‘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.

We’re on the second month of “Trembling With Fear” and are still going strong!

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

Hello Mr. Magpie

By: Ross Baxter

Sophie looked at her watch again in frustration; Jim had kept her waiting for nearly twenty minutes now, even though he knew she needed to be home to collect her daughter from art class. She sighed heavily, bitterly regretting ever offering Jim a ride home from work. As she had to drive past his house on her daily commute she had offered to give her colleague a lift whilst he fixed his broken car, but over three weeks later it was still not on the road. She had not really known him before, but during the increasingly tedious rides to and from the office, she had learned more about him than she ever wanted to know. Just as she opened her car door to return inside to find him he saw him stroll out of the front doors of the office and slowly made his way across the car park towards her.

“I told you I needed to leave at five!” she frowned.

“Yeah, but something came up,” he explained casually. “I’m sure whatever you’re going to do can wait a few minutes.”

“My eight-year-old daughter and her teacher would probably disagree,” she muttered, starting the engine.

Jim said nothing and unhurriedly climbed in. Sophie put the battered Ford into gear and roared off towards the outskirts of town. Luckily the traffic was light but she doubted she could get to the school in time. Another round of apologies to the teacher and to her daughter was not what she needed after a stressful day, and she started to think about what she was going to say.

“Just pull in at the shop on the left,” said Jim. “I need some beers for the game tonight.”

“You’re kidding me?”

“I won’t be long,” said Jim.

“I’ve already told you how late I am! My daughter is already going to be really upset, as is her teacher.”

“Oh, come on!” Jim cried, sounding more like a churlish teenager than the forty-year-old he was.

“Sorry,” Sophie shot back. “Perhaps you can fix your car instead of watching the game?”

Jim shook his head and looked longingly at the off-licence as they drove past.

After a couple of roundabouts they soon emerged on the country road which led towards where Jim lived, and she speeded up a little. Jim gave her a disapproving look.

“You know the limit is forty here?” he muttered.

“I’m late,” she answered, looking at the empty road ahead.

Jim tutted to himself and then for the next five minutes kept openly glancing at the speedometer as they drove in silence. Suddenly he stared incredulously at his colleague as she appeared to salute and then mumble a few inaudible words behind her hand.

“What the hell did you just do?” he asked.

“Pardon?” Sophie asked back, keeping her eyes fixed on the road ahead as she steered the old Ford around a sharp bend.

“You just saluted and muttered something,” said Jim accusingly.

“Oh, I saw a magpie,” Sophie replied.

“And?”

Sophie sighed. Having to put up with the boorish and opinionated Jim for the twenty-minute ride was becoming more and more of a challenge every day.

“Why did you just salute a stupid bird?” Jim pushed.

“Because it’s bad luck not to,” she explained. “It is good luck to see two magpies together, but if you see a single one you’re supposed to greet it and say ‘Hello Mr. Magpie’.”

“Are you superstitious?”

“No,” said Sophie.

“Then why does a grown woman openly salute and talk to a dumb bird?”

“My family have always done it. I suppose it’s a bit of a tradition going back as long as we can remember.”

“So you are superstitious,” Jim scoffed loudly. “That is so lame! I really expected more from you.”

Sophie shrugged and returned her attention to the road.

“So, are you from a family of superstitious Leprechauns?” Jim continued. “Are your days ruled by avoiding black cats, not walking under ladders, and not getting out of bed on Halloween?”

“No,” said Sophie flatly. “It’s just the magpies. I’ve never given it much thought really.”

“Obviously,” sneered Jim. “I’m not sure if you realize but we do actually live in the twenty-first century and not the eighteenth. It’s time to forget about stupid superstitions, especially nonsense about greeting magpies. I can’t believe how some people still believe in such claptrap!”

Sophie said nothing, trying instead to control her anger at her boorish passenger. She had greeted magpies ever since she could remember; it was no big deal but she knew Jim was not going to let it drop.

“All superstitions are nonsense designed to frighten the weak and the ignorant; flesh and bone can’t be harmed by old wives tales,” Jim ranted on.

“Whatever,” Sophie said, trying to concentrate on driving.

“We’ve put a man on the moon; you’d think stupid superstitions would be a thing long consigned to the dustbin of history!”

Sophie ignored him; her attention drawn to a black and white bird pecking at roadkill on the narrow road ahead. She started to slow the car.

“You have got to be joking?” Jim sneered. “Just run it over!”

“Hello Mr. Magpie,” Sophie yelled loudly, flipping an extravagantly fancy salute as she slowed the car.

The magpie looked at the approaching vehicle and quickly flew off, but Sophie stopped the car anyway.

“Why the hell have you stopped?”

“Get out Jim; you can walk from here,” she said calmly.

“But my house is over a mile away!” Jim spluttered in surprise. “I can’t walk from here.”

“You are the most self-opinionated and bigoted man I have ever met,” said Sophie. “Instead of wasting energy on your constant lecturing, I suggest you spend it on fixing your car. Now get out!”

Shocked and for once speechless, Jim grudgingly unfastened his seat belt and opened the door.  As soon as he was out Sophie gunned the engine of her elderly car and roared off, leaving him alone by the empty roadside. He could not understand what he had said to make her so angry and resolved to formally complain to her manager in the morning.

As he started to trudge up the deserted country lane the thought of making trouble for Sophie cheered him up. Dozens of possible stories flooded his mind, and after five minutes of walking he finally decided he would say that he had asked to get out of the car because Sophie had made a pass at him, That felt plausible, especially as he was sure that most of the women at work actually did want to make a pass at him. Spreading that story would not only get Sophie into trouble, but it would also remind his other female co-workers what an absolute catch he was. Maybe one of them would offer to give him a ride to and from the office; although he had actually fixed his car two weeks ago he did enjoy getting a free commute.

Thinking up the ultimate story to completely discredit Sophie in the eyes of her colleagues was fun, and by the time he reached the bend on the last rise it had completely absorbed him. He did not see the truck speeding over the rise, and in the failing afternoon light the truck driver failed to see Jim as he took the corner wide whilst re-tuning the radio. The loud music masked the thud as the lorry’s offside mudguard glanced off the surprised Jim, and the trucker drove on oblivious.

The blow knocked Jim senseless for a few minutes. When he finally came too he found himself face-down in the dirt at the edge of the deserted road, confused as to how he got there. Then he remembered being thrown out of the car by Sophie, all because he told her it was stupid to believe in superstitions. With rage and indignation, he tried to clamber up but something was wrong.

Nothing would respond; he could not move his legs, arms or even his head. He felt no pain except for in his eyes which were full of grit, each blink causing him to cry out in agony. But his cries were silent.

But his cries were silent. Next, he saw the blur of a black and white shape hopping towards him. The magpie stopped inches from his face, coldly peering into Jim’s bloodshot eyes.

Then it started to peck hungrily at flesh and bone.

Ross Baxter

Ross Baxter

Author

After thirty years at sea, Ross Baxter now concentrates on writing sci-fi and horror fiction. His varied work has been published in print by numerous publishing houses in US and UK short-story anthologies. In December 2014 he won the Horror Novel Review.Com best creation short fiction prize.

Married to a Norwegian and with two Anglo-Viking kids, he now lives in Derby, England.

You can check out Ross’s work on Amazon right here and take a look at his homepage for more information.

Mrs. Margolis

By: Greg Moss

Mrs. Margolis lived in the house across the street from me.
Every night on the way home from school she was visible through her window, as she sat and knitted in front of the TV. One night she invited me round to help her with some chores, and I reluctantly accepted, she was going to pay me and I’d be able to afford the Spiderman graphic novel I’d been eyeing up.
Of course I was surprised that evening, as after she called me into her house, I found her dead in front of the TV.
Maggots crawling in her eyes.

Greg Moss

Greg Moss is a 27 year old English graduate currently living in the north west of England. He started writing before he turned 10 and still has his very first ‘novel’ that he put together with staples and sellotape. Growing up on a steady diet of Goosebumps and Point Horror books, it didn’t take him long to get lost in the stories of Lovecraft, King, Barker, and many others. He now spends his time writing alone in a dark room at night and looking after his three cats, Wednesday, Prince, and Ziggy.

Bath Time

By: Stephanie Ellis

Every drip ate away at the rusted tub. Corrosion and time had done their worst. Nothing remained. And yet ears listened although they only heard blessed silence. Eyes watched, transfixed as they witnessed every flicker of disintegration.

On the wall hung the Waste Disposal outfit: the dirty yellow boiler suit, heavy gauge gloves and thick protective visor. He was very careful with the chemicals he handled, had a healthy respect – awe you could say – for what they could do.

Despair and resignation claimed her as he refilled the tub. She had given up trying to escape.

It was bath time.

Stephanie Ellis

Stephanie Ellis is a TeachingAssistant in a Southampton secondary school but previously worked for many years as a technical author. Her genre fiction short stories have found success in Massacre and Sanitarium magazines as well as a variety of horror anthologies. She is also an active member of theFlashDogs flash fiction online community where most of her contributions are of the darker kind.

You can find out more about Stephanie at: http://stephellis.weebly.com/.

The Greatest Love

By: Paul Starkey

I fell in love the moment we met. How could I not? She was so young and vibrant. We went everywhere together, did everything together. I never thought it would last forever, only a fool imagines any romance ever does, but I thought we’d have many years together.
Sadly it was not to be.
She gave me her heart. Her other organs were placed in storage, eventually I’ll need them too.
I loved her, but I’ll love my next clone just as much. Hopefully we’ll enjoy a much longer courtship before our love must be consummated on the operating table.

Paul Starkey

Paul Starkey lives in Nottingham, England and has been writing for many years. He’s had stories published in the UK, US and Australia, including being published by Ticonderoga publications, Alchemy Press, Fox Spirit, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and the British Fantasy Society journal. In 2015 his novella The Lazarus Conundrum was published by Abaddon Books. He’s also self-published several novels. 

He blogs about films, books and writing at werewolvesonthemoon.wordpress.com/
His UK Amazon page can be found at here
His US Amazon page can be found at  here

Ghost of a Smile

By: Ken MacGregor

Ben had been haunting me for days. The moment he died, his ghost appeared. The apparition wore Ben’s favorite shirt: the orange one with the ink-stain on the cuff. He was smiling.

My brother was always happy. Some people are impossible to depress.

I watched the undersize coffin lower into the ground. Mom tossed a handful of dirt; her eyes were red with constant tears.

Beside me, Ben began to fade, starting at the feet. As more dirt fell, more of Ben disappeared. Finally, like the Cheshire Cat, there was only his smile.

That faded, too and he was gone.

Ken MacGregor

Ken MacGregor’s written work has appeared in dozens of anthologies and magazines, and the occasional podcast. His story collection, AN ABERRANT MIND is available online and in select bookstores. His second collection, SEX, GORE & MILLIPEDES comes out later this month. He edits an annual anthology ( RECURRING NIGHTMARES ) for the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers. Ken is an Affiliate member of HWA. He has also written TV commercials, sketch comedy, a music video, and even a zombie movie. Recently, he co-wrote a novel and is working on the sequel. Ken lives in Michigan with his family and three cats, one of whom is dead but still haunts the place.
Homepage: http://ken-macgregor.com/.

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