Trembling With Fear 08/30/20
Autumn is upon us and this week will see me returning to work, albeit two inset days where we learn how we are to cope with the coming term. Where has the summer holiday gone?
Whilst I’ve pretty much done my bit with the Trembling With Fear anthologies, I’m now part way pulling the Infernal Clock’s Inferno anthology together. I’m also judging the Flash Friday fiction comp this weekend (if you enjoy flash, join in here). I’ve written a new short story – the first for a while, due to time constraints and with an idea bubbling in the back of my mind, I’m thinking about a new novel. This is going to have to be fitted in to my return to work, somehow.
The first story this week in Trembling with Fear is Tick, Tick, Tick by Ed Burkley really draws out the tension, from the first hearing to the continued build up and the corresponding sense of panic in Matheson it adds up to an explosive ending. Making sure we know how a character is feeling, not just mentally, but also physically is important, builds that bond between the character and reader, underpins engagement.
Beached by Tabatha Wood plays despair and hope off against each other so you’re not quite sure which will get the upper hand and keeps you reading.
Camping in the Woods by Alyson Faye uses some excellent phrasing and words to convey the nature of her character. The ‘straightjacket’ pyjamas, the rat, the drowning – it all points to something not quite right. Shown and not told.
In Silver Plume by Hillary Lyon shows what happens when you bypass the middle man. The setting is painted to give not just place but also time period. Nicely done.
Enjoy the stories and send us yours!
I’m not saying that the anthologies are done and will be released over the course of September… But the anthologies are done and will be released over the course of September.
All 3 of them.
YES! We had so many quality stories come in this last year that we’ll be releasing three anthologies in 2020.
I’m a bit shocked as well.
We’ll have posts with all of the details coming out over the next couple of weeks 🙂
Just to keep me busy, we’ve also got something else that we’re preparing to launch. More details on that in the next few months. It’s something we’ll either be launching later this Fall or likely early next year. Only time will tell!
Tick, Tick, Tick by Ed Burkley
“These meetings are so boring.” Marquis’ hot breath in my ear. Bodies packed tight in the narrow boardroom. “I mean, we all know what’s coming next.”
He’s right, I knew what was next. Another victim on the chopping block because of this quarter’s unimpressive numbers.
“I think it’ll be Steve-o,” Marquis taps his pen on the table. “Or maybe Nancy, last one in’s always the first one out, am I right?” An elbow jabs into my ribs. “Hey, look over at Phil, he looks like a pig off to slaughter, all sweating and…”
Every meeting, Marquis natters on like this. Sometimes I fantasize about what would shut his mouth faster: face to table, stapler to mouth, pen in eyeball.
“…I mean just look at her blouse.”
“Did you hear that?” I say.
“Um, interrupt much? I was talking about Frederica and her two—”
“Shh,” hand raised to silence Marquis. “There it is again.”
Wristwatch to ear, but that isn’t it. I grab Marquis’ wrist and do the same. Nothing.
“Shit, you didn’t just hear that?”
“Dude,” Marquis yanks his arm free. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Voice dropping to a whisper, “But you better pull yourself together, people are looking.”
The room. A hive, their multitude of insectile eyes drill into me.
Launch from my chair, my eyes dart to find the invisible prey.
“You might want to sit down now,” Marquis hisses, tugs at my jacket sleeve.
“Doesn’t anybody else hear that?” my voice a staccato of anxiety.
“Maybe you should excuse yourself, Mr. Matheson.” Head of table, our swollen imperious leader, points a pudgy maggot finger to the exit.
Jesus, they really don’t hear it. Just me. All alone. Exit sign.
Burst out of the boardroom, temples drumming, down the hall into the men’s bathroom. Handful of water, douse face. Mirror, a frightened reflection of myself.
What the hell is going on? What was that noise in the boardroom and why didn’t anyone else hear it? Rough paper towel across sallow face, a flicker of the lights, something in the mir—
The sound echoes off the acoustic tiled walls. Impossible. The sound followed me in here. Not coming from something out there, more like something…
“It’s me,” soft as a breath.
Fist of fear to the gut. Doctor’s office across the street. Go now. Elevator doors are open, thank God. Jam a finger at the lobby button. Doors closing. Red numbers count down. Sound of electronic tone as each floor passes.
* * *
“What seems to be the problem, Mr. Matheson?” the doctor says.
“This noise keeps…”
“…I hear it, but no one else does.” Legs swing nervously on the examination table. Fingers knot in my lap, two frightened white spiders embracing.
“Well, let’s have a look at you.” Sweep of the doctor’s penlight. Pupil dilation’s good, muffed instrument in my ear, open say ah, tongue depressor. No sign of ear or sinus infection. Stethoscope to chest. “Deep breath.” Cold metal coin slides left to right across my back. “You, Mr. Matheson, are in perfect health.”
Fear’s hand clenches the heart. “But something’s wrong. I heard the thing like ten more times while you were examining me. On one of them, I saw you move and was sure you heard it too…you didn’t, did you?”
Eyes glance up momentarily from chart, then back to writing notes. “I could schedule an MRI but—”
Eyes widen with panic.
Oh, dear God…it can’t be.
“It’s getting faster!” Heart pistoning, I leap from the table.
“Just calm down, Mr. Matheson,” soothing hands on my shoulders.
“Oh man, this can’t be happening.”
“There it goes again…” Breath held. Must concentrate. Quiet now. Listening.
“Yep, it’s definitely sped up.”
Doctor’s pen dances across notepad. Concerned eyes. Paper tears free, warm hands places it into mine. “I want you to take this down to the end of the hall. They will get you in right away.”
* * *
“So, you keep hearing a ticking sound,” the psychiatrist says, “and only you can hear it. Is that an accurate assessment?”
Remain calm. She’ll help. Has to help. Shift in armchair, its leather skin complains.
Nod my head.
“And you say this ticking is getting faster?”
“Well, Mr. Matheson. Most of these things tend to be manifestations of a larger problem. Perhaps work has been stressful lately?”
“Okay,” she says. “I want you to try something for me…will you do that?”
Faster. No, no, no. A noose of dread snaps my breath.
“This will make it all stop,” reassuring. “I promise. In facing your fears, they will vanish. Now I want you to repeat after me, ‘It’s all in my head.’ Will you do that for me now?”
Body trembling. Voice shaking. Tear of sweat—no, fear—down my cheek. “It’s…all…in my head.”
Eyes clench tight. Nails dig in fisted palms.
“Good, now repeat the phrase. ‘It’s all in my head.’ Say it over and over until you fully accept it as truth. Once that happens, I assure you, all will be silent.”
“It’s all in my head…it’s all in my head…”
Tick, tick…tick, tick…tick, tick.
“It’s all in my head, it’s all in my head.”
Tick, tick, tick…tick, tick, tick.
“It’s. All. In. My. Head.”
Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick—
Hopeful, thankful watery eyes open. “Hey, you were right, it really work—”
Ed Burkley received his Ph.D. in Psychology in 2006. By day he works as a professor and researcher studying human behavior. By night he writes about the darker side of the human condition.
He awakes on cold sand, clawing at his chest. The remains of the wreck strewn around him. Cerys is gone, swallowed whole by the waves.
In the ragged moonlight he spies something move. A dark shape perched on the rocks.
“Cerys? Is that you?” he cries, relieved. He’s answered by a shuddering gasp. “I thought I’d lost you! Come down from there.”
The shadow shifts and slithers to the sands.
He sees glistening scales. Damp, bulbous eyes. A fishtail where long legs should be.
She beckons and he follows, powerless to resist. Her bloody kisses roll deep like the ocean.
Tabatha Wood lives in New Zealand and writes weird, dark horror fiction and uplifting poetry. A former English teacher and library manager, her first books were guides for professional educators. She now teaches from home and writes in her spare time, usually under the influence of strong coffee.
Camping in the Woods
He constructed his den deep in the woods, near the river where Ma had drowned Teddy, on their last day together. He’d loved Teddy. Ma less so. She was always punishing him.
Sitting inside his tent, he tossed eels of orange peel onto his sleeping bag. Then he climbed into his home-made straitjacket pyjamas, with the legs and arms sewn up. It kept him from nighttime wanderings.
‘I miss you Teddy,’ he whispered. ‘You were my best friend in all the world.’
Tomorrow he’d check the rat traps and find himself another Teddy to befriend.
Mama couldn’t stop him now.
Alyson lives in the UK; her fiction has been published widely in print anthologies – DeadCades, Women in Horror Annual 2, Trembling with Fear 1 &2, Coffin Bell Journal 1 and Stories from Stone and in ezines, most often on the Horror Tree site, Siren’s Call and The Casket of Fictional Delights. In May 2019 Night of the Rider, was published by Demain, in their Short Sharp Shocks! E book series and reached the amazon kindle top 10 best seller lists. Her work has been read on podcasts (eg Ladies of Horror), shortlisted in competitions and published in charity anthologies. Future work will appear in anthologies from Things in the Well, Mortal Realm and Twisted Wing Publishers.
She performs at open mics, teaches, edits and hangs out with her dog on the moor in all weathers.
In Silver Plume
Melinda wore a horse-hair wig and calico dress; the miners said she was the ‘purtiest’ gal in Colorado, and rumored to be very affectionate—for a reasonable price. A little silver got you an assignation, bypassing the local madame, as Melinda was an independent agent. And so eager young Caleb made a date.
Meet me in the alley behind the saloon, Melinda hoarsely whispered. I will give you something you can’t imagine, like—
A stabbing pain in his neck, blood all over everything, weakness, and dying light. Melinda’s wig slipped, revealing she was a ravening he. Welcome to the afterlife, handsome.
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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.
Tick…Yep, modern work can have that effect, all right. 🙂