One thing I’ve noticed about those who submit to TWF is the accepting nature of our comments if we ask for some rework and their sheer determination to try and get it right for both themselves and us. Resilience is a remarkable thing and I’ve certainly noticed it in TWF writers to the extent that these same writers submit new pieces which then, quite often, need no revision at all. The instances of being able to read a piece, mark it as ‘accept’ before passing to Stuart without any need for further comment from myself, have become more and more frequent. This is a wonderful development and just shows how you have become masters of your craft.

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

Well folks, it’s our first annual Halloween edition of Trembling With Fear! We’ve packed in a pile of bonus stories to celebrate everyone’s favorite holiday and hope you enjoy them! Please be sure to comment, spread the word, and submit your own holiday stories for the Christmas Edition before November comes to a close!

‘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

Our One Night a Year

I couldn’t tell if Rhea was still mad at me for scaring away her crush. She hadn’t spoken until we got home. Then, as were about to start up the steps to the front door, she grabbed my arm and suggested we detour to the backyard to play one of our old games. So, high on Twix bars and Tootsie Rolls, Rhea and I did the ‘tornado’ ‘til we were warm again, twirling in our Halloween costumes under the arm of the giant maple in our yard. She was a yellow Crayola crayon and I was the same thing I’d been the previous three years: black jeans, black long-sleeved turtleneck, blue spray-in hair, and a featureless white mask. I called it a “freak,” and I was quite the treat. After 10 seconds of whirling like spin-tops, we threw our bodies to the grass. We closed our eyes and let the world swim around us. After a minute, Rhea stood up and attempted to walk. She stumbled here and there, a drunk crayon colouring the yard.
“Whoa, mama,” she said. She tossed her black hair out of her face, then tucked it into the little hole below the crayon’s tip where her pink face peeked out. “So dizzy. Going to hurl.”
“Gross,” I replied from the ground.
A cold wind stirred around us. The arms of the maple loosened their remaining leaves with a bone-rattle shake, sending dark shapes dancing into a bruised sky. I reached for the candy bag at the base of the tree trunk. It was a dirty old pillowcase, off white and pregnant. I sat up cross-legged, spilling a few bags of Ruffles as I dragged the sack into my lap.
“Looks like you lucked out this year.” I tossed a shiny chip bag at Rhea, hitting her mid-crayon.
“Hey!” She bent over to pick it up. “Ooo—Ruffles!” She crayon-waddled over and handed me the tiny bag so I could open it for her.
“Don’t know how you like these things,” I said, handing her back the chips. “They’re stale before they leave the store, ya know.”
“It changes the taste. They’re just … better.” Rhea sat beside me and turned her pillow case upside down, spilling its contents onto the darkening grass. Her hands spread the goods thin, fingers smoothing a giant heap of rocket rolls, fizz strips, gumballs. She sorted the candy into small piles: chocolates, gums, caramels, sugar candies; then into sub-piles: bite-sized bars, full-sized, Nestlé brand, Cadbury. Her hands moved with the sure speed of a veteran trick-or-treater, tossing aside the odd can of club soda as they went.
“Listen, Rhea. About Jordy.” My voice sounded muted, as if underwater, from behind my mask.
“I know. It’s not your fault…Well, it is, but it doesn’t matter.”
“I was only doing what any brother would have done.”
“I know. Really. It’s fine.”
I waited for her to burst into an angry assault, and when she didn’t, I raised my head. “Yeah? You mean it?”
Rhea looked up from her work. “Braxton, it’s O.K. Besides, I don’t even really like him anymore.”
Though she couldn’t see it, my face had lifted in surprise. I couldn’t believe Rhea would give up that quickly on a boy, not after having allocated a dime a week of her allowance for the past two years to the bottom of the town fountain, in a wishful toss to secure a boyfriend. For an 11-year-old, she was abnormally invested in romance.
“I saw him pick his nose at Mrs. Rady’s,” she confessed. “He’s ultra-gross now.”
“I see.”
“He did it when she made us sign her stupid guestbook before she gave us candy,” Rhea said. “While Sarah Taylor was signing, Jordy took off one of his claws and stuck his finger in the nose hole of his wolf mask. It was big-time disgusting.”
I chuckled.  “What did he do with it?”
“What—the snot?” she said.
“No…the wolf claw.” I grinned under my mask.
Rhea rolled her eyes and flicked my forearm. “I dunno. Ate it?”
I laughed at that, and then she laughed, and then I was coughing, deep and watery. Rhea looked at me and fell quiet. She drew her knees up to her body and wrapped her arms around them. The breeze came at us again, colder this time. I shivered in my damp clothes.
“How come you scared Jordy by showing him your face, but you won’t show me?” she said.
“Rhea…”
“How come?” She tore her eyes from me and went back to fidgeting with her candy.
I listened under the wind, hoping I wouldn’t hear our parent’s Volkswagen pulling into the driveway around front. We never had enough time. “He was calling you names. That’s why. I don’t know if addressing you as ‘Crayon Crud’ means he likes you, but he was being a bully.” I reached over and touched her legging-covered knee. “So I bullied back.”
And did I ever.
I had Jordy by the fuzzy chest of his wool sweater. I’ll never forget the boy’s eyes. They doubled in size in his grease-painted face when I lifted the chin of my mask, exposing the water-logged flesh of my face. I hadn’t gotten it any higher than my mouth before he broke my hold and tore off down South Street. He howled like a wolf cub split from its pack, and his clip-on tail wagged below his butt as he ran.
Rhea looked at me. She sat in a line of warm light spilling over the hedges from the neighbour’s back porch. It carved half her face out from the darkness around us. She really was growing up.
“You’re leaking again,” she said.
I brought my hand up to my jawline.
“No, here.” Rhea raised the corner of her pillowcase and dabbed at the liquid escaping my mask at the chin. The fabric was soft, though I hardly felt it. She set the linen down and returned to sorting her candy. She got faster every year.
“Braxton?” she said, after a minute.
“Yeah?”
“How did it feel when you drowned?” Rhea turned her eyes on me. The darkening sky behind her had lost its purple hue. It was all black now. I buried my hands in the grass, wet around me.
I didn’t tell her about the panic, or my first desperate lungful of water. I didn’t tell her about the pressure—all that weight on my chest—or how the river grew darker as it took me under, and even darker as it carried me toward the dam. I didn’t even tell her about the warmth that somehow stole the cold from my body when I finally gave in.
I grabbed another bag of Ruffles.
“Maybe when you’ve outgrown trick-or-treating,” I said.
“So never?”
I smiled under my mask, and opened her a bag of chips.

Chris Campeau

I am an Ottawa, Canada-based writer and lover of all things horror and strange. My fiction has appeared in Deadman’s Tome and Polar Borealis magazines, and my first children’s book, The Vampire Who Had No Fangs, is available via Amazon.

You can follow his work on his homepage.

In The Pumpkin Patch

The old ones broke open easiest. Their skin was but a thin membrane, nothing more. You needed only to dig your boot—or a sharp knife–into their puckered flesh and they would collapse upon themselves, disgorging their stewed guts onto the earth.
Their guts smelled most foul, suitable only for pig slop.
Zoraida was an expert in the preparation of pumpkins. She knew everything about them. She was famed for her stews. Her towering wedges of spiced pie delighted the children of Hampton. She painted empty pumpkins and sold them in the market. One could see her gaily-daubed gourds throughout the village all though the autumn.
Zoraida knew there were other things one could make from pumpkins, however. She was a most ingenious woman.
Zoraida tottered through the vine-choked pumpkin patch, her brittle limbs aching. She eventually came to an inflated pumpkin with a hide like a dried apricot. Tufted with white fur, she fancied it looked like a shrunken head. She would cook with it, she decided. It would delight her with its treacly over-sweetness. She would feast on stew for days.
But this was a big pumpkin. It could have many uses.
She kicked the pumpkin hard, smiled as it yielded to her piercing shoe. It buckled like a corpse. Its innards, liquefied by rot but still stringy as seaweed, oozed onto the ground.
She then took a rusted knife from her belt and plunged it into the pumpkin, hacking off misshapen hunks and collecting them in her hand.
Zoraida had not been to this pumpkin patch in many years, more than she could reckon. It was her favorite, for it marked the spot where imprudent old Goodman Bosworth had once tried to farm. He hadn’t heeded the warnings of the elders, the ones who knew that the Wessagusset had once interred their spirit-women here.
That had been his last mistake. He had been a most foolish sort of man.
Now, she had come to punish another man, equally unwise.
She chuckled to herself. Her laugh sounded like the shrill cry of a crow.
She returned her knife to her belt and began to form and knead the cold pumpkin slurry in her hand, idly giggling as she did so, exercising great care.
Eventually, she made for herself a globular, jolly-looking sculpture, a doll, mucoid as a newborn. She had limited gifts as a sculptor.
The keen-eyed observer would observe that this doll possessed a bulbous head, stumpy legs, and a big belly, full and swollen like a gravid crone’s. An inhabitant of Hampton might chortle and exclaim: “‘Tis Goodman Colby! Oh, Zoraida, you are most wicked to mock him so!” Perhaps this person would laugh and indulge Zoraida’s unkind wit.
Indeed, the poppet was an imperfect approximation of her neighbor, Goodman Colby, a reckless youth, given to sloth and—evidently—to stealing. Zoraida hoped very much that he had enjoyed feasting on her beloved he-goat, Buer, the beast of the fortunate conjunction, born when the darkling sigils burned brightest on the skin of the moon. She had doted upon him for many years, filling his barrel belly with rotten apples and sweet corn, stroking his long beard and caressing his spiraling horns. She had followed him as he revealed to her the secret paths in the deep woods.
Young Colby’s denials had been most unconvincing. Tears had spattered his cheeks like raindrops as he protested his innocence. Indeed, he was correct, animals often wandered into the woods and were never seen again. Indeed, the wolves had grown lean and hungry this year.
She had assured him he had nothing to fear. “I do not tarry in the wood any longer,” she had told him.
Zoraida was nearly as good a liar as she was a cook.
“You are a silly boy,” she tittered, her words scraping against each other like rusty nails. “You will pay a high price for the gristly meat of that poor beast.”
Zoraida’s smile fell away as she gingerly implanted a strand of Colby’s straw-colored hair into the poppet’s spheroid chest.
Silent now, her eyes hard and black, Zoraida dug deep in her apron for a pin. She found it among yellow knobs of ginger and sprigs of blackened wormwood and hag-tree fetishes. It was sharp yet. With a ferocious motion, she stabbed the knife into the unformed, notional man-shape in her outstretched hand. She sought the place where the man’s belly would be.
The poppet might have squirmed, thought that could have been nothing more than a trick of the gathering dusk. And it might have shrieked too, though that could have been nothing more than a distant crow.
One thing is certain, though: fluid, thick as old molasses but red when it should have been brown, dribbled from Zoraida’s hand and pooled at her feet.
And Zoraida, the hag of Hampton, laughed as she had not laughed in many years.
She then began to gather up chunks of pumpkin for her stew. Her work had made her hungry.

Ross Smeltzer

My fiction has appeared repeatedly in Separate Worlds, Bewildering Stories magazine, Quantum Fairy Tales, and Enchanted Conversation, an online fairy tale magazine. My first book, a collection of dark fantasy and Gothic horror novellas titled The Mark of the Shadow Grove, appeared in print in January of 2016. In addition, my fiction has appeared in Sanitarium Magazine, Body Parts Magazine, and WitchWorks Magazine. My short fiction has appeared in anthologies by Egaeus Press, Dragon’s Roost Press, and Hic Dragones.

Hungry Pig

span style=”font-weight: 400;”>THERE WERE THREE MORE HOUSES left before Frankie Kleetus felt ready to return to his home at the end of the block. So far, he had ventured down his main street, which was just north of his house and between homes that he was familiar with; those that were certain to give him a fair amount of candy and an even fairer amount of attention.

“Trick or treat.”

“Wow. Don’t you look…scary,” said the blonde-haired woman standing in the doorway.

She reached out and gave Frankie a handful of chocolate bars that she dropped into his opened bag. After five years of dressing in costumes and trying to be as scary as possible, Frankie wanted to do something different. Tonight, he decided to dress as a pig that had been slaughtered and to accomplish this, his mother bought him an old pig costume and some plastic knives that Frankie cut in half and pasted the handles onto his portly body. He painted red around the wounds and he did this until he believed he looked more grotesque and disgusting. Some people thought it was amusing while others saw it as ridiculous and weird. However, Frankie didn’t give much thought to the people who disliked his costume. He didn’t make it for them, he made it for himself, and so long as people shuddered or reacted to it in some way, then Frankie believed it was done well. He had lots of candy in his bag.

This year, he received more Halloween candy than he ever had before, and he believed it was a result of the houses he chose to visit. The one that Frankie wanted to visit next was the same one that he visited with his friends. An elderly woman resided there. She sat near the window and rarely came to the door, not even when Frankie and his friends threw eggs against the glass, and not even when they knocked on the door to irritate her. She was a quiet lady but she would shout and scream whenever Frankie and his friends trespassed onto her property. Some of Frankie’s friends would make jokes about how she was a witch or some other sinister hag that tried to cast spells on them. It was a sensible assumption. When she chased them, she would talk funny and make weird gestures with her hands. Yet, Frankie didn’t believe in witches, and neither did his friends, and if she did have candy, then Frankie would be sure to ask for it.

“Trick’r’Treat.”

Frankie waited near the door but instead of being greeted by a person holding a bowl of candy, he was welcomed with a vacant, dark, and quiet hallway.

“Uhhh,” said Frankie,

There was no one nearby and not a single sign of candy anywhere and if he had to guess, he’d say that the door opening was nothing more than a simple accident.

He peeked his hand inside and tried to see into the home.

“Hello?”

His voice echoed into the space before simmering and vanishing within.

“Hello?”

Frankie was standing in the hall and surveying the space with his bag of candy and waiting for someone to answer his call. He checked the rooms to see if they were like those he had ventured to before, with a sofa or television, if there were tables and chairs, but the space he was walking into was too dark, and he could not see anything other than what was in front of him, a space illuminated by scarce amount of light.

“Hello?”

Frankie proceeded into the house, passing by a table with a vase before he moved into the kitchen, one with a table and chairs. On the table was a tablecloth as red as the fake blood painted on Frankie’s costume, and in the center, was a bowl of candy that Frankie rushed towards the second he spotted it.

Yesss,” he said. “More.”

He plunged the candy into his sack and packed it in for as long as he could but stopped when he heard the basement door creak open behind him. Frankie’s body became ridged and he could feel chills on his arms and shoulders. He didn’t bother to speak. He didn’t care if the old woman was home or not. She never did anything to him then, why would she do something to him now? He stood at the top of the stairs and looked down. His shoulders quivered and he could feel his heart beating. He listened closer, trying to hear where these noises were coming from and if they were really happening or just the result of his overly active imagination.

“Hee-hee-hee,” a voice chuckled from beyond the stairs.

Frankie heard it, but when he heard it the second time, he noticed a full-sized chocolate bar sitting on the stop of the stairs.

“Whoa.”

On Halloween, it was rare for houses to give full-sized chocolate bars, but if there ever was a house that did, kids would flock to it like vultures hovering over a rotting corpse. Frankie rushed to this candy and peeled off each wrapper and took in their scent. It was amazing. He had felt an impulse to gorge himself before but never like this. He felt as though the candy was calling to him, and as he shoved it into his mouth, he felt an instant craving for another as soon as he was done.

“Mmmm,” he said. “Mmmm. Mmmm. Mmmm.”

He swallowed the chocolate and licked his fingers.

“Heeee. Heeee. Heeee.”

The bickering persisted and Frankie crunched the wrapper and threw it down onto the floor. He stepped down the first stair and making his way into the basement. He flicked the light switch on the wall and waited for the lights to turn on, but none did. All he saw was a light flickering at the bottom of the stairs.

He moved towards it.

He didn’t think about the reasons why there was candy, or why the woman would place it at the base of the stairs. The light continued to flicker and yet Frankie couldn’t stop thinking about the candy. It was better than anything he had tasted before. Frankie swallowed what he was still chewing while, lurking in the shadows, he saw the elderly lady, sitting on a rocking chair, and grinning ghoulishly at Frankie as he approached her.

He shuddered.

“Ah-huh.”

The old lady glared and Frankie backed away.

“Shhhh,” she said. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid.”

Frankie was ready to run back up the steps and leave the house he knew he was trespassing upon.

“Don’t be afraid.”

The old lady raised her hand and smiled.

“I was down here when I heard you knock. I didn’t know that I left my door open. I just thought…maybe you would like to come in and take what you wanted yourself. After all…,” the lady lifted the blanket that was over her lap, “…I didn’t want to be the one to stop you.”

“Oh…,” said Frankie.

“Yes,” the old lady said with a sly grin, “do you want more?”

“Ummmm…”

Frankie was nervous to answer. He thought the old woman would recognize him but then he remembered his costume. He wanted to get back home. He didn’t like it when he didn’t obey his parents. His mother would yell and send him to his room, but this was Halloween and there was candy, lots of candy, and he wanted all of it.

“Come on,” the elderly lady invited. “I know you want it. I know you want what I have.”

Frankie gulped and tried to stay away, but couldn’t help but feel entranced by this woman. And then, before Frankie moved to the door, he spotted another bowl of candy. It was filled with his favourites: Twix, Gummy Bears, and a bundle of black licorice. His hands were moist and his lips felt as though they hadn’t touched chocolate in hours and yet it had only been mere minutes since the last time he ate it.

The old lady grinned at him.

“Do you want some more?”

Frankie’s mouth was full as he waddled to the table and sat. He reached into the bowl and grabbed the candy.

“What’s your name?” the lady asked Frankie.

Frankie swallowed and started to unwrap more candy.

“Frankie,” he said, after he swallowed.

“Frankie,” she said, smiling. “I like that name. I’m Gretel.”

Frankie smiled back at her, but made sure to keep his distance.  

“Good?” the woman asked.

Mmm-hmmm,” Frankie mumbled. His mouth was exploding with chocolate and cookie crumbs. “Great.”

Gretel reached across the table and gently tapped the back of Frankie’s steady hands.

“I have more, if you want more?”

“No,” said Frankie, wiping his face. “I think I’m good.” He marched towards the door and grabbed his bag, which was resting on the floor.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Thank you.”

“Wait,” said Gretel. She stood up from her chair. “You can stay and eat more. I have so much more candy, more than any house on the block. You can have all the candy you want if you stay. I’ll make sure of it.”

Frankie lowered the bag from his shoulder and stared. His stomach ached and he felt an upsurge of vomit crawling up his throat. His instincts were telling him that this was all he was capable of consuming. The longer he stared at the lady’s glistening green eyes, the emptier his stomach began to feel. He felt hungry and hypnotized by the woman’s candid, unrelenting insistence, and the moment she placed another bowl of candy onto the table, Frankie’s licked his lips and headed back to his chair.

“Okay,” he said. “Okay.” He ploughed his face full of chocolate and the lady watched him.

“Good?” she said.

Frankie was swallowing the last of his bar before he belched and wiped his face clean of the jelly that was accumulated around his lips. “Is this…jelly?” he asked.

“Yes. Why, does it not taste like it is?”

Frankie was looking down at the back of his wrist and saw three red streaks that he assumed were from the candy bar, but then which was which, he didn’t know. To his knowledge, there were no chocolate bars that contained jelly, let alone jelly so thick that it could stick to one’s face, and appear in chunky globs around the hands. “I don’t know of any candy bars that have jelly inside of them,” said Frankie.

“Well, does it taste bad?”

Frankie shook his head. “No.”

There were five wrappers on the table, all of them spaced apart and all made with the same silvery paper that appeared crinkled and covered by the shade of red that Frankie noticed from the beginning.

“More?” asked the woman.

Frankie looked down at the last two bars that he was holding in his hand. These were hard, so hard that they chipped a few of his teeth without realizing. They were like pebbles moving around his mouth and the reason why he could feel it was the same reason why he saw the red streaks at the back of his hand.

“Something wrong?”

Frankie was quiet. The hard ingredients inside the candy were now under his tongue and against the muscles below. They were stiffer than he thought they would be. “What are these candies made of?”

“Same things that all candies are made,” the elderly lady said with a sly grin.

Frankie could hear her laughing but was focused on the plastic bag peeping from behind the door. He crept up to it and was immediately assaulted by the smells that were creeping through his nose and nestling in the back of his throat. The red stains on the plastic were familiar now, and as he spotted them, he drew his attention to his wrist. He could see the stains on his hands. It was the same as on the bag. It had a distinct and familiar smell.

“Hahahahaha!” He rubbed his hands and reached forward and touched the plastic. It was moist and there wasn’t anything that he could see inside, not until he yanked and dragged it from the room.

The old hag laughed.

Frankie pulled it again and, from within, several bloody bundles rolled along the floor and into the sides of his feet. They were red; soaked like sponges and yet each one appeared different than the other. Some thick, others were lighter, but all of them acquired the same pungent smell. Frankie removed his hand from his nose and kicked the bag. More pieces fell out but then there was one that was larger than the others, and when it rolled it made a tumbling sound that was like a boulder sliding along until it hit something. It hit his foot. Frankie thought it was a rubber ball because of how it rolled, but he knew later that it was no such thing, because when it stopped, it turned over and there were two eyes staring up at him.

The old hag’s cackle stopped and Frankie looked down at the severed head. It was then that it dawned on him; in his little premature, twelve-year-old mind, that in this bag was a body and those bloody stumps that hit him were all that was left of it.

He stopped and gawked.

“That candy was mighty tasty, wasn’t it?”

Frankie pressed his hand against his stomach and stumbled out of the room. He could feel something rumbling from within and the taste that he once equated with chocolate had now radically shifted and all he could taste now was blood.

The elderly lady stood and opened her hand. In it was a bag of dust that Frankie didn’t notice until now. She was carrying it with her as she crept forwards, her cackling carrying through the space, and her body shaking as she walked.

“Eat,” she said. “Makes everything better. My favourite spice,” she laughed. “My secret ingredient. Sprinkle it on and makes everything taste like chocolate. Hypnotizes the mind. Do you like it? Do you want to taste it some more?” She threw more at Frankie. “Here,” she said, “there’s plenty. Eat, fat boy! Eat!”

The dust spritzed Frankie’s face and he could feel it changing his senses. It was now making him nauseous and dizzy. His vision was blurry and his footsteps became unsteady. He could fall if he did not find a way to stay balanced. Whatever the old lady was tossing it was forcing Frankie to wobble as he attempted to escape. He clutched the walls and hunched over and as he tried to puke out whatever was inside him, the old lady continued to laugh until she came right up to where he was and touched him on the shoulder.

“I killed him,” she whispered into Frankie’s ear. “Your friends. I killed them. I chopped them into tiny pieces and wrapped them up. Did you hear me, boy? I chopped them up into tiny pieces and wrapped them all up!”

Frankie vomited and watched as the liquid formed into a puddle around him.

“I didn’t want to throw any of the pieces away,” said the woman. “I couldn’t, but I was willing to play tricks, and use some of my…” the old woman didn’t finish her thought, “maybe I could find someone to do it for me,” she said. “Maybe one of the many brats who steal from my garden, throws eggs at my house, and call me a witch, well maybe they could help. Maybe I could make them help me.”

The lady threw the dust down on his face and it trickled into Frankie’s nostrils as it did before. However, from this proximity, he could smell what he thought was a spice and it was similar to the smell of chocolate. It was what on the candy, which Frankie knew wasn’t candy now, and it was how this woman was able to disguise the pieces of one of Frankie’s friends. It was how she readied them for consumption.

It was how she made him eat it, how she made him eat him.

Frankie staggered up the stairs and into the door. He pushed it forward and raced down the path outside the porch, to the sidewalk. Although he was far, he could still hear the old woman laughing. He ran as quickly as he could while three more children walked up to the house. It took three rings before the door opened and once it did, the old lady answered; her face clean and carrying a fresh bowl of candy in her hands. “Trick or treat.”

JaRrett Mazza

My name is Jarrett Mazza and I am a graduate of Goddard College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. I have been published online in the GNU Journal, Bewildering Stories, Aphelion, and currently write for the website Sequart.

The Cold Uncertainty of Love or Real Love in a Cold Climate

I know they are talking about me again. Vicious whispers echoing along the tiled corridors. I ignore their gabble and instead carefully carry on rinsing and drying the dishes and jars. I bear the laughter as I wipe the surfaces dry, oblivious to the smirks and sly smiles. They prefer to ignore the customers at the tables to gossip about me.

I know what’s next of course. The false offer of friendship to go for a drink after work which they know I’ll decline. Now that the boss has sneaked off home early, it will be, ‘Oh Davy boy, just finish up will you, we need to get off. Yes, thanks bye. See you tomorrow’.

To be truthful I encourage it. I long for these quiet moments when I can clean up and set things right without the need to bear my co-workers.

I can freely chat with the customers before I finish my shift, delaying my dreary bus ride home to the flat where I am so alone.

I return to the main room and catch the eye of Sylvia. I overheard her name from Stan earlier when she arrived. She’d smiled at me as she came in and her eyes held me in their beautiful green gaze. She is absolutely stunning. I was surprised that she would even look at me but I sense an emotion in her, a connection. I smiled back but that fool Stan Dawson told me to get out as I was in his way. I was furious and embarrassed, but mollified when I saw that Sylvia understood and she gave me another wonderful smile of sympathy.

I carry on with my duties, trying hard to be professional. I’m above the sarcastic humour of those creatures who work with me. I respect our customers and try hard to maintain a high level of professional service. I care when nobody else does. Why can’t they see that?

My prediction comes true as all the others leave early to go for drinks leaving me alone to finish clearing up. The moment they leave I turn up the radio and change the channel to the classical station. I love the classics and I hear a buzz of agreement from the few customers still here.

I suddenly notice that Stan has spilt fluids all over a table occupied by a lovely elderly lady. She reminds me so much of my mother.

I dash over and wipe up the mess, apologizing profusely at the oversight of my colleague. She thanks me with genuine sincerity. This is what makes my life worth living. Those simple thank-yous.

I smile back and notice that the rather dignified middle-aged gentleman on table two is nodding his approval. I’m sure I hear him comment to Sylvia about my helpfulness. I can’t help sneaking another look at her again and see a sparkle of real interest in those eyes which shine from that white moon skin of her adorable face.

Totally out of the blue, she calls me over and thanks me for the care I take and for maintaining standards. We talk for an age, oblivious to the other customers and time itself. Decent people long to see the blossoming of love and I know their gracious hearts swell with pride at my achievement of having the courage to speak to this goddess.

An annoying thought reminds me I must clean the floor in the canteen and chapel. I make my excuses and dash to the store cupboard for my mop and bucket. It will take a full twenty minutes to wash the floors and put all the knives and instruments in the sterilizer. I quickly grab my sandwiches from the fridge as I’m famished. I work so hard that I sometimes forget to eat. After a few bites of sustenance I get on with my tasks, my hands on the mop but my mind and heart with Sylvia.

Finally, I’ve finished. I am free. As I re-enter the room of cold steel and white tile I hear the welcome from the customers. I apologize to them informing them that it is late and I must turn off the lights and lock up now. They fully understand and thank me as I place them on the trolleys and move them into the fridges, ensuring the temperature is healthy and comfortable four degrees centigrade.

I am shocked to notice that Stan has done a sloppy job of stitching up the elderly lady’s abdomen, and has even left the finger from a discarded rubber glove protruding through the stitching. Yet again am forced to apologize for the incompetence of my colleagues, who despite their doctorates and qualifications have the standards of the gutter. I unpick the stitching and gently tuck in the rubber finger, slightly uneasy about using her empty chest and abdominal cavity as a wastebasket for the detritus of the examination slab. I take great care in re-sealing her skin with precise stitches. Perfect. The lady giggles saying I tickled her, but thanks me all the same. I carefully zip up her bag and that of the distinguished gentleman as they indulge in a last bout of small talk. Then a final smile as I bid them goodnight and close the heavy fridge doors.

I now take Sylvia’s cold smooth hand and say adieu. She softly whispers sweet words to me and smiles. I almost cry I’m so happy at her request. I gently close her fridge door blowing a gentle kiss and turn off the mortuary lights.

No long sad journey home for me tonight. Not for me the loneliness of any empty flat. After I finish up, Sylvia has asked me round to her place this evening. Life is good.

Martin P. Fuller

Martin P. Fuller is just the west of 60 and trying to enjoy a semi-retirement from being a law enforcement officer for over thirty-four years. He works part time delivering cars for a rental company and endeavors to join as many writing classes as time and finances allow. He lives in a small terrace cottage in Menston, Yorkshire England.

It was because of these writing classes that he started gain the courage to submit his work for publishing. He prefers darker stories especially if he can affix a twist in story although he has dabbled in some comedy and poetry pieces.

So far, he has had work printed in self-produced anthologies from writing groups but hopes for a story to appear in October in an anthology published by comma press. He is hopeful that people will like the twists and turns of his dark mind. Either that or recommend serious therapists!

The Pumpkin Club

The kids ran around the street shouting, screaming, and singing. Harold Saggerbob smiled. He was in a good mood also. At Halloween, he always was. Another year, another chance to expand the pumpkin collection he had painstakingly built up over the years.

The doorbell rang. Harold put down the stained knife, and headed upstairs, whistling to himself. It was going to be a goodun this year, he thought. With a bit of luck, he might be able to fill the shelf above the workbench. That would make twenty; a nice round number, just like the pumpkins on the other shelves.

He answered the door to be confronted by Michael Myers, albeit a much smaller version, and accompanied by a very nasty looking witch.

“Trick or treat, trick or treat,” they sang in unison.

“Oh my!” he replied. “You two sure look scary young folks. I guess it’d better be a treat. Wait just a moment, I’ll be back,” he said and closed the door.

“Little shits. The hell they think they’re doing coming in pairs?” he grumbled, as he grabbed a handful of candy. Last year’s candy was for those that came in pairs or more, fresh-baked chocolate cake for those alone.

He toyed with the idea of throwing the door wide open and bawling at them, just as a joke for ruining his hopes of it being some young kid alone, then thought better of it. The night was still young, plenty of time for another hapless little shit to come knocking.

“Okay, here you go. Now don’t you come back and frighten me like that again,” he said, trying his hardest to force a smile, and disguise the look of hate in his eyes.

The two youngsters took the candy greedily, yet Harold noticed they looked at him rather suspiciously, their smiles fading rapidly and backing away as they filled their bags.

Harold closed the door and returned to the basement, his voluminous body-almost as many kilos overweight as his fifty-five years-bouncing up and down on each step. He looked at the latest addition to his collection, recently acquired that afternoon. He’d already removed the top, and was busy removing the insides-not a simple or particularly clean task. The juices were already running onto the floor, and he’d inadvertently covered his plastic apron in the thick goo that made up most of the contents.

“Never ceases to amaze me the amount of crap that fits into one of the things,” he mumbled, then chuckled as he turned it upside down to empty the last remnants, before working on the eyes. He wanted them to look particularly scary-it had after all cost him certain anguish obtaining this one; somebody had walked by just as he was claiming it for his own, and he had envisioned a heated discussion ensuing. Fortunately, the other person had ignored him, and left him with his new, grand prize.

Harold finally finished carving out new eyes, then looked at his creation. How to create the mouth? A nice, pretty smile, or a wicked, ghastly sneer? Or maybe a look of utter shock and horror? Would be fitting really, considering. He looked around the basement at the others. He’d painted many in almost war-like make-up, others he’d even put wigs on to heighten the effect, and the majority had small red or black candles sitting inside to give them a…cosier look as he liked to think. All good fun.

He decided on the shock effect. Taking the knife, and wiping it again (so much damn sticky shit), he began cutting out the mouth, when the doorbell rang again. Automatically, his heart began to thud a little harder and faster, while his intestines spun around inside. It was the anticipation which did it, of not knowing what to expect when he opened the door. Surprise and delight, or disappointment.

He took off his apron, put the knife in his back pocket, then headed back upstairs. Taking a deep breath, and wiping the sweat from his blotchy, round face, he opened the door.

“Trick or treat, trick or treat,” said a voice. A single voice.

Harold’s heart kicked into overdrive. The boy before him was alone. He quickly looked around to see if any friends might be hiding at the garden entrance, saw none, then faked his best smile.

“Oh my! What a scary little monster you are. You’re going to give me nightmares scaring me like that!” he chuckled, and patted his heart exaggerating a potential heart-attack. Which, he silently thought, may not be too far from becoming reality. The excitement was almost overwhelming.

The boy beamed behind his painted face, evidently delighted at the effect his mask was having. “Trick or treat,” he said again.

“Well, come on in! I’ve got just the thing for you. You deserve a special treat, young man. With that nasty-looking make-up you’re wearing, you’ve just saved me a lot of work!”

The boy hesitated a moment, then entered. The man looked harmless enough with his round, red face, and goofy grin. He followed him into the house.

“I keep all the best cakes in the basement, young man. Nice and fresh. Follow me.” He looked back at the boy. He appeared dubious, as though having some internal discussion with himself.

“I keep my pumpkin collection there as well. Unique in the world. I’ll show it to you also. You never know; I might even let you join the club!”

The boy seemed to think about it for a while, then shrugged his shoulders, and followed him down the stairs.

Harold waited until the boy had entered the basement, closed the door behind him, and locked it.

“So, do you like my little collection?”

The boy looked around the room, frowned, his jaw dropped, then he began to tremble.

“I don’t like this, sir. I want to go home,” he said in a very quiet voice.

“But what’s wrong? You don’t like my pumpkins? I think they’re very…cute. It’s taken me a long time to build the collection.”

“Please, sir. I don’t like it. Can I go now?” He turned to leave, but Harold was standing in front of the door; a great, towering obstacle that suddenly reminded him of some of the monsters he’d seen in movies, and comic books. Like the trolls from Lord of the Rings. His bottom lip began to quiver, and tears fell copiously from terrified eyes. Not wanting to, but for some reason unable to prevent it, as though he hadn’t believed his eyes the first time, he turned once more to look at the collection.

The walls were adorned with shelves, and upon them, sat row upon row of what Harold called his pumpkin collection. Children’s heads in multitude of expressions; some grinning, smiling; others with looks of horror, surprise, terror. Many with their faces painted, some wearing wigs to highlight the realism. The tops of their heads had been cut off, and the insides meticulously scooped out to be replace by candles, and their features delicately carved to create new eyes and mouths.

“You know, didn’t your mother ever tell you not to take candy from strangers? Even on Halloween?” he asked.

The boy didn’t answer. Instead, he tried to run past Harold, but Harold’s great bulk impeded him pass.

“Happy Halloween, young boy. I said I’d let you join the Pumpkin Club, and join it you will,” he said, as he produced the knife from his back pocket.

 

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].

Good Carving Depends On The Pumpkin

You smile in anticipation. A knife’s hidden beneath your costume, you’re squeezing the handle ready to pounce when this year’s victim moves close enough.

There’s resistance as you first push against flesh, your razor-sharp blade slicing straight through their throat. They scream silently. You love the way blood splatters outwards releasing its tang — it’s what makes Halloween so special.

Licking away blood specks from your hand, you move round, gazing triumphantly into shocked eyes, before artfully carving shapes in skin, awaiting that final exhale as life slips away. They always seem taken aback to see the pumpkin wielding the knife

CR Smith

CR Smith is a student of Fine Art. She splits her time between art and writing and is aiming to combine the two at some stage. Her work has appeared both online and in print and she has a story in The Infernal Clock.

You can find examples of her work here https://crsmith2016.wordpress.com and https://www.instagram.com/smith.cr/

I Remember Samhain

There is no boogey man. No, but I am real.

I write this across my cell walls in dirty, bloody graffiti. A diary entry. Mouth dry.

Junior high was rough, long ago. They teased, mistook a small body for weakness. Fools.

Remember the 80’s when kids trick-or-treated in their neighborhood? Without parents? A graveyard pack bound by sugary euphoria, the oldest no more than ten?

My first taste of blood.

I hid among the bushes behind a plastic mask, clutching my daddy’s straight razor. Laughing their way towards me, Miller and Lisowski. Sidewalk idiots. I hated them enough to smile.

Chad Vincent

Chad Vincent is a teacher in rural Missouri. He lives on a farm with his wife, 3 kids, 30 chickens, 6 guineas, 1 quail, 3 dogs, and 2 cats. His work can be found in Trembling With Fear and the anthology 9 Tales Told in the Dark #21.

Trick or Tarantula

Last Halloween, Dr. Mason distributed jarred tarantulas. Little children screamed and ran. But some older boys accepted the creatures with wide-eyed fascination.

“Feed them a mouse—once a week,” Mason instructed. “They’ll soon outgrow the jar.”

Spiders grew, in shoeboxes and terrariums, under heat lamps in closets. The most dedicated boys returned for further instruction:

“A pigeon—once a week—until he outgrows the tank.”

“A cat—once a week—until he outgrows the shed.”

Come spring, the doctor congratulated his new apprentice: “Excellent, Timmy. Release Fang in the woods. Once a week, he’ll treat himself to a scrumptious hiker.”

Kevin Folliard

Kevin M. Folliard is a Chicagoland writer whose published fiction includes scary stories collections Christmas Terror Tales and Valentine Terror Tales, and adventure novels such as Matt Palmer and the Komodo Uprising. His work has also been collected by Double Feature Magazine, Flame Tree Publishing, Parsec Ink, and more.

You can find more of his work at: <a href=”http://www.kevinfolliard.com/” target=”_blank”>http://www.kevinfolliard.com/</a>.

About Stuart Conover

Stuart Conover is a father, husband, published author, blogger, geek, entrepreneur, horror fanatic, and runs a few websites including Horror Tree!