The next couple of weeks are going to be a bit sketchy. We have the stories in the queue but my time on formatting/etc is very strained with back to back commitments outside of work/etc. Everything SHOULD be up in time but things are a bit crazy at the moment!

‘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

Shackles

Emily felt for the lock in the dark, scrambling for the deadbolt that barred her passage to safety.  Stillness permeated the air around her, the shape of it thick and stale inside the hallway.  She pulled hard against the door, wrestled with the knob.  It was the only sound in her ears, but there was something else there.  Something deeper churning at the space between her bones.  She could feel her soul tingling against it, buffeted by sights and sounds unseen.

The lock, the lock, the lock.  Where was it?  It should’ve been here, right above the knob.  She’d seen it when she walked in, she was certain.

Clenching the knob with her fist, Emily, placed her other palm flat on the wood above it.  She slid her hand straight up over the lacquered grain, feeling for the metal plate bolted into the heavy oak frame.  Up, up, up.  Empty.

Gone.  The lock was gone, vanished like moonlight at dawn.  But something held the door in place, something Emily couldn’t see or feel – something outside her senses, beyond this realm and into the next.

“Okay, okay, okay,” she whispered to herself.  “Calm down.  You need to focus.”

For the briefest moment, Emily reached out.  She Touched, rather than touched.  She Saw, rather than saw, and truly Looked upon the door for the first time.  The old wood was rife with symbols, ancient text far more convoluted the handful of wards that she’d gleaned from her grandmother’s old journals.  When she placed a hand against the door, those old words flared, arresting her momentum so that the door held firm.

Emily didn’t recognize the words, but she recognized the handwriting.  This was gran’s work, the work of a master.  That’s what they’d called gran, before old age took her memory, before she was too self-absorbed to keep Emily away from her old journals and out of the east wing of the manor.

The faintest whiff of sulfur caught her nose.  Emily glanced over her shoulder, down the long corridor running the length of the east wing.  Doors lined both sides of the hall, leading to other rooms, other horrors, other worlds.  At the far end, the series of wards she’d scrawled into the doorframe glistened with silvery light.  She stared.  That light rippled, stretched, warped, as something surged against it.

It was coming for her, something to wring her spirit from her frail body and crush it into oblivion.  That was the term she’d seen scrawled inside those weathered pages.  Oblivion.  Emptiness.  An inescapable prison beyond the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

A knock exploded against the opposite side of the door in front of her.  Emily yelped, jumped back, stumbled.  A shadow appeared beneath the door.

“Emily?” her grandmother shouted through the wood.  “Are you in there?”

“Yes, gran,” she managed.  “I can’t get the door open.  Can you open it from the other side?”

The knob twisted once, twice.  Then: “No.  What have you done to the door, child?  You come on out, now.  I’ve always told you that this part of the house is dangerous.”

“I know, gran.  I just—” she paused, thinking.  “I need a minute to find the lock.”

“There are no locks on this door!  I’d know if your grandfather put locks around here.”  Her voice tailed off while she rambled.  “Always told him that he shouldn’t be messing around this old house.  Bad for his health.  What was I saying?  Ah, Emily?  Are you still there?”

Down the hall, the wards blazed like a magnesium flare.  Wood groaned, struggling against the weight of a creature it had never been built to maintain.  Somewhere behind her, Emily heard a howl, wild and chilled like the storm winds rolling over distant hills.  Fervent.  Hungry.

It was coming for her.

“I’m here, gran.”  Tears wet her eyes.  “Just open the door, okay?”

Beneath the door, gran’s shadow faded as the old woman walked away, muttering to herself about better things to do than deal with teenagers.  As she listened to the old woman’s footfalls fade to silence, Emily blew out a shaking breath.

It would be on her any second now.  She was running out of time.

Emily closed her eyes, drawing from the power in her own blood, and ripped at the shackles that bound her spirit to her bones.  Her nails and eyes bled, the scent fresh in her nostrils, as she tore away each chain in sequence, one after another until her soul floated free.

As her fresh corpse crumpled to the floor, her panic eased.  A sense of calm enveloped her, cradled her.  With her dying breath, she hurled her frayed soul up, up, up, out of the hallway, out of the manor, up toward a thousand spirits coalescing like starlight in the skies above the earth.

Far below, far away, she heard the wards shatter.  The doorframe splintered, and a hulking terror surged down the hall toward her empty remains.  She watched those ghastly claws rend her body apart, splitting sinew and bone and blood as the nightmare sought to drag the barest fragments of her soul into endless oblivion.

Adrift among the stars, Emily knew peace.  That terror could not follow her into the next life.  She turned her mind from her past and prepared for long voyage between death and rebirth . . . when she found that she could go no further.

She looked down and noticed a thin chain, no larger than a thumbnail, dangling like a loose thread at the edge of her being.  Emily tried to reach for it, but a powerful tug along the length of the chain whipped her flat.  Far below, wrapped around a long claw steeped in blood, she spied the other end of her shackle.

Terror smiled back at her and began to reel her in.

END

Marc 'Scott' Summers

Marc 'Scott' Summers

I’m a freelance writer and photographer by trade, mostly covering budget travel and on-the-go photography. In my spare time, I love diving into science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I am on twitter @heysummers

You can find out more about Scott at his homepage or follow him on Instagram.

Time And Time Again

The city lay in the shadow of the volcano. It bore the scars of numerous eruptions.
She sat at the entrance to a temple.
She was a dishevelled creature, ignored by tourists and locals. She felt a rumble beneath her. She knew the volcano was waking once more.
The city was doomed.
She started screaming her warning to those around her.
They ignored her, they always did. She felt an infinite darkness; she knew she wouldn’t be released from her eternal curse until they listened to her, but it wasn’t going to be this time.
It was never this time.

R.J. Meldrum

R. J. Meldrum is an author and academic. Born in Scotland, he moved to Ontario, Canada in 2010 with his wife Sally. His interest in the supernatural is a lifetime obsession and when he isn’t writing ghost stories, he’s busy scouring the shelves of antique book-sellers to increase his collection of rare and vintage supernatural books. During the winter months, he trains and races his own team of sled dogs.

He has had stories published by Sirens Call Publications, Horrified Press, Trembling with Fear, Darkhouse Books, Digital Fiction and James Ward Kirk Fiction.

You can find out more about RJ at his homepage.

Reaction Time

The rapport rings out, and all else stops. It’s what they don’t tell you about getting shot: the moment the bullet leaves the barrel, you get an eternity to yourself.

Trouble is, you can’t move. Those last seconds stretch into years, and you can spend each one fighting to move, screaming, Get out of the way, asshole! Life doesn’t work like that. Death, it seems, does.

I can see the bullet coming, point-blank shot, aimed at my forehead. Trust me: focus on what matters. Your parents. Your children. Your beloved, waiting at the altar, thinking you’re just running a little—

Kevin Holton

Kevin Holton is the writer behind all sorts of work, ranging from dozens of short stories, to a variety of poems, and even a co-written screenplay. He also dabbles in book-length works, and has a YouTube channel reading some of his shorter pieces. When not writing, he’s a gamer, actor, athlete, and coffee enthusiast who probably likes Batman too much.

You can follow his work on his homepage, Amazon, and his patreon.

Bugs #2

John screamed. The pain was intense and they were too many to fight. How could this have happened? Once again, government attempts at genetic mutation had failed disastrously. The idea had seemed great; at first. A natural and faster way to dispose of human waste. Now, another epidemic would threaten mankind. Created by the incompetent, suffered by the innocent.

They tore into every inch of skin and flesh, buzzing, feeding, swarming. As the life was drained from him, he remembered those fateful words; ‘It’s perfectly safe. Nothing can go wrong.’

The flies-the carnivorous flies-finished, then left in search of more.

Justin Boote

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].

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