much of the night beyond fragments. 

At one point they were at a countryside fun-fair, with oddly alive-looking attractions. Kids were screaming behind the clown’s rictus at the front of the roller coaster, and the fluffy toys in the claw machine box seemed to scramble against the glass. 

Holly came to her senses next in the mirror labyrinth. She was alone; there was no sign of Kian. The walls seemed to rearrange themselves at every turn as she stumbled on aimlessly, but she was too doped to panic just yet. Her reflections moved out of phase with her, as if the walls were windows instead of mirrors, showing endless versions of herself, each of them having their own separate lives independently of her. Disoriented by the weird shapes, shadows and images, Holly was soon hopelessly lost. 

The next time the darkness lifted she found herself in a lavishly decorated chamber. Condensation glided down the sides of dewy champagne flutes. Crystal chandeliers rotated between embroidered velvet draperies showering the room with crumbs of light, gauze curtains led to invisible nooks at the back. 

A score of scantily clad girls swarmed around Kian, his hand pale on their gold-dusted skin. Not all of them were girls, or entirely human, neither of which lessened their appeal. Their slow dance was a counterpoint to that of the chandeliers, dizzying Holly with their opposing movement.  

From the opulent bordello she was hurled into the nightmare vision of a monstrous building gobbling up the landscape, a steel-and-glass beast trampling on everything in its way. It radiated an evil atmosphere and Holly just wanted to scuttle before it noticed her.

Cut; she was being carried in a tunnel. Shards of light penetrated the darkness, sounds got through to her muffled, as if she was wrapped in a layer of cotton wool. 

***

Lying in the darkness she didn’t know where she was, then she recognised the revolving chair in her bedroom, the towel she used to dry her hair a few days ago still draped over the back. Her flat was in one of the new housing developments, one of those blocks of flats pulled up in the last few decades, carefully devoid of colour, soul or character. 

The events of the previous night flooded Holly’s mind, flashing like the colourful panes from a stained glass window. 

She didn’t get a chance to go back to the theatre in the following weeks. She was buried under a mound of work at the council, sitting at the desk in her little cubicle all day – that’s how she came across the project in one of the group emails. It was a plan to pull down a ramshackle theatre in the 8th district to make room for a new office building, that might attract investors and pop-up businesses, launching a sort of economical renaissance in the area. The lockdown was due sometime over the course of the next month. Holly imagined a steel-and-grass monstrosity with a Starbucks or some other hipster haunt on the ground floor in place of the tattered velvet curtains and glitter trailing acrobats. I have to warn them.

Susan Anwin

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

Trembling With Fear 08/16/20

I am a puddle. Temperatures have been soaring and with no breeze and no air conditioning, I have been losing the will to live. Before I evaporate completely however, I suppose I’d better get on and write this week’s editorial …

This week, I am including a little author feature for no less a person than Patrick Winters.  He has been previously mentioned here as facing ongoing health issues and a few days ago he posted his latest medical results on Facebook. Did you see my earlier comment about me being a puddle? That is absolutely nothing to the difficulties faced by Patrick and puts me to shame. Despite having had news which will see him undergo some pretty complex and serious surgery as well as having discussions about future chemo, he has continued to post very bad jokes on FB, submit stories to TWF and sub and be accepted by other presses. Please, please can I urge you all to continue to read the excellent work from this man’s pen and show him all the love and support you can. You will find his publication info here and here. And I can guarantee he will be published here again.

We start Trembling with Fear this week with the endearingly titled Mucus by Kevin M. Folliard and features a pet hate, slugs. Ugh, they make my stomach turn but this is a fun story. Forget those disgusting blobs that eat your plants, these are much more vicious and as an advance guard for something yet to come, perfect. Effective, fun and entertaining. More creature features please.

Crasher by F.M. Scott brings you a creepy, uninvited guest, the one you thought you got rid of.

Into the Void by Zoe Sparque feels like a familiar set up, an evil entity following the person who has fled their cursed home and you know that evil will take hold again – or will it? Sometimes spirits don’t cover all the bases.

Phase Two by Lionel Ray Green personifies our current predicament. Personification and allegories make good vehicles for a story.

Enjoy the stories and send us yours!

 

Take care

Steph​

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

I’m taking a mental health day this week so don’t have much to say. That being said, our featured story is a great one that kicks off in the city I love.
More next week!

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life… life… life… 

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

“Take me to wild adventures.”

Ress… ress… yess…

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

Hello… hello… hello…

Nothing moved apart from the cobwebs. 

“Is anybody there?”

There… there… there…

“I’m Holly, nice to meetcha.”

Cha… cha… cha…

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

“Hello?”

Hello… hello… Holly…

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

There… there… there…

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

Dance… dance… yes…

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

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

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

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

“I am who I am. Who are you?” 

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

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

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

“So, um, what can I call you?”

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

“You don’t have a name?”

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

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

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

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

“Will do.”

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

“I’m an artist.”

“What kind of artist?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Anwin

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

Trembling With Fear 08/09/20

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

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

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

TWF Contributor Promotion Time!

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Evidence by Steven Holding

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

 

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the stories and send us yours!

Take care

Steph

 

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

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

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

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

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

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Unholy Trinity: The End by R.J. Meldrum

Our church worships at the altar of the Unholy Trinity. Its gospels are delivered as a trio of dark drabbles, linked so that Three become One. All hail the power of the Three.

Treatment

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

Transition

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

Finality

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

R.J. Meldrum

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

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

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

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

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

Horror Tree!

You can read the story here:

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

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

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

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

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

“Would you like some Chai tea, honey?”

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

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

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

“Honey, your tea is ready.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lonely in the bottle were just three tiny white pills. 

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

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

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

He was gone. 

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes I have!” He snapped back.

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

“I did go! Didn’t I?” 

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

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

“That’s it, I’m not asking anymore.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can’t do it!” He sobbed. 

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

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

“Who?” she said through erratic sobs. 

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

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

“Goodbye, mum.” 

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

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

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

He pushed hard and sprung out into the road.

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

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

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

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

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

Connor Long-Johnson

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

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