February is the shortest month but provides plenty of opportunities to write. Remember we have a Valentine’s Special coming up but if you missed that, there are still others. Take a look at our Submissions page to see what else you can challenge yourself with. And please take note of word counts …
The lead story in Trembling with Fear this week is The Hangman’s Tree by G.W. Musko and is a very creepy and atmospheric tale. We loved the whole setting of the gallows tree and the villagers down below, the bodysnatching and the undead. Musko also uses the senses – sight, sound, touch, smell – which adds to it. Using senses allows a reader to relate to a character and draws them in, often triggering an emotive response. We could feel that cold night air, hear the sounds in the village, sense the fear. This is what we want from a story, to bethere … and I was.
The Hunter Grimm by Arthur Unk is a poem (yes, we will take dark poetry) and is presented as an excerpt from a book. It is a narrative work which starts to tell a tale and, while telling you a lot about Grimm, actually leaves you wanting to know more – because of the note as to where it comes from. This hint of mystery was a nice touch.
Into the Light by Gary Hazlewood focuses on the use of sound and light interacting to lead the reader through the story, turning them, in effect, into characters, the people in the story almost taking a backseat. A novel approach.
Winter by Stacey Macintosh brings us the personification of winter in the form of the Queen of Winter and her expectations as consort of the King of Summer. He is the one who will thaw the frozen winter – but the reader knows they cannot coexist and so hints at a doomed relationship despite what the Queen says. Lots of detailed winter imagery here, painting an easily imagined scene. We felt cold reading it.
On a personal note, I would just like to wish my son, Dylan, happy birthday for the 14th, 22 years old! I’m feeling positively ancient.
‘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.
The Hangman’s Tree
I steal bodies from the hangman’s tree. Jewels, rings, and coins that the hangmen forget to shake out I happily collect too, but it’s the bodies that pay the best. Men and women can reach almost two hundred Liros per corpse; children even more. Although it was a long time before I broke that taboo.
Each night I move in time with the sun’s setting. The mountains cast long shadows over the village which conceal me like a grey blanket as I creep up the hill. On my belt hangs a sharpened knife and a sack hides my face.
The tree is impossible to lose sight of, even on the darkest nights. Its colossal trunk sits omnipresent above the village, silently glaring down on the wooden huts. During the day while in the fields people keep their eyes down and try to ignore the roped titan. In the nights it fills their dreams with dread.
Even the guardsmen, so sure of themselves down in the valley, fear the tree. They stand away from it with their backs to the faces of the hung. Their rifles tight to their chests, wide-eyed and ready to fire at any sound on the wind.
I sit and watch them from afar, cold and curled up in the brambles. Eventually, when the tobacco runs out, or the wind begins to bite, they lower their guns and head back home. When the day breaks and the new guard marches up the hill, no one makes note of the missing bodies.
Once the hill is empty, I finally begin my work, move like a ghost. When I walk my boots are soundless against the ground of wet leaves. My breath barely escapes my lips. With hands wrapped by gloves, I grasp onto the rough twine rope and with a glint of silver cut down the body. It takes less than a minute where any graverobber would take five.
My first night, when I was still learning from Frillo – before he too found a place on the tree – I almost cried when the weight of the person fell on me. Stiff and cold, surrounded by the aura of death that I soon grew familiar with. The reek of sour earth and dirt. By now I am as comfortable as a hunter with venison or a fisherman with fish.
Pulling the body away from the village and deep into the valley, I meet my buyers before the sun sets. They hide their faces too and once the money is in my hands I depart swiftly. Who and why are questions better left unasked.
Before Frillo hung, the hunchback forgot to tell me a secret to our trade which may have saved me from sharing his fate. But he never mentioned it and none the wiser I set out to the tree that night. Under the blue hunter’s moon, as if it were any other night.
She was still fresh. Barely a day spent on her branch. Almost beautiful in the way her pale face and fair hair gleamed under the cold glow of the moon. When I cut her from her place and set her on the ground, I could swear she felt almost warm. As if a trace of impossible life had clung to her.
The night was bitterly cold but I pulled a glove off and with a hand red and raw from the wind touched her cheek. I had to convince myself I was wrong. The tips of my fingers felt as if pressed against a stove. Startled I shot my hand back. Before I’d never thought I’d wish for the clammy touch of a body.
The choices rattled in my brain. Leave her, or drag her to the buyer. She was certain to fetch a good price, yet I felt no desire to tangle myself into the occult.
The girl decided for me. Her eyelids drew open and she glared at me with clouded-over eyes. Then her jaw flopped open revealing a dark maw filled with a shriek.
I stumbled back, my mind unable to comprehend anything but disgust and primal fear deep in my stomach. The scream seemed to echo out across the entire mountain. A wail far removed from anything human.
The candles in the village flared up and the shouts of men’s barks mixed with the cries of frightened children. Then, came the footsteps of the guards as they raced towards the woman and me.
A fist knocked me down. Face pressed against the wet soil I saw them surround her. While she writhed and kicked, they grabbed the rope around her neck and dragged her back to the tree. She howled and spat as they cast the cut rope over her branch and with a single pull, hung her again. It was done as quickly as if they had seen it before.
She did not die again, however. Instead, she flailed and thrashed, cursing in her animal’s tongue, as I was marched away.
Her rage at being woken made the tree shake as if a storm were blowing through it.
The next day, I was granted a place beside her. My hanging took place at night with only an audience of hangmen and guards present. As the noose slipped around my neck, I kept my eyes closed and tried not to listen to the girl’s snarling at my side. When I dropped, the last thing I felt were her nails digging into my arm.
G.W.Musko is a writer of horror and surrealism. He’s the creator of the online series “Neo-Warsaw” and also writes free fiction for his blog “CintheR”. You can follow him @Cigintherain and read more stories here http://gwmusko.tumblr.com.
The Hunter Grimm
Echo of death
On leather wings
Howls in the night
Of unearthly things
I watch them die
I am the monster
That makes their children cry
Beware ye foul beasts
Souls of the damned
Hunts this land
The night is my home
While you sleep, I plan
The last sight you see
Is death by my hand
I’ll send you to Hell, torpor, and the beyond
I bathe in the river Styx
I am friends with Charon
While you can… I will find you
— Excerpt taken from the Book of Eternally Damned
Arthur Unk lives and works in the United States, but dreams of a tropical, zombie-free island. He hones his drabble skills via the Horror Tree Trembling With Fear (Dead Wrong, Flesh of My Flesh, The Tale of Fear Itself, and others yet to come) and writes micro/flash fiction daily. His influences include H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and life experience. You can follow his work from all around the web via his blog at http://arthurunk.com or read his many, many micro-stories on Twitter @ArthurUnkTweets
Into The Light
The tapping was faint at first, rising steadily like a resounding drumbeat.
Next came a voice, soft gentle tones attempting to coax a response. The name sounded familiar as the beckoning continued.
A single, threadlike, ethereal beam of light pierced the harsh darkness. The rhythmic tapping ceased, once more the disembodied voice probed, “Katie, are you there? Can you here me?”
The response was muted.
The voice and tapping continued as the light pooled more enticingly.
Katie was drawn into the light.
The tapping ceased.
Five children were entombed inside the walls of Number 9, Katie was the sole survivor.
With two novels to his name and when not watching soccer Gary enjoys writing short horror tales. He lives a hectic family life outside of a small town in the north of England.
She let the cold flow outwards, creating soft billowing clouds of snow as she walked. The frost bit at her lips, icicles formed in her hair and the cold clung to her skin. She breathed out watching the tiny puffs of cold air dance before her frozen, blue lips. It was a spectacle and he’d been right all along. She was the next Queen of Winter and now it was time to take up her staff and rule as only she could as his consort – The Summer King. She shivered, not from the cold, but from him and his warmth.
Stacey Jaine McIntosh was born in Perth, Western Australia where she still resides with her husband and their four children.
Although her first love has always been writing, she once toyed with being a Cartographer and subsequently holds a Diploma in Spatial Information Services.
In 2011, she had her first short story Freya published in an anthology, twelve more have followed. The latest story, Morrighan, is available to purchase among all good booksellers.
Stacey is also the author of a self-published novel Solstice, and she is currently working on several other novels simultaneously
When not with her family or writing, she enjoys reading, photography, genealogy, history, Arthurian myths and witchcraft.
You can find her here:
- Taking Submissions: The Audient Void: A Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy - October 18, 2019
- Guest Post: Embracing Failure: The Requirements of Growth - October 18, 2019
- Taking Submissions: Clockhouse - October 17, 2019
- Taking Submissions: Colp: Black & Grey - October 17, 2019
- Taking Submissions: Great Weather For Media - October 16, 2019
- Taking Submissions: Electric Spec February Issue 2020 - October 16, 2019
- We’ve Partnered With Commaful For A Halloween Story Contest - October 15, 2019
- Taking Submissions: Fiyah – Unthemed Issue - October 15, 2019
- Taking Submissions: Brave New Girls - October 15, 2019
- Taking Submissions: The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns - October 14, 2019