Trembling With Fear 09/01/2019
Another week and before I delve into the writing side of things, I’m going to wish son Dylan good luck in Cardiff where he is about to embark on his MA in Jazz. I will also add he has composed scores for films and animations (samples here) so if anybody wants music for anything, drop me a line and I’ll pass it on to him (shameless mum plug ).
With regards to helping your family as they start out in life, if any readers/writers have offspring (or parents!) who could also do with a boost for work they have done in the indie field, let me know. You see so many of the rich and famous promoting their own children and giving them opportunities the rest of us could never hope to achieve it does annoy me so I want to redress the balance a little – in my own small way! I’m more than happy to do what I can to promote and support new creative talent via twitter (@el_Stevie).
Now over to Trembling With Fear’s first story, Rock, Paper, Scissors by Rachel Rodman. I often keep an initial comment against a submission’s entry which helps later on when considering why it was accepted (or rejected). In this instance, there was one word: ‘different’. Re-reading it, I would also add ‘unique’. Rock, paper and scissors are brought to life in an almost Alice in Wonderland sense – albeit with somewhat darker overtones. This is a story of loss and survival of the fittest, told in a wonderfully bizarre and original way. The imagery is extraordinary and surreal. I’m envious of the mind which was able to conjure up such an amazing tale.
Carefree Parenting by the always excellent Kevin M. Folliard turns all the ‘don’ts’ parents drill into their children into a ‘to-do’ list. Why? Because there are greater dangers, sometimes from the parents themselves. The punchline is subtle and unlaboured, making it all the more powerful. Some writers try too hard with their last lines. This is a good example of how to do it properly. (I also urge you to read his Short Sharp Shocks! tale Candy Corn.)
Haunted by RJ Meldrum is a lovely little creepy take on the Haunted House theme. What could go wrong? Regular readers of TWF will recognise Richard as being one of those continually accepted by TWF. Why? Well, it’s a combination of both the quality of his writing and his variety of subjects. Sometimes when a writer gets an acceptance at TWF, further submissions are simply re-jigs of that original story or idea but failure to attempt different story lines does mean these other submissions are more likely to be rejected. Richard has submitted many stories, achieving publication pretty much every month at TWF for some time now and in all that time, I don’t think we’ve ever felt that his stories are rehashes of earlier tales. Be like Richard, keep it varied, keep it fresh.
Sunday Service by Scarlet Berry takes us to church and is a good example of the twist adding not only a punchline but a little dark humour as well. I don’t think we have that many stories set in churches or during specific services. How about a demonic baptism, an horrific confession, the last rites?
Stuart is currently troubleshooting a huge issue we’re having on the site and unfortunately will not be able to weigh in this week.
Rock, Paper, Scissors
The first animal belonged to the air. It was thin and white. Its edges were perfectly straight, and its corners were square.
Long vessels striped the animal’s body, spaced in horizontal rows. They carried blood, light blue. Oxygen entered these vessels by means of three hole punches, set into the left wing. Wind, swishing through the holes, ferried away carbon dioxide, in addition to excess heat.
The animal was pregnant. Its fetus, which was only half grown, produced a faint thickening, just left of center. The animal was the heavier for that. It was also the hungrier.
Now, eager to hunt, the animal descended. It adjusted its wings, flattening and refolding them, along its body’s central crease. Its motions produced soft whispers, like pages turning.
Sweeping low over the savannah grass, the animal perceived a flash of reflected light. There was a faint smell also, like hot metal.
Panicked, the animal tried to abort its dive. But it was too late.
From below, two blades ascended. The blades caught the animal along its crease, and severed its body into two equal sheets. Snap!
Along this new edge, the creature’s fetus slipped out, like a letter from an envelope. The fetus was composed of coarser fibers, not yet bleached. In the air, it quivered briefly, then went still.
The blades belonged to a second animal. They were versatile appendages, hinged at the center. Held out, as now, they served as a set of sharp jaws.
Over its dead prey, the second animal snapped these jaws, over and over. To execute each snap, the animal pressed together two metal loops, which served, for the moment, as its skull. With each snap, it created a new flurry of confetti.
The animal slid these confetti pieces through a thin orifice, located at the base of the blades, right at the hinge. As the animal swallowed, its hunger began to ease.
Mid-meal, the animal heard a distant thump. Then a low rumble, as of some heavy body, beginning to roll.
With a spurt of adrenaline, the animal upended itself. In this new configuration, its appendages took on modified functions. Its jaws became its legs, and the metal loops became its hips.
The animal ran, ran, in a seesawing gallop, driven by a primal fear. Its hips compressed, then split apart; compressed, then split apart. Clack, Clack, Clack.
But, as fast as it went, the rumble behind it only became louder. Until at last, with a thunderous collision, its attacker closed the gap.
Thrown to the ground, the animal was frantic to use its blades, either as weapons or as legs. But the collision had dented the appendages–and partially fused them–and the animal could no longer pull them apart.
Rolling back, the attacker made a second pass. Then a third. Then a fourth. Then a fifth. Out of the splintered handles, the animal’s brain oozed out, bloody and molten.
For a little while, the animal’s peripheral nerves continued to send feeble instructions: twitch, twitch, twitch. But then the animal went still.
The third animal was immense and grey. Tiny crevices pocked its skin, which served to admit light and sound.
Viewed from a distance, the animal was a sphere, almost a perfect one. It had no upper half and no lower. This was the secret of its locomotion–its ability to roll back and forth, if given a slope to start from.
Now, positioned above its prey, the animal commenced to feed. It opened its lips, stone against stone. With a scraping sound, it everted its stomach.
Sharp bits of stone lined this stomach, which served as teeth. Using these teeth, the animal ground its prey into small, glittering flecks, suited to easy absorption. Then, with a clench, it funneled the flecks into its intestines.
As it ate, the animal perceived a shadow. Then a soft whisper, as near-weightless feet alighted on its hull.
At these cues, the animal began to ready itself for a defensive roll. It pumped its abdominal muscles, initiating the time-consuming maneuvers that would be required for stomach retraction. But it was already doomed.
Over one of its skyward-facing blowholes, the animal felt an obstruction. It tried to breathe: in, out. But its attacker’s body adhered to the opening, forming a tight seal.
Denied that oxygen, the animal was unable to mobilize its ponderous body. It rocked forward, then back. Forward, then back. But it could not roll.
Then, with a soft tickle–so soft that the animal almost failed to perceive it–two venomous fibers snaked through a crevice on its hull.
After the tickle, the animal became stiffer. Then stiffer. Finally, with a few grinding beats, its heart became hard, as hard as its outer hull, and everything went dark.
The fourth animal, like the first, was white and thin. It crouched above its dead prey, wings extended–ready to fly, if it were forced to.
From the body, the animal retracted its injectable fibers, which were connected to the lines of its venom-containing blood. Light blue, set against white.
The animal’s triumph at the killing was backgrounded by a deep exhaustion. Just that morning, the animal’s mate had been eaten, together with their unborn child.
The animal’s brain was not quite complex enough to experience grief. But it felt the waste of it, all the same. All of the energy that the animal had spent: in wooing, in the complicated acrobatics of in-flight copulation, and, later, in fighting off rivals…all of that had come to nothing.
Now, it would have to start over.
This late in the season, the effort would be desperate. What mates remained would be deeply imperfect creatures, with rips in their skin, or uneven edges, or misfolded wings.
But the animal had to. It had to. And it felt the urgency of that, both in the flattest part of its brainstem and also in its loins.
To survive the nuptial flight, the animal would need fuel. Fuel for the exhausting courtship dance, above and below the clouds. Fuel to withstand the shuddering mechanics of the thrust, and the loss of its remaining testicular granules.
Driven by that need, the animal had hunted. Now, to complete the harvest, it extruded a rectangular strip of tissue, coated in a corrosive saliva.
At the blowhole, where the prey’s hull was weakest, the animal dabbed this strip. And then it licked and it licked, with slow caustic strokes, enough to dissolve the stone.
Go ahead and run with scissors, my darling child.
Eat a pile of junk food. Never mind the tummy ache—a little brandy will settle that.
Stick your finger in the socket if you’re curious about the jolt. It’s like a pinching tickle!
Skip the sunscreen.
If you step on some glass or a wasp or a nest of fire ants, “que sera sera!”
Talk to a shady stranger. Agitate him. Try and outrun him for sport.
Let your hair down and live, my dear!
Because at midnight, I’m pressing this button, and we’re all going to heaven.
Kevin M. Folliard
Kevin M. Folliard is a Chicagoland writer whose published fiction includes scary stories collections Christmas Terror Tales and Valentine Terror Tales, as well as adventure novels such as Matt Palmer and the Komodo Uprising. His work has also been collected by The Horror Tree, Flame Tree Publishing, Hinnom Magazine, and more. Kevin currently resides in La Grange, IL, where he enjoys his day job as an academic writing advisor. When not writing or working, he’s usually reading Stephen King, playing Street Fighter, or traveling the U.S.A.
Author Website: www.KevinFolliard.com
The house was reportedly haunted. People had gone missing after visiting it. Dave insisted that he and Julie check it out. They explored, finding nothing spookier than spider webs. They stood in the bedroom.
“This was where the murder took place. This is where the ghost walks.”
Julie was unimpressed.
“I want to go home.”
It was near sunset; it was getting hard to see.
They headed downstairs. In the darkness of the hallway, Dave reached out for the door. It took a moment for him to realise there was no longer a handle, no longer a door.
R.J. 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.
Facebook profile: https://www.facebook.com/richard.meldrum.79
The people in the pews sat silently as the minister began his sermon. He stood still, speaking with measured words about sin and grace. Soon, he was pacing back and forth, moving his hands for emphasis. When his 45 minute rant ended, he was actually pulling his hair out and frothing at the mouth.
Still the parishioners remained quiet.
As the minister surveyed his flock, he was disappointed by the lack of reaction, but not surprised. This crowd was tough. In the past, he had put folks to sleep with his sermons. Today, he had tried to wake the dead.
Scarlet Berry is a Yooper. She’s been married forty years to the same man and they raised four children together. She is a mystery wrapped up in a conundrum, and loves to laugh; both evilly and happily.