Trembling With Fear 09/03/2017
It’s not always monsters who lurk in dark corners. There are also stories, written long-ago, hidden in drawers or in boxes under the bed, waiting to see the light. So many writers spending hours polishing a story and then …
… and then they do nothing.
They tuck it away. Try and forget about it. Move on to the next one and the next. Eventually some will take the leap – that of sending their story out into the world but a number will never make that move and so great stories remain unread.
We need stories at TWF, whether drabble or longer flash, we need them, so dig them out and send them in; there must be so many good stories buried in the dark. Nor does it matter if you’ve never been published before – it’s the quality of the writing that counts. Everybody at Horror Tree has been in exactly the same position. It’s scary but it’s one of the best moves you could make – and it’s only the beginning.
Commander of the Clew
I have found something and I am impressed. By diligently digging deeper and pushing myself further than I have intended, I have found something in the dirt. I am in love. Hunched over on my knees, I cast aside my gloves so I can feel my discovery as I pull it from the earth, cradling its limp white form in both hands. I raise my little treasure to the sky and it wriggles, ever so slightly. I am devoted. I will never go hungry again.
I was born and raised in a city of impenetrable concrete and tar. As a toddler, I was the first to find the bottom of the sandbox. When it snowed I would be the first to meet it, head on, while the accumulated drifts would chip away from the earth like dead skin from the clouds above. I would burrow into the frost and dig tunnels, scooping clumps of maneuverable frost with my hands until I was submerged and hidden. At the furthest reaches of every street block, I was the boy who lived in the slush pile; stained by dirt and hungry sunlight.
I didn’t have my own backyard until I could afford my own home in a small college town, far from my un-crack-able city. I have grown old to the point that my joints are starting to tighten up, but I still have my inner list of pleasures to check off, the ones I first scribed in boyhood. I never quite got to play in the dirt the way I wanted to.
It’s a Saturday. I’m free from the office. I have a new shovel that I bought along with a toolkit because I’ve never owned one of those before, either. I’ve picked up a pack of seeds, too. I think they are pumpkin. After I start digging, I realize the seeds were an excuse. A mock rationalization to sink my shovel into the ground.
I have already taken a solitary walk through the woods, running my fingertips along the heaving trunks of the trees. I’ve memorized all their names from the textbooks I used to receive for Christmas. The woods aren’t new, surely, but it’s easy to pretend they are. All of America, and all of New England especially, has been built over for too many centuries to be fresh. Old moss covered walls of stacked stone scattered throughout the forest are the sole remnants of ancient property boundaries. I name the singing birds one by one and it is like déjà vu from an old dream. When I sink my shovel into the dirt the two and a half decades of separation between the boy I once was and the man I now am is breached.
I choose a spot at the edge of my lawn, where the grass is yellowed and weakened as it meets the fold of the forest. As if it knew I was coming, the ground has been made soft by a recent spout of rainfall I at first despised for the unnecessary difficulty it caused when I moved in.
One of the gloves I wear has a hole in it that quickly fills with dirt as I clear the mound of earth around my crater with long swipes of my arm. Winter’s memory keeps the air cool and the sweat along my brow never quite threatens to scorch my eyes. It’s almost a lazy motion, chipping the shovel’s blade into the ground. It’s almost like softly stirring a brewing pot of soup. It’s a gradual process before I’m standing in the hole that’s grown with each soft jab until it’s swallowed me up, gently. The smell of fresh earth is unlike nothing I’ve ever experienced. Flowers are pale, odorless weeds by comparison. I’m up to my waist when I notice the sun beginning to dip over the trees. I delicately lean the shovel against the side of my ground pocket and then head inside, for lunch.
I realize four hours have passed, without a sound, when I pass the clock in my kitchen. I’m surprised I didn’t get deeper into the earth. My pace must have been more relaxed than I thought. What’s the rush?
As I begin eating a hastily put together turkey sandwich, I notice a strange, crunchy sensation along my teeth. It takes me a while to realize I never washed my hands, and that the sandwich I’m feasting on is covered in dirt. You would have thought I was eating in the dark, oblivious with pleasure as I am. The whole experience reminds me of when I used to get stoned in high school and not even realize I was eating until my belly felt like it would burst.
As I lay in bed at night, listening to the owls signify their territory, the soreness creeps over my body as if some slivery black thing from the forest has suddenly decided to join me in bed.
Before the sun can beat back the morning murk, I find myself standing in the hole, barefoot. I’m craving the scent of fresh earth like one would a glass of water or bite of leftovers. I remember hearing that the urge for late night/early morning snacks relates back to primitive times when man would hunt at such hours. Before the sun can catch me, I start digging and whatever ache invaded me before bed is soon gone.
On Monday I decide to delay the start of my new job. I’ve done a lot already. I’ve made enough money to afford my own home with only a modest mortgage. At the university, there was a group of important people that greeted me on Friday when I went in for a meet and greet. They were excited for me to start but, really, I can start on a Tuesday, a Wednesday, even. It’s a relaxed job, I don’t even have to call out. I just have to show up to my office and get in touch with certain professors and, well, I am an organizer, see. I’m an academic coach, I get things moving. I am important. I am a special employee, and I get to pick and choose my hours when they get to have me.
On Tuesday morning, I dig faster. I grunt with every thrust of the shovel, hacking into the dirt I now need to climb out from with an old stainless steel ladder the previous homeowners left in my garage. If I were to take a break, I would have to run my hands along the walls of fresh earth forming a dome around me. I don’t take a break. Not until I find it. I am beginning to believe the last frontier is not in the ocean like some say, nor is it really space, not until we really get out there. The very ground beneath us, there is so much to discover. It’s where all the secrets are.
I am not sure what prompted it but at one point I begin attacking the ground, not even digging anymore just stabbing, spearing the earth until my arms fling the shovel away from me like a wildly swinging crane that’s cables have been cut. On my knees, I begin plucking through the brown with just my hands. I’ve forgotten to wear gloves. My hands are raw; blood and pus soaked, yet they don’t hurt. I tumble away the clumps of brown that grow darker and richer the deeper I dig. I pick through the bottom of my pit, and there I finally find the white worm.
Like a fat pinecone gone pale, I pick it up. I cradle it to the sky, and then bring it into the light. Cupped in one hand, held in front of my face, I don’t let it leave my sight until I have left my hole behind. It is alive. It has been calling to me, all this time. It has decided to leave the soil and the dark behind. It has decided it wants to be found, and it chose me.
I set it on my dinner table and watch it come alive. There’s a colony of black dots, eyes, along one fatter end of it. It slowly rolls and wriggles until it’s facing me, as I lean close. I have not slept, I have not bathed. The flesh along my hands has been stripped and my feet are black and my toe and fingernails hang in shards. Dirt clogs my nostrils. Above all, though, I do feel, abruptly, one thing, as I stare into the worm’s many eyes. It wants one last thing from me. I pick it up, and the thing is growing warm. There’s a faint black slit below its eyes. A mouth, a little flickering blue tongue like that of a lizard. It wants more than a kiss. I raise my idol, and take a bite.
My short fiction has appeared in over thirty publications including Wicked Witches: A New England Horror Writers Anthology, Thuglit, Grievous Angel, and The Tales To Terrify podcast. I’ve recently earned an MFA in Creative and Professional Writing from Western Connecticut State University. By day I am a content operations specialist, editor, and writer for TopBuzz, a news app. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work for publication.
Love’s Last Kiss
The dwarves dropped the cover to the stone sarcophagus when the handsome prince rode his charger into the clearing at sunset. His horse flinched at the sound and the prince bit his tongue.
The prince dismounted, wiped his mouth, strode to the stone coffin, admired the raven haired beauty inside, and bent to wake her with a kiss.
His blood caressed her ruby lips, her eyes opened, and she smiled as her fangs extended. Her strong arms held him and her teeth slid smoothly into his neck.
He shuddered and three drops of his blood splattered her snow white cheek.
Robert Allen Lupton
Robert Allen Lupton lives in New Mexico where he is commercial hot air balloon pilot. He writes and runs every day, but not necessarily in that order.
Recent publications include short stories in the following anthologies:
Potters Field #6
Worlds Unknown #3
The novel, Foxborn, was published by West Mesa Press in April of 2017.
“Running Into Trouble”, a collection of 15 fantasy, science fiction, horror, adventure, and humorous stories, all with running as a central theme, will be published in July of 2017. The novelette, Dejanna of Mars, will be published in August 2017, and the second book in the Foxborn series, ‘Here There Be Dragons,” is scheduled for February 2018.
Christine swatted another spider with the newspaper. She hated them, feared them. She reckoned she’d killed thousands at her home over the years, and was proud of it.
She curled up in bed, confident she could sleep peacefully without another intruder frightening her.
The Human had killed its mate. It wanted revenge. It darted across the blanket, and dived underneath. It found the opening between her legs, and scurried inside. After a while, it delivered its package and left.
The next day, Christine felt stabbing pains below. She sat on the toilet. Screamed. Dozens of spiders ran down her legs.
Justin Boote has lived for over twenty years in Barcelona, Spain, plying his trade as a stressed waiter in a busy restaurant. He has been writing horror stories for just over a year, and currently has 8 published in diverse magazines including for Lycan Valley Press, Deadlights Shotgun magazine, Zimbell House Publishing, Dark Dossier Magazine and The Horrorzine’s summer edition.
He is also a member of a private writer’s forum called The Write Practice where he has also acted as a judge on two ocassions for their contests.
He can be found at Facebook under his own name, or at [email protected].
Momma’s reading me a bedtime story about a princess again, but only because I begged.
The princess is beautiful like a summer day at the beach, or at least how I imagine those types of days.
Momma doesn’t allow what’s left of my skin to bathe in the sun’s glimmer.
The princess falls in love.
The prince destroys the monsters.
The couple lives happily ever after.
I ask Momma why don’t we ever get the happy ending?
“Because,” she says and closes her yellow eyes, “monsters don’t get happy endings, child. You know this.”
She closes the book.
Sara Tantlinger resides outside of Pittsburgh on a hill in the woods. She is the author of “Love For Slaughter,” has published pieces with Page & Spine, The Literary Hatchet, and the HWA Poetry Showcase Volume II, and she is a contributing editor for the Oddville Press. Find her lurking in graveyards!
You can follow her work on Amazon.