Trembling With Fear 07/21/2019
So Edge-Lit 8 in Derby (UK) came and went very quickly. Had a great time listening to Christopher Golden, Stephen Volk and Tim Lebbon. Lots of anecdotes, hugely entertaining and a few tips. One question posed to a panel was ‘Does a Background in Short Fiction Help You Build a Career as a Novelist?’ and most adhered to the view that it was. The main benefit was stated as building confidence in your writing and a body of work that others can see – that all important exposure and recognition. Something else mentioned was reprints. I don’t tend to send stories out again once they’ve been published but the received wisdom is send it out as much as you can (I know markets aren’t always easy to find though). The message from this panel is keep writing those shorts!
Stephen Volk was also fun to listen to and I picked up a copy of his Coffinmaker’s Blues which is a compilation of the monthly columns he wrote for Black Static over a twelve year period. I’ve already started it but have to put it on hold to finish Helter Skelter, the Charles Manson book and I have Chuck Wending’s mammoth The Wanderers just calling to me on my book pile. I am so glad it’s the end of term.
A bit sad there will be no Sledge-Lit this year although Edge-Lit is moving to two days next year but before that there is, of course, StokerCon. I seriously cannot wait.
Back to this week’s Trembling with Fear which starts with You Don’t Want to be Scared, Not Really by Aristo Couvaras who uses the trope of the scary campfire story. The atmosphere is built up nicely allowing you to experience the crackle of burning wood, the nightsounds of nature, whilst building tension using the ‘story within a story’ technique. Well-paced and atmospheric.
Show Time by Alyson Faye (who I managed to catch up with in Derby) is a neat example of a story with a last line twist. There is nothing abnormal about getting ready as if to go out, clothes, hair, makeup – all the usual. But the routine is not what it appears to be …
Smart Patch by Hillary Lyon is a futuristic drabble, where advances in medical science might appear to be the answer to so many problems but then another ‘intelligence’ takes over. Thinking about this story, I think it is one of those which has potential to really develop into a longer horror/sci-fi tale. I can almost see those ‘smart’ patches sliding off one patient, slithering to another, stretching and covering the human …
The Final Girl by Les Talma,.focuses on the last girl left standing in so many horror films. This particular take shows her as a strong woman and not the typical hysterical trope which I hate. There is a cost to this though, as with nothing to lose, she herself becomes monstrous. Original piece of writing.
Fun fact with Horror Tree having run so smoothly this last week – I’ve been on vacation! A couple of our good friends moved to Tenessee right outside of Nashville, so we’ve been staying at their place with the kids and having a great time. It has been a fun road trip, and while I’m thrilled to be home, it also means that I was working crazily extra hard to have this last and most of this upcoming week’s posts all done in advance.
That being said, the fiction we have here was all selected weeks ago, and as Steph does the best breakdown of it all I hope you enjoy this week’s reads and please be sure to comment in the section near the bottom of the page to which stories that you enjoyed!
You Don’t Want to Be Scared, Not Really
“And then –”
“And then the banging stopped, and the maniac slid down the windscreen, holding her boyfriend’s head in his hands. That’s what was making the noise on the car’s roof. Everyone’s heard that story!”
One of the logs in the campfire popped from the heat, shifting in its place, dropping lower in the kindling and throwing embers to the night sky like blazing confetti. The boys sniggered and the girls giggled. Callum smiled, shrugging his shoulders, palms pointed upwards as if to say, ‘what did you expect?’ Jenny laughed and raised her eyebrows, she had tried.
“You said you were gonna to tell us actual scary stories! C’mon, counselors, those stories are all PG-13,” one of the boys, Aubrey, said. Callum and Jenny watched as Aubrey puffed out his chest, and all the boys on their side of the campfire looked across the haze of flames at the girls. The brashest of them made little eye contact though. The two counselors shared a look and laughed – they’d seen this all before.
Jenny shook her head and said, “These are scary stories, Aubrey. The problem is you kids.”
The kids laughed, boys louder than girls. One of the girls, Amy, said, “Like, what do you mean, Counselor Jenny?”
“I mean, how old are you all?”
A chorus of ‘thirteens’ and ‘fourteens’ answered her, the standard age of eighth graders from the brother and sister Catholic schools that begun each school year with a weekend at the camp. There was one embarrassed answer of twelve, from the youngest of the group, Benjamin.
Jenny continued, “Okay, and how many of you have seen Paranormal Activity?” Most of their hands shot up, Jenny’s included. Amy held her hand highest, staring across the fire at Aubrey.
“How come your hands are down, Counselor Callum?” one of the teens asked. They all began repeating the question.
“Because, Thandi,” Callum met each pair of eyes, his teeth gleaming in the firelight, “that shit scares the kak out of me.” The children erupted into laughter.
“Okay,” Jenny said, “now keep your hands up if you’ve seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Some went down, most stayed up, even Callum lifted his to a round of cheers. A few of the boys waved their arms above their heads, humming chainsaw buzzes.
“What about It?” All the hands went back up, a sing-song chant of, ‘we all float down here, Georgie,’ sprung up from the girls. Jenny’s hands were down on her lap. “Didn’t you watch it, Jenny?” asked a boy named Michael.
Callum laughed and nudged Jenny. “No, Michael, I didn’t, and I don’t plan to. I watched the original one, with Tim Curry, when I was younger. You know, the really scary version.” A host of challenging ‘oooohs’ went up.
“So, you lighties all see?” Callum began, “How are we supposed to scare you when you’ve seen things Jessy and I are too scared to watch?”
“Ya, but you woke us all up and had us marching through the bush for like an hour just to get here. And you did say you were gonna scare us.” Nathan’s comment came with a chiding tone, most of the boys again staring through the flames at the girls.
“What about a true story?” Clarissa asked in a squeaky voice, “You said you’d tell us one that was real.”
“You did say that, Callum,” Jenny reminded him.
“Uh, I don’t know,” Callum responded, “I don’t think they want to be scared, not for real.”
“We do! We do!”
“Bet it won’t be scary, just another kiddie’s tale.”
“C’mon, Counselor. Ya, a real scary story!”
“Ya! Tell us!” All the replies came in a roar of jumbled responses and intermingled sentences. Callum rubbed his hands then held them up to the fire, coyly looking at Jenny. “Hmmm, I guess, seeing as you’re all not scared of anything. And I mean, we took all your cellphones for the weekend, so I don’t have to worry about calls from parents saying I terrorized their little darlings.”
The campers smirked, guilty grins, Callum and Jessy knowing most of them hadn’t handed in their cellphones. Some still defended themselves, claiming there would be no such calls, even if they had their phones, which of course, they averred, they didn’t.
“It was a dark and stormy night,” Callum began, his voice low. “The kids sat ‘round the fire,” Jessie continued, her tone rising ever so slightly. “Tell us a story said one”, Shaun incanted as soon as Callum pointed at him. Jessie pointed at Karima, and she duly chanted, “And the story begun.”
All of them repeated the words, the others joining in, over and over and faster and faster, louder and louder still. “It was a dark and stormy night. The kids sat ‘round the fire. Tell us a story said one. The story begun.” Again, and again they chanted, round and round, they recited, until the refrain went by in a slurring whirlwind.
The fire crackled, and timbers burst with heated pops, embers eddying upwards, carried on the smoky drift. The quiet of the Highveld further disturbed by a hooting owl; eyes the same color as the fire at the center of the spectacle it observed. Still the children went on, oblivious of the owl. Blind to the saucepan eyes of bush babies staring down as they crept forward with spider-leg fingers on thin branches. Not caring, or too enraptured, to notice the glowing gaze of a civet prowling towards the edge of the clearing. They all went silent, the cool breeze of the night falling as their voices did, waiting with bated breath for Callum’s story.
“The Baboon of Parnassus. Now, Camp Parnassus is a little way down the road from us and it’s where Jenny and I first started as counsellors. If you follow the path through the trees behind me, over the mountain, eventually you’ll come to a stream. Follow that stream until it becomes a river, and soon you’ll be at Parnassus.
“Another Catholic school, one I’m sure you’ve all heard of, used to send its grade eights there at the start of each year. To let the boys all get a chance to know each other. The school doesn’t send its students there anymore, no school does. I’m not sure anyone goes there still.
“See, they used to do the same as we do here. Wake all the kids up one night and make them walk through the bush. During that walk, they’d tell the boys the story of the Baboon of Parnassus. Each year the story was told a little differently. But it went something like this: there’s a man-eating baboon that roams the bushveld around the camp, comes right down to the tents sometimes and steals a few campers each year.
“One by one, the counselors would disappear in the brush, until the students thought they were all alone. Each counselor would try grabbing a kid, drag him off into the trees, letting the others think the baboon had got him. Eventually, they’d come back to the path, holding the boys they’d grabbed, laughing at how scared the rest of them were.
“Well, some of those boys did go missing. Each year, someone would say, ‘Who took Brad?’ or, ‘Where’s Sipho?’ And nobody knew. The older counselors said things like, ‘We shouldn’t take the kids up the path anymore, remember a few of them went missing last year.’ You all get the idea. ‘It was just the Baboon of Parnassus,’ other councilors whispered. But never to the students, or the school staff, and never to the parents.
“The last school camp Parnassus ever had was in 2004. The kids who were woken up that night, and the counselors who led them on their march into the bush, all were never seen again. The camp hired game rangers to hunt the baboon. But they never found any baboons, and they never found any signs of the missing students and counselors.”
Callum and Jenny stared into the fire. Jenny asked, “Now, who thought that one was scary?”
Silence was the only response.
Finally, Nathan, his quivering hand going up like it would in a classroom, asked, “C-Counselors…wh-where is everybody else? Where d-did th-they g-g-go?”
Callum and Jenny smiled at each other, then stared at the lonely boy, the only child still sitting by the fire.
“We thought you wanted a scary story, a real one?”
The lone boy looked around, eyes bulging and welling with tears, his peers all gone. The owl flown away. The bush babies hidden once more. The civet slunk off. The fire now almost gutted, more smoke than flame, charred charcoal and dying embers.
Nathan looked up at the counselors, both wearing rictus smiles, snarling. Their heads tilted, twisted.
“See, you don’t want to be scared, not really…”
Bio: Aristo Couvaras is twenty-eight years old, Greek, but born and residing in South Africa. He attended the University of the Witwatersrand, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in English Literature and Clinical Psychology, as well as a Bachelor of Laws.
As far as other publications are concerned, he has had stories featured at horrortree.com, and included in Things in the Well’s anthology, Beneath the Waves- Tales from the Deep, and most recently in Critical Blast’s anthology, Gods & Services.
Regarding social media, Aristo can be found on twitter @AR1sto.
Should I choose a McQueen gown or a Karan? You look stunning in both, my love. I brush your golden hair and stow a few wisps in my pocket. You won’t mind, I know. My fingers locate your Dior Rouge Red lipstick; I stroke it over your pale lips. I mascara your lashes and drape your neck in pearls.
You are ready to greet your final audience. I know you won’t disappoint. I hope there will be a crowd to see you off, on this your last journey.
I hear steps outside. Time to go.
I leave your casket open.
Alyson lives in West Yorkshire with her husband, teen son and 4 rescue animals. She has been a teacher, a carer, a road safety instructor and a lifetime film buff. Currently she teaches creative writing workshops and writes dark fiction, both short (flash) and long. Her short stories have appeared in print in the anthologies, Women in Horror Annual 2, Stories from Stone, DeadCades:The Infernal Decimation, Coffin Bell Journal 1 and Crackers. Her debut flash fiction collection, Badlands, was published in January 2018 by indie publisher, Chapel Town Books and her own Trio of Terror – Supernatural Tales (all set in Yorkshire) came out in December 2018. Her flash fiction has appeared in several charity anthologies and can be heard on several podcasts. Her fiction has won, or been shortlisted in several competitions.
Her latest horror story is out as an ebook from Demain publishing, on amazon, Night of the Rider.
Her blog is at www.alysonfayewordpress.wordpress.com.
Her amazon author is at https://www.amazon.co.uk/l/B01NBYSLRT and she’s on twitter as @AlysonFaye2.
The Smart Patch
It was a medical miracle: a thin layer of tissue laid across an open wound, sealing and healing all at once. Placed on a patient’s body, this “smart patch” sought and treated wounds without a medic’s supervision. Military hailed it as the greatest advancement in battlefield medicine since the invention of the triage system. Field trials yielded promising results; the patent for the patch was rushed through the FDA. Every soldier got a smart patch in their tactical bag—until an anonymous grunt placed a patch over a bullet graze, but it decided his mouth need to be sealed, instead.
Hillary Lyon is founder and senior editor for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. Her stories have appeared recently in Night to Dawn, Yellow Mama, Sirens Call, and Tales from the Moonlit Path. She’s also an illustrator for horror & pulp fiction magazines. Having lived in France, Brazil, Canada, and several states in the US, she now resides in southern Arizona.
The Final Girl
She slides the knife into his heart.
Because she wants to live.
She keeps stabbing him, but his heart keeps growing back.
Because he loves to kill.
She cries and screams in frustration.
Because he won’t die.
She tries fire and knives, bullets and drowning.
Because she’s tenacious.
But he keeps coming back.
Because hate and desire drive him.
So she eats his brain, every last morsel.
Because sometimes you have to be a monster, to kill a monster.
Because she is hollow, now that her friends are dead.
And he is nothing but…
Meat in her belly.
Les Talma lives in NY. He’s drawn to quiet places, works in a library, and once did some of his best writing in a Dunkin’ Donuts at 2 am in NJ. Now he looks for similar quiet and productive places.
He also likes: horror movies, amusingly strange TV shows, comic books, fairy tales that are dark and delicious.
He scribbles things in notebooks, sometimes they end up as finished works.
He’s working on finishing a lot of things right now.