Trembling With Fear 05/02/21
National Poetry Month has been and gone but before poetry disappears from the main stage, remember we will accept dark/spec fic poems in TWF. For contract purposes they are treated exactly the same as the drabble, even if their word count is higher. I do like poetry!
Before we go to the stories, here’s my usual weekly reminder to check out the submission guidelines for TWF. 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 Crosstown Scherzo by F.M. Scott introduced me to a new word, and yes the definition given is not made up, though Finis Egg might be! Vance faces accidents and omens on his way to work. Does he pay attention or just dismiss them. A good build up of tension as the omens stack up the closer he gets to his office.
Curiosity Kills a Marriage by Radar DeBoard has a locked trunk, so far, so typical but the twist is a nice difference.
Man-size in Concrete by R.J. Meldrum brings us creepy sculptures for his monthly offering. You could almost imagine an inventive gang boss being behind this.
The Second Wave by Mike Rader actually reflects horrors which do happen. How many news stories have we heard which tell a similar account.
Enjoy our stories and send in yours!
Tomorrow is the last day of my current course in my MBA program. After this, I’ll have a little over a month off. So, while this would normally give me a pile of extra time added to my plate, I am in the process of moving as well so we’ll see if that gives me any actual time or not. That being said, there has been movement on both the potential site upgrade (with a mini-upgrade happening soon) and the next TWF physical release. More details soon!
Crosstown Scherzo by F.M. Scott
Scherzo A short musical composition, usually part of a sonata, symphony, or other larger work, played at a very fast tempo. The term is loosely translated from the Italian as a “joke”.
– from Finis Egg’s Very Occasional Compendium
A mourning dove lay on its side at the foot of his front steps. Its white-rimmed bead of an eye glimmered in the sun. No vermin, no outward sign of trauma. Vance started back inside, then stopped. Don’t have time now; I’ll deal with it this evening. Pretty sure Lili won’t touch it, anyway.
He got into his car and drove off. He had scarcely turned the corner onto the adjacent street when a small object bounced off his windshield with a sharp thunk! He pulled over, shut off the engine, and bolted from the car. A golf ball? A rock? He shot glances about. He listened for the rustling of bushes, the slamming of doors. Punk-ass giggles. None apparent. He slid back behind the wheel and studied the classic spider web pattern, level and dead-center with his face. He pushed lightly; the glass gave a little. It would be a while before he could get to the auto glass shop, and his stripped-down insurance policy wasn’t going to pay for it. Vance reached for his phone to restart his playlist—nope, fuck it. Music’s no good now, and probably won’t be for a day or two. Part of the game—but it always felt like a defect.
The morning brought the same nagging fear: What if this year they threw a switch, and the immaculate arrangement of last year’s expenses and income meant zero to the officers of the foundation which, for nearly a decade, had sustained a quarter of his organization’s annual funding? At will, the rosy acclaim of chamber music would scatter into nothing.
Bringing the Little Music with the Big Sound! Ah, the other hat—pulling together the hooky language that gave chamber music a 21st Century sparkle. The Kronos, the Miró, big-name quartets. Other -tets and trios, even a couple of splinter ensembles from the Symphony. Julia Kent, with her cello loops and echo and foretelling gaze—the first of the livestreamed Quarantet shows—was also in the books.
Vance resumed his trip, bobbing his head to the left and right of the spider web as needed. It wasn’t likely that a person would drop from the sky directly overhead, to wind up ground meat between the undercarriage and the pavement, but why tempt fate? At the intersection of 21st and Peoria, the light turned red. A weathered-looking woman in a plaid shirt and brown slacks started across at an unnaturally slow speed. Even more unnatural was her stare, which she seemed to train on the face behind the broken windshield. Piercing, in fact. As she passed by, she shook her head as if in grave disapproval of something, her pitted skin a beacon for whatever prompted this gesture. She barely finished mincing across the intersection before the light returned to green.
Just short of the turn onto the hill near downtown, the turn he’d made five (and sometimes six) mornings a week for nearly half a decade, a tree maintenance truck had lost a prodigious load of limbs and logs out of its gate, which hung in tatters. A short, orange-vested man yelled and motioned with an urgency far beyond the needs of the moment. “Back! Baaaack! Go around!” The ensuing about-face led to a six-block detour past dead-end streets in an older neighborhood. On a corner, some kids stood watching a fistfight between a pair of boys in someone’s yard. One of the combatants got a hold of the other, stuck out a leg, and threw his opponent over it.
Vance turned back toward downtown. He glanced about—an automatic adjustment to a route he’d never taken. In Veterans Park, a person staggered across its open field. Ahead, another figure shot across the street and disappeared behind some small buildings.
He finally wove his way back to the building where he coaxed money from people and used it to fill their ears. The parking lot of the Baltimore Tower, inclined and studded with grass-filled cracks and dings, sat empty except for him.
Vance parked and killed his engine. He stared across the lot at a rusted section of chain link fence and the ivy entwined in it. A word brushed by: sums. Sums that showed when they were due attention. The bird. The projectile. The woman crossing the street. The truck that spilled. The kids fighting. And two pedestrians without a care as to their demeanor or safety. (Was the second one trailing a string of something from the face?) These things made a perfect blend of the natural, the accidental, and the deliberate. As they poked around in his brain for validation, Vance decided to kill them, with fire. He needed an internal dialogue on omens like he needed a fucking hole in the head.
He peered toward the building. Had he missed a last-minute email or text from his boss, the Executive Director? He checked his phone: nothing from Janice. Some kind of incident? No, he’d have met with frantic arms and panicked faces amidst a sea of flashing red and blue lights. He got out, locked his car, and headed toward the big glass doors, unaware of the figure standing near the edge of the lot.
He pulled one door open with the usual ease. The lobby sat fully lit. There was no Dean, the skinny and solemn front desk clerk. No Patsy, the bubbly security guard, in her white shirt and navy blue slacks. Vance boarded one of the four elevators and punched 11 as usual.
He arrived and opened the dark suite with his key. He flipped two switches, and the ceiling lit up. Next, he did as instinct informed, despite all logic before him.
The soft drone of idle computers drew him toward the Executive Director’s office. Just as quickly, another sound came from the hallway: an elevator door, with its mechanical pops and nervous squeak. Vance hurried back to the entrance, stopped, and peered into the faint light.
The elevator door closed. Vance turned off the lights and locked the suite. He went to the elevator but stopped short of punching the button. A noxious and powerful odor, like that of a rotting animal carcass overlaid with something sweet, hit him. He covered his mouth and nose as he ran to the stairwell in the corner of the hall.
The steps seemed to disintegrate under his feet as he bolted down them, pulling himself along the rail—each straightaway a gallop, each turn a jerk. On the turn at the second floor, his hand slipped. He bounced off the wall and ragdolled down the sharp steps before coming to a stop on the landing.
Pain poked his ribs and shoulders, and the taste of blood began to fill his mouth from where his teeth had ripped into it. He lay still, waiting for assurance that there would be no more impacts, no empty air where a surface should be. As soon as he propped himself up on one elbow, the door at the bottom of the stairwell opened.
Vance groaned. “Who is it?” He peered down through the bannister. He spat a red plug onto the slick concrete. “Need a little help here. I’ve had a fall.”
The door swung closed.
But things weren’t going in that direction. The figure of a mid-sized man, or at least what remained of one after some vile and painful ordeal, shambled into view. Crusty streaks of dried brownish-yellow fluid covered the front of his shirt and coat. His mouth smacked arrhythmically in the center of an ashen, flabby face. The whites of his distant eyes had turned a muddy hue. With a lack of much effort, he raced up to the landing and stood there, wheezing and chewing.
Vance struggled to his feet. “Jesus fucking Christ!” The stench he’d smelled upstairs had multiplied itself by a number he couldn’t imagine. He tried to shove the intruder down the stairs but instead found himself in a grappling match with something in the throes of shedding humanity. At the instant he summoned a final and painful heave, a warm spray of rancid fluid issued from the mouth opposite him, filling his eyes and face. His opponent toppled backward down the stairs.
Morning nudged into afternoon. The heat of the day gathered and stirred with occasional breezes. Traffic became a battleground of collisions, confrontations, and sporadic gunfire. The phone in Vance’s pocket rang and plinked as Lili ran up a volume of calls and texts to her husband—warnings of a new and varied threat the television reporters couldn’t pinpoint. Panic and revulsion seized her voice.
With each plodding step, Vance’s world lurched and swayed, bringing every note of past, present, and immediate future into a single droned chord.
F.M. Scott is from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he lives and writes. His stories have appeared in Apple in the Dark, The Horror Tree, The Killer Collection Anthology (Nick Botic Horror), Sirius Science Fiction, The Tulsa Voice, and The Rock N’ Roll Horror Zine.
Curiosity Kills a Marriage
Through all my years of love and marriage to my wife, I’ve always wondered what she keeps in the large trunk tucked away in the attic. Decades of curiosity drove me to pilfer the key from her to find out myself.
I can still remember the excitement that filled my every step to the attic and the trembling of my hands as I opened the lid to find my wife’s decomposing body staring up at me. At that moment, there was only one question that raced through my horrified mind. What had I been sleeping next to all these years?
Radar DeBoard is an aspiring writer who just wants others to find enjoyment in his work. Even though he lacks publication and experience, he hopes his work will have an impact. He has a passion for horror and finds it the most interesting genre to write.
Man-size in Concrete
It was the latest hot property in the art world. Human-sized sculptures molded in concrete. Twisted limbs and torsos with contorted faces. One critic suggested they represented the damned in hell, with eternal damnation etched on their stony visages. Some people had nightmares after seeing them, even after just one glimpse.
The truth wasn’t revealed until a clumsy porter, ordered to move a statue a few feet, stumbled and brought it crashing to the floor. The thin shell of concrete broke away, exposing the corpse within. The art world realized, too late, the expressions of agony were all too real.
RJ 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.
The second wave
My cruise liner was in one of those Philippine ports. Noise, heat. Bedlam, no rules.
I spotted her, the Bohol Ferry, resplendent with rust and corruption, about 180 feet long, no more than 50 feet wide. Her main deck overloaded with trucks, cars, too much cargo, forcing her 500 tons almost to water level.
A speeding naval vessel dispatched a bow wave. The old ferry swallowed it. Settling deeper, faster. Only her top deck crowded with passengers, her bridge, and mast remained above water.
Came the second wave. The passenger deck vanished. Just her bridge was visible.
Then was gone.
Mike Rader is a pseudonym used by Australian author and poet James Aitchison. As J J Munro and Mike Rader, Aitchison writes horror and noir crime. As James Lee, he writes Asia’s biggest selling horror series for middle readers — Mr Midnight — which has sold over three million copies. His work can be seen at www.flameoftheforest.com
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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.