Trembling With Fear 09/09/2018
Well, I’ve survived the first few days back at work, probably because there were no students but it was tough, nonetheless. By the time I got home and decided to spend ‘just a little time’ getting up-to-date at TWF, which turned into a few hours, I was pretty shattered, which leads me to my editorial dilemma. I hope this gives you some insight into the amount of time and care I (and Stuart) take over reading and commenting on submissions.
In that first read, I don’t just glance at the story, I read it properly. If it’s not quite right I’ll do some editing which hopefully gets taken onboard. This editing I do takes time – a lot of time and is voluntary; I agonise over adding or taking out hyphens (I can hear Alyson Faye laughing ), dither over wording, double-check apostrophes and extra spaces (yes, Martin Fuller and Kim Plasket ) because I feel hugely responsible for what will become of that work. I spent several years professionally employed as a senior software author and that involved a lot of time editing to high industry standards and the pressure of those tight budgets and timescales was immense. I know creative writing is different to technical but I apply the same approach and effort as I did back then.
Recently, one piece took me hours at the weekend but I wanted to indicate to the writer where aspects could be tightened up, where certain words, ie the beloved ‘that’ (of us all I should say) could be deleted, where improvements in general could be made. I did not complete the full edit as by then my own plans had taken a dent. In this particular case the writer appreciated the comments I had made and took them onboard for future reference – job done. If however, I spend the same amount of time on another piece of writing and a number of the ‘major’ suggestions/comments – honed from my own experience and the advice and wisdom of others further up the publishing ladder – are ignored/declined, do I continue to provide editorial feedback? I do appreciate this is a two-way dialogue and some things are subjective, but if those darlings are not killed, what to do? Stuart also gives input but the initial ‘breaking the back of it’ is usually done by me.
So, the dilemma. With the increased number of submissions we’ve seen at TWF this year – which has been brilliant – do we continue to give feedback or, like so many others, just straightforward yes/no responses? Let us know what you would prefer. And don’t worry, I’ll be back here next week.
And finally, just an update on Andrea Allison’s website featured last week. She announced her own domain name last night and can now be found at http://www.andreallison.com. Another step up the ladder towards author recognition. Good luck, Andrea!
I know that I keep saying SOON but our cover artist is on the final draft of the cover, 1 small change and it is set for our test run! (He’s suffering from the plague this week so we didn’t want to kill him by pushing for quicker updates.)
‘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.
Question And Answer
“Do you know where you are?”
My eyes opened onto an unfamiliar room. A slice of icy moonlight illuminated a shabby parlor, the same shape as my own, but decorated in garish shades of blue. A davenport, in a style and upholstery unlike any I had ever seen, lumped in the corner, occupied by a group of strangers. They couldn’t be any older than I, I thought, but how strange they look! It was as if the three wore only short nightclothes in bright, foreign patterns; I glanced around for some explanation.
“I’m afraid I do not. Pardon me, but would you be so kind as to tell me how I got here?”
One of the children, a lad of maybe eleven, flinched as though struck. I tried again. “If you think this is some kind of jest, I’ll have you know I’m not amused.” Wrapping my shirtsleeves close to my chest, I shivered. Dust motes danced in the fog of my breath.
“What’s your name?” asked another, shrouded in shadow.
Only last year, I’d heard tell from my governess about rogues like these. Lorelai always told the quaintest stories, though, so one hardly knew what to believe. She said, “Getting you ready for the future, young master. Never know when they’ll snatch you up in the night, moneyed lad like you.”
“Surely father would pay the ransom,” I had replied. We both knew he counted on me, as his only child, to take over for him as his heir. It was my calling. I let Lorelai take the history book from my hands. It was so difficult to listen to those dusty old lessons, especially when she would get sidetracked and start to tell a tale from ‘The Old Country’. Today’s lesson was ‘The Danger Of Brigands’, but it devolved, as most did, into Old Wives’ Tales, courtesy of an old wife herself. She only clucked her tongue at me, like I should know better.
“You’re putting too much stock in ‘ifs’. What you must do is keep your head about you if you want to find your way home safe.”
Keep my head about me? If only I had paid due attention to Lorelai’s lesson. How exactly was I to keep my wits when this gaggle of youths refused to acknowledge me? Fine. I shall play by their rules, I thought, drawing myself up to my full height. I cleared my throat. “My name is Edmund Thomas Fitzpatrick IV, son of Sir Edmund Fitzpatrick of Chesterfield Manor. And who, might I ask, are you?”
The room fell silent. I allowed myself a smug smile. Good. They understood with whom they dealt. I looked around, trying to ascertain where I found myself. Every glance helped convince me I had no reason to truly fear. The details of the room, position of the windows, the doors, and the slope of the ceiling, reminded me of home; in them, I took comfort. I couldn’t be too terribly far away. The moonlight admitted me no further clues, but the glow of a row of colorful candles underlit the faces of my captors. They seemed rather young for a crime of this sort, but then again, I’d known a number of boys my own age who indulged in roguish behaviors.
In the summer of 1807, when I was but nine, I encountered a schoolboy named Lawrence, apparently a distant cousin of mine. He and his father, my uncle, spent the season at Chesterfield, along with Lawrence’s nanny, a Miss Eliza. Lawrence was quick to recruit my assistance in a prank against her, in an attempt to avoid geography lessons, so he said. There was something about him that made me wish to avoid him, but as an isolated only child, I longed for the company of someone near my own age.
“Now, all you must do is bring her the tea,” he said through his gapped teeth, “and slip in this.” He handed me a small, amber-colored bottle. As I shook it, fine white powder drained from one side to the other like hourglass sand. “Are you certain it won’t hurt?” I hardly knew his nanny, an elderly woman who had said but one “Hello” to me all week. I had no qualms with her, but I could see Lawrence had; she watched him particularly closely, as though he were a poorly-behaved toddler, not a boy of ten or so.
“All it’ll do is make her sleep. Et voila, no more lessons. Trust me.”
I did. I shouldn’t have, but I did. My childhood offered so few opportunities to make friends. I refused to surrender this one simply because I was too cowardly to play a harmless prank. So at four o’clock, I brought in the tea.
It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized what I had done. I awoke and, dressing myself, became aware that something was not as it should be. Where were the servants?
Descending the staircase, I met the entire household, hats in hand, gazing at the ground. My first thought was that my father had died; this seemed fitting tribute for the master of the house, and he was always so ill. Was I then, in charge of everything? Was I to ascend to the role that had been mine since birth, to be sure the family line thrived long into the future? It filled me with equal parts pride and dread. Then I stopped myself, and silently sent up a prayer. Not for my father, but for forgiveness, that in his hour of peace, my first thought should be for myself.
“Whatever is the matter?” I asked, expecting to be addressed with a ‘sir’ proceeding their explanation. Instead, no one replied, but two of the maids glanced up at me. I swore they fixed me with a glare. I felt myself running through all possible scenarios. Did they detest me already in my new position? The dark look only deepened as cousin Lawrence, struggling in his father’s grip, was forced into the family carriage. In the fuss, all I could understand of my uncle’s words were “I thought I could trust you. The doctors promised it wouldn’t happen again” before the carriage pulled away. Over the frantic neighing of the horses, I heard the gruff baritone of Doctor Marshall coming down the corridor.
“As I thought: Miss Eliza, poisoned.”
My heart stuttered. Miss Eliza? Lawrence’s nanny? I added a guilty ‘thank you’ to my prayer, that it wasn’t my father.
“What has happened?” I asked again. My words echoed like church bells in the grand foyer.
“One of the maids,” Marshall said, “There was a fire in her chamber from a fallen candle.
Somehow―” he glanced over the rim of his spectacles. I squirmed. “―she slept through it. Burned alive.”
The servants were of one voice in their desolate murmur. As for myself, I could hardly think. Had he known all along? Had Lawrence actually meant to harm her?
And now, I thought, nightclothes doing little to keep out the chill of the strange room, did these children mean to harm me? Perhaps this was some sort of penance, my dues for my part in poisoning poor Miss Eliza, or retribution for thinking―hoping―I had succeeded my father.
“I did not intend to hurt anyone,” I said aloud, trying to reach out to my captors. “Please, let me go home.” I hated how my voice shook, like that of a small child on the verge of a tantrum.
The boy who had asked my name sat up taller. “It definitely said “hurt”. You heard that, right?”
“No. That’s not going to work. I’m not scared.”
I realized with a start that one of the three was a young girl. Her hair, shorn boyishly short, and trousers rather than skirt, let her camouflage with the others. Only her high, youthful voice gave her away. What sort of strange underground did I then find myself in? All the information I regarded as fact could not hold up to my scrutiny. Nothing made sense.
“Sure you weren’t,” said the first boy, “that’s why you’re practically peeing yourself.”
How dare he speak to a woman like that? Clearly I was surrounded by godless villains. It would only be a matter of time before my governess discovered me missing, and then my father would come to pay these brutes whatever it was they demanded.
“Isn’t this supposed to be like your great-great-great-” he trailed off to catch a breath, “great-great-great grandfather’s house?”
“Just this room and the downstairs. The rest is all new stuff. Apparently a bunch of the Fitzpatricks died here,” said the girl.
“Ooh, spooky,” one of them teased.
The mention of my own title shot spikes of fear into my stomach. I glanced about again, but could not recognize the room as any of the properties my family owned.
“Who are you?” I asked, trying to determine just where I was. In the pinched, childish features of the girl who claimed to be my relative, I could detect no trace of the noble brow of my family line. Perhaps she belonged to the branch that left for the Americas, the lawless band the true Fitzpatricks shunned. Or perhaps another cousin; I did not know if Lawrence had siblings, but the more I examined her features, the more I imagined I could see the resemblance.
She could be a sister of his, so similar was the shape of her wide eyes. Relation or not, I figured it would make my location easier to find, should I truly be in a family property. In the interim, though, I was quite alone. Though vaguely I knew the room’s shape, it seemed to me a dungeon, or at least a barn, judging by the tasteless furnishings and odd rattling sounds coming through the walls. I watched the candles flicker, holding onto the only familiar object in the room. My captors still had no mind to answer me; very well. I stepped out from the corner, taking slow steps toward the door. I saw no weapons, and guessed their strength not much greater than my own. I would make a run for it, try to find civilization and get home to my real family. Surely they already were come to my rescue. Where paternal love failed, an abhorrence for scandal could be enough to motivate my father. His pride would never allow him to accept the pity of the townspeople should his only heir be lost. If in no other respect, we were at least alike in our understanding of our place. I would need to gather my strength, treat this as a test of my right to lead. And what with cousin Lawrence locked away, the line depended solely on my wellbeing.
My confidence rose at that. I was a Fitzpatrick. I had a duty to keep my head. I couldn’t be forgotten; I was necessary. “Do what you will,” I said, “For I am not afraid of you.”
The three stiffened. I smiled to myself. Finally, I was being taken seriously.
“You must’ve heard that.”
The girl shot a glance in my direction, looking just over my shoulder. I did not dare to turn around and face just what unnerved her so. “Yeah,” she said in a whisper, “It said ‘afraid’.”
“It? How dare you?”
“Shh, May. I think it’s trying to tell us something.” The children leaned in close. For the first time I saw what sat before them. A rectangular board, embossed with letters and elaborate decorative designs took up most of the table before the davenport. The wax from the candles dripped onto its edges. A spirit board.
In the week we had spent before the fire, Lawrence had told me a number of stories meant to frighten me. One was of a woman near his home who claimed to be a medium. She held dark gatherings under the light of the waning moon, and those who came to speak through her to their deceased relatives came away mad. At least, according to him. He had described the board she used to contact the dead; all the while his eyes gleamed with something beyond childish wonder. I must have been a fool not to see it then. That, or I had been willfully ignorant. His fascination with the darkness should have warned me then. At least it served to educate me, so I now could recognize the seance before me.
But what could they need me for? Was I to be a human sacrifice? I dared not look behind me; the cold grew ever stronger in that place, until I felt as though my back touched solid ice.
The fear in me was almost enough to boil the ice away. I felt myself tremble, like the very air around me shook. Every inch of my body tingled with a terror I had never before known. Their eyes fixed just behind me. I stood ramrod straight, unable to flee.
Slowly, the gaze of my captors came to rest on me. Their fear mimicked my own. One of them shrieked. “It’s….it’s right there! Tell me I’m not going crazy, Dan.”
I shouted, “For God’s sake, won’t someone tell me what’s going on?” Again they ignored me.
But the girl, May, whose eyes did not leave mine, stood. I tried to step back, but my feet refused to move.
“Tanner, make it stop. Tell it to go back. This isn’t supposed to be real,” said the one named Dan.
My heart thumped. May came to stand just in front of me, one hand outstretched. This was it; in one fell swoop, my line would be decimated. The family legacy would die with me.
“Please don’t hurt me,” I said. Still she reached out. Just as her hand met mine, it passed completely through. We both fell back with a shout.
“You really are a ghost,” she whispered. Her words went through me as her hand had. A ghost? What nonsense….?
“I most certainly am not!” I said.
One of the boys, Tanner, I assumed, held a small triangle over the board. He began speaking some nonsense about kind spirits and the Other Realm.
May stared. “Where are you going?”
Going? I followed her gaze. My bare feet, cold on the wooden floor, shimmered. Before my eyes, they began to vanish. All the way to my ankles, I could see through to the wall behind.
“What’s happening to me?” I refused the children’s foolish explanation. I was not so gullible as to believe in spirits; I was perfectly alive. This was only a vivid night-terror. I could almost feel the pillow beneath my head. The more I pondered it, the more I reasoned with myself. I remembered going to bed, after all.
The last candle burned low. Around me, the manor had fallen silent except for my pulse pounding in my temples. The headache kept me from sleep. Though I’d taken hot tea earlier, I was very much awake, though I could feel an involuntary exhaustion creeping in. Instead I watched the feeble flame as it faded out, wax running slowly down the candlestick. I replayed a conversation from earlier that still preyed on my mind. A servant had gossiped with my father’s valet, “They’ve searched the forest surrounding, but neither the doctors nor the police have caught sight of him. Totally mad, they’ve said, and dangerous.”
I had hidden myself behind the bannister, frowning. I knew instinctively they had meant cousin Lawrence; no one mentioned him by name even once in the year since he’d been committed. Father tried to keep it all hushed up, naturally. Couldn’t have the line besmirched with insanity.
“You think he’ll come here?”
“Got a job to finish, hasn’t he?”
I had pondered this later, as the candle gave way to darkness. I could imagine only one sort of ‘unfinished business’ Lawrence might have, if he wanted to be the sole heir. It was me. A creaking had me bolting upright in bed. There, in the doorway, I had seen a familiar silhouette.
Just like that, I pieced together how the memory ended. How everything ended. “No….” I tried to fight the slow dissolving of my body. It was true, it was all true. I had died; worse than that, I had let the line die with me. I could feel the burn of my father’s scorn upon me like raw flame.
May stepped back, turning to the others with her mouth agape. She’d said Fitzpatricks died here, but I hadn’t imagined―couldn’t imagine―that meant me. How long had it been since I lived? Since I died? But along with the swirling fear came relief. Not all of them must have died, if she was here. True, she may have descended from the one who betrayed my family, but that was through no fault of her own. My own blood still dwelt in what was left of my family home. A sense of peace warmed the ice that threatened to overtake me. I felt lighter, freer.
Chains I did not know restrained me suddenly fell free. I took in a deep breath.
I tried to cry out to her, but everything spun, a dizzying hurricane of fading color. This is it, then? I wondered. The end?
“If there are any spirits with us―begone!” Dan shouted.
“No!” she reached out, but my hands had faded. The erasing mist coiled around my neck, the living world forced from me as the air was sucked from the room.
The candles flickered out, and only smoke remained.
I am in my final year of education for my bachelor’s degree in English. As a playwright, I have had my work locally produced.
Bad Habits #1
The rash was at Oliver’s balls. This, by its very nature, was extremely disconcerting. No creams worked, they seemed to make it far worse. Finally, when it covered his entire groin, he was forced to visit the doctor. She was mystified.
“Any dubious sexual encounters?” she asked.
“Visited any exotic countries lately?”
Pills and creams then.
It was when it covered his entire body, pus spewing from open sores, he thought about his girlfriend. He really should find another, he thought. She had been dead for three days after all; who knew what diseases they carried?
Justin Boote is an Englishman living in Barcelona for over twenty years, who has been writing short horror/suspense stories for two years. To date, he has had published or accepted for publishing around 20 stories in diverse magazines. He is also moderator for a private writer’s forum, The Write Practice.
He can be found at Facebook under his own name.
Maya crept through the house, wondering what churlish plans her husband had in store. Friends she had long distanced herself from used words like ‘abuse,’ but banter and teasing shaped her childhood—why not adulthood as well? Their effervescent echoes faded into the silence of this long, hot night.
Her feet clung to the floor, skin sticking from humidity, until she turned on the lights. Blood pooled all around, spread thin, a new coat of paint for the hardwood, festering in the grooves. Her husband lay dead, his cold heart removed.
Before she could scream, fingers curled around her shoulder.
E. N. Dahl
E. N. Dahl grew up with a love of strange, dark books, instilling a dream of writing her own stories. She’s had work accepted to quite a few venues under quite a few names, but only recently decided to use this one. If you find her in real life, she’ll probably be doing yoga or laughing at a scary movie.
I can hear them in the walls. They talk to me, begging me to listen, understand, and hear them. The problem is I wish they would stop.
I can hear the scratching and screaming so loud I can scarcely sleep. When I think they’ve finished screaming they begin to beg again. And when I shout and tell them to cut it out the screams begin anew.
The police came. They can’t hear the screams like I can. Once, I didn’t want the police to know about the people in the walls. Now, all I want is the screaming to end.
Eric S. Fomley
Eric S. Fomley writes Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror short fiction. He is the editor of Martian Magazine and the Timeshift and Drabbledark anthologies. His work has appeared in various venues including previous publications with Trembling with Fear. You can follow his publication on his website ericfomley.com or on Twitter @PrinceGrimdark.