Trembling With Fear 02/23/2020
February is cold and grey and miserable outside. Rain has eased off where I am but a lot of the UK has been flooded, included parts of the world I grew up in. To cheer myself up, and because it’s half-term, I’ve returned to my WIP and inflicted misery on my characters there. As a pantser I had no real idea how this was going to end but, as is usually the case, once I am three-quarters the way through, the ending has presented itself to me. I love those moments of revelation as it makes the storyline feel natural. To get to that point though, I think a number of people are going to have to die – which is sad 😊.
We have some great stories this week in Trembling With Fear. First up is Jeff’s Coat from Taylor Morrison. Familiarity born of long years of marriage, despair, and cheating plus a case of the infirmities of old age give rise to a tragic incident. Playing with a person’s long-held assumptions, and ailments, creates a certain type of blindness allowing a lot of scope for an unfortunate train of events to be set in motion. A great way to manipulate your characters, play on their assumptions.
Office Hot Line by Tim J. Finn is a warning not to listen to your co-workers, pass along their comments and something might go wrong. Then again, in real life, always make notes of colleagues’ comments or things you hear from passers-by. They in turn lead to new stories.
Not Another Zombie Story by Ryan Benson takes a very familiar trope, gives you the line you expect and then adds the twist. Are there zombies here? Read to find out.
Why by Andrea Allison brings punishment in a different form. Life might be the punishment, rather than death.
This is always a month that is easy to lose track of the quality of fiction that we’re getting. With it being Women in Horror Month, February is FULL of articles, reviews, interviews, statements, and so much more that I’m always thrilled that we’re able to share with you.
We have a full week left in February but this is the last Sunday of the month, so, see you next month fellow readers and authors!
Jeff’s Coat by Taylor Morrison
“Jeff, please stop hanging your coat on the lamp!” Melinda yelled down the hall. “You’ll knock it over one of these days.”
Jeff had dropped his coat on the lamp next to the front door every day that month without fail. Melinda would come home from working her late-night shifts at the 7-11 to see a dark figure standing in her living room. The sight nearly made her old heart stop, but after her eyes adjusted to the light, she saw that it was just Jeff’s coat hanging on the lamp again.
“I’m too tired to walk to the closet to put it away,” Jeff said, appearing in the kitchen, his grey hair brushed back out of his face. Melinda had once thought he was very handsome, sexy even. But now she didn’t find him the least bit attractive, even with his slicked-back hair and nice dress clothes.
“Whatever,” she said, closing the closet door behind her. “I’m running late for work.”
Jeff scoffed, “Like your job is so important! Just stay home and take care of the house; I’ll make the money.”
Melinda crossed her arms. “Excuse me?” Jeff was a businessman at a law firm, doing god knows what. She hadn’t cared to ask in the five years since he’d started working there. “I’d rather work minimum wage than stay home and take care of your sloppy ass,” she barked.
Jeff ignored this and crossed to the closet, where he removed his jacket and slung it over his shoulder. Without a goodbye, he left the house, slamming the door behind him.
Melinda held back tears. The house was a wreck. It wasn’t a huge house, but it had everything they needed. She knew most of the mess was Jeff’s, and she couldn’t bring herself to clean up after a man who’d cheated on her, even if it was six years ago.
She entered the bedroom and booted up the computer. Shed bought divorce forms online a few days ago and felt she’d better print them now before she forgot. Then she put on her shoes and headed for the door.
Melinda returned late from work to find the door unlocked. Even when Jeff was home, the door was always locked when she got there. She opened the door and stepped inside. Her heart leaped into her throat. A man was standing in her living room.
“J-Jeff?” Melinda said, fumbling for the light switch. The light came on, and relief washed over her. It was Jeff’s coat again, hanging on the lamp.
“Jesus Christ,” Melinda snapped. Then she was startled again by the loud snore of someone sharply coming awake.
Jeff was asleep on the couch and was now protesting the light being on. “Turn that light off!” he yelled, covering his eyes with his hands. Melinda turned the light off, and with the room back in black, she could see now how she’d mistaken the jacket for a man.
“Jeff!” Melinda snapped, “Just hang your goddamn coat up!” She grabbed it and stumbled to the closet to throw it inside. “And why are you sleeping on the couch?” She returned to the living room to shove him awake.
“Why are you sleeping out here?”
“I was watching the news and fell asleep.”
Melinda found the remote and turned the TV on. The room glowed with the soft light of the television. The news was playing just like he’d said, and a breaking story was scrolling across the screen.
“Tennessee Strangler strikes again.”
“Wow,” Jeff said, “they’re still talking about it.”
Melinda watched the TV for a few more minutes before turning it off. “Go to bed,” she said, placing the remote back on the table. “I’ll be there in a second.”
Jeff got up off the couch and walked to the bedroom. Melinda was starting to remove her shoes when she heard an audible gasp.
“Melinda?” he asked, coming back out of the bedroom. “What is this?” He was holding several pieces of paper—the divorce papers she had printed earlier.
“Oh.” She had completely forgotten about them.
“You want a divorce?”
“Maybe.” Melinda held back tears.
They sat in silence for several minutes. Finally, Jeff spoke up.
“I love you,” he said in a whisper. “I love you; please don’t leave.”
Melinda let a few tears spring from her eyes before speaking. “Then why are you so mean?”
Silence fell once again. Jeff walked across the room, grabbed his coat, and exited the house. Melinda had seen him do this before on many occasions, but this was the first time it stung.
She sat on the couch, weeping into her hands for about an hour before turning the TV on as a distraction. The story of the Tennessee Strangler was still in big text moving across the screen, which made Melinda get up and lock the door.
The next morning, she woke to the sound of the dishwasher. It was odd to her, as she hadn’t been the one to turn it on; it almost sounded foreign.
“Jeff?” Melinda walked out into the kitchen and saw the place was spotless, as was the living room. Jeff came out of the bathroom, holding a toilet brush and smiling.
“One second,” he said, putting the brush back, then returning to hug her. “I’m sorry I haven’t been helping around the house.”
Melinda didn’t know what to say. Instead, she hugged him, wrapping her arms tightly around his waist. He kissed the top of her head and whispered a soft, “I’m sorry,” into her ear.
Later that night, after dinner, Jeff cleaned the dishes and dried them while Melinda put them away. She could see the difference it was making. They hadn’t argued the whole day. Shortly after the dishes were done, Melinda got ready for work.
“I’m gonna head out to the bar for a few hours,” Jeff said as she was getting her shoes on. Melinda gave him a soft kiss and told him to be careful. He said he would, and they made their way out the front door.
Several hours later, Melinda returned home from work to find the front door unlocked again. She would talk to Jeff about that in the morning. She entered the house and was faced with the shadowy figure she saw every night when she came home. That damned coat. He needs to hang it up properly, she thought to herself. Then she saw the lump on the couch. Jeff must have fallen asleep again. To be kind, she didn’t turn the light on but allowed him to continue sleeping. He had to work in the morning, so she would let him get a good night’s rest. She stumbled blindly to the bedroom and quickly fell asleep.
Melinda woke the next day a little after eleven, wondering why Jeff hadn’t said goodbye to her. Even when they were fighting, he still made an effort to tell her bye.
Maybe I slept through it, she thought. She walked to the closet to get her slippers when she saw Jeff’s coat. It was hanging in the closet right where she usually put it after removing it from the lamp. Only last night she’d left it where it was. And didn’t Jeff take it to work? It was forty degrees outside.
Melinda walked into the living room, and her heart sank. Jeff was lying lifeless on the couch, his eyes bulging, and dark red and blue marks laced around his neck. Melinda covered her mouth to stifle a scream. That’s when she realized Jeff’s coat wasn’t on the lamp. The figure she saw in the dark last night, the man-shaped shadow. It was a man.
Melinda ran to the bathroom and puked into the shiny clean toilet Jeff had scrubbed the day before.
Taylor Morrison loves writing horror stories and dramas. This is his first publication but he plans on having many more in the future.
Office Hot Line
Dooley sighed as he finished scribbling down the latest numbers from Lassiter Food’s west coast offices. He started to hang up before he remembered the bizarre tales related by fellow employees who visited his LA counterpart on a regular basis.
“One more thing, Samuel, my man. I have buddies that tell me you have some big-time mojo voodoo. Since it’s freezing here, how about you send me some heat from your part of the world. Right through the phone, warm me right up. How about it, buddy. Make me all toasty warm.”
Dooley’s head combusted and sizzled to smoldering ashes.
Tim J. Finn
Tim’s non-writing jobs have included radio disc jockey, short order cook, data entry clerk and front desk receptionist. Tim is a member of the New England Horror Writers and the Horror Society. He holds a BA in English from Grinnell College. His work has been published in numerous anthologies and magazines, including Trembling With Fear Year One and most recently in both the Halloween and Christmas editions of Scary Snippets. www.authortimjfinn.net, amazon.com/author/timfinn, [email protected].
Not Another Zombie Story
Duane sat at his laptop. “I’m sick of zombies.” He pecked the keys. “Hate them.” The walking undead populated pop culture and dominated the news, novels, movies, television, and video games.
Guess the living dead are on everyone’s mind. A smile crept over his face before he typed, ‘In the Zeitgeist.’ Pick everyone’s pocket by reading everyone’s mind. Monetization.
What started this craze? Poisoning the environment? Consumer culture?
Leaning back in his chair, Duane cracked his knuckles. I need fresh air.
A peek out the boarded up window revealed a dozen ambling corpses. Damn. I miss complaining about the weather.
Ryan Benson resides outside of Atlanta, GA with his wife and children. Ryan keeps himself busy writing short fiction stories and a novel. Trembling with Fear (Horror Tree), The Sirens Call Publications, Dark Moments (Black Hare Press),Short Fiction Break, and the anthologies The Collapsar Directive (Zombie Pirate Publishing) and A Discovery of Writers have published Ryan’s work.
Death sat across from me in my living room. Black robes hanging off him like rotting flesh. He granted me a question. Why I was chosen above others eluded me.
He waited patiently for me to speak. I had only a single question, one held within my heart since the day of the accident. “Why did you take her and not me?”
His silence was deafening. A darkness penetrated deep within me until finally he spoke. “She never belonged to you. Another had to be punished for their crimes,” he said, disappearing into the shadows.
“You’re wrong,” I said, crying.
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Stephanie Ellis writes dark speculative prose and poetry and has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her longer work includes the folk horror novels, The Five Turns of the Wheel and Reborn, and the novellas, Bottled and Paused. Her novel, The Woodcutter, is due for release via Brigids Gate Press in 2023. Her dark poetry has been published in her collections Lilith Rising (co-authored with Shane Douglas Keene), Foundlings (co-authored with Cindy O’Quinn) and Metallurgy, as well as the HWA Poetry Showcase Volumes VI, VII, VIII, and IX and Black Spot Books Under Her Skin. She can be found supporting indie authors at HorrorTree.com via the weekly Indie Bookshelf Releases. She is an active member of the HWA and can be found at https://stephanieellis.org, on Twitter at @el_stevie, Instagram stephanieellis7963 and also somewhere on Facebook.