Trembling With Fear 06/07/20
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 really hope that eventually we can get some sort of normal going around the world.
But normal seems to be a long way off, convulsing under the onslaught of the pandemic, economic disaster and long-present tensions erupting to the fore once more. I don’t talk about politics here and I’m not going to say much now, but I can’t ignore what I see and I want to say how sorry I am. The UK is not a blameless society, it still has issues which need addressing but it has moved forward from what it used to be – sometimes it would be good if it moved faster but on the whole, we have progressed. What I see in the US however, is something I can’t get my head around, the sheer scale of ingrained hatred displayed by some towards others of a different ethnicity, this whole stupid idea of white supremacy, the level of violence and injustice, the guns. I abhor it. Yes, all lives matter BUT only from a position of respect and equality, until that situation is achieved there will always be a need for movements such as #BlackLivesMatter.
Nor would I ever dream of tarring a whole population with the same brush. I’ve come to know so many decent people in the states, via Horror Tree and other avenues, and to them I would just like to say I hope your country regains the peace and stability it needs, and also the justice and equality demanded by all. And in my own country, my dream is to see every type of prejudice and ignorance over colour, race, religion, gender, sex or disability stamped out utterly.
Stepping back in to our world of horror, I’d just like to remind readers and contributors I round up the latest book launch news on Fridays on Horror Tree – culling the information from the Pandemic Book Launch and Hot Off the Indie Press groups on Facebook and also some direct contacts. If you are from either the POC or LGBT+ communities and have a book out soon, drop me a line and I’ll add it to the roundup and work out a way of highlighting it (me and WordPress do have our differences at times!). This way we can promote #BlackLivesMatter and Pride. I’m also happy to include book launch news in my editorial. Want a book review or interview? Cathy Jordan is Horror Tree’s Review Co-ordinator and Selene MacLeod oversees the interviews.
Our first story this week in Trembling With Fear is Pale Horse by Lynn Love. This submission is one of those I knew I’d left a comment against after reading it the first time. I went back to my tracker and found just two words ‘Terrific, atmospheric’. Having re-read it, this still holds true. From the wonderful opening line ‘You brought a cow to a poker game?’ to the personification of Pale Horse making it as much a character in the story as the men – it is ‘lean and tough, cruel and greedy’ – to the well-paced dialogue, this is a beautifully crafted chiller about sinners and their own personal roads to Hell.
In the Drain by Radar DeBoard grabbed me simply by virtue of that clump of hair pulled out of the drain. I hate it when I have to clear that, that horrible grey, slimy mass – ugh, makes me ill thinking about it. Good ploy I might add in writing. Choose something you know will make readers cringe.
Unkindest Cut by R.J. Meldrum is a story initially rousing pity in the reader, until you read on. Misdirect your reader and you get a stronger effect from the ending.
Wee-Ja by Theresa Derwin, puns with its title and twists a haunting in an unlikely environment. Play with your title, it can add so much when you have a limited wordcount.
Happy weekend one and all! I know that you’re reading this on the last day of the weekend (or potentially later) but I still hope you’ve had a good one!
This week we’ve got some great stories and the first one is a fun-filled piece as I’ve been hooked on western horror as of late when not reading fantasy.
When it comes to the site, I would like to again share that we’re currently:
– Looking for more interviewers and book reviewers!
– Taking more guest posts for Horror Tree
– Looking for write-ups on Horror Tree on your website (with what we do, fun facts about the site, etc.)
– And finally, 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!
Pale Horse by Lynn Love
‘You brought a cow to a poker game?’ Farley’s bulbous lower lip quivers, his eyes mocking, glittering in the lamplight.
Abner fumbles his cards. ‘I couldn’t leave her at the farm, not with the hard weather coming in. She’s all I got.’
‘Bet she keeps you warm at night too, eh?’ Farley gives me a conspiratorial wink I ignore.
He’s flushed from the whiskey, pink and greasy as boiled ham. And he’s brought his Colt along, tucked in the holster like he’s an outlaw not a fat feller who owns the general store.
We finish the hand in silence, Abner’s bony digits plucking at his cards all the while. Farley’s an ass but he’s right – it’s a queer thing Abner bringing the cow with him down off the hill, tying her to the hitching post out front of the saloon. But all his other beasts are dead and maybe the farmer’s mind’s turned a little since his wife and son passed.
Farley slaps his cards on the table, sweeps his winnings into his lap. ‘Another?’ he says.
I raise my hands in surrender. ‘Let me fetch a second bottle before you bleed me dry.’
The two of them bicker like old women as I go behind the bar and take the last of the almost-decent whiskey off the shelf. I used to lock the good stuff in a cupboard but since the gold’s been mined away, townsfolk are leaving Pale Horse faster than I can count. The only people left likely to steal my whiskey are about to help me drink it.
Between them, Abner and Farley sum up Pale Horse – lean and tough, cruel and greedy. This place bonds people, whether they want it to or not. The summers are short, the winters are long. The strong look out for each other and the weak … Well, there are no weak left.
As I return with the bottle, a movement catches my eye. Through the window beyond their heads there’s a flit of gold, a bright vee shape dancing in the black. At first I think it’s the gas lamps, light flickering off bottles and glasses. Then Abner flinches, turns to me, eyes wide.
‘Did you see something?’ I say, crossing to look. But there’s only my reflection, thinner, balder, more stooped than I remember.
‘Nuthin,’ says Abner.
But when we get to playing again, his hands are shaking.
Farley’s gotten into his stride, wins another round of poker and another. Don’t know where his money comes from – the store’s only got a handful of customers left aside from us. Abner’s mind’s not on the game. He’s glancing up at the window, tilting his head as if listening, though there’s nuthin to hear except the wind tumbling off the mountain, whistling through the pines.
The store owner has a soft hard shimmer in his eye I recognise from years serving drinks. For a coward, Farley’s never slow to pick a fight.
‘So, Abner. How’s life up on the farmstead?’ he says. ‘ Lonely?’ He licks his fat lips, waits for the fire to ignite.
‘Farley,’ I say. A warning. No one talks about how Abner came to be living alone on the farm. It’s a scab we don’t want to pick at.
The farmer’s not biting today anyway. He’s a man distracted, keeps looking from the window to the door to the window, as if trying to catch sight of something.
‘You all right?’ I’m starting to wonder about Abner Cole, have done the last few times I’ve seen him. The skin’s stretched drum tight over his cheekbones, baggy under the jaw. Not eating enough, maybe.
‘You hear that?’ he says.
I’m about to say no but I’d be lying. There is something. Under the stir of the storm, a sweet falling and rising. Like birdsong.
He sees me pause. ‘You hear it,’ he says.
I don’t want to make that mad glint in his eye shimmer any brighter. But I really don’t want to admit hearing what can’t be there. ‘It’s the wind. The boardwalk whistles in a squall.’
The old man stares at me as if I’m the crazy one. ‘That ain’t no wind,’ he says. ‘There’s a voice. Can’t you hear it?’
The tarnished brass clock on the wall says it’s near midnight. The storm’s battering the windows, creeping through every gap in the clapboard. No one sane would be out in this.
Then Farley’s out of his seat, whole body drawn taut.
‘It’s that Barrett boy,’ he says. ‘Dragging his Daddy’s spurs on the front like I told him not to. I’ll beat that little turd flat.’ But instead of going to the door, he sits back suddenly in his chair like the strength’s left him. He keeps staring at the door and there’s a feeling coming off them both now. Skittish, fearful.
The birdsong’s growing higher, louder as if the damned thing’s sitting on the porch outside.
I need to know something. ‘What do you hear, Abner?’ I say.
Abner’s looking towards the sound. ‘If you hear it, you don’t need telling.’
Finally, he looks away from the door, to me. His lower lip hangs slack, spit glistening on the exposed pinkness. There’s a look to him, like something inside him’s pulled loose. ‘It’s my boy,’ he says. ‘My Gideon.’
The bottle of almost-decent whiskey smashes to the floor. Farley is up on his feet again. The Colt is out of its holster, gripped tight in his hand. ‘That goddam Barrett kid.’
The wind’s blowing the ceiling lamp to and fro on its hook, seasick light swinging with it.
‘The Barrett’s went back to Oregon weeks ago,’ I mutter.
But he doesn’t hear me, doesn’t hear anything but whatever it is that’s making him crazy, and he’s at the door, Colt at arm’s length like a prayer to keep the bad at bay.
‘I’ll get that little bastard.’
Before Abner and I can react, the door’s wrenched back on its hinges and the man’s out in the storm. Too late we go after him, but we don’t get far. I see the hunched expanse of his back before the night swallows him. Before a gunshot. There’s a bellow of animal pain so desperate it softens my bowels. For a moment I’m lost. Then Abner grabs the door, slams it shut, thumps the bolts home.
Abner and me stand gasping, staring at each other. The wind is growing louder, but the birdsong is so clear the creature could be perched on my shoulder. I want to ask Abner what he saw out in the pine shadows, in the frown of the mountains. But asking says I believe what I’m hearing and I can’t admit that yet.
The old man’s got one hand clamped to his chest, the other resting on his thigh. If I open the door again the wind will blow him over.
‘We should go after him,’ he says, though neither of us move. He knows Farley’s dead as much as I do, though I doubt either of us could say how we know. ‘What did you see through the window, Jim?’
He’s fixed me with those clouded grey eyes and I wonder what little sight is left him now, and how come he still sees everything.
My mind is just about holding on. Any moment it might slip like sand shifting in a strong current and I’ll be screaming into the dark with a Colt in my hand.
‘Farley’s old partner, Seth, used to wear spurs,’ says Abner. ‘Never saw him ride a horse more than a handful of times, but he always wore those spurs.’
‘Seth’s dead.’ My voice fractures into silence.
‘Yes,’ he says, rubbing a leathery hand over his face. ‘But my boy’s dead too. So’s your Belle.’
I haven’t heard her name in five years.
‘It was her you saw, wasn’t it?’
I shake my head. ‘The canary,’ I say.
He laughs softly. ‘The Golden Canary. That’s what they called her across the territory, wasn’t it? In all them theatres? It’s the reason you bought her that bird.’
It was the reason I snapped its neck after Belle and I fought. Why I buried it with her.
He’s standing up straighter now, pressing his thin hair to his scalp. ‘We’ve known each other a long time. You ain’t an evil man. It’s why I helped you that day – I didn’t see sense in you hanging no matter what you’d done. But our sins have found us out, Jim – Farley and Seth, you and Belle, me and Gideon.‘ A dry click escapes his throat. His eyes are large and wet. ‘My boy was thirteen when I smothered him. Almost as strong as me but simple as a little child. Once his Mamma passed …’ He cuffs his eyes. ‘It was just too hard.’
I want him to understand, to know that of the three of us killers, he’s the least to blame. But I say nothing, only watch as he wipes his palms on his trousers, stumble away as he pushes aside the bolts.
He steps into the night without looking back.
Slow-witted Abner – the man the whole town whispered about – was the first to see it. We all knew what each other had done. The night Seth was shot in the back I swore Farley and me were drinking, though I hadn’t seen the fat man for days. When Belle and I fought, Abner helped me, trembling, bloodied mess I was. We used his wagon to take her up into the pines. Farley lent us shovels for the digging.
And Abner. All the town knew simpleminded Gideon was too strong to succumb to that fever. But we all buried that knowledge away inside, pretended we weren’t the kind of backwoods town where those things go unpunished.
But Pale Horse is that kind of town – lean and tough, cruel and greedy.
The canary is singing again, bright and sharp, a noise that once filled the saloon. I look out at the darkness, watch the flash of gold cut the black. It flits between the pine limbs, alights on the eaves of the general store, on the hitching post outside the saloon, almost close enough to catch in my hand. The storm bellows louder, swelling in the trees. But a lone canary sings above it all.
‘Belle?’ If she forgives me or not, it doesn’t matter. She’s all I got.
I turn my collar up against the wind.
Abner was right. The hard weather’s coming in.
Lynn Love is a Bristol, UK based writer whose serials and short stories have appeared online and in print. Her debut Contemporary Fantasy novel is out to agents and she’s currently writing a Supernatural Mystery novel set in a rundown coastal town in the 1970s. She blogs at Word Shamble, https://lynnmlovewords.wordpress.com/
And Twitters at: https://twitter.com/Lynn800XLove
In the Drain
Taylor brought a large clump of hair out of the clogged drain. She let out a gasp of disgust as she held it in her hand.
Taylor noticed something strange that was stuck in the clump of hair. She picked the object out of the clump and held it up to the light. She let out a shriek of fear as she realized she was holding a severed human finger.
Taylor dropped the finger onto the ground and fell against the door. She slowly slid to the ground as she heard voices from the drain chanting in unison, “Join us!”
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.
I feel nothing. My lips are dry, but I have no spit to moisten them. I see the faces of the crowd surrounding me. I watch their expressions; some are laughing, some look shocked, others disgusted. Their mouths are moving, but their cries are muffled. I have a dull ringing in my ears. Darkness starts to cover my eyes. I feel a hand in my hair and I am lifted up. I swing round to face the man holding me. I see his mask, the wooden block and the bloodied axe in his hand. My headless body lies below me.
R.J. 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.
Facebook profile: https://www.facebook.com/richard.meldrum.79
“Is there anybody there?!!!” She called out the question in a lilting voice, then snickered. Tara didn’t expect an answer from the loo.
Unless the toilet was possessed.
She laughed, at first.
“Yessss,” the sibilant voice hissed.
“James?! Ha ha, don’t be a knob. It’s you, innit?”
“Not the boy,” it replied.
Had James left a phone in here?
Her heart beat fast, as she looked down at the toilet bowl, head cocked to try to hear where the voice was coming from.
Then her gaze stopped at the mirror.
She screamed at the owner of the voice.
HWA member Theresa Derwin writes Urban Fantasy & Horror and has over fifty anthology acceptances, one in ‘Below the Stairs’ with Clive Barker. When she became too ill to work, she accepted medical ‘escape’ to pursue a writing career. As well as physical disabilities she has cognitive function issues, and writing gives her an escape from her illnesses.
She’s had three collections published; has edited over nine anthologies. Her forthcoming books include ‘God’s Vengeance’ from CLP and collection ‘Sex, Slugs and Sausage Rolls’.
She is the 2019 HWA Mary Shelley Scholarship recipient.
She blogs at www.theresaderwin.co.uk
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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.