Trembling With Fear 08/19/2018
This week I’m in editor mode on behalf of TWF (I could have waffled on about how brilliant Combichrist were at Bloodstock last Saturday, but I’ll spare you).
When submitting to TWF, could I ask that you check the Submissions page. This provides word count guidelines, what we accept and the like. It does not yet mention dark poetry or serials but we do take these. (Gojira were also excellent although I missed a bit of the end of their set due to bad back and being wet and cold …)
Could I also ask that both drabbles and short flash pieces be sent in as attached documents in .doc/.docx format (.txt or .rtf) rather than in body of email. I don’t worry too much about simultaneous submissions as we don’t get many of these; however, if you have submitted elsewhere, please could you indicate this when you send your story in. It will not prejudice your chances but it will make us alert to the possibility of it being withdrawn. If we get a large number of simultaneous submissions in future, it may be that we do change our stance but until then don’t worry about it. (Alestorm were also a good bit of piratical fun although Health and Safety stopped the show at one point as something was happening in the mosh pit, all good though and nobody died).
This week, the author I decided to check out is Justin Boote. He has a habit of sending in drabbles in threes, usually on a related theme, usually about bugs or something gross. I couldn’t find a website for him but I did find this story published in the Horror Zine, October 2017 https://www.thehorrorzine.com/Fiction/Oct2017/JustinBoote/JustinBoote.html. Reading it, it confirmed his love of such horrible topics and this particular story (excellent by the way, as were Power Trip, great metal band from Texas) is one you should all read. It’s about one of those fears we all have.
PS. Gojira and Combichrist were the best.
‘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.
What Lurks Behind The Wall
The man can’t remember how long it’s been. Days, months, weeks, years… he lost his calendar a while ago before everyone started dying.
Lately, he resorts to scratching marks into the purple plastered walls of his sixth floor apartment. A collection of at least a dozen scratches are engraved in the wall near the small, wooden dining table that sits against it. After he dines on a small, evening supper, he will take his dinner knife and carve a single line into the plaster, watching as the dry wall dust sprinkles down to the grey carpet under him. Another day passes and he retreats into his bedroom, not having to turn off the lights since the lightbulbs in his apartment died a few days ago.
He lays in bed and tries to ignore the anxiety that creeps into his mind. The pessimistic thoughts flood his brain as he feels heart race. You’re running out of food, it says. Running out of light, entertainment, time, air, your will, your sanity…
The tears begin to flow from his eyes as he tries to remember his childhood.
He pictures in his mind the little wooden cottage that overlooked Turtle Lake. The sun would blaze down on his brother and him as they jumped and played on the hot, beige sand beach and would then cool themselves in the cold, turquoise water of the lake. He pictured the glow of the setting sun on the horizon of the lake. His mother would joke that the sun was going for a swim in the water.
It’s memories like that that keep him going in this dead world. They give him company while he is trapped in his home. Helps him remember the good old days before the plague. Before people began rising from their graves and preying upon the town. He hears them from behind his heavily locked apartment door. Their decayed bodies were like an echo from the past, haunting him night and day.
When he had seen his first dead body it had been in Vietnam during the early ‘60’s, and the body had belonged to his brother, Steve.
Steve had been shot in the stomach during their raid on a Vietnamese village a couple months before they were scheduled to return home. While the man hadn’t seen it happen, he had seen when they carried his brother to safety and laid him down on the grass. The men in his platoon, Rooster, Georgie, and even Lieutenant McKinley, had looked with grim faces at the gut wound that bleed heavily, the blood seeping into the soil under him. It was as if they could smell the metallic scent of death on him, like bloodhounds. The man took his brother’s limp body into his arms, holding him close, his own shirt absorbing the warm blood. Brushing the filthy, light hair from his brother’s face, he could see the cold stare of dead eyes look up at him.
In that moment, his skin had crawled at the sight. No tears had come since he was too much in shock. It continued to make him feel guilty years later. How could he not cry for his own brother, kiss his forehead before the soldiers of his platoon had robbed the body from his arms? He realized why the men kept quiet after witnessing death. It made them remember that at any moment, they could be the one to step on a landmine and explode into a million severed limbs, or being riddled with bullets from a M/50 submachine gun as their blood drained out of their body and sunk forever into the Vietnamese soil beneath them.
Grief crippled him as he had sat quiet, staring up at the blue sky. Then, the anger pulsated in his chest and exploded from him as he let out a ferocious scream that echoed through the Vietnamese jungle. He had screamed until his throat was dry and hoarse then rested against the cold ground under him for a moment in thought.
The man, who had been twenty-one at the time, wondered why no one would acknowledge the scene that had just played in front of all of their eyes. How could they ignore the horrific nature of what happened? His brother had been the nicest, most humble person in the world, and well-liked amongst the guys.. How can a well liked man like him just die and be forgotten? He wanted someone to tell him it was going to be okay. He wanted someone to tell him that now.
He still heard that scream at night. The echo of it in his head. He would dream about those glassy, dead eyes staring at him from the darkness of the wild jungle. Antagonising him. Then, he would wake, sweat trickling down his forehead, pyjamas sticky with it and the blankets tangled in his legs. Back to reality, which was even scarier.
He would wake in the morning to the sounds of the dead outside, their fingernails scraping against the outside hallway of his apartment building.
It had been that way for so long he was able to tune them out as he prepared his meager breakfast of a single banana that was slightly brown and the last little bit of milk in the carton. Soon there would be no food left and the man would have to plan something.
He pictured the silver revolver in its decaying leather holder hidden away in the first drawer of his nightstand.
Could he leave the safety of his home with it? Shoot his way through a flood of dead corpses while they clawed at him with sharp and filthy fingernails, white eyes that hungered for his blood? Did he even have enough bullets? He must have a box or two somewhere, under layers of dust.
Could he even run from them with his bad leg? He would have to think more about it.
For now he didn’t want to think about anything that involved venturing outside.
He sees as the morning sun sends a natural, yellow light into his living room, streaming through a sliver of an opening in the brown curtains. He keeps the curtain drawn in fear that the dead who walked the streets would see that his apartment was still occupied, and come running to pound down his door and dine on his blood and flesh.
Before the plague, back when things were normal, he would have had the T.V on, watching the weather channel while he ate his breakfast. Now, he felt as if he even coughed loudly the monsters outside in the hallway would hear and know he was there. So the T.V, radio and alarm clock remained unplugged.
His entertainment came from the stockpiles of novels he had on his bookshelf in the hallway between the bedroom and the living room. Most of them were of the western genre and some were non-fiction novels on government conspiracies and biographies on musicians, like Willie Nelson.
He would try to lose himself in the novel’s story without letting the sounds of the corpses moans outside. But that was easier said than done.
Sometimes he would pray for a pair of earphones to block out the eerie sounds, or for his ears to fail on him so he would be deaf. Anything to keep from hearing the sounds of grisly moans, hisses, the high pitched screeching of their nails against the plaster walls, trying to claw inside. They would grow louder at night especially, their shrieks ear splitting and causing goosebumps to tingle on the man’s skin.
When he had first heard those sounds he hadn’t believed that zombies existed. He had grown up with the movies like Night of the Living Dead, where the zombies walked slow and their eyes stared lifelessly at their prey.
He remembered the first time he encountered one.
It had been a Monday evening and he had a garbage bag tied up to take down to the garbage shoot. Opening his apartment door, he had stepped out and froze in fear. At the end of the dimly lit hallway, between the eggshell white walls and grey carpeting, stood a young man with a dead, white eyes and green tinted, almost moldy looking skin. His breath was hoarse and he hissed at nothing, arms swinging limb by his side. But when the creature caught sight of him, it was like it was part animal, part man. It ran clumsily towards him and the man gasped in panic. Rushing back into his apartment, he had slammed the door shut just as the creatures fists began to bang upon it wildly. The man had locked his door, even sliding the chain lock in place, and had spend minutes staring at the tremors that shook the door.
Since then, he had remained in his apartment and kept the door locked.
The apartment has become so stuffy, hot and putrid smelling since he couldn’t take the garbage out or run himself a bath. Could he even trust that the water was good? What if whatever disease that the zombies had was in the water system of the building now?
He ignored his discomfort and continued with his book. By the time 6:00pm rolled around, and the light from the sun was disappearing, he had finished the final chapter and retreated back into his bedroom. Curling into his blankets, he fell asleep without issue.
He woke only an hour later when a series of loud bangs boomed from outside his bedroom door. His heart pounded along with the booms as he slowly rose to his feet and stood for a moment, thoughts racing.
They knew he was there in the apartment. Could they smell the scent of life in him, like the soldiers in his platoon could smell the scent of death? What would it be like to die by his enemies hands? Would he suffer?
His heads dropped down to the wooden nightstand by his bed and he leaned down, pulling open the drawer and began to load the metal cartridges into his gun. He walked down to the entrance of his apartment, the booms growing louder as he came closer.
Their fists banged violently against the door as it shook in response, the silver chain lock rattling wildly. Their shrieks, moans and hisses were growing louder from behind the door. How many were out there? Two? Four? A Dozen? The man’s arm shook with fear. The lock would give way soon and the door would collapse under the force of their bodies. They would flood in, a wave of dead eyes, sharp nails, saliva dripping down from their black gums and rotted teeth. Their nails would dig into his skin, rip his flesh apart and they would feast on his body parts like a pack of wolves feasting on an innocent deer.
His breathing shallow, heart pumping with adrenaline. He realizes he doesn’t want to die that way. Eaten alive by the dead. Who would want to die in such a horrible nature?
His eyes fall to the loaded gun in his hand, its silver body shining still in the darkness. I can’t live like this anymore. It’s a quick and painless way out of his suffering. Constantly being in fear was an exhausting way to live.
He points it up to his chin, hand trembling, heart racing, and thinks of the men he had fought beside. Or, at least, the ones he had bothered to keep in touch with over the years. Lieutenant McKinley had gone home to his wife and newborn daughter after the war and died of kidney failure ten years ago. His good buddy, Rooster, had been his roommate when they returned to New York. He had lived to the age of fifty before developing liver cancer from his life as an alcoholic. Georgie Kinborough, who had been one hell of a shot and one hell of a friend, was dead at the age of twenty-five after hanging himself from a tree in his parents backyard.
All of them had gone through hell, saw men die before their eyes, saved men from the cold hands of the grim reaper only to be robbed of their souls by him at young ages.
They were lucky. They didn’t have to suffer through the plague. Hear the sounds of the dead behind the fragile walls of their apartments. They got the sweet release of death before ending up as walking corpses. The man saw as the wooden frame of the door began to crack, light from the hallway streaming in as the shrieks of the dead pierced his eardrums. His finger touched the trigger and he let out a scream, similar to the scream that had echoed in his brain since 1961, squeezing down. The sound of the bullets squish as it flew through his chin and out the back of his head was the last thing he heard.
The man is pronounced dead at the scene by the paramedics, who begin to clear out of the dim apartment with a stretcher and a medium sized body bag laid on top.
Brain matter paints the wall in front of the entrance. Blood runs down the wall and sinks into the carpet below, like tiny red rivers.
A detective enters with a policeman, who carries with him a manila folder pregnant with white paper documents. He takes them out and reads them out loud to the police officer.
“A veteran of ‘Nam. Has a history of PTSD. Christ… poor guy.”
“Say anything about dementia? My great grandma was about this guy’s age when she had to be put in a home.”
The detective flipped through the pages. “Doesn’t say anything about it in here… I took a statement from the landlady. She says she was concerned when she didn’t see him leave the building on Saturday. She said he always went grocery shopping on Saturday mornings. So she got a couple guys from the building to break into his apartment and check to make sure he hadn’t kicked the bucket.”
“Any family? Children? Ex-wife?”, The policeman asked.
“None. The landlady said he sort of kept to himself. Never really left other than to get groceries or take the garbage out.”
The detective stares sadly across the living room to a picture on a mantle over the T.V stand. It is a black and white photograph of two young soldiers, uniforms clean and unwrinkled. They have beret’s on their heads, light coloured hair sticking out from underneath. They smile at the camera, a bus blurred in the background on a street, and the detective figures the picture must have been taken right before they left their family.
He recognizes the young man’s face on the right. A round baby face, eyes alight with excitement, his slightly muscular body. Hints of those young features were in the dead, old man they just found.
The detective wondered what had been going on in his mind? How he had spent all that time alone in his apartment?
His eyes caught sight of the scratch marks engraved in the walls. The old man had been recording the days… but why? Did he plan to kill himself? The detective stared at them for a while, his heart growing heavy with sorrow at the thought of the old man counting down the days to his death. He had survived through the hell of Vietnamese jungles and bullets raining down at him, only to kill himself with no family left over to remember him. It seemed, in that moment, that the universe was a cruel joke with an even worse punchline.
Emma Knudson is a university student pursuing an English degree at Lakehead University. You can contact her at [email protected] or message her on her Facebook profile.
Best Seat in the House
A muffled voice announced, “Ring Master!”
The crowd cheered.
Poverty kept kids like me outside, so through a small hole, I stole a sparkle-eyed glimpse of the man in red coattails. His dark, hollow eyes gripped me. A sinuous smile, outlined with scarlet lips, opened to a cavernous blackness.
In the stands, the townspeople stood paralyzed.
Ring Master pulled in a breath. Particles in the air illuminated as they were sucked in. The audience’s mouths opened wide, as life made an exodus from their bodies, breathing energy into him.
Ring Master glowed, then looked in my direction. “Somebody hasn’t paid.”
Red Lagoe abandoned the nine-to-five to take care of her kids, but domestic life was a horror story itself. A mountain of stories piled in her head, waiting to be written, but the pile of laundry was far too precarious to ignore. With her sanity crushed beneath Mt. Laundry, she chose to ignore the avalanche of domestic responsibilities, while she sat down to write her first book.
Her short stories have been published with Flash Fiction Magazine and Toasted Cheese Literary Journal–placing in the 2016 Dead of Winter horror fiction contest. Red’s viral apocalypse novel Fair Haven was released in 2017…
…and her house is still a disaster.
The young man looked up from the manuscript he was reading and sighed. He took his red pen and scored two lines through the paper and scrawled “rejected.”
Zombies; so cliché, so predictable. It had been done to death. What a tired old stereotype.
Never the less, they smashed his door down and the shambling mass of undead decaying monstrosities ripped his head off and ate his brains, ruining his best hipster cloth cap.
“That children,” Grandpa declared, closing the book, “Is why, when the apocalypse comes, editors will be first to go. They don’t know when to be afraid.”
David lives in Scotland. He loves stories that exist just below the surface of things, like deep water.
He has most recently had work published or forthcoming in; THE FLATBUSH REVIEW, THE HORROR TREE, LOCUST, ROSETTA MALEFICARIUM, SHORT TALE 100 and 50 WORD STORIES. You can read more at
Something In The Water
The town had something in the water. I’d read about it before we moved in, but never realised how bad it was until I tried to wash my hands. Gareth laughed when I refused to drink the stuff from the tap, even got annoyed when I begged him to stop as well.
Eventually, I stopped mentioning it. Just wiped away any goo dripping from the faucet, called a plumber when the pipes cracked from corrosion. On sleepless nights I watched the gelatinous, yellow mass ooze out of Gareth’s open eye sockets and mouth, wondering when it would claim me too.
Maddy Hamley is currently suspended in the space between jobs and cities, but still manages to spend far too much time writing Twitter fiction, sampling craft beers and single-malts with her husband-to-be, and occasionally cursing at untranslatable Bavarian proverbs in her capacity as a bilingual translator. Samples of her work can be found on Paragraph Planet, Sensorially Challenged Vol. 1, Drabbledark or the London Independent Story Prise website (recommended writer in 2018 Q2).
Stujan’s Bullheaded Attack
Stujan’s father was displeased by his lack of leadership.
Not that he had shown his son how to rule.
Stujan would prove him wrong.
Dozens of Minotaurs had moved into their mountains.
Preying on those who came to trade.
Stujan snuck into their camp with handpicked warriors.
Ax in hand, he led his friends into battle.
They should have had the element of surprise.
Yet, the Minotaurs were ready.
Awake within seconds.
Weapons in hand.
Axes dug into steel and flesh.
Stujan signaled the retreat.
Only half the warriors escaped.
The King would not be pleased.
Father of Two. Author. Philosopher. Rescuer of Dogs. High Priest to the dead Lord Cthulhu. Spinner of tales. Or, most importantly for anyone who reads this site, your friendly neighborhood Editor-Man©.
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Stuart Conover is a father, husband, published author, blogger, geek, entrepreneur, horror fanatic, and runs a few websites including Horror Tree!