I’ve had a few potential editors reach out to me this last week – Thanks! (I apologize for slow responses. The day job is a bit insane right now.) A couple are interested, one has pitched ideas, things are looking interesting. I’ll hopefully have more updates for you in the near future as to what direction this might take these shorts!

‘Trembling With Fear’ Is Horror Tree’s weekly inclusion of shorts and drabbles submitted for your entertainment by our readers! As long as the submissions are coming in, we’ll be posting every Sunday for your enjoyment.

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

Altarstone

By: Robert Allen Lupton

The Yucatan is riddled with cenotes, sinkholes in the limestone making up most of the karst landscape. Many are partially filled with water, but some are dry. The Mayans used them for many things, some good and some bad.

I didn’t know how many there were until my junior year. That summer, I joined a university sponsored mapping expedition. My motive wasn’t anything as noble as archeology, geology, or Mayan history. If Martina Crestada was going, so was I. We’d taken three semesters of Mayan culture and four language classes together.

The area is covered with rainforests and riddled with underground rivers. Wildlife is abundant, ocelots, jaguars, and wolves thrive on the armadillos, squirrels, rabbits, and peccaries.

I mentioned jaguars for a reason. We took a break after rigging an A-frame sling on the edge of an overgrown cenote. The pit appeared dry and there was a large flat stone in the center. There were carvings on the stone. Martina looked through her binoculars while I played the flashlight beam over the multicolored stone and she said, “Red veins. Could be iron oxide, or maybe blood. How exciting, Philip, do you think they’re bloodstains? Is it an altar stone?”

A workman screamed before I answered. “B’alam! B’alam!’ he shouted. B’alam is Mayan for jaguar. I turned and saw a jaguar slink closer to Martina and me. We were pinned against the pit’s edge. I wasn’t armed, I had a flashlight, a pocket knife, and a pith helmet, like an explorer in a Tarzan movie.

I threw my helmet like a Frisbee and hit the jaguar in the shoulder. It shrieked and charged. I pushed Martina to the side and unconsciously stepped backwards from the leaping cat. I fell into the cenote and the jaguar flew over my head and fell with me. We screamed all the way down.

I woke up on a pile of decayed leaves that the wind had deposited in the pit. My left arm was broken and I hurt all over. Martina called my name and I assured her I was alive.

“We’ll be down for you as soon as we can. I’ve sent for a stretcher.”

“I just need a harness. The air is pretty stale down here. It smells like rotten fruit.”

“The jaguar fell with you. Make sure it’s dead.”

It hurt me to walk, but I found my flashlight. The jaguar was draped like a praying supplicant over the altar stone and the altar was decorated with carven images of cats, snakes, and wolves.

The jaguar appeared dead until I lifted its feet onto the altar. Its yellow eyes opened and it bit my forearm. It was a soft bite, almost a caress, but hard enough to make me bleed. I jerked my arm away and hit the cat repeatedly with my heavy flashlight.

Our blood mingled and flowed into the red stained cracks in the limestone altar. The stench of rotting fruit became overpowering and my head spun. I passed out and collapsed on the jaguar.

The pain in my arm woke me. The cenote was filled with flickering torchlight and smoke. Several men costumed in ancient Mayan ceremonial regalia filled the cavern. I looked for Martina. She wasn’t there. The pit’s edge was lined with women and children. The quiet was frightening.

It was like one of the silent moments in a horror film before all hell breaks loose. I wasn’t the best judge of body language, but these folks weren’t happy to see me.

I spoke in English. “I didn’t know you were filming a movie. I’m sorry I messed up the take. I could use some help, my arm is broken. If it hurts any worse, I’ll pass out.

A short ugly tattooed man with a snake headdress and bad teeth shook his obsidian knife and spoke in Mayan. His pronunciation and cadence was different than what we’d learned in class, but he said, “Who are you and what do you do here? You dare disturb this sacred ceremony. You have killed B’alam, the symbol of life, and you flaunt your misdeed by displaying his body on the gateway altar to Xibalba, the underworld.”

I admired the multicolored snake tattoo on his forearm and said, “Where’s the camera? I said that I’m sorry. I’ll pay for damages to your set, but I’m really hurting here, I need a doctor. Stop with the Hollywood Mayan mumbo jumbo and help me. We’ll sort this out later”.

Snake Tattoo motioned to one of the other men, who pulled a war club from a leather sheath. He took two steps and punched me in the stomach with the club. It knocked the wind out of me. I bent over and he hit me in the neck with his fist.

I woke up in the cenote for the second time. Getting knocked out is no fun. I was tied to the altar. That’s not a good thing. My audience was still visible through the smoke and fumes. A number of women with small pots and slivers of obsidian surrounded me. My arm throbbed and I was frightened for the first time. Who were these people?

Snake Tattoo said, “We must sacrifice this man with strange clothing. His sacrilege is an affront to Xibalba and his murder of the jaguar insults our gods. The gods say that the afterlife is closed to us until his death reopens the path.”

“He is unclean and must be cleansed. He is ugly and must become pleasing in the sight of Itzamna, he who rules the gods.”

The women forced a disgusting herbal mixture down my throat. They turned my head to one side and caught my vomit in bowls to ensure that I didn’t foul the altar. They pinched my nose and filled my mouth with castor oil. The combination flushed my body from both ends. I’d envisioned that being clean would involve ritualistic bathing, but I was wrong.

Once I stopped spasming from both ends, the women washed me. I fought, but they held me and stabbed me repeatedly with sharp obsidian splinters. I was able to turn my head and see one arm and it was covered with blood and bruises. But it wasn’t bruised. The little pots were filled with ink and dark spots on my skin were tattoos.

I’d read about the death by a thousand cuts in Fu Manchu novels, but I’d never considered death by a thousand tattoos. I’d fallen on a fire ant bed when I was a child, but this was worse. I was terrified. I couldn’t stop the women and they worked as fast as a modern sewing machine. Dip the obsidian quill in ink, put it in place, tap the splinter with a block of wood to embed the ink below my skin, and repeat about thirty times a minute. It was excruciating. My body bled from a thousand cuts, my arm was broken, and I couldn’t imagine what they had planned for me next.

Snake Tattoo twisted my broken arm and intoned, “His pain is nectar to the gods.”

I screamed myself house and passed out. I woke up dehydrated and weak from the forced bouts of diarrhea and vomiting. I had no idea how much blood I’d lost from the gang tattoo rape. Sometimes there was daylight visible above the cenote and sometimes there wasn’t, but here were always people watching like the witnesses in an operating theater. I felt groggy, I was never really awake or asleep. I was only aware of the constant pain and my fear of whatever awaited me.

When the women tattooed my groin area, any residual hope I had that I’d fallen into a movie set was dispelled when the relentless obsidian needles moved from my upper thigh. I clenched my teeth so hard that I broke two of them.

Mercifully, the women finished. A ray of sunlight, like a tangible beam gleamed from the noonday sun. My audience waited, quiet and expectant. The sweet scent of rotten fruit filled the air.

The priest covered me with jaguar’s skin and lifted an obsidian knife overhead. The smoke from the dried fruit incense made my head spin. I tried to move, but my muscles wouldn’t respond. I couldn’t scream. I felt my eyes lock open in terror when the knife descended.

***

I opened my eyes and Snake Tattoo was gone. Martina’s face was above me. She screamed, “I found him. He’s alive, but he’s covered in tattoos.” She waited with me while the workmen went for a stretcher. “I was so worried. I searched the cenote three times and you weren’t there. Suddenly, you appeared on the altarstone. I was terrified.”

“So was I. How long have I been in the pit?”

She hugged me and cried, “Only about ten minutes.”

“It seemed longer to me.”

***

A week later in a Houston hospital, my mind cleared. Hell of a dream. I suspected I’d been hallucinating until saw the IV in the snake tattoo that completely wrapped my arm. I sat up and a blue green jaguar face looked back from the mirror. My stomach clenched at the smell of the decaying fruit basket on the counter.

The doctor arrived and he was a small dark man with a snake tattoo on his right forearm. “Good, I glad you’re awake. I’ve been waiting for you. We have unfinished business, you and I.”

 

 

 

Robert Allen Lupton

Robert Allen Lupton

Robert Allen Lupton lives in New Mexico where he is commercial hot air balloon pilot. He writes and runs every day, but not necessarily in that order.

Recent publications include short stories in the following anthologies:

Uncommon Origins
Twelve Days
Hindered Souls
Potters Field #6
Worlds Unknown #3

The novel, Foxborn, was published by West Mesa Press in April of 2017.

Other short stories are available online from “Crimson Streets”, Daily Science Fiction, and two drabbles have been published in “Trembling With Fear”.

“Running Into Trouble”, a collection of 15 fantasy, science fiction, horror, adventure, and humorous stories, all with running as a central theme, will be published in July of 2017. The novelette, Dejanna of Mars, will be published in August 2017, and the second book in the Foxborn series, ‘Here There Be Dragons,” is scheduled for February 2018.

Other short stories will be published online and in anthologies through the year. Visit Robert’s author pages on Amazon and Goodreads for more information.

Out Of Time

Grains filed through the pinch point, running down from the top of the hourglass. I’d warned her that time was short; she hadn’t believed me. More than half the sand was gone.

“I love the symbolism,” I told her. “Sand. Ground rocks. All that’ll be left when everything—everyone—is dead.”

She didn’t reply.

“In a perfect world, the top wouldn’t empty. Sorry, darling.”

Looking down, I watched her thrash against the restraints. Her eyes were still open, blinking granules out, her nose and mouth covered by a small dune. The sand kept flowing into an hourglass with no bottom.

Kevin Holton

Kevin Holton is the author of more than one hundred short stories, poems, and critical works. Specializing in horror and sci-fi, he has published with Siren’s Call Publications, James Ward Kirk Fiction, and Crystal Lake Publishing, among other companies. When not reading or writing, he is a student, actor, and coffee enthusiast who spends too much time talking about Batman.

You can find out more about Kevin at: www.kevinholton.com.

Worms

Veronica gasped as she entered her kitchen and saw several fat white worms slithering on the walls.

They smelt horrendous, like wet, rotting mushrooms. They fell onto her arms, biting her flesh. Veronica brushed them away but they kept coming. She grabbed a knife and slashed one, but it became two wriggling worms. She staggered forward and turned on all the gas knobs. As flesh fell from her body, eaten alive where she stood, she lit a cluster of matches. She was soon engulfed in flames, the air acrid with death and cooking flesh as she melted with the worms.

David Turton

David Turton has extensive training in Journalism, Marketing and Public Relations and has been writing as a career for over fourteen years. A huge horror fiction fan, particularly the works of Stephen King, David has written several short stories, all centred around dark tales of horror and dystopia. One of his short stories is set to be published in a Body Horror Anthology in 2017. He is also in the final stages of his first novel, an apocalyptic horror set in the near future.

Time With Ethan

The man played with his son, but his mind drifted miles away to his office.  The four year-old’s words pulled him back to the yard.

“Dad, how do you spell ‘stop?’”  The boy sat on the concrete, chalk in hand.

“Sound it out, Ethan.”  Would he make partner?

“Love you, Dad.”

The man smiled. Had he neglected Ethan? Next weekend they’d get ice cream. Their time was precious.

A screen door slammed shut. A woman stood, hands on hips. “Ethan? Who are you talking to honey?”

“Just talking to Dad, but he disappeared again.”

She frowned. “Dad’s in heaven, Ethan.”

Ryan Benson

Ryan Benson previously found employment as a Professor of Biology in the Boston, MA area and now reside outside of Atlanta, GA. His interests lie in speculative fiction and postmodern literature. His work has been previously published in Wordhaus and Short Fiction Break and was awarded first runner up in the 2015 Write Practice Writing Contest.

About Stuart Conover

Stuart Conover is a father, husband, published author, blogger, geek, entrepreneur, horror fanatic, and runs a few websites including Horror Tree!

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