Trembling With Fear 04/26/20
This bit is going to stay here for every week until the pandemic is over. Thank you to everyone in the health services across the world, to everyone who is keeping us going from delivery drivers, to checkout operators, from armed forces to public services. When this is all over, I hope those who used to look down on so many of these, many occupying some of the lowest pay brackets, reassess and give them their due. Keyworkers should be valued and whilst songs and claps might be nice, let’s see something more tangible for them further down the line. Thank you again from everyone at TWF.
Want to hear/see some of your favourite authors and reviewers? I went along to Corona Con hosted by Kelli Owen on Youtube last Saturday, and listened in to a number of panels and readings. It’s all available to watch here and there are links to Scares that Care (the charity it supports) as well as to the various participants. You’ll be able to find out more about Scares that Care at the start of the schedule. Highlights for me, and many others, were listening to a couple of amazing readings, one from Aaron Dries from down under and the other from Jonathan Janz. Be warned, you will need pen and paper to make a note of many recommended books.
Being in the UK, I was actually quite pleased the timings were such I could watch it live. The same could not be said for the Stokers however, at 2am that is a bit too late for me. I would like to congratulate all winners and finalists, especially Owl Goingback for his novel Coyote Rage (he has become one of my new favourite authors) and Alessandro Manzetti and Linda D. Addison for their poetry collaboration The Place of Broken Things. I’ve read both books and they are wonderful.
The first story this week in Trembling With Fear is I Know by Keith Soares is one those slightly longer than usual stories we allow through when they grab us. A wonderfully paced and haunting story from a child’s point of view and some carefully placed dark phrases gives this an extra chill.
Cuticles by Tim Burkhardt gives us one aspect beloved of horror writers, the cringe factor. And it’s feet, ugh!
Running by Janine Pipe is a paced story reflecting the activity of the title. Structure is an important, but often overlooked part of delivering a tale.
She’s Just Saying by Hillary Lyon certainly offers romance with a makeup kiss with a difference.
I had a regularly scheduled doctor’s visit this last week. It was the first time I was out of the house in 2 weeks outside of bike rides with my boys or walking the dog. It was the first time I’ve been around other people. (My wife’s mother is going through chemo so we’re their source of food so are trying to not go out at all.) I never thought I would feel completely uncomfortable leaving the house and going somewhere.
So that was very odd. I can’t wait for the follow up I need to schedule in the next week or so.
As to this week’s stories, I found it extremely difficult to find a header image Keith Soares’ short story. It was a very ghostly read and hard to really find something I felt would fit until I stumbled across what ended up as the featured image. I hope you agree it ended up as working for it.
All 3 drabble? Awesome!
I Know by Keith Soares
Something woke Darcy the night her neighbor died, the kind old man next door, Mr. Bowman, who lived with an ageless black cat, Cooper. Darcy once fell on the sidewalk in front of his house, skinning both knees until lines of bright red seeped through tears in the previously pristine pinkness of her flesh. It was the first time she felt the pain – the inability to see, focus, or think – that she called her “migrates,” even though her mother always corrected her. Mr. Bowman had been the one there that first time, to pick her up.
Grimacing, she could barely speak. Her knees were forgotten, overshadowed by the pain in her head. “Owww, it hurts so baaaad!” she hissed, unable to raise her voice.
“I know, Darcy,” Mr. Bowman said with a little smile, letting her lean into him for support as he guided her back home, telling her a story.
Mr. Bowman knocked on Darcy’s front door, and when her mom finally answered, Darcy was hurried inside. “Thank you, Albert,” Darcy’s mom said. Mr. Bowman just nodded, and turned for home.
But Darcy was asleep.
Her dream was bright, almost blindingly so, filled with happy noises and color. She was surrounded by her best friends – Irene, Holly, Gwenie, Faye, and Evie – as her mom appeared, carrying a giant cake. To one side, her father leaned over the circle of girls to take a picture, not really looking at her or the cake or her friends, but transfixed by the glowing screen. His lips pulled back from shining white teeth, and for a brief moment, she thought of those big toothy leg traps from cartoons, the ones hapless bears or rascally rabbits got caught in. The camera flash burst with light. She blinked, the light triggering a sharp pain in the back of her head. Go away, Daddy, you’re hurting me!
But the cake… Darcy’s eyes tried to take in the entire chocolatey deliciousness of it. On its surface were seven candles, arranged in a sort of spiral, coiling in toward the middle where her name was written in delicate pink cursive. Three-dimensional flowers punctuated the top and sides like fireworks of sugar. Still, the best thing of all sat directly in the center: the happy but nearly featureless face of a white cat. Dots for eyes and dashes for whiskers, little triangles for ears. Somehow those were enough to send her giggling.
Just to the side of the cat’s adorable face, there was an imperfection in the otherwise smooth icing, a strange collection of bumps and valleys that, in the too-bright light, looked a bit like a face, or a skull.
Her father inhaled and began to sing, dragging the others along by force of will and habit. “Haaaaappy biiirthday tooo yooouuuu…”
Something touched Darcy’s leg under the table.
The others chimed in, leaning closer until Darcy’s world was cake and singing faces. Beyond their circle was only bright white.
Something touched Darcy’s leg again. Something she couldn’t see under the flowing edge of the polka-dotted tablecloth. She wanted to ignore it, but it touched her a third time.
She heard mewling. Darcy swiped at the tablecloth, pushing it away from her, yet somehow the singing continued as if nothing had changed.
The space below the table was so dark, the contrast making it hard for her to see clearly. Two small circles appeared, and there was a flash of white as a tiny voice spoke. “I know, Darcy.”
A black cat sat beside her leg, and she would swear it was smiling at her. Its voice was strange, the blend of a kitten’s purr with an old man’s rasp.
Something woke Darcy.
The tablecloth fell around her, a dark pool in the blue-blackness of night.
She wasn’t sitting at a table.
Or having a birthday.
She was alone, at night, in her dark room, sitting up in bed with the covers pushed down.
Darcy never woke in the middle of the night. Her room, normally a place of playtime, a home for her doll friends, a comfort, was silent, still, and dark.
The space seemed bigger, emptier, full of secrets. A strange, sweet odor tickled at her nose, but she ignored it.
Because something moved by the door.
Darcy turned toward the movement. Straining so that one blob of darkness might make sense amid the rest, her head immediately began to hurt. She was all too familiar with the feeling, the pain that started at the base of her skull, then crept upward until thinking was impossible. Nothing was possible except sleep.
No. How could she sleep? Something moved by the door.
Involuntarily, she sucked in a great gasp of air. The sound seemed too loud in the cavernous, dark room. She couldn’t be sure, but she thought a patch of the wall by the door had darkened. She felt more than saw a shadow there, something hovering low by the floorboards.
Darcy couldn’t move. The pain in her head was spreading. She wanted to shout for her parents, wake them, but her voice wouldn’t obey. She inhaled another sharp breath through her nose, then another, too scared to think about the weird smell that seemed to be getting stronger.
The spot by the door grew darker still, until it seemed all the light of the world had been removed from that one spot. Then she saw two small circles blink to life.
There was a black cat sitting in her doorway, with its two eyes gently glowing, picking up the tiniest glimmers of available light and reflecting them toward her. It stayed still, as if watching her.
We don’t have a cat.
Involuntarily, the story came into Darcy’s mind. The story Mr. Bowman told me. That day. He spoke the words as he tried to calm her, take her home after her fall. “Have you ever heard the story of The King of the Cats, Darcy?” he asked. She couldn’t respond, not the way she felt, not even to nod or shake her head. “Well, once there was a gravedigger who came rushing home to his wife and their cat, Old Tom. The man told them the strangest tale. He said he’d been digging a grave when suddenly appeared nine black cats carrying a small coffin, and on that coffin was the mark of a crown. The gravedigger stared in disbelief as the cats approached. Finally, the cat in front turned to the gravedigger and spoke. Tell Tom Tildrum that Tim Toldrum is dead, it said.
Someone’s cat is dead? Why did he tell me that? It scared me, Darcy remembered. As they waited for her mother to answer the door, Mr. Bowman finished the story. “Well, the gravedigger’s wife didn’t know to say, but the cat, Old Tom, jumped up with a gleam in his eye. What? Old Tim is dead? Then I’m the King of the Cats! And Old Tom rushed up the chimney, never to be seen again!” Then Mr. Bowman smiled, an old man’s smile, full of creases and wrinkles.
Darcy didn’t think his eyes were smiling.
She believed, from that day, that each time someone died, a cat would carry the news.
Is this cat here with news? Did someone die? She shuddered. Or is someone about to? Wait! Is that Cooper? Mr. Bowman’s cat, Cooper, was a standoffish thing, always flicking his tail back and forth. He still had claws, unlike others in the neighborhood, so Darcy’s parents told her to stay away. Cooper had a spot of white on his chest. She started to step out of bed, trying to get close enough to see if there was a spot, to see if it was Cooper.
The black shape at the door with the two light eyes suddenly stood, arched its back, and hissed at her. Darcy gasped, falling back into bed and pulling the covers up over her head for protection. Surely her parents had heard and would come. How long would it take her daddy to arrive? She imagined the path he would take, running from his door, a right at the top of the stairs, then another right, a third into her door, at the end of the hallway. Imagining made her head hurt more.
Slowly, she peered past her clenched fists, but the cat – Cooper, if it was Cooper – was gone.
The pain stabbed deeper in her head, and she knew that if she didn’t act, she’d be unable to move. Throwing aside her covers, Darcy leapt down from the bed and ran, not toward the unknown dangers of the doorway, but toward a second door: her armoire.
As quietly as possible, she pulled the louvered door open, stepped in, and closed it again.
Inside, the space was small and tight, hanging clothes and wooden sides bumping against her, the antithesis of the wide open room. The horizontal slats of the door let in just enough muddy greyness that she thought she could see the doorway, tell that the cat was gone.
Sometimes she hid in the armoire for fun. And sometimes she used it to close out the world, to try to make the migrates go away. It had worked, once or twice, and once or twice was better than never at all. Plus, she felt safer there, closed inside.
Darcy crouched in the small space, her breath coming in uncontrolled shivers. Beside her in the darkness sat her ladybug boots, things that usually shone in red and white and joy and home and peace. In the fuzzy dimness of the armoire, they were giant insects, waiting coldly for her to look away.
Where are you, Daddy? I’m scared.
Even tucked inside the armoire, she smelled the strange odor, but she didn’t care. The pain now filled most of her head and little sparkles of light swam in her vision. She pressed her eyes into the open space between slats, looking for the cat, and sucked in another breath.
I’m so scared.
Close behind her, just over her ear, the purring, raspy voice from her dream spoke again.
“I know, Darcy.”
Something touched the back of her neck and she screamed, bursting out of the armoire, running for the door. In the hall, she nearly careened into the bannister as she raced toward her parents’ room. Then Darcy froze. There were lights. Strange lights. Red and blue, flashing, making weird alternating shadows on the walls, shapes of black that looked almost like a cat. Just a blob for the body, another for the head, and two things poking up like ears. Maybe there is no cat, she thought.
Confused and in a fog of pain, Darcy went to the window. The lights made her eyes water, they were so bright. She held one hand in front of her, shielding her eyes. It’s a police car. And an ambalenz. Her mother always corrected her about that word, too. Beside the vehicles, Darcy saw one of those rolling beds they used for sick people. Or dead people. It was covered in a white sheet and all lumpy in a way that told her someone was underneath the sheet.
One of the police officers spoke, loud enough for her to hear even upstairs in the house. “What was it? Just his time?”
“Nope – gas leak,” said another man as he rolled the body toward the flashing lights. “Seeped into the house while he slept. Never had a chance.”
The officer shook his head slowly. “We better check the other houses. It’s too quiet around here. Usually we draw a crowd.”
Darcy blinked, the red and blue lights dazzling her eyes. Somehow the pain in her head stopped – not a gradual decrease like usual, but a sudden change like the flicking of a switch. “While he slept?” she said to no one. Just then a black cat jumped onto the window sill in front of her, hissing and startling her. In the flashing lights, she could see the white patch on its chest. It is Cooper. “You’re here to tell me Mr. Bowman’s dead?” She staggered backward, trying to make sense of everything, and a hand stopped her, firmly pressing on her shoulder. Sucking in a breath, Darcy spun around. The old man, Mr. Bowman, was there, smiling like he had on the day he told her that story. “You – you’re dead,” she said, feeling as if her body stopped moving but her head wouldn’t stop spinning.
“I know, Darcy,” Mr. Bowman said in a mewling, raspy voice like footsteps on a wet gravel path. “Soon, you’ll know, too,” he added, still smiling.
The smile didn’t seem to touch his eyes.
Keith Soares is a self-published SFF author best known for his post-apocalyptic series, The Oasis of Filth (a top 100 Amazon bestseller), and his YA superhero series, John Black (with multiple #1 bestseller rankings on Amazon genre lists). He is a member of SWFA and his previous short story, “Pale Remnant,” was published in Outposts of Beyond.
It’s Andy’s fifth pedicure this month—his cuticles won’t stop growing. Bags sag under his eyes; his lids are long and drooping.
The technician fills Andy’s footbath. His feet flake into the water. She grabs the 80-grit file off her workstation to sand his corns and calluses, but they keep growing.
Fresh flesh metastasizes from his neck and arms. Bony stubs grow on his wrists and ankles. Extra ribs appear. A goiter hardens and enlarges. Now four fully-formed feet and twenty toes all need pedicures.
The goiter grows a face and says: “Don’t mind me, I’m just passing through.”
Tim Burkhardt is a freelance journalist and fiction writer from Western North Carolina. His fiction has appeared in Riddled With Arrows online literary journal. He lives outside of Asheville, NC with his two teenage sons and a cat named Keats.
No time to slow, stop, look behind.
Daylight fading. She HAD to get to the woods before darkness fell.
Her lungs hurt so bad.
But she had to –
What was that?
In front of her was the path leading to the woods.
But blocking the way, a hole in the ground, like a tunnel.
Only when she stepped closer, did she see what was surrounding it.
Shoes. Many pairs of shoes.
Where are the owners?
Her last thought.
As she was dragged into the pit with such force, she was pulled straight out of her sneakers …
Janine has loved to write spooky stories and tales with a twist since she was at school. She is a huge fan of Stephen KING, first devouring Salem’s Lot at the tender age of just 9. Her work is heavily influenced by this. She also loves C J TUDOR and credits fellow Swindon horror writer Graeme REYNOLDS as an unofficial mentor. You can find her work on Ghost Stories the Podcast, Graveyard Tales and Tales to Terrify. She shares some of her original shorts and flash fiction on her blog, https://janinesghoststories.wordpress.com/, where she also reviews and interviews authors of horror.
She’s Just Sayin’
It was a bad argument—so bad that he stopped the car and left her beside the road. It took her three hours to walk back to town; should have been one hour, but she ran into a hungry, hollow-eyed hitch-hiker along the way, one who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer to his insistent, groaning advances.
Reaching her boyfriend’s house, she scratched at his front door. With a venomous scowl, he threw it open. “What have you got to say for yourself? Sorry? Or just—” With an inhuman howl, she lunged for him, giving him a kiss he’ll remember. Forever.
Hillary Lyon is founder and senior editor for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. Her stories have appeared lately in 365tomorrows, Black Petals, Yellow Mama, Strange Girls: Women in Horror anthology, and Monsters in Spaaaace! anthology. She’s also an illustrator for horror & pulp fiction magazines. Having lived in France, Brazil, Canada, and several states in the US, she now resides in southern Arizona.
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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, Reborn, and The Woodcutter, and the novellas, Bottled and Paused (all via Brigids Gate Press). 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 can be found at https://stephanieellis.org and on Blue Sky as stephellis.bsky.social.