I had such writerly plans last weekend, mainly making a proper start on the second draft of my current WIP. I loved the world I had created in its pages, the bizarre characters and the somewhat gruesome rituals they performed and really wanted to get back to it. It was great to feel positive instead of that sense of an uphill slog appearing before me but real life got in the way and from Friday evening until Sunday evening my time was taken up by my most important role – that of being a mother. With my daughters, I spent hours on Saturday wandering around a city and then hours on Sunday wandering through woods. So, no writing, even when I collapsed on the sofa at the end of the day and I am still not writing (apart from some twitter prompts). Do I feel guilty, no … because I am doing that thing all other writers should be doing and that is reading. My current book is Stephen King’s 11.22.63 and it reminds me how brilliant he is at creating a world with such an immersive sense of time and place, and how fluid and fluent his prose. He knows how to tell a story. I think my writing might now have to wait until I finish the book as its pages keep calling me – currently p. 245/740. It’s sat by me as I write this editorial, waiting patiently, but it knows I’ll return very soon.
Many writers comment about not finding time to write and then when you do have time, feel mentally drained, a situation I am often in myself; this is life, it’s just how it is. It’s how it was for me last weekend and long days at work this week have pretty much wiped me out. So, I am being kind to myself, as should you all in the same situation. Let the frustrations, the irritations, the anxieties go; put aside the pen, the notebook, the laptop and just read. Let another author do the heavy lifting for you, give you the break you need from your own work; a busman’s holiday, so to speak. And as you all know, it will also improve your own writing.
I’m going back to my book now … and I’ve got Shirley Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan, Margaret Atwood and others all ready to help me escape and learn at the same time.
What are you reading?
As always, thank you for the submissions! We can always use more shorts and drabble hitting the inbox as it seems that we fluctuate on which we’re low on.
‘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.
John Pearson was proud to be the manager of the town’s only supermarket. He’d worked there for his entire career, starting as a shelf-stacker at age sixteen and working his way up to store manager by the time he was twenty-eight. Now, in his mid-sixties, he had no intention of retiring. He used to joke to his staff that he intended to work right up to the day before his funeral.
It was Wednesday. John sat in his office at the back of the store, checking the inventory. He ran his hand through his thinning hair, his fingers catching and removing some of the remaining clumps. He glanced at his watch. It was 8 a.m., time to open the store. This was the part of the day he loved the most. A fresh, bright morning, ripe with the promise of new customers. He walked into the store, past familiar shelves and displays. His fingers tracked clean marks in the dust. He rubbed his fingers together, feeling the gritty dust between them. The dust was one of his biggest concerns. What would Head Office think if they carried out a snap inspection? They were very strict about store sanitation, but no matter how hard he cleaned he simply couldn’t stop the dust from constantly settling. It blew in through the destroyed doors and windows. John hoped Head Office would understand.
He stood at the front doors and looked at the street outside. The nuclear blast that had destroyed the town had miraculously left the supermarket standing, albeit a bit cracked in places. It was because the store was concrete, the other buildings in town were wood-framed.
John thought back to when it happened. Two months ago. It had been a normal day, a Monday. The store had been relatively busy. There had been five of them working, plus about seven customers. The first sign of trouble had been a rumble in the distance. Then, from outside, there had been screams, cars braking and skidding. Crashing. John and the others had stepped outside to see what the problem was. In the distance there was a mushroom cloud, black and red, swirling. The air force base, fifty miles to the south had been hit. John and the others had fled indoors, hunkering down in the back office. Minutes later, the town had been hit by the blast.
Afterwards, the others had scrambled to get home. They’d left, worried about family, friends and loved ones. John had no family, no friends and definitely no loved ones. His main concern was the store. He had to protect the stock. He’d put up the ‘Closed’ sign, then loaded the shotgun he kept in his office. The gun was against the rules, but after his first robbery he’d bought it to protect the store from the criminal classes.
For the first week after the disaster, he’d been ill. He knew about radiation poisoning, he’d been brought up during the Cold War, so he expected it. He’d erected a cot in his office and put himself to bed. At that point, he hadn’t cared about the store. He feared for his life. Nauseous, he’d barely been able to eat or drink, but he’d forced himself to swallow as much water as he could. After the fifth day, the symptoms had passed. It was the fallout, the irradiated dust falling from the sky. He knew he was luckier than most, the concrete shell of the building had protected him from the blast and from the worst of the fallout. Afterwards, he was careful to always wear a mask when removing the dust. He dosed himself with vitamins and antibiotics from the store’s amply stocked pharmacy. He slept in his office, the only room in the store with no windows and a solid metal door. He never went outside. He knew he’d been and was still being exposed to radiation, cancer was probably already fermenting in his organs. Death was inevitable, but until the day he put the shotgun barrel into his mouth, he had his duty to fulfill.
Sighing, he reached up and unlocked the front door. There was no glass, but he still observed the standard procedure laid down by Head Office; locking and unlocking it at the required times. He stood for a few moments in expectation. There were no customers. John guessed the blast had killed most of the people in the town. There would have been survivors, like him, but perhaps they’d died from disease or radiation poisoning. Perhaps they’d fled. None of his staff had returned. John didn’t know what happened to them, he hadn’t left the store to find out.
The lack of customers was a cause for concern. It was nearly time for the quarterly return; John was worried what the auditors at Head Office would think. Zero sales for three months, nowhere near his performance target. Worse than that, after the electricity failed, he’d been forced to dump all the fresh and frozen produce, leaving the fridges and freezers empty. The shelves were well stocked with canned and dried goods, but the financial loss sustained from the discarded produce still gave him sleepless nights.
The door opened. Three people entered. They were emaciated, dressed in rags. Their skin was blotchy and their hair patchy. Two males and a female. One of the men carried a machete, the other a baseball bat. They weren’t townsfolk, probably transients passing through, but a customer was a customer. John adjusted his tie and spoke.
“Come in, please, how may I help you?”
The trio glanced round, seeing the well-stocked shelves.
“We need food.”
“Yes, of course. We have a wide range of brands. Unfortunately, we have no fresh or frozen produce at the moment, due to the failure of the electricity supply, but we do have a comprehensive range of other produce for your selection.”
He indicated the row of shopping trolleys.
“Please, take a trolley and make your selections. If you have any questions, please just ask.”
“We can just take what we want?” asked the woman incredulously.
“Of course! The store is open to everyone.”
The trio looked suspicious, but nevertheless the woman pulled out a trolley and they moved down the first aisle. The men, still holding their weapons, glanced back at John, standing near the front entrance. He smiled at them, happy to finally have some customers.
After about thirty minutes the scruffy group returned to the front of the store. Their trolley was full. John was standing behind the checkout.
“Please place your items on the conveyor belt so I can tally up your bill.”
“Our bill?” asked the man with the machete.
“Yes, of course, we require payment for good purchased.”
“We ain’t got no money. What good would it do you anyhow?”
“It’s company policy.”
“Look friend, we’re starving. We’re taking this food.”
“Not without appropriate payment.”
The man raised his machete.
“Don’t make me use this, buddy.”
John reached below the desk and lifted his shotgun.
“Shoplifters will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
He pulled the trigger.
Replacing the shotgun on the shelf below the cash register, John stared at the bodies. He was happy, he had enforced the no shoplifting rule, but job satisfaction wasn’t the only reason he was pleased. Head Office prohibited store managers from eating the stock without appropriate payment, but he’d been forced to break that rule. He was sure the executives didn’t want their store managers starving to death, but he still felt guilty. Now he was happy, tonight he didn’t have to eat the stock. Tonight, he wouldn’t have to worry about Head Office.
R. J. Meldrum is an author and academic. Born in Scotland, he moved to Ontario, Canada in 2010 with his wife Sally. His interest in the supernatural is a lifetime obsession and when he isn’t writing ghost stories, he’s busy scouring the shelves of antique book-sellers to increase his collection of rare and vintage supernatural books. During the winter months, he trains and races his own team of sled dogs.
He has had stories published by Sirens Call Publications, Horrified Press, Trembling with Fear, Darkhouse Books, Digital Fiction and James Ward Kirk Fiction.
You can find out more about RJ at his homepage.
Abandoned Cabin in the Woods
“Someone explain this to me. Of all the things we could be doing, how did ‘spend a week in an abandoned cabin in the middle of the woods’ end up at the top of our spring break list? Isn’t that how every horror movie begins?”
“Because it’s free. Duh. Besides, nothing’s going to happen. You worry too much.”
As they opened the door, a foul smell flooded them. Various body parts hung from the ceiling. Flies circled their prey. Pools of blood dotted the floor. Rusted tools caked in blood laid out on the table.
“You were saying.”
Andrea Allison currently resides in a small uneventful town located in Oklahoma after moving from a small uneventful town in Texas. She is an author who enjoys writing horror of all varieties and her work has appeared both online and in print.
They called it an unexplained tragedy, but it wasn’t true. Seventy people dragged into the ground by the elongated fingers of blackened children encased below the asphalt. A massive black umbrella expanded overhead and manipulated the reality for the outsiders. We knew about them. They called them black sites. Vanishing places. Rewritten places. Horrid black icicles witnessed. I see hundreds of the biggest from orbit. I’m the only cosmonaut that has ever breached into space. They apparently sent no more. Apparently seeing the black umbrellas from a distance tethers me to the glitch enough to see the loops evolve forever.
Nick Rayner lives in Toronto, Canada and is the Creative Director of Rayner Marketing Consulting. He has been published in The Danforth Review, Hello Horror, and The Tandem Region Times. His online portfolio is at milliondollarcuffs.com.
He ran breathless and scared, crashing through the woods.
He hadn’t believed it, the story was just too fantastic. Imagine, vicious beasts kept so close to home, but childhood curiosity had got the best of him.
The outlines of shadowy figures shifted through the dense fog just behind him. He increased his speed, afraid of what might happen if he were caught. Then, squinting ahead, he breathed a sigh of relief, he was close.
Gasping to catch his breath, he gently traced the sign with his grey three-fingered hand: “DANGER: human reserve – invisible fences in place – DO NOT CROSS”.
M.T. Moos is an aquatic microbiology professor by trade and an aspiring writer and potter. Her passions include science fiction and the strange. When she isn’t working, she can be found playing with mud and creating functional earthenware pottery while contemplating new story ideas.
- Taking Submissions: Horror USA: Nevada - February 21, 2020
- Ongoing Submissions: Cosmic Horror Monthly - February 20, 2020
- Taking Submissions: Corners of the World - February 20, 2020
- Taking Submissions: Disturbia - February 19, 2020
- Taking Submissions: Every Day Fiction – April 2020 Themes - February 19, 2020
- Taking Submissions: Historic Fantasy - February 18, 2020
- WIHM: Just Sit Down and Bleed: On Writing Female and Diverse Characters - February 18, 2020
- Taking Submissions: Worst Laid Plans: An Anthology of Vacation Horror - February 18, 2020
- Taking Submissions: Acethetic - February 17, 2020
- WIHM: Redefining the Horror Genre - February 17, 2020