The days are getting a bit lighter, there’s blossom on the trees and … there’s still a lot of coughing and spluttering going on in the Ellis household. Not all me, I might add, but my lovely family. Then again, it’s a small revenge for them all supporting Wales in the recent Six Nations Rugby. My husband’s Welsh and my children prefer to forget their English halves. (Wales won by the way.) I feel a bit outnumbered at these times. 

At least my head’s clear enough to try writing again and I’m attempting a ‘weird’ story. Not something I normally write but I thought I’d give it a go. That’s one thing HWA’s Fright Club is good at – encouraging you to try areas outside your comfort zone. At least it keeps me occupied while I wait for decisions on some stories submitted not so long ago. Plus I’ve got TWF!

Trembling With Fear leads this week with Fruit on the Forest Path by Chris Panatier, a story which feels almost harmless at first. There’s a touch of the gothic in the setting, the description of Janie’s walk into the woods, away from the world, away from her trials and tribulations. It continues with this sense of innocence, brings in a touch of fantasy – a vein which you think will continue but … things change and Janie soon discovers her mistake in her attempted good deed. This story reminds me a bit of the films where you shout at the character, ‘Don’t go in there,’ but they do and you watch helplessly as they move towards inevitable disaster.

The Crooked Man by Andrea Allison twists a memory of a family member. The portrait shows one face presented to the family, the skeletons which come tumbling out of the closet show another. Scary what a smile can hide. Provokes that perennial question – how well do we really know those closest to us? A thought which often sends a shiver down the spine.

Cimmerian Shade by Terry Miller is very strong in building up mood and atmosphere by simple juxtaposition of noise and silence, light and dark, life and emptiness. It shows you don’t need a lot going on, just a simple idea pulling your character along, turning her into a puppet, easily manipulated, easily destroyed.

The Last Cloud by CR Smith takes us to a drought-stricken world invaded by aliens. Despite the latter, the desperation for water brings humans out into the open for a moment which will probably, possibly, never happen again. I enjoyed the use of alliteration and onomatopoeia which brought both sound and image to the page, eg ‘Rainwater sizzles, haphazardly hitting abandoned vehicles.’

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

Okay, some fun updates! We may have a new TWF logo to enjoy in the near future and work may have started in on the covers of the anthologies! Also, some good news may or may not have gone out to the contributors of our first edition of Trembling With Fear!: Year 1! 🙂 This one is another short and sweet update by me. I’ve been running myself ragged trying to keep all my commitments as of late. . 

‘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.

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

Fruit On The Forest Path

Janie made her way past the final house on the block, a black-shingled Victorian whose resident, an old widower, was a shut-in. His eyes, it seemed, were multiple, set in a herd of mostly feral cats that watched from the perimeter like gargoyles atop the stone columns marking each length of iron fence. Other than their suspicious yellow eyes, they showed no movement, and Janie felt relief as she entered the path to the cover of the woods.

     The path was a refuge, the solitary route she took home from school when life felt too much. Silence hung like a cottoned fog and the outside world faded to rumor, a million miles from squabbling parents and jeering classmates. Her shoulders relaxed some as she burrowed ahead.

     The trees had already surrendered to autumn, with all of the sycamores and oaks baring themselves. Janie pushed through their leaves, each footfall muted by the smothering quiet.

     She stopped near a bramble and spoke aloud just to test if her voice would be swallowed. “Hello.”

     “Who’s there?”

     She turned to either side. “Hello?”

     “Are you a cat?” A melodic voice.

     “Uh,” she checked herself, “no. I’m a person.”

     “All cats are persons. They’re just person-cats. What kind of person are you?”

     “A human person.”

     “How do I know you are telling the truth?”

     “Tell me where you are and I’ll show you.”

     “Exactly what a cat would say!”

     “Well I don’t really know how to convince you that I’m not a cat unless you look at me.”

     “Did the cats see you come in here?”

     “Mr. Harkleroad’s cats? Of course they did. There’s like a million of them.”

     “Oh, great. You’ve probably led them right to me. Please go.”

     “I could help you. Where are you?”

     “Prove you’re not a cat first.”

     “How do I do that?”

     “What word means to understand another person’s plight?

     Janie gave the obvious answer. “Empathy?”

     A relieved sigh. “You’re not a cat.”

     “What?”

     “Cats can’t use that word.”

     “Can’t use it? Can’t say the word empathy?”

     “Can’t, won’t—cats are selfish. It’s all I-I-I, me-me-me. Never a thought about anyone else.”

     “Okay, so I’m not a cat. Where are you?”

     “I’m hiding from cats, girl.”

     “Okay,” said Janie, spinning about, “where?”

     “My wing is broken. I can’t move very well. Stuck, really.”

     “You’re a bird?”

     “An owl, girl.” Now the voice made sense. Exactly the voice an owl would have.

     “My step-sister is a vet! I can get you help!” Her heart swelled.

     “Is she good, your step-sister?”

     “The best. I can take you if you’ll just tell me where you’re hiding.”

     Silence. A snow flurry blitzed down. There wasn’t much place for an owl to hide. Janie poked a scraggly blackberry with a sneaker, careful to avoid the unpicked fruit, ruptured and hanging like offal.

     “You see the burnt trees?” asked the owl.

     Janie knew the ones. Ahead was a stand, three of them blackened by a decades-old lightning strike. She’d always wondered if it had hit only one, with the others catching fire, or if its electric fingers had spread wide to touch all three in one go.

     “They’re right in front of me,” she said, approaching. “Which one are you in?”

     “The big log on the ground.”

     Janie spotted it, thick with char and set askew beside the leftmost tree. She followed it upward and matched the fracture-lines. It had been a towering tree, still was, and even though fire had gutted it the wood held. “You’re…in there?”

     “Where else would you go if you couldn’t fly?”

     “I guess in there.”

     “Well that’s where I am.”

     “Can you hop out?”

     A shuffling from inside, moaning. “Ugh, it hurts too much. Can you reach me?”

     Janie considered the trunk’s empty hole, what would be a tight and claustrophobic fit. “I’ll run home and get a pry-bar. I bet I can break this longways. My dad left his toolbox behind.” She turned to leave.

     “No-no-no! Please!” cried the owl. “Cats hunt at nightfall.”

     Janie turned back to the hole, somehow blacker than the sooty wood that held it. More flurries fell from the greying sky, low and bulbous. She knelt by the log to look inside.

     “There you are,” said the owl, though he remained in darkness. “And not a cat at all.”

     “How far back are you?” asked Janie, uneasy about navigating the narrow tube.

     “An arm’s length, perhaps a touch more.”

     Janie sat back on her calves, felt the moisture on the ground wick into her jeans, and looked around at the woods. Dusk. She exhaled nervously and let her backpack droop to the ground.

     “Quickly, please, or I’m a goner,” urged the owl.

     Janie zipped her jacket to the top and eased onto her stomach, bringing her face to the threshold.

     “I’m so relieved, girl. What was your name?”

     “Janie,” she said, shuffling on her forearms into the maw.

     “Lovely name. I’m lucky you came along.”

     Her shoulders rubbed the sides and she kept her face low to avoid bumping her crown on the tunnel’s ceiling.

     Outside came a scratching. “Did you hear that?” she asked.

     “I only hear you.”

     “I’m afraid I’ll get stuck,” said Janie, pressing inward. “My arms are pinned. I don’t know if I can reach you.”

     A zipper tore opened outside. Her backpack. “Who’s out there?”

     She kicked in blind fear at whatever had come and tried to push out. “I can’t move! I’m scared!”

     “Oh, that’s loud,” said the owl. “The cats will be coming for sure now.”

     Something scratched at her ankles and she shook it away. “Ow! They’re here!” Another scratch, and another. “They’re hurting me! Help!”

     The owl was silent.

     “Hello?” Janie pleaded.

     A purring.

     She brought her eyes forward and strained them into the void.

     Blackness lifted from over orbs of gold, and the slits that divided them spread wide.

Chris Panatier

“Chris’ short fiction has appeared in The Ginger Collect Magazine and he was a finalist in this year’s Writers’ League of Texas manuscript contest. He does album covers for tiny metal bands. He practices law in his spare time.”

@chrispanatier

chrispanatier.wordpress.com

facebook.com/chrispanatier

The Crooked Man

            The Crooked Man drenched in black stood contorted on my uncle’s wall. A drop of drool dangled from it’s pointed teeth, but he claimed the painting with a smile as his self-portrait.

            Upon his death, the Crooked Man probed my fears with his large white eyes. I quietly approached it when a cloud of soot ruptured from the fireplace. Nestled in its center, hundreds of photos spilled from a gray shoe box all of the Crooked Man standing over bloody women. My gaze reverted to the painting only to find the smiling face of my uncle staring back at me.

Andrea Allison

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.

You can visit her website at www.andreallison.com.

Cimmerian Shade

Old houses settle. Floors creak. The sounds upstairs were neither. Floorboards don’t make noises in succession, of this Piper was certain.

Knife in hand, Piper quietly climbed the stairs. Once at the top, the slow squeak of door hinges followed by the clicking latch drew her attention to the end of the hall. Darkness.

Piper listened as the foreboding silence swept over her. She focused on the pitch-black corridor, its ominous presence drawing her gaze deeper into itself; drawing her deeper. The Cimmerian shade consumed her consciousness, a transcension to bleak, soul-crushing perpetual emptiness. Piper found herself implicitly forsaken, hollow.

Terry Miller

Terry Miller lives in Portsmouth, Ohio right along the Ohio River. His work has appeared in Sanitarium Magazine, Devolution Z, Jitter Press, Poetry Quarterly, O Unholy Night in Deathlehem, and was nominated for the annual Rhysling Award from The Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association which earned him a spot in the 2017 Rhysling Anthology.

The Last Cloud

When the first drops fall we run from the shelter, dry mouths open, our upturned eyes ignoring the oppressive alien crafts hovering overhead. The heat is unbearable.

Overdue precipitation dispenses hope with a dose of relief. Rainwater sizzles, haphazardly hitting abandoned vehicles. The scorched earth greedily absorbing what misses.

We feel the vibrations of the weather weapon starting up, hear the rumbling in the distance. The terraforming is nearing completion.

Rain stops as quickly as it arrived, lingering petrichor evaporating all around us.
We pray silently watching the cloud disappear, knowing deep down we will never see its like again.

CR Smith

CR Smith is an artist and writer living in the UK. Her work has been published by Ellipsis Zine, Spelk Fiction, Visual Verse, Glove Lit Zine, Train Lit Mag and The Cabinet of Heed. It is also to be found in several anthologies including, The Infernal Clock, Drabbledark: An Anthology of Dark Drabbles, Chronos: An Anthology of Time Drabbles, the Trembling With Fear: Year One Anthology, and The Infernal Clock Deadcades Anthology. A poetry anthology, Fourteen, and a Stickleback pamphlet are due to be published in 2019 by The Hedgehog Poetry Press. Her artwork has graced both the cover of Déraciné A Gothic Literary Magazine, issue 2, and the inside pages of issues 2 & 3.  

Twitter @carolrosalind

https://crsmith2016.wordpress.com  https://www.instagram.com/smith.cr/?hl=en

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About Stuart Conover

Stuart Conover is a father, husband, published author, blogger, geek, entrepreneur, horror fanatic, and runs a few websites including Horror Tree!

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