Trembling With Fear 05/08/2022
Welcome back to Trembling with Fear, our online flash zine. We publish both new and established writers with many becoming familiar faces and being an ongoing open market, we are always after material. Submissions don’t have to be horror, they can be dark sci-fi or fantasy or some other aspect of the speculative fiction field. Nor are we averse to a touch of noir or a dark thriller. Humour is also welcome!
The house hunting continues, more than a few visited, a few offers made, and more than once beaten to it, not to mention estate agents telling us porkies! I won’t lie, it is proving stressful and I fully intend to stay put for a while when we finally find somewhere before we do what we hope will be our final move. It’s been a touch distracting as far as writing goes but I’ve been soldiering on and my metal inspired found poetry collection, Metallurgy, is nearing completion. The cover is almost done – I’m working on the back of the wrap at the minute – and I’d like to give a shoutout here to Wayne Fenlon who provided a couple of base images for me to work with. I’ve also submitted a few folk horror stories to submission calls promoted on Horror Tree! I hope your writing is going a lot smoother than mine.
The first story in Trembling With Fear this week is The Scream by James Rumpel. This is the sort of story to tell around the campfire when the night is dark and the owl screeching. The ending also gives it that cyclical nature which makes the listener wonder – could it happen again?
One Animal’s Predator by Eric Netterlund adds a lovely bit of atmosphere in the woods, incorporating the senses, not just sight but sound and smell, always gives a story depth.
Quicksand by Christina Nordlander shows us what you would do to survive – and would you lie about it? Exactly how moral or truthful are we?
Under the Bed by Kevin McHugh takes a well-used trope but adds a slight twist at the end to bring the difference.
I hope you enjoyed our stories, now send us yours!
First week out of finals and I’ve been super busy doing… Busy work. Not much fun but things that have been needing to be done. I’ve cleaned up some internal broken links on the site. I also found every (I hope) instance that referenced internal links as HTTP instead of HTTPS. Not fun to report on but well overdo!
We had a couple of hiccups on the next Trembling With Fear release and are doing a quick revision before ordering proof copies. (Which might have been done by the time you read this!)
Also, we heard some REALLY good news. The latest Top 101 Websites for Writers are out in the current Writer’s Digest. Below is the cover and our inclusion!
We’re still working on sorting having a weekly round up on our Horror Tree’s YouTube channel. Please, subscribe to the channel, like the video, and comment on the video if you like it and email any suggestions or thoughts in!
I hope you had a great weekend.
The Scream by James Rumpel
What I saw that night was frightening, unfathomably so. But it was Theresa’s scream that continued to haunt me. Every night her horrified yell interrupted my dreams. I ‘d wake soaking in sweat; shivering and perspiring simultaneously.
I convinced myself that I was innocent. My actions had played a tiny role in what happened to Theresa but it was fate or a much more sinister force that was the true culprit. Unfortunately, my subconscious, the part of me that took over during sleep, wasn’t so certain.
Theresa and I kept our friendship secret. It was nothing more than a plutonic comradery between two immature fifteen-year-olds. But, even in our naïve state, we knew that our town was racist enough that a friendship between a black girl and a white boy would be frowned upon. We met in secret in the outer edges of Barton Woods, talking and playing the way kids younger than us would have. That was the reason for our clandestine relationship. We could act the way we felt and not have to pretend to be ready to step into adulthood.
It was Halloween and Theresa and I had made the decision that we were too old to go trick or treating. We would spend the night doing what the older teens did, scaring little kids.
We’d been subjected to stories about the Soul Snatcher deep in Barton Woods or the one-armed man who lived behind the sawmill waiting for a victim with the correct sized right arm. This year the idea was for us to do the scaring, though I had my own plans.
She showed up at our rendezvous spot wearing a princess dress and tiara. I, of course, teased her about the costume, strategically forgetting to mention the cowboy hat and handkerchief I had hidden behind a pile of wood in case we decided to hit a few houses for candy.
“Adults dress up for Halloween too,” she explained. “There’s that big costume party at the mayor’s house. Maybe, I’m just more of an adult than you.”
“I know a way we can test to see who’s more mature.” I directed the conversation in a direction that worked perfectly for my plan. “I think we should go to the Soul Snatcher house and see who’s braver.”
“Ain’t we gonna scare the little kids.”
“We’ll have time for that later. It won’t be dark for a while. Besides, we’ll be able to tell better scary stories after we check the place out.”
“MaMa says I ain’t supposed to go there.”
“That was when you were a kid. You’re old enough to handle it. It’s not that bad. I’ve been there before.” I tapped my chest, proudly. I was telling the truth. I had been to the place earlier in the day, setting up my prank. “That is unless you’re too scared.”
“Oh, I’m not scared,” she announced, defiantly. “I just don’t like the idea of spending two hours with you.” She tossed her head back and laughed.
We trekked deeper into the woods than ever before. The hike took longer than I expected. Theresa kept complaining about how her dress was going to get torn and taking wide berths around bushes or briers. It was nearly dark when we reached our destination. A few rays from the setting sun filtered through the surrounding trees to cloak the abandoned farm in a gray shroud.
Once, there had been a dirt road into the farm, but it had slowly been reclaimed by the woods. Young saplings and gooseberry bushes speckled the former roadway but the area was open enough for us to see the remnants of the ancient homestead.
A gray, sagging house sat in the middle of three other buildings. Glassless windows were positioned on each side of a crooked front door. By some miracle, the door still protected the house from unwanted visitors. I had discovered earlier in the day that the door would open, though the rusted hinges made a valiant attempt to keep it from doing so.
“Look at that,” I said, pointing toward the remains of a metal mailbox that sat atop a rotted post. The box was riddled with bullet holes from vandals or frustrated hunters but it held together well enough for Theresa to read the name painted on the side in bright red letters.
Theresa gasped. Luckily for me, she didn’t examine it close enough to realize that the paint was fresh. I had created my handiwork early that morning, carefully painting Sal S. Hatcher on the box. I smiled as I admired my work. I had positioned the letters so that one of the bullet holes appeared directly after the first S. I had purposely not closed the top of the a in Sal and had angled the center bar of the H downward.
“If you look close,” said a terrified Theresa, “It says Soul Snatcher.” She shivered and wrapped her arms around her body. I even felt a slight chill.
“No,” I scoffed, “It’s just the farmer’s name. If you’re scared, we can head back. We don’t need to go into the house.”
“I’m not scared,” she said, defiantly.
“Well, then, let’s go.” I had more surprises in store for her inside the house.
I made sure to get in front of her as we walked through the knee-high grass. It was important that I got there first. I had to set the trap that would drop the ghastly figure constructed of twisted tree branches and one of my mom’s white bedsheets. Besides, I wanted to have a perfect view of the horror on Theresa’s face when she tripped the wire.
“I’ll go in first and make sure it’s safe,” I called over my shoulder.
Theresa didn’t answer. She wasn’t following me. Instead, she was briskly walking toward one of the side buildings, a dilapidated shack that looked like it might have been a tool shed.
“Theresa, follow me,” I shouted. I hadn’t set anything up in the shed.
“Do you hear it?” she replied, sounding as if she were in some sort of trance. “He’s calling my name. He wants me to come to him.”
I froze, only for a second, but it was long enough to allow her to reach the shed before I could intercept her. I ran to the door and looked in, but it was too late.
Theresa screamed. I watched her body split in two. She wasn’t cut in half, or physically torn apart like in some slasher movie. This was different; a part of her was pulled from her body. For a fleeting moment, I caught a glimpse of a ghostly apparition being dragged down into the dirt floor. Her physical body fell to the ground, instantly turning to ash and dust. Even her dress and tiara disintegrated. A cloud of fine ash floated in the air, slowly settling. Her scream still echoed in my ears; a single sound, exemplifying horror, pain, and emptiness.
I never told anyone what happened or what I had witnessed. Nobody would have believed me and I knew better than to admit to being involved in the disappearance of a young girl. The investigation was short and not very thorough. The police chief proclaimed that young kids ran away all the time. Despite her mother’s insistence that her daughter would never do anything like that, the chief was certain that Theresa had simply run off to the big city.
Theresa’s mother suffered greatly from the loss, but her suffering was nothing like the agony I went through. It’s been five years but from that fateful night until only recently, I relived the events and heard Theresa’s terrified wail every night.
But now, things have changed. Theresa no longer screams in my dreams; she talks to me. She tells me that she forgives me and that she misses me. She wants me to come to see her at the old farm in Barton Woods. I think seeing her might put an end to the screams. I’m going there now.
Police Chief Russel folded the piece of paper and handed it back to his deputy. “You say, Tom Holland found this?”
“Yup,” replied Earl Lewis. “He doesn’t normally hunt this area but he was trailing a wounded deer and noticed it sticking out of the mailbox. What do you make of it?”
Russel shook his head, “I’m sure it’s some sort of prank. Kids are always trying to scare each other with stories about this place.” He glanced toward the dilapidated house and noticed a path of trampled weeds. “I suppose we should check it out though. It looks like someone has walked through that tall grass recently. That letter could be some sort of suicide note.”
The two men made their way to the homestead.
“I’ll check out the house,” said Russel, “You search the yard.”
The police chief had barely reached the front door when he heard Earl calling.
“I hear someone in the shed.” The deputy was running toward a small building.
“I don’t hear anything.”
The deputy ignored the chief and sprinted to the door and went in. “There’s someone there. She’s calling my name. She wants me to come to her.”
Chief Russel never saw what happened to Earl, but he did hear the scream.
James Rumpel is a retired high school math teacher who has enjoyed spending some of his additional free time trying to put some of the weird ideas circling his brain into words.
One Animal’s Predator
A shadow emerges between the pines, and I ready the rifle in my hands. A man in black strolls forward, no orange in sight. I could have shot this moron. “You shouldn’t be sneaking up on folks out here at this time in the morning. It’s dangerous.”
He continues in silence, flanking me with teeth bared. The stench of wet fur evokes a wolf stalking through the undergrowth drawn by the mewling of abandoned younglings.
“Who are you?”
His jagged face shifts into swirling shadows, and regret fills me like sand.
Something worse than fangs hides behind his crisp sneer.
The sand was a dry flow around me. My brain couldn’t parse it. It wanted to give in, as if there would be another realm of air on the other side. I felt nothing under my feet. I was going to die with the sand packed in my lungs, encrusted on the surface of my eyes.
Flailing, I felt something firm nearby, matter under fabric. I scrambled up. It gave me enough support to keep my head above until the rescue workers came.
If I’d tried to save them, we would both have died.
Later, I said it hadn’t moved.
Under the bed
‘It’s time for bed,’ her mother said.
‘Please don’t turn out the light,’ Alice begged.
‘Your far too old for night lights.
‘No buts! Bed!’
Alice waited in the dark for the thing beneath the bed. With a shudder and a slither, it freed its tangled limbs. She watched its jagged bones and skinless hide lumber across the room.
No longer trapped by the light, the creature opened the door and stepped out. She raced over and flipped the light switch on again. Safe now, and with a tear in her eye, Alice waited for her parent’s screams.
Kevin McHugh is a code-monkey by day and a purveyor of the unpleasant by night. Having had several comics published by Future Quake Press he is now moving into prose. An avid fan of punk rock, cheap horror movies and even cheaper fast-food Kevin can be found pontificating either on Twitter – https://twitter.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, 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 is an active member of the HWA and can be found at https://stephanieellis.org and on Blue Sky as stephellis.bsky.social.