‘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
His Cousin’s Tale
“You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me.” The dwarf took a deep gulp of ale. A bit of froth dripped from his moustache to his beard. “Tryin’ to terrify ol’ Galbur, eh? Well, it didn’t work. That story’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard in years, boy.”
“Think what you will,” replied Ernoth, the tavern’s bartender, “but Alret was shaken. I’ve never seen him so upset.” Ernoth was in his twenties, but was hardly offended by his aged patron’s use of the word boy. Dwarves age into the hundreds, and Galbur, a traveling merchant who often spends a night in the tavern while passing through, had more than a few gray hairs wrapped in his auburn braids. “You know as well as I do that my cousin has no reason to lie about his travels.”
“Aye, no reason, apart from impressin’ you and anyone else fool enough to listen. This whole adventurin’ craze with young’uns is nonsense. It’s just a bunch of travel and trouble mixed together.” Galbur snorted, downing the last of his drink. “Still, I suppose it’s better to have your cousin forge his path as a travelin’ storyteller of sorts than hang around here as a farmer or some such, even if he is tryin’ to make you deathly afraid of a bloody box.” The dwarf chuckled. “Now, then, be a good lad. Give us another, and spare me your kin’s mistruths.”
Ernoth reclaimed the tavern’s mug and placed it below a tap. “He did mention something that might interest you. There’s been an awful harvest in a few villages just east of here.”
“Is that right? See now, that’s a bit more handy than a woeful tale for children. Have they got enough to get by?”
“They might have enough for themselves, but they wouldn’t sell Alret so much as a scrap when he passed through. He was glad to have a proper meal when he arrived here.” Ernoth passed the refilled mug back across the bar. “You often head east when you leave, don’t you? If I were you I’d take some food to sell along with your usual stock.”
Galbur bellowed a laugh, shaking in his stool. “Forget all the damn junk I’ve got loaded now. If they’re hungry I’ll leave the lot out back–if you don’t mind, of course, lad–and load the cart full with salted meats, onions, potatoes, and bread first thing in the mornin’. I’d not likely sell anything else if they’re all starvin’, anyway.” He took another deep drink, belching afterwards. “Well, thank Albert for me. And you, as well, for bein’ the messenger.”
Ernoth grinned as his cousin’s name was misspoken. The dwarf had a tendency for ignoring names as he was always hearing more of them on the road. The fact that he was able to remember that of a humble bartender was an unspoken compliment. “Paying your tab regularly is thanks enough for me. It’s not as though I could load a cart and go there myself. Someone has to tend the tavern while the sun is up.”
“Aye, and regale the midday patrons with fairytales while we wait for the servin’ wenches to come at sunset.” Galbur laughed again, the floorboards groaning beneath his bouncing seat. “I guess your cousin’s folly’s good for somethin’.”
“Alret was here?” called a voice from the entrance. Variel, the town’s blacksmith, made her way to the bar, taking the stool to the left of the dwarf. “Did I miss him?”
“You did,” Ernoth replied. “He headed north with his companions. They’re searching for another ancient ruin. I hope his journey will be safer than the last.”
“Aye, it’ll make for another fine story, to be sure,” Galbur said with a wink. “Say now, let’s have a second opinion, eh, lad? Tell her what you told me. See what she makes of your cousin’s bloody fable.”
Ernoth sighed. “My dwarven friend refuses to believe that there could be unknown dangers in the world. While Alret was adventuring, he and his cohorts came across a chest–”
“Hold there, lad,” Galbur interrupted, scratching at his damp chin. “Don’t rush right to the end. Tell the lady just what sort of adventurin’ it was that they were up to.”
“The same as he hopes to do now. He was scavenging a ruin with his colleagues.”
“They were robbin’ a crypt, the way you told it earlier. Dark, dismal, rancid with the smell of death and decay. Seems you’re leavin’ out all the flavorful details.”
“That’s hardly how he described it, or what I told you, for that matter. A ruin strewn with ancient corpses is hardly a crypt. It was likely a besieged castle that had been broken and battered long ago, having been reclaimed by nature since.”
Galbur shrugged. “I reckon a stinking, miserable crypt’d be more likely to hold treasures than some wreckage of an old fort left to rot. Albert’s smart enough to know that, too.”
“Let Ernoth tell his cousin’s tale,” Variel said, resting a hand on the old dwarf’s shoulder. “So, he came across a chest?”
“Yes. It appeared ordinary enough, so, naturally, one of Alret’s companions went to open the chest. When he did–”
“You said it was a man with giant’s blood, might have been twice as tall as me, didn’t you, lad?”
“My cousin said so. A hardened warrior from the mountains in the north. When he approached the chest and began to open it…” Ernoth took a deep breath. “Well, the chest attacked.”
Variel nodded. “Trapped chests aren’t unheard of.”
“It wasn’t a trap. The chest itself put up a fight. It sprang to life, thrashing about the room, flapping its lid back and forth. There were dozens of sharpened teeth in its maw. This chest flailed this way and that, trying to slaughter the group.”
“There you are, lass. The dumbest thing I’ve heard in years.”
“It killed the giant man! It bit into him as though his bone was soft as butter.”
“The only thing that chest killed was your common sense when you decided to believe in it, boy. I’ve sold every damn sort of chest and box you can imagine. Not a single one has flapped around or nipped at so much as a mouse.”
“If the ruin was a castle, it could have had a mage. The chest may have been enchanted.”
“Magic, is it?” Galbur scoffed. “Come now, you know better than that.”
“I admit, it does seem somewhat far-fetched,” Variel said, leaning back in her stool.
“Yes, but Alret’s reputation is ironclad. He wouldn’t lie about such things.”
Variel nodded again. “Of course, but when it comes to that chest, who are we to say? Alret saw what he saw. Perhaps it really was a trapped chest. In a moment of panic we might’ve seen it the same way.”
“Fine, fine, to each their own. Me, I say it’s a tall tale. The first of many, most like. Maybe next time he’ll come back talkin’ about townsfolk turnin’ into wolves or drinkin’ blood.” Galbur slid his mug back across the counter. “Time’ll tell, eh? In the meantime, keep fillin’ me up, lad.”
Variel left shortly thereafter, and Ernoth returned to his home once the barmaids arrived to take his place. Galbur, however, stayed long into the night, having far too much to drink and entertaining his fellow patrons with Alret’s ridiculous secondhand story.
The inebriated crowd found the tale as absurd as Galbur had, causing scattered bouts of raucous laughter each time it was told. Eventually the patrons stirred enough of an uproar that none of them took notice as the tavern itself began to creak and sway. It chortled at the naivety of the mortals inside. The structure had sat idle for decades, but determined that tonight would be a truly poetic occasion for the townsfolk to learn about the unending hunger that a wooden creature can possess and the savage wrath it can unleash.
How To Prepare Roadkill
During a quiet spell at work I searched the internet for tried and tested ways of jointing and cooking a human. On the way home I drove to the supermarket, purchasing a meat cleaver, a plastic sheet and an extra large wok.
I timed it perfectly. As my prey stepped off the pavement I put my foot down, stopping only to collect his carcass. There was a fair amount of meat on the man. My mouth watered imagining ways I’d cook him. Stir-fried. Poached. Braised…
What I wasn’t prepared for were the bloodcurdling screams when I began to dismember him.
CR Smith is a student of Fine Art at the University of Kent, UK. She splits her time between art and writing and has a liking for Gothic fiction. Her work has been published in such places as 101 Words, 50-Word Stories, Ink In Thirds, Sic Lit Magazine, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Train Flash Fiction Magazine, Spelk Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, Paragraph Planet, Zeroflash, Visual Verse, Glove Lit Zine and Ad Hoc Fiction. She also has a short story in The Infernal Clock horror anthology with two further pieces scheduled for upcoming anthologies. Her artwork has appeared in Calamus Journal, Hypnopomp Magazine, Green Light Literary Journal, Flash Frontier, Moonchild Magazine and Formercactus.
It will damage the optic nerve en route to your sinus cavity, but you will not be blinded. It needs your eyes. You will see it, amorphous and dark, always at the edges of your vision, writhing. Growing. The incubation will end by the dawn, when it will crawl across the dry tongue of your corpse and begin to feed. And when you are nothing but a suit of soulless flesh, it will take your form and go home to your family. Your mother will sit beside it at the dinner table. They’ll drink coffee together and it will laugh.
I am a lover of all things mysterious and strange. For my day job, I manage author and independent retail accounts for Penguin Random House, Inc., but I spend my nights wide-eyed and writing about the weird. I live with my husband in an historic (and probably haunted) Maryland town.
Two If By Sea
The evening sky was clear over Waikiki and the moonlight danced on the steady ocean waves. Miranda and Tommy sat on their straw mat and dug their toes into the cool sand, watching a young couple bodysurf nearby.
Miranda hiked up her sundress and pulled a flask out of her garter. She took a swig then offered some to Tommy but he declined.
“Drink, baby,” Miranda said. “It could be hours before they come to shore.”
“I’ll wait,” Tommy responded. “Let ‘em bask in that lovely mixture of salt water and oblivion, just as we had. Before they turned us.”
Jennifer Canaveral is from San Francisco but currently lives in Kodiak, AK. Her work has appeared in Sanitarium Magazine, Canadian journal Blood & Bourbon, and on the Horror Tree and Friday Flash Fiction websites. She is working on various projects, including a collection of short horror stories, a novel, a memoir, and, most importantly, her writer’s webpage.
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