Recent times have seen an upsurge in TWF receiving stories of lengths falling outside our guidelines. Sometimes, as in the case of a longer story, we are able to accept them by splitting them into instalments for a serial or we can ask for a slight boost in word count to achieve the lower end of the flash story scale. Other times, we sadly have to pass. However, because we are seeing more stories of varying lengths we are seriously considering adjusting our guidelines as to what we will accept. Everything we currently have I can see as staying, eg drabbles, flash, Serials, Unholy Trinities, but what we would like to know is this: is there a particular length or format of story you would like us to consider publishing? Let us know, whether commenting here or on Facebook, via email etc.

Now for that bugbear, simultaneous submissions. We don’t get them very often so they have not been too much of an issue, however it must be remembered that submission levels have increased in recent times and TWF is run on a volunteer basis (as are other aspects of Horror Tree). And to give what little free time you have to reading stories, responding and then receiving a reply to say the story has gone elsewhere is tough to take. Sometimes a simultaneous submission can happen by mistake, I managed to do one a couple of weeks back – the first in five years of writing – and when I realised, immediately wrote in to apologise and withdraw my work. I felt really bad about it and still cringe that I did such a thing. Please try and avoid doing this where possible (although mistakes do happen!).

Trembling With Fear starts this week with The Murder and Suicide of Red-mist by Martin P. Fuller. This is a story we really enjoyed because of its unique timeslip nature and its focus on the redemption of Red-mist. Poor decisions in early life lead to the possibility of tragedy later, unless he is given the chance to change things. Does Red-mist take this chance or not? The narrative flips the reader back and forth, forcing you to concentrate as you are presented with the choices of what could be and what actually happens. An original treatment of perspective and time.

4 AM by David K Thurlow feels like someone desperately seeking a date but the search turns out to be for another reason entirely. Who on earth would want to be alone in a situation like this? Despair and relief ooze out of the ending.

Beware the Other by Arthur Unk implies so much – someone held against their will in twisted slavery, a sadistic jailer who deserves his comeuppance but then, at the end, was there more to that imprisonment than the victim realised? To have almost gained freedom and then at the last minute … It’s that final little twist I enjoyed in this piece.

Cursed Earth by RJ Meldrum falls into one the realms of one of my favourite horror subgenres – folk horror. In this day and age, the march of so-called progress is seen as unstoppable but here, the land has its guardian. I enjoyed the way the land becomes menacing after initially appearing as a place of some serenity and then after events have taken a turn for the worse, returns to that undisturbed state, as if nothing ever happened.

That’s it for this week. Hoping to see Pet Sematary this weekend …

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

Sadly, our second cover artist also fell through due to time constraints so now it is time to find a third! We’ve got two potential leads which I hope to be following up with over the coming week. Fingers crossed! 

We have two iterations of a new logo in the works for Trembling With Fear! The short version, “TWF” is ready to be seen and hopefully will be debuted in the next couple of weeks. Likely we’ll show it off on Patreon first but it will likely be a public post and not for just our Patreons so be sure to follow us on there as well! 

‘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

The Murder and Suicide of Red-mist

An impure silence lay across the alley, distant sounds of city life grumbling and whispering in the dark. They were all drowned out however by Red-mist’s heart kicking the shit out of his chest.

Red-mist peered out of the deep shadow of the pine trees which grew alongside the cracked flagged path adjacent to the old warehouse fence. He felt the sharp scrape of blackberry pricking through his soiled jeans. Only two of the alley’s lamps had escaped the local yobs, their piercing white light illuminating segments of the track and creating the deep pools of blackness that concealed his presence.

It was cold, and well after midnight, but there, just entering the deserted alleyway was his target, his crusade and Jane’s salvation. The lad walked briskly, collar raised, shoulders hunched against the icy wind.  

Red-mist grasped his knife, his only friend. He watched the kid approach, his thoughts slipping into memories. It was the young Danny, he was sure of it. Fresh from Jane’s bed, full of hope and blind love, hurrying home to get some kip before he’d start the new job later that morning. Danny full of wasted dreams. He couldn’t know now but the job would screw him up. Workmates who were all wankers, leading him by the nose into drinking sessions that got longer and wilder. He’d cross paths with that bastard Sullivan, the warehouse foreman, who, to cover up his own thieving would set Danny up with the coppers for nicking from the stores. Danny’s quick temper and big mouth would blind his mind and get him into deeper shit. Prison, bitterness, regret. That poor sod Danny. That poor sod me, had it all to come.

Red-mist’s face cracked into his infamous grin: the one that usually announced violence was about to pay a visit. It had taken time, but he’d fixed Sullivan eventually, introducing his face to some nifty knife surgery. He’d done five years for that, but it had been worth it to see that second, bloody and slightly ragged smile on Sullivan’s startled face.

And throughout it all, there had been Jane.

A year from now she’d be pregnant with Stevie. Danny would marry her, full of good intentions but a sod all future. His despair, drinking, and that crimson temper of his, would eventually erode her resolve, decay her love and hope for him. He’d beat her till the shame finally made him weep. Danny boy would have started on Stevie too, but Jane would finally snap and get the coppers involved. And he’d accept it. It would be a relief, because behind the anger was the love. Danny decided he would leave and never see her, or Stevie again, but making sure he paid her maintenance. She was owed that at least.

After leaving Jane, his anger at life would start to ferment, to spill over. And when it did, things would start to get very bad for a lot of people.  Over the years, Danny’s temper will become a wild storm he can’t control. He’d become an enforcer for a drug gang and ‘dabble in extortion’ with a bit of armed robbery on the side. Associates and enemies would nickname him ‘Red-mist’, a name he would glory in, forgetting the Danny which was.

And then he would go too far

A real two-day bender on the lash. A punk kid in the pub. Something, not sure what, but the kid will piss him off. A look, word, something. The argument just happens. Some pushing, a punch, and then the kid’s dead at his feet and Red-mist’s blade’s covered in blood.

It’s murder, a life sentence and Red-mist knows he’ll go down big time. No parole, just a cell for what life was left to him. So, he will run. Cash in every favour owed, but he knows it’s only a matter of time till the coppers find him.

He’ll be sitting in a transport café a day later, trying to plan, trying to think. Whilst staring at his cooling coffee, cursing his life, he’ll see the news flash on the café’s T.V. He’s the top story, the main event. A kid called Steve Jenson had been stabbed to death on a night out. Then a grieving mother begs her ex-husband Danial Jenson to give himself up. Danial Jenson, alias Danny, alias Red-mist.  The brutal bloody fact smacks into his brain—the kid he’ll top will be his own lad. Little Stevie.

Red-mist will feel sick, desperate. Oh God, what had he done? How had it come to this? For the first time in twenty years, Red- mist will allow submerged grief to surface and he’ll sob bitter tears of regret, briefly drawing the attention of other café customers. But there will be something about this crying man that makes them look quickly away.

Who the guy was who came over and sat across from him, he won’t remember. His face hard to recall.  He’d ask why he cried and if he, a total stranger, could help. Nosy twats like that usually ended up bleeding on the floor and Red-mist will stare at the stranger with an angry gaze. The stranger just smiles and for some unknown bloody reason, Red-mist’s temper cools, and he will tell him everything. He can’t help it. It will all come out like vomit after a heavy night out on the piss. When he finishes the stranger will just keep smiling and say he’s got a solution for him, if he is brave enough and serious about wanting to change things.

He will offer Red-mist a chance to save Jane from the harm he’ll inflict and a chance to save all the people he’ll hurt over the years.

As the man speaks, Red-mist feels his past and future combining until he exists only in the one moment—the present.

Red-mist had found himself trusting every word this fella said. Why, he couldn’t say. Something in the bloke’s black and piercing eyes, and the calm gentle way he spoke. Red-mist believed and trusted, something he hadn’t done for years.

“You have to kill the young Danny, the young you, before he, you, marries Jane. Confusing, isn’t it? But if you succeed in this quest, I promise you, Jane will be saved. She will marry someone she deserves and have kids that don’t get murdered by a drunken father. Her children will be happy and all the shattered people who you’ve hurt, will never know you…. or your knife. It’s a form of redemption for you. Your life ends before you harm anyone. Red-mist will never be. And is it really murder I’m suggesting or a noble suicide?”

The stranger’s talk went on like this and eventually Red-mist agreed.

“Mr Jenson … sorry, Red-mist isn’t it? I can only transport you to one particular time and location. You will only get one chance. If you fail …well, it all ends badly. Do you agree to this?”

Red-mist nodded his assent. What had he to lose now? And maybe, just maybe, he could do something good for once.

The bloke had reached over, smiled and touched his hand. It went dark and then a burst of light and colour. He was alone by the alley path that ran along his estate where he had been born and raised.

A whisper in his brain told him he was in his past. He recognised the muddy pathway as it had been, over twenty years or so ago, before the new industrial estate was built.

Red-mist realized he really could change things. A black miracle, or rather a red one. Yes, redemption could be his, if he could kill his young self.

That young Danny was now starting to pass the pine trees. It was time.

Red-mist charged out, the knife aimed at the centre of Danny’s back. However, the crack of dried twigs under Red-mist’s feet caused Danny to look around before the knife could be planted in his ribs. The sharp blackberry stalks snagged Red-mist’s legs causing him to stagger as tendrils of needle-edged thorns looped around his feet. The knife still slashed down, Danny dodging right but the blade bit into the flesh of his right wrist. Dark blood flowed under razor-sharp white light. Danny swore and lashed out, his wounded right-hand contorting into a fist and connecting with Red-mist’s jaw. The blow stunned Red-mist, smudging his face with his young self’s blood, and causing him to stagger. Danny pounced on his attacker and both grappled in the rubbish-strewn alley; Danny desperately holding onto Red-mist’s hand which held the knife. They waltzed a dance of violent death across the edge of the path. Each headbutted the other, blood pouring from fractured skin. The blackberry’s small green blades further lassoed both combatant’s legs, wrapping around calf and ankle, holding them, depriving them of their balance. They fell, welded together in brutal carnage, collapsing heavily onto the concrete flags. Danny, quicker than his older self, managed to turn that fickle knife inwards, towards his unknown assailant’s chest.

Red-mist grunted with pain, rolling over onto his back, the cross-handled blade sticking vertically out of his chest. For some reason the sight of his own blade imbedded in his body, beneath the cruel sodium lights made it look like a crucifixion at dawn. The street glow revealed a crimson flower blooming on Red-mist’s clothing.

He knew he was a dead man. The blade was deep, and he was bleeding out. Danny was looking down at him scared shitless but still furious. Despite the shadows, Red-mist could see the hate and anger in those ice blue eyes. The same anger that would eventually distort and devour his soul.

 “Why?” screamed Danny, ‘I’ve now’t for you to take. No phone, or cash. Nothing you bastard.”

Red-mist’s breathing was ragged, his voice a hoarse gravel rasp.

“I’m not trying to mug you … you. stupid little prick. Can’t you see. I’m you. You in twenty years. I’m your future, God help you. My … our … whole life’s shite, and I, you, us, … we’ll destroy every good thing we ever get, everything we love. I got a chance … a gift from God, or the Devil, I don’t know, chance to change everything … but I’ve failed. That guy sent me back somehow … to stop you now, before any real hurt done to Jane or anyone else. I’ve been a bastard, a failure and … I’ve failed again. You’ll live, I die, others suffer and you’ll die like this, in a shit-covered alley.”

 “You’re bloody insane,” cried Danny, nursing his slashed wrist.

Red-mist’s anger erupted. It gave him the energy to heave his body upwards, grasping hold of Danny’s wounded hand. In that split second of contact as bloodied hand met bloodied hand, fate played its final card.

Red-mist saw Danny’s wounded wrist and found on his own wrist, under layers of dirt and self-inflicted tattoos, a faint white scar that had not been there before.      

Danny was granted a revelation too. Something in his mind fully accepted everything this mad murderous, old fool was saying. Images of his future self’s chaotic life crashed into his mind. Unable to lie to himself, he saw future years of hate, anger, fights, cruelty, stealing and inner loneliness. A sad movie of the destruction of Jane’s life, and his son’s murder. A wasted future, delivered to him in a flash of scalding reality leaving him tearful, frightened, broken-hearted and above all, completely changed.

Red-mist, Danny, possible Danny, eventual Red-mist. All now shared in the horror of a wasted existence.

“No, no,” screamed Danny, “I won’t let it happen. I won’t become you, I won’t lose Jane. I won’t kill or hurt anyone, I swear it.”

He spoke the words with a passion that shook Red-mist and he fell back onto the stone slabs. The lights started to dim, and shadows merged to veil his eyes. The dying, wasted man realised something had changed in Danny’s future, his own past. That vile temper had been subtly diverted, like the channelling and damming of a great river. Danny would hardly ever drink now. Red-mist remembered.

He’d tell the drug pushers and his tosser mates to get stuffed.

Red-mist remembered.

Danny would prove Sullivan was the thief by using his head and not his gob or his knife.

Red-mist remembered and more importantly, understood.

Danny had killed his temper so as not to kill anything else. His life was stacking up differently. The name Red-mist would never be his future label. They both remembered how they would and did, love Jane, putting her in the centre of their life. There would be hard times, but they would, did, will, find the form of happiness which previously Red-mist could only have dimly imagined.

The universe changed in a subtle, minute way, then carried on.

“Who the hell’s Red-mist and why’ve I a cut to my wrist?”

Danny walked on rubbing his quickly healing wrist, bewildered and emerging from some wild hallucination.

Behind him, a prostrate figure faded away on the path, like steam drifting from a cooling kettle.

What had happened? Something … Danny couldn’t remember.

He shivered at the touch of the cold wind which sprang out of the darkness, turning up his jacket collar, and slowly walked to the alley’s end trying to shake the feeling that someone had walked over his grave, which of course, is what he’d just done.

Martin Fuller

Martin P. Fuller is just the west of 60 and trying to enjoy a semi-retirement from being a law enforcement officer for over thirty-four years. He works part time delivering cars for a rental company and endeavors to join as many writing classes as time and finances allow. He lives in a small terrace cottage in Menston, Yorkshire England.

It was because of these writing classes that he started gain the courage to submit his work for publishing. He prefers darker stories especially if he can affix a twist in story although he has dabbled in some comedy and poetry pieces.

So far, he has had work printed in self-produced anthologies from writing groups but hopes for a story to appear in October in an anthology published by comma press. He is hopeful that people will like the twists and turns of his dark mind. Either that or recommend serious therapists!

4:00 AM

She couldn’t get home.

Even in her worst anxiety dreams, she’d never had to resort to the app. Now, she was shamelessly swiping through the profiles of nearby strangers. She just needed someone who wanted to watch. The day’s final barb was showing her how hard that was to find.

When someone finally came up, she ran in a desperate, phone-guided sprint. Her knees complained. She loved the sharpness of their ache.

 

Both struggled for breath as they clasped sweaty hands. Almost laughing, they turned together to face the impact half a world away, just as the horizon caught fire.

David K. Thurlow

I live with my wife, son, and an assortment of animals in upstate New York. I’ve been a painter for most of my creative career; holding an MFA, with work shown on three continents. In recent years, writing has become my creative focus. My first novel, “Piggyback to the End of the World”, was second runner up for the Del Sol Press Prize for First Novel and is available on Amazon. A second novel is in the works.

https://www.facebook.com/davidkthurlow

https://www.davidkthurlow.com

amazon.com/author/davidkthurlow

https://twitter.com/dkthurlow

 

Beware the Other One

The emptiness behind the eyes told me that the soul was gone. I pulled the trigger without hesitation. His mess added to the horror of the room. It was only by chance that I freed myself from twisted bondage. The real world lay on the other side of this prison. I climbed slowly up the steps and opened the door. There he stood as if I had not just put a hole in his head. Wait, it couldn’t be him. I must be imagining things. The nightmare needed to be over; it just had to! His twin didn’t think so.

Arthur Unk

Arthur Unk lives and works in the United States, but dreams of a tropical, zombie-free island. He hones his drabble skills via the Horror Tree Trembling With Fear (Dead Wrong, Flesh of My Flesh, The Tale of Fear Itself, and others yet to come) and writes micro/flash fiction daily. His influences include H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and life experience. You can follow his work from all around the web via his blog at http://arthurunk.com or read his many, many micro-stories on Twitter @ArthurUnkTweets

 

Cursed Earth

The bulldozer rumbled into the field. The serenity of the place was destroyed in an instant. John, the driver, was there to clear the field of corn and to prepare it for the construction crews. He noticed a scarecrow, propped up against the fence.

“Sorry, bud. Your job is over.”

He started the engine. A shadow fell over the cab. He glanced up and saw the scarecrow staring in at him.

This land is protected

The whisper came from the corn.

The cab door was opened. He was pulled out, screaming. After a few moments, the silence and serenity returned.

RJ Meldrum

R. J. Meldrum is an author and academic.  Born in Scotland, he moved to Ontario, Canada in 2010.  He has had stories published by Sirens Call Publications, Horrified Press, Trembling with Fear, Darkhouse Books, Smoking Pen Press and James Ward Kirk Fiction.  He is an Affiliate Member of the Horror Writers Association.

Facebook profile: https://www.facebook.com/richard.meldrum.79

Website: http://wolfstarpublishing.com/meldrum/

https://twitter.com/RichardJMeldru1

Diamond in the Rough

Scrap is money, his wife had said. You can make a fortune from old cars, discarded junk. Always look for the diamond in the rough.

And he had.

Carefully, he placed the ring on his new girlfriend’s finger. The diamond glittered in the candlelight, drew delighted gasps from Ruby.

“Honey, are you sure you can afford this?” she asked, holding it out in front of her to admire it all the more.

“Sure, darlin’,” he said. “I can turn anything into money.”

Even ashes, he thought, looking at the ring. His former wife truly was a diamond in the rough.

 

Stephanie Ellis

Stephanie Ellis writes dark speculative fiction, finding success in a variety of magazines and anthologies, the latest being Asylum of Shadows as part of Demain Publishing’s Short Sharp Shocks! series and The Way of the Mother in Nosetouch Press, The Fiends in the Furrows anthology.  Her own collection of short stories has been published in The Reckoning and her dark verse has been gathered in Dark is my Playground. She is co-editor and contributor to The Infernal Clock, a fledgling press which has produced three anthologies to-date. She is also co-editor of Trembling With Fear, HorrorTree.com’s online magazine.

She is also an affiliate member of the HWA.

She can be found at https://stephanieellis.org and on twitter at @el_stevie.

The Island Of Broken Telephones

Drawing: Pencil Crayon on Paper.

This image gives off an idea of somewhere far away, a place that’s hidden, secret and guarded. The combination of skulls and telephones are a constant in my work, the ambiguous nature of those objects alone or together provides a lot of room for question, for thoughtfulness. The meaning behind the objects always changes, it’s always in flux, they can be placed equally in a piece that evokes the coming of death or the coming of salvation.

Judson Michael Agla

I’m about 45 years old and spent most of it in Toronto, save for some time in Mexico and Vancouver. Ever since I can remember I’ve been making things. I paint; draw, sculpt, carve, I toyed around with animation a bit and I write horror poetry and short stories for magazines. I’ve also been a chef for about 20 years, so I’ve been a little bit everywhere doing anything I can.

my web-site = judsonmichaelagla.com

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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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