Trembling With Fear 08/01/21
Please note: We are temporarily closed to short flash stories (unless for one of the Specials) but open to drabbles, unholy trinities and serials. We hope to reopen later in the year once we have caught up with the publication of those already accepted. Please also remember to read our guidelines, especially on word counts!
I had written up an editorial and it was all primed and ready to go but that will now be held over to next week. On Thursday, I received an email from Stephen Bustanoby’s former landlady letting me know that Stephen sadly passed away on the 26th July. Looking back at our records, I found he started submitting to us early summer 2020 with serials and short stories and was building up a solid record of acceptance with his actual publications appearing earlier this year. His landlady also told me that she is nowhere the character’s age or description in his serial, The Boarder(!) and that she will miss him. It is sad to see an emerging talent cut short in this manner and Horror Tree would like to extend their condolences to his family and friends.
On behalf of Stuart, Steph, Amanda and everyone at Horror Tree
Trembling With Fear 1st Aug:
Due to a slight mix-up – such things happen – we have two short stories in Trembling with Fear this week. The first of these is The Phobic Vampire by Martin P. Fuller. Martin is always someone I can trust to bring in some lovely touches of humour to our dark little genre. The Phobic Vampire is an exploration of what it takes to fill such a bloody role adequately, and perhaps a warning to those who seek to ‘turn’ others that they should look into their history first!
Our second short story is A Time of Loneliness by Varian Ross and is one of the most beautiful and touching zombie stories I have ever read. This tale brings back the humanity to those often thought of as nothing but rotting flesh, reminding us that maybe, just maybe, there is something still left behind.
Fortune Cookie by RJ Meldrum plays into the human weakness of believing the old fortune teller. Is it luck that causes the outcome of this story or something else though?
Purblind by Patrick Winters gives a whole new meaning to the term recycling and reuse, all in the name of greed.
The Convent by Mike Rader is a lovely little religious chiller. It makes you look at the main character in two ways – is she someone with compassion, or someone who wrought horror in the first place?
Enjoy our stories and send in yours!
Hello all! I’m busy traveling this week and the next week and a half so things are a bit messy. Not much in the way of updates this week though I’m hoping to have some news next!
One final reminder – All of this year’s Trembling With Fear copies are now available both in physical and digital format which you can find below! Please, if you’ve ordered these or previous installments, do leave a review on Amazon!
The Phobic Vampire by Martin P. Fuller
The room suddenly ‘bounced’ with bright electric light, reflecting off scrubbed white surfaces, banishing the shadows. From the long box in the corner of the room came the sound of stirrings.
Percy Twink felt at ease in the comfy coffin, knowing his timers had switched on the house lights, banishing the shadows. He eased up the lid and switched off his wind-up clockwork torch. A sigh of relief left his lips and with spooky whoosh, raised himself up from the silky cushioned interior and spread out his arms. He never liked the close confines of the necessary coffin, but claustrophobia was the weakest of his habitual phobias. One he could, with the aid of his torch and his habit of humming show tunes, suppress.
“Behold the world of humans and tremble. The Prince of……non-light is awake.”
His shout of demonic power brought on a prolonged knocking on his wall from Mr Perkins next door. Percy sighed wishing he had a job which could mean an affordable detached house with terrifying towers and battlements. His mother’s semi-detached didn’t seem to fit a ‘Prince of Hell’. Undaunted, he drew himself up to his full five-foot six height and prepared for the hours of evil lust to come. Before performing a dramatic leap onto his deep pile carpet however, he checked the floor for any sharp instruments or pieces of glass. His fears were unfounded, and he levitated out of the coffin, deftly landing on his expensive shag-pile.
A sneaky peek out of the curtains confirmed it was twilight, the sun just below the horizon and a gibbous moon emerging like a lob-sided smile. Its presence in the sky, partly illuminated the ragged grey clouds, edging them with silver light. Life still surged on the street outside as streetlights stuttered into bloom. People, his sustenance, unaware of the hunter in their midst.
However, Percy was as usual in deepest angst. The deadly sun was gone, but his fear of the dark welled up and he pulled the curtains closed.
Seeking diversion, Twink searched for his hairbrush, gently pulling the few remaining strands of hair across his bald head in a pathetic comb-over. It was hard to complete the pathetic attempts at vanity when no mirrors were in the house, thank God…oops. Not God of course. All hail Lucifer and that. His hatred of mirrors was the one phobia consistent with the whole vampire thing.
He made his way to his fridge and took out his last bag of blood, stolen from a hospital fridge a week ago. He’d been starving at the time and forced into the theft. Looking back, it amazed Percy how he’d repressed his fear of the onset of darkness and risked a singeing by venturing out just before sunset. He’d taken precautions of course, being wrapped up in a parka coat like an eskimo in a snowstorm. He’d still managed to get a slight scorching but the dozen or so bags of blood he nicked, kept the ‘werewolf from the door’, so to speak. The sting in the tail was he had to close his eyes as he drank the crimson gore, being morbidly afraid of the sight of blood. At least the bodily fluid was exceptional, being RH-Null, a rarity to be savoured. It slightly improved his mood.
Sated, he sat on his couch, too depressed even to turn on his TV.
Percy knew he was a failure at being a demon lord of the Underworld. He was just not a normal vampire, in fact a more abnormal vampire you would be hard to find.
Poor Percy had been unlucky to be bitten at all. He lived the life of a hermit, hardly ever leaving his house, a prisoner of his own fears. But one evening an old guy came to his door asking to use his phone. Foolishly he invited him in. The ‘old guy’ had been Count Vladimir Fang, who had bitten and feasted upon him almost immediately. Percy realising, he had admitted a creature of evil, protested his unsuitability to be undead, but the Count just sucked at his carotid artery. Percy had passed out, awaking to find the Count still there watching Coronation Street. He regarded Twink with dramatically open eyes, speaking like one of those meerkats in the commercials.
“Ah, Percy Twink. Rejoice. You have joined the advance guard of Armageddon and should prepare to form your own ‘coven of vampire’. You are lucky, Percy. You will be a foot soldier of Satan, yes? Feast on flesh, drinking blood deeply from the vein and…are you alright? Even for a vampire you look pale.”
Poor Percy. The thought of blood drinking and flying through the night made him pass out, much to the disgust of the Count, who eventually left the house, just as the moon was high, telling Percy he should only be afraid of ‘sharpened stakes’. Then off he flapped, his little bat wings making whap, whap sounds in the night.
So here poor Percy sat, night after night, always hungry for the thing that disgusted him, suffering the thought the only proper hunting time was in the dark night. To add to his misery there were all his other phobias.
He was frightened of thunder and lightning, a staple of horror films. Even worse, he couldn’t abide cemeteries, admittedly a great place to catch courting couples so wrapped up in one another you could do the double, and gorge on young lovers. Clocks drove him mad with their tick, tick, tick, and had been banned from his house. Trouble was it meant he was never really sure when it was night or day.
Percy also missed his pre-bite therapy sessions when he risked his sanity going to the clinic to see Dr Stoker. The joy of those sessions got him out of the house which increasingly scared him with its creaks and squeaks. Dr Stoker tried to help, saying he could eventually cure him. But before those last vital appointments, the Count had nibbled his neck and all hope had been lost.
Now his life, or rather un-life, was even more boring. TV was inane and the fact it was a machine scared him. To be honest with himself, all machines scared him from the toaster to the coffee maker. But the TV also showed unauthentic and upsetting horror films. Vampires always seemed to come off second best. His mind needed distraction but having a fear of books didn’t help his ‘me time’ either.
“Percy. You have to get a grip on yourself. You need to feed or you will wither away. You must hunt.”
Percy steeled himself and equipped himself with his torch. He put on a long dark cape the Count had left as a ‘welcome to the Vampire fraternity’ gift.
Percy stood at the door trembling. With luck, no one would see him, especially any clowns, who he doubted would be marauding at night, which was a plus as they really freaked him out. Not as bad as horses though with those long faces, large teeth, and hairy tails. Percy’s little fangs started to chatter.
“Stop it, Percy. You can’t think like this. You’re…dead. Not alive. A Nosferatu creature!”
He stopped suddenly as the image of that bald evil being entered his mind. It reminded him of his own phalacrophobia. He touched the few lines of hair for comfort.
It was no good procrastinating, a-hunting he had to go. Gripping the doorknob, he turned it quickly and flung open the door. It hit the framework, bouncing back, and hitting him on his nose. He squeaked, drawing the attention of some passing young women. They began to titter loudly. He was being laughed at, and yes, he was phobic about that too.
He slammed shut the door, took off his cape and sat back on his sofa. The undead can’t cry, but they can be sad. Percy sat there as the hours past, reciting his little rhymes against the phobias. “Be of good cheer, forget the fear. Be of good cheer, forget the fear etc, etc, etc.”
After some time, he was aware he was not alone. A tall, very red coloured man stood over him, his sharp cow type horns tinkling his chandelier. His long-pointed tail lashed at his drapes and his unnaturally large private parts rested on his paisley armchair covers. It was his boss, Old Nick himself. And he looked pissed off.
“Get up you idiot. Call yourself a bloody vampire? I’ve seen blind mosquitos better at sucking blood than you. You’re supposed to be the elite of my demonic army, not a case study for psychologists.”
“Oh, great Satan, I tried to tell the Count how bad I’d be but…he was determined. I’m frightened of everything. Birds, trains, corks…”
“CORKS!” said an irritated Lucifer.
“Er, yes. It’s peculiar to me. I call it popcokaphobia. It’s rare and…”
“Bollocks to this. Look…Percy Twinks…and what kind of a name is that? Can’t you have a title or something? Viscount Vampire, or Marquis Murder. Change your bloody name. However, I will do you a favour. I hope God doesn’t find out I’m helping someone. He’d laugh his tits off. OK…your cured. I use the power of Hades, Hell, the obsidian corners of torment, the spiky things of pain and the magic word ’abracadabra’ to cure you. You now have no phobias. So, get your arse out there and suck a virgin dry.”
There was a really theatrical puff of smoke and he’d gone, as had, Percy realised, all his ridiculous fears. Percy, Dark Lord of Clematis Close, was re-born, or rather re-died. He now craved blood, juicy red bubbling out of artery blood. He wanted to wrap the night around him as he lay on a tomb slab in a pitch-black cemetery in a thunderstorm.
“Yehaaa, I’m a coming for me pint of the red stuff cringing mortals.”
He donned the cape, turned off his lights and flung open the door launching himself into the…daylight.
The smell of barbeque was suddenly apparent to his neighbours on Clematis Close as was the now blazing little bat on the lawn. It was an ironic twist that Percy’s heliophobia had also vanished with his other fears.
God did find out though, and really did laugh his tits off.
Martin P. Fuller
Martin P. Fuller lives in his shoebox house in West Yorkshire. He was in his previous exitances: a beer salesman, a pall bearer, a car delivery driver, and oh yes… a police officer for over 34 years.
He started to write in 2013 after attending a creative writing class and since then has become a writing course junkie.
Discovering his dark side, Martin has had a number of stories published in Trembling with Fear and several other anthologies including Deadcades published by Infernal Clock.
A Time of Loneliness by Varian Ross
The park bench was abandoned even before the plague. Then, when the zombies walked with flowers in their hair and fallen leaves trailing after them like so many lost puppies—the sense of emptiness grew.
Every day, Sharon would come and watch the newly risen dead walk. They would hang around the bench she sat on like flies around rotting meat. She didn’t have many places to go to—from the bench to her apartment and back. Sometimes she’d go to a coffee shop in hopes that this was all some ridiculous nightmare, and not her life. She’d be able to just order a coffee with cream and no sugar, sit down, and work on her reports. Instead she’d discover the shop to be nearly empty, all its inhabitants either gone—fled in fear of what they didn’t understand—or turned and newly risen.
They had not killed her yet because they enjoyed beauty. Every day, she would finish a sketch and leave it tacked up on the tree that sat beside her bench. It was always gone in the morning; sometimes it was neatly taken down. Other times it was crudely torn away, leaving a small scrap of paper still stuck to the tack on the tree. She never asked, or tried to ask, who took her work. She just knew that her pictures were keeping her alive, here, in the heart of what might as well be hell.
They left her gifts in exchange for her work. Sometimes it was clothes or food that they had obviously taken out of their old homes, sometimes it was flowers.
One time, one of them had brought a sketchbook and had sat down at her feet, holding a pencil in their shaking hand. At the end of the day, she smiled and thanked them for the company. They had stood and had folded the drawing, handing it to her. She had taken it and slipped it into the pocket of her jeans. She had handed them the drawing she’d made and had been rewarded with a smile like sunshine with a mouth full of rotting teeth.
She had taken the drawing home and had unfolded it, thinking that all she would see would be a pile of scribbles. Instead, she found a drawing of herself bending over her pad. She smiled and scribbled some compliments on the back.
When she returned the next day, the creature was already sitting at the base of the tree, sketchpad in hand. She’d hesitated, then unfolded the notes she’d written, then had passed it down to them. They’d read the notes, nodded, and tucked it into the pocket of their jeans.
They traded notebooks one day. The creature—whose name in life, she’d learned from, had been Samuel, and he still wished to be called that—had drawings that starkly contrasted her own scenes of nature and scenic portrayals of life before. His drawings were all blood and gore and done with shaking hands. She had not commented on the disturbing-ness of his work, had only praised his drawing style and how he had captured those raw feelings of desperation that must come with being newly turned.
At this comment, he’d shaken his head. He’d flipped open to a clean page in his notebook and had started to write.
It’s not so bad, he’d written, being newly turned. Everyone feared me in life anyway, so, he shrugged, I might as well give them another reason—a good reason—to fear me now.
“Why were they afraid of you,” she asked him out loud. This was how their conversations went, him writing, her speaking out loud. There was an odd sort of companionship forming between them, and Sharon wasn’t sure what to think of it.
I was different, he wrote. He made a snorting sound that she took for a laugh. I wasn’t really that different, but I was still the outcast.
“Are they accepting of you,” she asked, before she could think of what a ridiculous question that was, “Here, I mean?”
Now, is what you mean, he wrote. I grew up around here—I could tell you all about the ‘buried treasure’ in the Miller’s pond—that was really just a big pile of plastic gold coins, by the way. I could show you where the best pizza places are—were— dammit. It’s hard to….
“Hard to think of life in before and after,” she said quietly.
He looked up at her. She held his gaze, forcing herself not to flinch at how his skin had turned a grayish color over the hours she had not seen him. He reached back and pulled off the baseball cap he wore, taking bits of hair off of his head with it. She couldn’t keep back her shudder when he nonchalantly laid it aside, like it was nothing to lose so much hair in one blow. Like it was nothing that his body was falling apart and he could do nothing about it—.
Yes, he finally wrote, it is. He stood and gently tore today’s picture out of his notebook, handing it to her. She did the same. She then pulled a second picture out and gently tacked it to the tree. Just because she had a partner in her artwork now, didn’t mean that he should be the only one with access to the beauty she could bring to the world.
He flicked the hair out of the baseball cap, then reached up and gently put it on her head. He grinned at that, then turned and walked away. His walk was more of a stumble now, than the confident stride it had been even days ago.
Sharon sat down on the bench, her heart hurting. She knew he would be gone soon. She brought her fist up to her mouth and bit it, hoping she wouldn’t start to cry. She couldn’t cry, not for one of them.
When she went home for the day, she almost put the baseball cap down at the base of the tree for Samuel to find tomorrow. Instead she tucked it in her bag. When she was getting ready for bed, she took the hat out of her bag and dropped it on her dresser.
A week passed. Every day, she and Samuel would draw together, passing their notebooks when they wanted to talk. They were being left alone by the other risen dead, Sharon noticed. Instead, the others would wander and look at the two of them with an almost curious look, as though they were wondering why she tolerated Samuel being so close to her.
One day, he closed his notebook early and handed it to her. She started to hand it back to him—she’d already looked at his work for the day—but he held up his hands, shook his head, and walked away.
Sharon sat at the bench, watching, clutching the notebook. She held the notebook close to her heart. She wished that he would be back tomorrow.
He had drawn one of her pictures from memory. In it, she and her old girlfriend had been sitting on the band of a lake, their arms around one another’s shoulders. In it, he’d drawn himself and a young man with long wavy hair in a torn leather jacket, sitting on the other side of the lake, in the exact same pose.
Sharon slowly sank down at the base of the tree. She stopped breathing and felt tears sting her eyes. This was the only non-violent picture he’d ever drawn. And it had been his good-bye present. To her. She wiped her eyes, not wanting this to be true, but at the same time knowing it was. They didn’t get sick, the walking dead, they just…died. And now Samuel—her friend, Samuel—he was gone.
She sat at the base of the tree a moment longer, head bowed, the picture still clutched tightly in her hand. Then she reached up and removed the protective bracelet she’d sworn to her father she’d never take off, that she’d always been safe. That she’d always stay human. She took the heavy stainless-steel thing imbued with magic—and threw it far, Into the river. Where, if she could see through her tears, she could see a body floating that looked like Samuel.
The sun set, and Sharon waited for night to fall.
Will went to the same Chinese restaurant every week. His order always included a fortune cookie. He opened the cookie and read it, even though he thought it was nonsense.
You will have great fortune
The next week, the message was oddly specific.
You will die next week
He threw it away, disgusted. Next week came and he cracked open the cookie.
Will, you will die tonight. Now.
Panicked, Will ran from the restaurant. He didn’t even see the car that crushed him. The restaurant owner watched the scene. He wondered; would they die if they didn’t see their fortune?
RJ 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.
Brunner considered the address he’d been given.
“So, if I remove this Sterling’s ocular implants, you can put them into my son? My boy will finally see?”
The back-alley surgeon smiled. “I know for a fact the implants are the latest and greatest kind. Just don’t damage them in the… appropriation.”
Brunner contemplated, then left
The surgeon relaxed, confident in the coming procedure. After all, he’d been the one to install the implants for Sterling in the first place, two months ago.
And if another interested party ever came along, he could tell them where Brunner and his boy lived.
Patrick Winters is a graduate of Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL, where he earned a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. His work has now been featured throughout several magazines and anthologies. A full list of his previous publications may be found at his author’s site, if you are so inclined to know: http://wintersauthor.
Moonlight fills the ruins. In the silence, a habit swishes, the beads of a rosary clack.
She steps along the broken tiles, her lantern held high, swinging. Inspecting the remains of rooms where once her charges slept.
“Now, now, go to sleep,” she admonishes a tiny skeleton.
“Stop talking, Robbie,” she whispers to another.
In her lamplight, tiny mounds of skulls and ribs decorate the darkness.
Sister Cecilia finishes her rounds, looks to the vast starless sky, utters a swift prayer. As she does, a tiny hand breaks through the soil, clasps her shoe. “Tuck me in,” the corpse beseeches.
Mike Rader is a pseudonym used by Australian author and poet James Aitchison. As J J Munro and Mike Rader, Aitchison writes horror and noir crime. As James Lee, he writes Asia’s biggest selling horror series for middle readers — Mr Midnight — which has sold over three million copies. His work can be seen at www.flameoftheforest.com
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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 and Reborn, and the novellas, Bottled and Paused. Her novel, The Woodcutter, is due for release via Brigids Gate Press in 2023. 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 is an active member of the HWA and can be found at https://stephanieellis.org, on Twitter at @el_stevie, Instagram stephanieellis7963 and also somewhere on Facebook.