Trembling With Fear 04/11/21
It’s April and I’m still in Southampton, still surrounded by boxes, still waiting for the moving process to speed up. At times like this you need to distract yourself and so in addition to writing, I’ve been playing with graphics for promotional pics for an anthology I’m in which’ll come out in autumn from Brigids Gate Press. Were Tales, A Shapeshifter Anthology, ed. S.D. Vassallo isn’t just werewolves, there’s bears and all sorts, so I’ve been finding (free) photos and developing my skills(!) with a drawing tablet. It’s been a lot of fun. Even better, Steve’s started announcing the TOC which includes the wonderful Jonathan Maberry, so I’m pretty chuffed to appear alongside him.
It’s also National Poetry Month, a great time to challenge yourself whether to write more, or read more – and there are some wonderful dark poets out and about: Alessandro Manzetti, Linda D. Addison, Sara Tantlinger, Stephanie Wytovich, Christina Sng and so many others. I’ve set myself a challenge to write a found poem a day – currently based on the blurbs of books from my collection. A way of sharing poetry and book recommendations! I’ve been posting them over on twitter and Facebook. Found poetry is quite a good exercise as you are already provided with the words.
Before we go to the stories, here’s my usual weekly reminder to check out the submission guidelines for TWF here. Also remember we are currently closed to short stories (unless for one of the Specials) but open to drabbles, unholy trinities and serials.
This week Trembling with Fear starts with The Penitent Line by Aristo Couvaros is a powerful story about hypocrisy as well as love and forgiveness. Original and moving.
A New Beginning by Toshiya Kamei is a wonderful piece of Japanese-flavoured horror. We really enjoy having stories set within the folk lore of other cultures.
English 101 by Patrick Winters offers a different way to getting ahead, if only it was that easy!
The Eyes Have It by G.A. Miller gives us a warning about perhaps not looking too closely, that moment when you try and recall something could be your last.
Enjoy our stories and send in yours!
Between work, my MBA program, writing, Horror Tree, and a big piece of news that landed in my lap this week… I can’t even begin to tell you how crazy things have been.
So, obviously, there hasn’t been too much done on the site above the standard updates. My apologies as I know that we have a TON in the pipeline to start delivering to you soon and I’m chomping at the bit to be able to let you in on everything. Soon my friends, soon! I will say that we had a broken contact form for about a week there, we have a completely new one in place which will be modified slightly over the weeks to come as we allow for more features and customizations on it. While that might not seem like a big deal, the emails coming to us will be a LOT more organized depending on who you’re trying to get to!
In case you missed it last week, once again, please welcome Amanda Headlee for joining the team as our new Specials Editor! She will be handling the submissions of both serialized stories, Unholy Trinities, and our special calls.
The Penitent Line by Aristo Couvaras
All the townsfolk stood in the line.
One behind the other.
Taller heads stood out from those shorter than them and obscured the view of those behind them.
The eyes he could see, the stares he could meet, were all hard; hard and uncaring as stones, fixed and focused as the harsh glare of the sun. These were the eyes of parents who know they must punish their children, they knew it the same way an infant knows the face of their mother. None of the faces were smiling, they were not permitted to show joy or glee, but if one looked closely at the bared teeth and snarling lips, there at the corners of a mouth – yes, some would enjoy this. Some had been waiting for this.
All the townsfolk stood in the line. Except for the Magister and him. He was chained to an old plinth, his hands and feet manacled and their links driven into the stony platform. He could’ve stood, though it was not permitted. So, he knelt in supplication, waiting for the person at the head of the line to approach him.
At the base of the small set of stairs cut into the plinth was the Magister. “Today we are gathered,” the Magister’s voice boomed over the silent mass. “Gathered so that we may affirm our communal commitment to fraternity, to justice, to peace and to love for our neighbors. To consecrate, before one another, the ideals by which we abide. To sacrifice our own humanity so that this one creature, undeserving of our love and care, might be saved.”
The Magister held a tool aloft. “This is the hammer my father used to build the home of my family.” He raised his other hand. “And this is the nail first driven into the wood he crafted so we might have a door to shield and protect us from the evilness of the outside world. I have pried it from its place and bedding and weakened my home so that my sacrifice will hold personal resonance, personal loss. I give these to the Penitent, with regret for having to do so, but with love for him, so that he too may be saved as I have been!”
He kept his head bowed as the Magister took the stairs. His body quaked, his teeth chattered, sweat poured from his brow and mingled with the tears in his eyes.
He stared down at the Magister’s boots. The Magister cried out, “I absolve you, Penitent! With love and forgiveness I give of myself to you, so that you may be made whole at my expense. I ask only that when the time comes for you to do the same for me, you do not baulk as I have not baulked.”
With that, the Magister pressed the point of the nail against the trembling, sweat-slicked skin of his brow and began hammering it into his flesh. He screamed. He bled. True to his words, the Magister did not baulk.
When the Magister stepped down, the man first in line stepped up. “This is the switch with which my father made me into a loving man, with which he hardened me so that the teeth of this dark world would not rend my flesh! Would that I might make the Penitent hard and good too! I give this to the Penitent, with regret for having to do so, but with love for him, so that he too may be saved as I have been!”
The man stood behind him and shouted, “I absolve you, Penitent! With love and forgiveness I give of myself to you, so that you may be made whole at my expense. I ask only that when the time comes for you to do the same for me, you do not baulk as I have not baulked.”
The man whipped the flesh of his back. He felt no love or care in the strikes, only pain and rebuke and disdain. The man dropped the bloody switch before him as he left.
A woman stepped forward next, as the blood beaded and ran down the open sores of his back. “This is the knife which carves the feast day meals for my family, which cuts the flesh of beasts so it may be consumed and nourish my children. I relinquish my possession in hope it might too cut the wickedness from the Penitent. I give this to the Penitent, with regret for having to do so, but with love for him, so that he too may be saved as I have been! I absolve you, Penitent! With love and forgiveness I give of myself to you, so that you may be made whole at my expense. I ask only that when the time comes for you to do the same for me, you do not baulk as I have not baulked.”
She plunged the blade into his thigh and he trembled and screamed. She left it there, deep in his flesh, the handle standing tall like a man observing his crops with pride.
“This is a stone from the riverbed where me and my brother play…” The boy threw it at his head and left it where it landed.
“I give this to the Penitent, with regret for having to do so, but with love for him, so that he too may be saved…” And the newlywed kicked him with the polished boots he’d worn on his wedding day. Taking them off and leaving them on the plinth when he was done.
“I absolve you, Penitent! With love and forgiveness I give of myself to you…” The winemaker broke a bottle over his head, letting the claret drink obscure the blood.
“So that you may be made whole at my expense.” The tanner’s belt buckle ripped into the skin of his chest.
“I ask only that when the time comes for you to do the same…” The knife the young man had been given for his name day was thrust into his other leg.
“For me, you do not baulk as I have not baulked.” The blacksmith held his tongs and pressed the red-hot ingot from the forge against his cheek.
“When my tooth had festered…” His lips were forced open and one tooth pried out, then two, then three.
“That lanced the boil…” The hot needle was driven in.
“Do not baulk as I have not baulked.” The words were repeated again and again. The punishment of his salvation enacted with hateful eagerness. Again and again.
Some had to come and hold him under the arms for those still in line, so that he did not collapse. “These are the hands with which I plant.” Knuckles drove into his nose. “The shoes which protect my horse.” More nails broke his flesh. “The manure which sustains my crops.” He was pelted with hot slop and feces. “The tallow which makes the candles that light our houses from the dark.” Hot wax scalded his flesh and his wounds. “The hatchet with hews the wood that warms my family.” Three of his fingers were cut clean off.
They held his head up by the hair so he might face the next person, though his eyes were swollen and his vision full of blood and wine and spit and sweat and shit. A young girl was standing before him. The hem of her dress and her feet was all he could see. They pulled his head higher, wrenching his neck, so he would face her. He was silent. She held nothing in her hands. No, no, no, no, he thought. No, no, no, no, he tried to say.
“This is the kiss my father gives me when I am afraid.” She kissed him on the forehead. She held him tight. He baulked. He wept. His daughter. He had told her to do as the others. She had said she would, she had promised. Over her shoulder he saw his wife next in line. Her hands were over her mouth and she wept too. The man was broken now. They let him fall and he cried out.
If she did not punish him, she would be in his place next.
His daughter looked to the Magister, to the crowd, to those still waiting in line and said, “I ask only that when the time comes for you to head the Penitent Line you do not baulk as I have not baulked!”
A New Beginning
A kimonoed maiden trembles. She staggers and lurches as the white-robed priest drags her along. The blindfold smears her tears across rosy cheeks. She gags. Still, only young flesh will do. A distant bell announces the beginning of the ceremony. However cruel, the millennial tradition must go on. The priest coughs, touches his black eboshi hat nervously, and walks toward the somber altar. Yofune-nushi emerges from the penumbra, thirsty for fresh blood. Tokoyo sheds her disguise as a helpless damsel and unsheathes her tantō. Her blade flickers in the gloom as she speeds toward the monster-god. To end all this.
Toshiya Kamei is a fiction writer whose short stories have appeared in Bending Genres, New World Writing, and Utopia Science Fiction, among others.
“How do you get such good grades?” Davey asked Jake as they reached their lockers. “You never study.”
Jake laughed as he hefted his History textbook into his backpack. “Just that damn good, I guess.”
Davey shrugged the matter off, and from over his shoulder, Jake caught sight of Mr. Davenport walking down the hall, towards them. It was just the reminder Jake needed.
Davenport taught English 101, and Jake would need to break into his house and take a bite out of his neck before next Wednesday’s test.
Learning everything your prey knew—a perk of being a vampire.
Patrick Winters is a graduate of Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL, where he earned a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. His work has now been featured throughout several magazines and anthologies. A full list of his previous publications may be found at his author’s site, if you are so inclined to know: http://wintersauthor.azurewebsites.net/Publications/List
The Eyes Have It
As I walked down the dark street, I noticed a man standing by the curb up ahead. There was something familiar about him, but I couldn’t place it until I got closer.
The long, dark hair, the goatee. Ah, that’s it! George Harrison in his post Beatle, Bangladesh concert days.
As I came upon him, he turned to face me, and I was able to see his eyes clearly. They weren’t George’s eyes at all. When he slammed the cold blade into my chest with an expression of maniacal glee, I finally got it.
Rasputin. That’s who he looked like.
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Stephanie Ellis writes dark speculative prose and poetry and has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her longer work includes the folk horror novels, The Five Turns of the Wheel and Reborn, and the novellas, Bottled and Paused. Her novel, The Woodcutter, is due for release via Brigids Gate Press in 2023. Her dark poetry has been published in her collections Lilith Rising (co-authored with Shane Douglas Keene), Foundlings (co-authored with Cindy O’Quinn) and Metallurgy, as well as the HWA Poetry Showcase Volumes VI, VII, VIII, and IX and Black Spot Books Under Her Skin. She can be found supporting indie authors at HorrorTree.com via the weekly Indie Bookshelf Releases. She is an active member of the HWA and can be found at https://stephanieellis.org, on Twitter at @el_stevie, Instagram stephanieellis7963 and also somewhere on Facebook.