Trembling With Fear 03/08/20

Life is never easy and sometimes it can feel so overwhelming and isolating, you wonder how you are going to make it through. One answer for anyone in such a situation is to remember you are part of the family here at Trembling With Fear and Horror Tree and that we are here to support you in whatever way we can.

Some of you may have noticed recent posts on Facebook by TWF alumni Patrick Winters. Patrick has been very open about the serious health issues he is facing whilst remaining upbeat when describing the gruelling treatment he is going to have to endure. Show him he has family here, pop over to Facebook and show him your support, search out his work online and give feedback and reviews. Let him know you care.

These are also difficult times for small presses. Horror Tree publishes submission calls from many such sources and we all search its pages for the perfect place to submit our work. What happens to the resulting publication though, once it has chosen the select few and gone into print? Some will buy the book, a number won’t, but without sufficient support, these presses will die – and then who will buy our work? I’m not saying buy every anthology, finances are tight for so many of us these days. What I am saying, is perhaps consider buying one or two of the many anthologies out there. Even better, put up a review and feedback to authors and publisher. I’ve raised this issue following another post on Facebook. This time from Corona Books (who put out the Corona Book of Horror Stories) wondering whether to just give up. I hope they don’t.

A Little Conversation by Steven Holding is our first story in Trembling With Fear this week. Control is the element which seesaws in this tale, wrong footing you as to whether Veronica is a victim or survivor, an innocent or someone with a darker soul, as she enjoys a little conversation with a stranger. From such an ordinary start it soon spirals into darkness and all taking place on that most everyday of places, the park bench.

Desert Vengeance by Ken McGregor takes us right into the heat of the desert. The senses are employed here to great effect, creating a graphic and horrific image.

Eye of the Creator by Ryan Benson a creation story birthing hoped for perfection but with an element of underlying doubt raising disturbing possibilities in the reader’s mind.

Unfinished Business by Scarlet Berry is a tale of marital discord to an age-old refrain. Familiarity breeds contempt, and what else?

Steph

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

Happy weekend! Unlike last, Spring has started to hit the Windy City and temperatures are up in my part of the world.

That, has been refreshing!

First thing’s first. I’d like to take this opportunity to put out a call for drabble. We’re a little short on them at the moment so if you’ve got time to spare to put together 100-words please head over to our Trembling With Fear Submissions Page today!

At any rate, enjoy this weekend’s words from the four author’s below! I’m sure you’ll enjoy them as much as we did!

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

A Little Conversation by Steven Holding

“Is this seat taken?”

The question pulled Veronica from her thoughts, dragging her back into the world. She had been lost once again, trawling through memories, relishing the images of her childhood as they played out in her mind’s eye. It had, of course, been a long time since she had experienced the sensation of sight. Yet her loss of vision, at one time the cause of great anger, was now, thankfully, no longer such a painful subject for her. Her accident seemed to be part of another life, and with the passing of time and the slow healing of wounds, so she had finally grown comfortable with her disability. She accepted her senses for what they were, and in this she had found some peace. She turned her head in the direction of the voice and smiled.

“No, I don’t believe that it is,” 

She paused, brandishing her cane, the subtle waggle generating a pleasing swish-swish.

“But you’d probably be a better judge of that than I…”

There was a momentary silence as Veronica attempted to gauge the man’s response. A terse cough, obviously forced, told her all she needed to know. She felt the man’s embarrassment, could probably have warmed her hands against his flushed cheeks if she chose to.

“Don’t take offence, I was just teasing… Please, join me.”

Veronica felt the wooden park bench give as the man sat down. Judging by the drastic sag beneath her, he was a man of some considerable weight.

“Thank you” he said. His voice, whilst soft, contained an underlying croakiness. A definite smoker. Despite the overpowering scent of cheap cologne, Veronica could smell the stale stench of tobacco on his clothes.

“Lovely day” he stuttered, “The sun is out, and the sky is blue, no clouds and… err…”

Veronica laughed.

“It’s ok… You don’t have to describe it for me… I can tell it’s a beautiful day…”

She moved her head slowly, taking in a deep breath.

“I can feel the sun on my face, can smell the flowers, the freshly cut grass… I can hear the kids laughing over there on the climbing frame… It all adds up, lets me build a picture inside my head…”

“I’m sorry… I didn’t wish to appear rude…” whispered the man.

Veronica heard the sound of bikes, felt the sudden displacement of air as they sailed past the bench.

“Don’t be silly,” she replied. “No harm done.”

“I would hate to upset you,” he continued, ” I see you sat here every day and you always look so happy…”

Veronica felt her pulse quicken. Slowly, she tightened her grip upon her cane. Something felt wrong. The man, seemingly unaware of her discomfort, went on.

“Strange, I would think, that one who is so…. afflicted, remains so positive…”

Veronica began to stand, pushing herself up from the bench.

“I’m sorry, but I really must be going…”

She gasped as she felt a hand wrap around her wrist. It squeezed tightly, the vice-like grip so strong she nearly dropped her cane. Her legs buckled as she crumpled back down onto the bench. Before she could scream the man was at her ear, the aroma of mint failing to disguise something less palatable upon his breath.

“Know this. In my other hand is a blade. I have used it before.”

Veronica felt the press of metal against her cheek, the kiss of cold steel sudden and terrifying. As quickly as it had appeared, it was gone. She struggled to control her breathing, panic flooding her body.

“What do you want?” she hissed.

“Just a moment of your time, the lend of an ear if you would be so gracious… Nothing more…”

“Please don’t hurt me!”

“If you do as I say, I will not harm you. A little conversation is all I require, a chance for me to tell you a few things… It’s not too much to ask now, is it? And if you are a good girl, who doesn’t attempt anything… foolish, I see no reason as to why we cannot both enjoy our exchange.”

Even though the tap of her cane upon the pavement told her she was shivering, Veronica could not feel her body. The thought of movement seemed impossible. Everything seemed unreal. She could feel her mind slipping away, her sanity making a slow, deliberate retreat from reality. It was, she knew, essential to her survival that she regained control. She bit at her bottom lip, the flare of pain instant, the taste of blood immediate. The hurt served its purpose, the dull throb in her mouth giving her something to focus upon, pulling her back into the moment.

“How did you lose your sight?” asked the man, his tone now casual, as if the threat of violence had never even occurred.

A… A car…accident,” replied Veronica.

Keep talking, she thought to herself, buy yourself some time.

“I was fifteen. A passenger. My brother was driving. He… He died.”

The man placed a hand upon Veronica’s knee.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said. There seemed to be genuine concern in his voice. “God can be… cruel. Don’t you think?” 

“I don’t believe in any God!” she spat, the fury in her voice shaping each word. 

“You would be surprised how many think that, say that, yet in their final moments, almost all call his name. Call for his aid, scream for his mercy… I myself am ambivalent regarding the issue. Maybe he is there, maybe not… If indeed he does exist, he would be the same God regardless of our actions, of our prayers. We may need him, but does he actually need us?” 

Veronica felt tears coming, fought hard to keep them back.

“What do you want from me!”

The man continued, apparently oblivious to Veronica’s questioning.

“Now confession, that’s a peculiar thing isn’t it. Admitting one’s sins, one’s weakness, obtaining forgiveness. I must admit, I find the whole thing fascinating. And even if a man isn’t seeking absolution, even if a man has no faith and doesn’t require the pardoning of God, well, I still believe we all harbour a burning desire to… share. To speak of our sins. One only has to watch daytime television. You see it happening on those awful programmes every single day…”

The man squeezed Veronica’s knee once again. She grimaced as his nails bit into her skin.

“But of course, how insensitive of me. You wouldn’t have seen it at all now, would you?”

The man giggled at his own joke, the absurd, schoolboy shrill of his laugh making Veronica’s flesh crawl.

“And I,” he continued, “I am no exception. I find myself filled with a burning desire to share. An audience is what I require. But due to the nature of my activities, it would be prudent for me to remain anonymous. I require a listener who is literally all ears…”

Veronica could sense the man moving in closer to her. She stifled a sob as he nuzzled against her neck, her body quivering with revulsion as she felt the harsh, sandpaper rub of his stubble upon her cheek.

“Will you listen to me?” he moaned softly, his voice gentle, each word drawn out like the tender declarations of a lover.

Veronica clenched her teeth together, fighting the tidal wave of nausea that threatened to sweep over her, pushing her dread, her horror, deep down into the pit of her stomach. One thought, and one thought only, filled her mind. The same mantra that she had clung onto after her accident, holding on for dear life like a drowning man, clutching at the words to keep her safe, to keep her sane.

I AM A SURVIVOR.

She turned her head, her face inches away from the man’s, the tip of her nose brushing against his.

“Go on,” she said, “Go on you bastard… Speak, if you have to… I will listen…”

The man chuckled, his sour breath stinking, sickening, hot on Veronica’s face.

“There’s a good girl…”

She could hear him smile. He coughed, clearing his throat. 

“I have killed, I have murdered, I have snuffed out life… So many times, so many times…”

Veronica had no idea how long the ordeal lasted, how long the two of them sat there for, for how long the man spoke. Hours? Days? An eternity? Time became meaningless, formless, shapeless, as she endured the man’s speech. A list of atrocities, ceaseless, never ending, pain upon pain, suffering upon suffering. And when she thought there could be no more, there was more. A catalogue of torture so vile, so poisonous, she could feel the evil infecting her, spreading through her like cancer, turning her heart and soul black. She only knew he was finished when she realised he was no longer at her side.

“Thank you,” said the man, “Thank you for listening… Although I do wonder, whatever must you think of me?”

Veronica turned her head towards him. She reached up a trembling hand and wiped away the tears that had been trickling down her face.

“I think…” she muttered, “I think you are the Devil himself…”

The man laughed.

“If there is, as you said, no God, then it would be fair to say that there can be no Devil, don’t you agree?… And who’s to say that I am nothing more than a jolly good liar?”

Veronica listened to the sound of footsteps as the man began to walk away. The click of heels halted abruptly. She knew that the man had stopped and turned around.

“I have so enjoyed our little chat,” he said, his voice brimming with joy. “Maybe, and please do forgive the awful witticism, you will see me again soon?”

As the echo of his steps receded, Veronica let out a whooshing gasp of air. She pulled her cane close to her, gripping it with both hands, savouring the fragile sense of security it gave her. As the sobbing began, her chest heaving, she clung onto her precious words. Words, she now realised, that had power. Words, she realised, that were her prayer.

She was indeed a survivor. And this was what made her so dangerous.

Veronica slowly rotated the handle of her stick. It made a muffled click as she pulled it away from the main body of the cane. The glinting knife that was slowly revealed as she removed it from its sheath may have been small, but she knew that it would be more than enough.

Next time, she would be ready. 

Steven Holding

Steven Holding lives with his family in the United Kingdom. His stories have appeared both online and in print. Most recently his work has featured in the collections ‘Trembling With Fear Year Two’, ‘Splash of Ink’, and the anthologies ‘Monsters’ and ‘Beyond’ from Black Hare Press.  He is currently working upon further short fiction and a novel. You can follow his work at www.stevenholding.co.uk

Desert Vengeance

The sun is overhead, too bright in his eyes. He’d close them if he could. They’re painfully dry. Still, he could see movement peripherally.

The shuffle-scrape of talons against the sand grates against his eardrums. Vulture. The word inspires revulsion. Sounds vile, like throwing up.

The bird —big— leans over, cocking its head to regard him with one eye, blocking the sun.

Sweat soaks his armpits and groin, pooling between shoulder blades. The paralytic is just wearing off.

Lightning-quick, the bird plucks out his right eye.

Finding his voice, he screams, scaring the vulture away.

It comes back. And feeds.

Ken McGregor

Ken MacGregor’s work has appeared in dozens of anthologies and magazines, and the occasional podcast.

He has two story collections: AN ABERRANT MIND, and SEX, GORE & MILLIPEDES, and is a member of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers (GLAHW). He has also written TV commercials, sketch comedy, a music video, and a zombie movie. His debut novel (co-written with Kerry Lipp) is pending publication in 2020, and they are working on the sequel. He is the Managing Editor of Anthologies for LVP Publications, and curated an anthology (BURNT FUR) for Blood Bound Books (also due out this year).

When not writing, Ken drives the bookmobile for his local library. He lives with his kids, two cats, and the ashes of his wife.

Ken can be found at ken-macgregor.com. You can also connect with him via social media on the following platforms:

Twitter: @kenmacgregor
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KenMacGregorAuthor?ref=hl
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/macgregorken/

Eyes of the Creator

Helen closed the chest of the ID-1 automaton. Though metal, the chest’s curves resembled her own. As did the face. The eyes. 

Assembling ID-1 by hand took years but it/she was worth it. ID-1— nothing like assembly machines or flying drones—was a real robot like Asimov’s.  

No! Calling ID-1 a robot is saying a stealth bomber is a plane. 

But what if ID-1 failed to obey? Wipe it? Try again? Helen’s creator hadn’t designed her as obedient.

Think positive. Humanity isn’t alone anymore! 

She isn’t alone. Her android reflection proved she existed.

Helen and ID-1 stood eye to eye.

Ryan Benson

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.

Twitter: @RyanWBenson
Instagram: ryanbensonauthor

Unfinished Business

Edwin entered the house carrying some shopping bags. “I’m starting a new project,” he announced.

“Really,” his wife Gloria sneered, rolling her eyes. “It will end up just like the others…. AN UNFINISHED MESS!”

Edwin took the bags down to the basement. A few hours later, he asked his wife to join him.  Gloria looked around. Edwin had covered the walls and floor with sheets of plastic. He was wearing coveralls and rubber gloves and was holding a maul.

“Big deal. You won’t finish it!”

“Oh, I’ll finish this one!” cried Edwin as he swung the maul at Gloria’s head.

Scarlet Berry

Scarlet Berry is a Yooper. She’s been married forty years to the same man and they raised four children together. She is a mystery wrapped up in a conundrum, and loves to laugh; both evilly and happily.

Stephanie Ellis

Stephanie Ellis is a member of the HWA and writes dark speculative prose and poetry which has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her work includes the novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel and the gothic novella, Bottled, both via Silver Shamrock Publishing.She can be found at https://stephanieellis.org/ and on twitter @el_Stevie.

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