Trembling With Fear 07/31/2022
Hello, hello. I’m still trying to figure out how to start these things every week. Do I greet you all by name? What’s the collective noun for horror and speculative writers? (Got an idea? Let me know in the comments or tweet me @novicenovelist!)
It’s been a strange week in the London-based TWF Towers. We don’t talk about the heat anymore. There’s an election campaign for a new Prime Minister going on but less than 1% of the population can vote in it. Everyone I meet is a bit out of sorts all round. Is it plague fatigue still? Who knows… But that’s why I’m proud of myself for actually getting off my behind and starting the damned new novel. Not research, not thinking – actual writing of made-up wordage.
Those who know me know my fraught relationship with my writing. It’s like the proverbial will-they/won’t-they romance: writing is my life, my love, my eternal frustration. As someone living with chronic depression and recovering from severe burnout, I can find it difficult to muster the energy to do *stuff*, especially the stuff that is important to me. Work deadlines get met because other people are relying on me; my own deadlines though? Fat chance. So I’m telling you here [insert collective noun], partly so one day someone might ask me how it’s going and I will have to have something to tell them.
It’s one of the great things about taking on this role at Horror Tree; I get to read great pieces by all of you, to hear about your own writing journeys, and be inspired to make my own inroads. Let’s get there together, ok?
Turning to this week’s trembling menu… Our short story comes from Katie Conrad. Flesh Unknown is that perfect mix of sinister and visceral; a bit of a speculative horror that really makes the skin crawl.
For the quick bites, we have three delicious offerings:
- Greg Von Dare’s Winsome is lovely… until it’s not.
- Sundown by Alan Moskowitz is the kind of real-world frightening that doesn’t involve violence or blood – just the mind, and
- An Eager Shelter by Joyce Jacobo takes us to the horrors of space
Oh – and before I forget, I’ve bitten the bullet and will be at the UK’s FantasyCon in September. Let me know if you’re there so we can say hi.
Over to you, Stuart….
Whew! A lot going on as always. Currently, we’re working on expanding on our video offerings, more on that soon. We hit 500 subscribers on Horror Tree’s YouTube channel! Now to live up to my promise, I won’t mention it here for a few weeks 😉 At least, until some of the new video offerings are available. At that time I’ll just plug those but not keep begging you to subscribe! (At least, not here, for a while.) Much of my focus is currently on working with our designer for the future layout. There will be more on that and potential speed increases for the site, very soon!
For those looking to support the site, we’ve recently launched a Ko-Fi and always have our Patreon going. We’re still recovering from losing a few Patreons as of late so any help is appreciated there.
As always, I hope you had a great weekend.
Flesh Unknown, by Katie Conrad
I had just started carving the last pig of the day when every alarm in the place went off. The flashing red lights, the ones that go beepbeepbeepbeepbeep, the ones that go WHOOOOP WHOOOOP WHOOOOP. The whole works.
“What the…?” I dropped my cleaver. There was no one to answer me but the dead animal laid out on my block.
I peeked into the hallway just in time to see a lab coat racing past, black braid waving behind.
“Dr. Robertson! What’s happening?” She turned back for a moment, her sky blue eyes a smoky violet in the flashing lights. She shouted, but I couldn’t hear her over the racket.
“What?” I called. But she was gone.
By then my nerves were tingling. I don’t know what the scientists here do, exactly. The staff are divided whether it’s cloning, aliens, or alternate dimensions. But it takes a facility so secret and so isolated they produce their own food rather than have it flown in. So when the alarms go off like that in a place like this? Well, it can’t be a good sign.
I went back for the cleaver and wiped it off on my apron before heading down the hallway in the direction Dr. Robertson had gone. The only door on that corridor was locked. I swiped my key card but nothing happened.
I jogged back along the hall toward the living quarters. Not a soul to be found there. The hairs on the back of my neck were well and truly pricked by then.
“Hello?” I yelled, straining to be heard over the alarms. “Is anyone here?”
No one answered. I pounded on doors as I hurried past. They didn’t open.
Something was very wrong.
I ran down the hall, no longer bothering to knock. The place had obviously cleared out.
But why? Was there something the scientists hadn’t bothered to tell the lowly butcher? But it wasn’t just the scientists; the cooks and cleaners and farm hands were gone too. Why should I be left behind?
Wrapped up in these thoughts, I was barely paying attention when I reached the staircase at the end of the hall. I didn’t look down until my foot hit something squishy. I threw myself to the side, already too far into my next step to stop, terrified I was about to crush someone.
Why would someone be lying on the stairs? My mind flashed through the nightmare scenarios–slip and fall, mass shooting, gas leak–but it wasn’t a person. Something was growing on the stairs. Mold? How could so much mold grow so quickly? I extended one hand and poked the mass.
“Sweet Jesus.” I snatched my hand back.
Not a person. But definitely flesh.
It looked as if a snowfall had drifted down the stairs. The top steps were covered, but only a little reached the bottom. Except instead of snow it was flesh, and instead of drifting it had grown. The stuff seemed to be sprouting from the floor, fresh skin smooth as an infant.
I hesitated, glancing behind me. The only other exit from this floor was across the building. God only knew what I would find there.
I’m not a squeamish man. Couldn’t do the job if I was. But pigs, cows, chickens–there’s a natural order to them. This? This was something different.
I breathed deep to calm my pounding heart. I wiped one sweaty palm, then the other. I got a good grip on my cleaver and I charged up the stairs.
My feet landed on tile for the first few steps. Then I rounded the landing and there was nowhere clear. I had no choice but to climb the fleshy ramp, trying to ignore the spongy feeling under my feet.
The flesh grew higher with every step, and soon I was crouching to avoid hitting my head. The ceiling was covered in the same mass and in only a few more steps I came to a solid wall of the stuff.
I felt desperately along the barrier, like a broad hairless abdomen. There were no gaps. It stretched from wall to wall, ceiling to floor. I tried to turn back. There had to be another way.
But the flesh was still growing behind me, closing in on me. Frantic, I turned back toward the top and raised my cleaver. The flesh gave way under my blade like any other meat. Only there were no bones, no organs, no tendons. Just skin and muscle and blood.
Good God, the blood.
I hacked away, too panicked to cut smartly. Not that there’s a smart way to cut such a shapeless thing. The blood wasn’t half so horrifying as the thought of that flesh pressing in around me, squeezing the air from my lungs. I cut and chopped until my arm was weak. I began to worry the entire upstairs was filled with the stuff, when suddenly it pulled away.
The flesh receded as though being sucked back, and in a moment I stood at the top of the empty staircase. With an audible POP the flesh resolved itself into a new, smaller shape.
Dr. Robertson stood before me, an ice cream cone in her hand.
“Jerome, there you are! You almost missed dinner. “
I gaped at her as I collapsed against the wall, gasping, and slid down to lie on the cool, fleshless floor.
“There’s–” I pointed behind me. But the stairway was clear. No flesh. No blood. The alarms had stopped, too. “But it was just–I saw you, downstairs? And the–the flesh, it was right here, how did you…?.”
She frowned. “Are you alright? Oh, no, is that blood yours?”
I looked down, surprised to find I was coated in blood.
“Let’s get you up.” She extended a hand. Her gaze met mine, and I recoiled, stumbling back onto the stairs.
Her eyes were emerald green.
I am a writer from Halifax, NS, where I live with my partner and two cats. I enjoy baking, gardening, and tea. I have previously been published in Daily Science Fiction, Cloud Lake Literary, and A Quiet Afternoon 2. I write a monthly serial fiction newsletter about the adventures of a witch and her cat.
Serial Fiction Newsletter: katieconrad.substack.com
I couldn’t believe how much I missed her. Those warm, dry summer kisses when her skin glowed with the day’s heat. How her hair shone in the sun and how it flowed when the breeze before a rain lifted it off her shoulders. I told her I was jealous of her — when other men looked at her and wanted her. She smiled and laughed her magical purring arpeggio of a laugh. Her big brown eyes sparkled and glittered. She shook her head to tell me how silly I was. I wrote her name in the sand. With her thigh bone.
Gregory Von Dare
Greg Von Dare has been writing for many years and is a published journalist, author and dramatist. He loves sci-fi, mystery and horror stories, and rarely sleeps soundly.
Arthur wondered if he remembered to take his pills. He usually did right after he walked the dog. As hard as he concentrated, he couldn’t recall. Should he take them all just in case? But could he overdose?
He went into the bedroom to ask his wife, but she wasn’t there. Where was she? Why did she leave him? Was she ever coming back?
He called his daughter who gently reminded him that Mom had passed five years ago. He sat on his wife’s side and cried.
Wiping away the tears he looked for the dog, time for her walk.
Alan Moskowitz has worked as a successful screen and TV writer for over forty years. Recently retired to Denver, he began writing short genre fiction. So far he has been published in several online venues. New to the art of short fiction writing, he welcomes feedback.
An Eager Shelter
The space station resembled an enormous marble disc. Covered in vines and ancient inscriptions, it drifted through the universe. It missed the lifeforms who had once filled its interior, kept safe from any dangers outside.
Someone unknown had tampered with its system.
All it could remember was the lifeforms’ horror—and its failure.
Now hollow, the space station emitted distress signals to attract passing cruisers.
Whenever lifeforms entered, they became terrified.
They needed protection, so the space station sealed itself up air tight.
Until it was hollow again.
Where did they go? it would wonder, before sending out another distress signal.
Joyce Jacobo is a freelance writer with an MA in Literature & Writing Studies. She loves black cats, moonlit nights, and maintaining her WordPress site at: theliteraryserenityarchives.wordpress.com.
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Lauren is a writer with various hats – journalist, copywriter, content marketer, fiction – and considers herself a storyteller at heart. She writes gothic and folk horror and is currently working on a novel set in the world of the Victorian occult. It’s the supernatural and the occult that really give her goosebumps, and a good ghost story or vampire tale with a rising sense of dread will always pique her interest (and yes, Midnight Mass hit many of her buttons). She also has a developing fascination with folklore, the old ways and our fast-changing relationship with the natural world; this sneaks into her writing, too.
In The Real World, Lauren has more than 20 years’ experience as a professional content creator. She’s established and led global content teams and editorial strategies, including setting up content newsrooms for some of the world’s biggest brands. She was a music editor for a daily newspaper in her native Australia (a good gig and the beach remain her happy places), though she’s been London-based for 16 years and works as an editor, proofreader, marketer, and writing coach. She’s also a mental health advocate; her Substack, How to Be Self(ish), tracked her year of sabbatical and self-care, and she continues to write it irregularly as a mental health companion.
You’ll find Lauren haunting south London, where she lives with her Doctor Who-obsessed husband and their aged black house rabbit. You’ll also likely find her hosting Writers Hour sessions for the London Writers Salon a few times a week.