Trembling With Fear 05/31/20
This bit is going to stay here until the pandemic is over. Thank you to all keyworkers who continue to keep us going during the pandemic. As the UK and Europe moves out of lockdown, I hope the situation in the US is improving. I really hope that eventually we can get some sort of normal going around the world.
On the home front, I’m on half-term and managed at last to shorten my writing To Do list. I’ve just finished the draft of my novel, The Woodcutter and sent it off to its first beta reader. That particular book has taken over almost 2 years to write as it’s stopped and started due to a combination of work pressures and suddenly deciding to write another novel at the same time. The only reason I did the latter was because I couldn’t shake an idea which suddenly came to me and which I needed to get out of my system before I got back to my poor old Woodcutter. I will try not to do that again. How do you all cope with this sort of thing? Are you strict with yourself and finish what you’re on, do you change tack, or do you do both simultaneously?
One common link between these two novels is they were both born from NaNoWriMo. That is the month I use to get something new off the ground. Makes me wonder what’ll happen this year.
Publishing news this week includes congratulating an old writing friend of mine, Christopher Stanley, whose collection of flash fiction published via The Arcanist, The Lamppost Huggers and Other Wretched Tales, is out June 1st . I had a sneak peak prior to publication and can really recommend it. I’ve always enjoyed Chris’s flash fiction and if you want an example of a master, he is it. He has been so supportive of many other writers, it’s lovely to be able to return the favour here.
Likewise TWF contributor, Mark Anthony Smith, who appears to be everywhere at the minute. His collection of fiction and verse, Something Said: Fictions and Verse is currently available and Red Cape Publishing’s anthology containing one of his stories, C is for Cannibals (A to Z of Horror Book 3) is available for pre-order.
It is also great to celebrate the work of other staff members of Horror Tree, particularly one whose work I have enjoyed in the past. Ruschelle Dillon’s novella, The Stain, published by Black Bed Sheet Books, is now available. Having read Arithmophobia, which I highly rate, I can’t wait to get stuck into this one.
And last but not least, look out soon for the charity horror anthology, Diabolica Britannica organised by Keith Anthony Baird which includes stories by TWF writers Alyson Faye, Janine Pipe and me as well as a number of other writers. There are two very famous horror authors in this line up but I am not at liberty to say who they are yet. This book is to raise money (in response to the coronavirus) for the wonderful National Health Service (NHS) over here in the UK.
This week’s Trembling With Fear starts with The Whispering Queen by Erick Mancilla and brings us the horror not just of the Devil on your shoulder but the impact an addiction can have on the family. To risk your family and its future, particularly the future of a child, can seem incomprehensible but is sadly a reality for many who fall into this trap. For me, it was the Henry’s weakness at a time when he was most needed which grabbed me. When you pose a situation asks the reader a question, in this instance, ‘How could he?’, you know you’ve got them and they’ll read through.
Awake by Janine Pipe is a premature burial with a twist. The missing teeth, and the reason, gives the trope a refreshing change.
Outback Carnage by Mark Anthony Smith makes the characters small and vulnerable against an expanse of wilderness. This is a question of survival.
Shadows in a Dark Room on a Rainy Night by D.J. Kozlowski is just creepy. Not by what’s there, but what’s not.
We’ve got some great stories this week and I think you’re going to appreciate your weekly dose of fiction!
Also, I have some good news! We’ve made some progress on the anthologies and it looks like we might be down to TOC’s and formatting for the most part. We’ll be working to try to make real progress in those areas in the next week. (Finally, an update that we’ve moved forward on these again!)
While we’re still a couple of months out on drabble, we’re always open to more and would love to see any come through possible.
While not directly TWF related, I would like to mention that we’re currently actively seeking:
– Guest posts for Horror Tree
– Write-ups on Horror Tree on your website (with what we do, fun facts about the site, etc.)
– Opportunities for the staff of Horror Tree to be interviewed.
If any of these are something you’d like to help out on, please be sure to contact us at [email protected] or by using our contact form.
Have a great last day of the weekend all!
The Whispering Queen
Her sighs of relief become incessant screams for mercy. The doctor and nurses speak in a language I half understand as they tend to Susie. There’s been complications with the birth. They cannot stop the bleeding. God, I can see the baby drenched in all that gore and afterbirth. The blood splashing on the floor only adds to the appearance of a murder in progress. Why the hell are hospital gowns made of light colors?
If I could take it back I would, but this can’t be undone now.
Getting here was the worst experience ever. I mapped out the best route, but at certain times of the day big city traffic can be a prison sentence. She complained we weren’t moving fast enough on the ride here. So even though I’m not really a risk taker, I ran many red lights. But it wasn’t good enough.
Please make it through, Susie. I don’t want to think what’ll happen to the baby if she doesn’t walk out of here.
I see her standing at the window during the morning sickness phase that seemed to have no end, wearing those pink moo-moos. The weight she gained, looking like she stuffed a pillow under her gown, singing those commercial tunes she loved so much. That she loves so much. “Oh my God, babe. The song for that toilet cleaner is the best thing ever.” She’d find that cheerful disposition no matter what. For some weird reason that’s what I think back to.
Her screaming is like an out of control siren. Overwhelmed by it all, in my best lapsed Catholic hypocrite move, I clutch at the cross around my neck. I’m standing close to the swinging doors. The doctor spots me like a deer caught in the headlights, gives the nod, and I slip out. I’m not a bad guy, but this is too much for me.
The waiting room’s dimensions are colored in muted whites. The calming effect must work ‘cause all the other people sit peacefully, as if nothing horrible ever happens in those rooms. So, why do I feel like it’s the end of the world?
The funny thing about pregnancies is people tend to talk about the good side of it as though that’s all there is. But what about the daily life of discomfort? I offered to buy Susie painkillers but she declined.
In my periphery, a dark and tall figure approaches like a stalking shadow.
“How’s it going, old man? How’s Susie? How’s the thing going?” Daniel says obtusely.
“If by the thing, you mean the pregnancy? Not good at all.” I spit out.
“Right, er, sorry, man. I suck at this… Look, the doctors here are great. I mean, Hemingway is considered one of the best hospitals in the country.”
“You don’t have to convince me.”
“Fine, but it’s not all hopeless. She’s going to be fine. The baby too. Right?” He looks at me with a smiling conviction of someone who knows the sun will come out tomorrow. It’s not like he has anything to lose. Everything is so easy to someone who has never had any earthly obligations. That’s been Daniel’s whole life. I admit, I envy him.
“Henry?” The doctor calls out.
“Yeah.” I mumble.
“Can I speak with you for a moment?” She motions away from Daniel.
“No. It’s, um, just… ” He places his hand on my shoulder. I can’t hide my sudden perspiration running down my forehead and filling my palms. “Say what you have to say.”
“Very well. The baby is doing well. Better than expected under the circumstances… And Susie is stable. We’ve done all we can for her now, it’s a matter of waiting to see if the bleeding has stopped. There’s also a matter of —-” I don’t really hear much else after that. Daniel steps in to listen and ask questions. I space out.
“Hey. We have to talk.” Daniel snaps his fingers.
I come out of whatever oblivion my mind had gone to. He beckons me with his index finger. Outside the hospital the cold slaps me out of my stupor.
“Well what…” At this moment I can’t tell if I’m more sickened by his voice or the gambling, my weakness.
“The bet? If she made it, I walk away never to be seen again. But, if she doesn’t make it, I win. I get to keep your baby. And it doesn’t look like she’ll make it. That’s the doctor’s prognosis.”
“Actually, I’m taking a mulligan. There’s rules. Even for you.” I was drunk when I made the bet and he knows that.
“Okay… Let’s make it interesting?” Daniel acquiesces.
“The Whispering Queen.”
“I know how that card trick works. You think I’m stupid?”
“Heh, excuse me? Miss?”
“Yes?” A woman with blonde hair and no makeup replies.
“This may sound weird but could you help with a card trick? I want to show my friend I can do it. Won’t take but a minute.”
The Whispering Queen is the oldest card trick. The magician shuffles the deck and asks the mark to choose a queen – of any kind – the magician sets aside that queen. The queen “whispers” the results to the magician, for show. During this time the cards are laid out so that the first card is visible to the magician, who then lays the entire deck face down with the first card at the top. The mark is asked to cut the deck into three smaller stacks. She is asked to choose her card from the deck, but in reality, the magician has forced her to choose his card. The force card is always set atop no matter how many times the deck is cut. It’s foolproof. The magician can’t lose.
Daniel’s uncanny ability for razzle-dazzle showmanship sucks her right in with an artistry of a painter creating a masterpiece. Dear God, I’m going to lose my son. Forever. I don’t see a way out this time. She’s about to pick his card. My blood is pumping, my ears are burning. The queen of spades conspires with Daniel in whispers. Think fast. I snort hard and scratch my nose. Her concentration breaks, looks up at me, I shoot her a guilty smile and turn away, letting her know this whole thing is a shady scam.
“I have to go.” She says in an about-face.
“What? No. It’s okay. Just choose a card. Any card.” Daniel pleads.
“You should be ashamed. Doing this at a hospital. Lowlives.”
“You cheated.” Daniel hisses.
“Now, we’re even.” I sneer. At the same time, I’m spent, how I’ve gambled too much, not just of myself but of those I love. How did it come to this? “I’m going back up.”
She’s pale, almost to the point of looking like the undead. Her eyes half acknowledge my presence, inadvertently, the look stabs at my beating heart like a guilty verdict given to a murderer.
“Show him how to be a good boy. Teach him to enjoy music. Maybe… Maybe, he might pick up an instrument. I was good at the piano, but I can’t… Why did I give it up?” How she struggles her best to recall things.
“You should give him a name, Suzz.” Hot, stinging tears roll down my face.
“No. I — I can’t think… I’m scared of — eternity… The laundry.” She holds my hand with a light grip as she falls into a deep sleep and never wakes up. I’m numb as I sign papers, yet somehow manage to name my son.
“You think you won, but it’s a temporary victory.” Daniel smiles. “See, I got something you don’t.”
“Oh, yeah? What’s that?” I smile back.
“Time.” He’s right. Some of the things he’s shown me prove he’s not lying, but despite knowing what Daniel truly is I don’t show fear. Come to think of it, I realize that us meeting wasn’t by chance. Ever since I met him at the D.M.V. – of all places – I knew there was something different about this… guy. No, that’s not accurate. This being, claims to come from 1700 BC. A part of the Indus Valley Civilization, he plays these games to stay one step ahead of whatever it was that took his people’s lives.
On the drive home, rays of sunshine are like a sauna steam that warms me. Micheal is cooing in the backseat as he holds onto Daniel’s finger. I feel better, even though my son didn’t ask for this.
Most degenerates practically give away their tell, not me. I don’t show how much he truly scares me. The truth is fear keeps me one step ahead of him. It’s like time is always running out, yet some twisted part of me feels alive playing against him. Still, if Daniel does take Micheal’s life, I’m next. So, there’s no choice. I have to ensure that my luck won’t ever run out. By whatever means necessary.
Erick Mancilla is the author of horror and dark fantasy. Erick’s work includes An Underground Train to Mars for the print anthology 200 CCs: Year One and Epizootic for The Molotov Cocktail ezine. He enjoys watching films and documentaries on all subjects, listening to underground/unpopular music, binge-watching shows only at night and reading genre fiction and non-fiction on various subjects, yet with all that knowledge he has not been able to figure out how to line up even one color of the Rubic’s Cube. He lives in Los Angeles, California. Erick can be found lurking on Twitter @DeapGreanDream
“What? Where am I?”.
She jolted awake, bumping her head on, something.
Total darkness. Enclosed. No room to move.
“Can’t breathe, must. Get. Out.”.
Panic set in.
Memories, flooding back in waves.
Being taken against her will.
Trying to fight back, but …
Horrific pain, in her, mouth?
She put her hand to her jaw and realised why. They had extracted her teeth.
Realization. She was trapped. Buried. Inside a coffin.
When they caught her, they hadn’t bothered to stake her.
No, this vampire was now doomed to spend eternity, buried, where no one would ever find her.
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.
“That’s a dingo. It’s dingoes fighting. Ron? Don’t go out there.” But Ron is gone. I peer out of our tent. I try to be quiet. Noises travel further at night. The wild dogs are whimpering. I can’t see him. I pull up my hood and tread gently. I curse at the clatter of our camping stove as it’s knocked over. It’s quiet, apart from the yelps from the reds and yellow-brown matted furs. I can’t see his shape in the night.
Then my breast pounds. I can’t swallow. The darkness is taller than Eucalyptus. It descends on our camp.
Mark Anthony Smith
Shadows in a Dark Room on a Rainy Night
The rain knocks on the windows and my wife heads up to the bedroom. A few minutes later, I follow her.
In the dark room, I see her shape sitting on the bed, hunched over the baby monitor. The thunder has startled the baby; he needs comforting to fall asleep again.
I quietly walk to the bathroom, where yellow light peeks out from beneath a closed door.
“Is there a reason this light is on?” I ask without looking up.
“Maybe because I’m in here?” comes my wife’s snarky response, muffled by the door.
Behind me, the bed is empty.
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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.