Trembling With Fear 09/12/21
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!
We’re having a last blast of summer here in the UK and moaning it’s too hot. Give us another week and we’ll be moaning it’s too cold. Moaning about the weather is what we do best 😊. My writing this week has seen the start of a gothic novella set on the streets of the Victorian East End. The Ripper may be around but he is not the focus. My interest in the East End stems largely from a branch of my family which lived there at the time and were amongst the poorest of the poor. This tale gives me a chance to delve deeper into the horrors of 19th century London.
Reading has seen me finish Becky Wright’s Priory – a gothic story with the pace of a thriller and start Eric LaRocca’s The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales. I’m also reading Bruce Robinson’s They all Love Jack which is another take on the Ripper story and is literally tearing the establishment to pieces. A great read, I’m hoping to finish all 800-odd pages of in a day or two. As a theory, I’m finding it extremely logical and all too believable.
Our first story in Trembling with Fear is The Mystery of the Apples by Harris Coverley. A chilling story written in the same tone as the darker stories of many earlier haunted stories but avoiding the flowery language of those times.
Full Tank by Mike Rader gives us a gas station in the middle of nowhere. A life-saver – or is it?
Grandpa by Patrick Winters reveals a skeleton in the closet. A subtle bite of the macabre.
Sleep Tight by RJ Meldrum questions the truth behind childhood terrors and the stories parents tell to get their kids to tow the line.
Enjoy our stories and send in yours!
I don’t really have anything new to add this week as I’ve been behind on catching up with more housekeeping for Horror Tree (working on setting up payments to authors, getting our Summer Edition finalized, etc!) So, to recap from last week (which is still all valid):
Trembling With Fear is open for our Halloween Edition until October 13th, so be sure to get your stories in! Full details can be found here.
Offhand, if you run a website and would like to write an article about Horror Tree or Trembling With Fear, we’d really appreciate that! Please reach out with any questions for facts in the article (who does what, when sections were started, etc), any promotional artwork, or with a link once it is live so we can feature it on the site and on our social media.
Have a great week everyone!
The Mystery of the Apples by Harris Coverley
Father died when I was ten, so for another decade it was just me and mother. On the outside, she seemed little upset about his death, but I believe she forced her despair deep into herself, which must have been why, as the years passed, she became more and more unbearable to live with.
Living without a maid or other servant in a large house could be taxing on a boy set up to do the chores. No floor was ever clean enough, no corner devoid enough of dust. Towards the end of my adolescence she began to grow even wilder in her demands and disinclinations. I peeled an orange the “wrong way”…I walked across the landing “too loudly” in the middle of the day…the scribble of my pen on paper in my bedroom, so well away from hers, disturbed her greatly too. Her pronouncements on the issues of the day became ever more deranged and perplexing as well. Even after I reached the age of majority I was not allowed to have my own radio in my own room, and I had to sit in the living room with her rambling over the broadcast. All of her pain had twisted outwards, into me and my will, and she did not care. She was a living poltergeist, with a body and a mouth and many hungers.
A few days after I had turned twenty, I finally lost my self-possession during an incident involving the larder, and I struck her down in the kitchen. As she fought back she scratched the right of my face beneath the jawline, drawing blood. After I was finished, I wiped my face clean, and dragged her out to the garden shed, where I parted her into manageable segments. I then dug a hole in the centre of the back garden and deposited her remains into it, before taking three apples from the fruit bowl and placing them upon the flesh, covering it all with soil.
The house is isolated in the middle of the shire; our nearest neighbour is barely visible. I wrote to the few relatives mother still kept in contact with and told them that she had gone abroad for convalescence from a serious case of influenza, intending to travel through the Mediterranean, and then onto the Caribbean and Peru. Three months later I wrote to them to say that mother had died while in Haiti, and that local ordinance had demanded that she was buried immediately—there would be no funeral in England. This was all accepted mournfully but without hassle.
I was at last free! The family portfolio of estates, inherited from my great-grandparents, granted me a good income to upkeep the maintenance of the secluded house, and I could follow my passion—the composition of poetry—without impediment from any soul.
Twelve years passed. I produced book after book at my own leisure, gaining quite a reputation as a practitioner of formal verse. I received people few and far between, although I did frequently travel for inspiration. In the meantime, one apple’s seed beat the others, and a sapling rose out of the ground and grew into a young tree. By a late summer evening it had borne fruit, and, while taking a walk around the grounds, I snapped one from a branch and rubbed it on my shirt. The apple had a hard crunch, and was pleasantly sweet, but within a moment, to my horror, I found that the scar below my jawline had begun to bleed after being but dry skin for the past dozen years! I rushed back into the house and wiped it clean as I had done all that time ago—and the fresh laceration was gone as fast as it had materialised.
I avoided any produce from the tree after that, and was bitter about having to clear the dropped rotting fruit away at summer’s end. I would have had the tree removed, if doing so might not have revealed my act of matricide.
More time passed, and one early spring I received an unexpected letter from my mother’s sister, my aunt Nell, informing me that a distant cousin of mine, Elaine, had lost both of her parents to the bombing during the War, and that she needed a permanent place to live. She was also an admirer of my poetry, as were her school friends. I wanted to say no, still enjoying my solitude, but I ultimately decided that some company for a spell would do me no harm.
I never intended for her to stay more than a few months, but when she arrived in her coat and hat, that long blonde hair flowing like golden water at the side of the perfectly white skin of her face, her eyes pools of deepest and most majestic ocean, all of her not yet nineteen, I knew that I had to keep her and make her mine.
I took my time with my seduction, slowly and subtly, not wanting to make my desires too obvious. She was so innocent, so free of any malice towards or ill opinion of anybody or anything. Within a year she was devoted to me, and we were married in London. We celebrated with a voyage to Sicily and returned to our country home where I could begin work on a new epic, one which would place me upon a higher stratum in the literary world. Given that I had turned down all opportunities to teach, such an idea leaving me off-colour, only through grander and bolder work could I hope to leave my legacy.
Elaine settled gracefully into the role of housewife—cooking, cleaning, managing the garden, and freeing me fully of any duties that would distract me from my work. Little did I know this would come to ruin our utopia…
A month after we had returned, Elaine presented me with a wonderful meal of roasted lamb, for which I praised her. She accepted my approbation, and brought me dessert: a slice of apple pie. Served with cream, I took a bite and found it pleasingly sweet, but as I masticated I realised the terrible origin of the filing. I felt my jawline: the scar was bleeding.
“Where did you get the apples from?” I demanded, dabbing at the blood with my napkin.
“Why, from the tree in the garden,” she replied, bemused. “Darling, you’re bleeding! Let me get—”
I slammed my fist on the table.
“Never, never, never, never use apples from that tree, for anything! Do you understand?! NEVER!”
She was completely mystified, but she agreed to obey my command, even though she clearly did not believe my explanation that the apples of that particular tree were, for some obscure reason, mildly poisonous.
As the months wore on however, I began to grow suspicious. Her blonde hair, once as rich as sunlight, began to turn darker, a sickly, mousy brown. Her face lost its heart-shaped fullness, as her middle began to distend, even though she ate no more than she used to. Her hands grew veiny, her walk stilted. Strangest of all, these varied new qualities reminded me of someone I once knew…
Her personality as well as her body began to change. Nothing I did was right. She demanded my help with the housework, interrupting my writing. Very soon I had a list of tasks which left me too tired to create. And of everything I undertook: the way I ate was a problem, my gait was a problem, my positioning of objects was a problem, the way I pronounced words—Me! The great poet!—was a problem…life with her became unbearable, and continues to be so.
It was but a few nights ago, lying beside her snoring and wheezing in bed, her supposedly a girl of barely twenty, when I solved the mystery, becoming nauseated in my discovery. Her commitment to abstain from the demonic fruit of that accursed tree must have been a lie. She had betrayed me; her love was nothing.
With the mystery solved, the true problem became clear—but what of the solution?
It is to be dealt with straight away, and, in purely aesthetic terms, the garden could use a second apple tree not that far from the first, even if for me it means much more rotting fruit to dispose of in future…
“LAST GAS 100 MILES,” said the sign. Lights blazed on the forecourt. No other cars there but I saw the attendant inside.
Pulled in, braked, started pumping, made it just in time!
Icy wind swept in from the forest. Mist curled behind the gas station.
One by one lights started going out. “Hey!” I called to the figure behind the glass.
Blocks of darkness marched across the apron. I kept pumping. Then smelled it.
Looked down, saw the foul slime gushing from the nozzle, saw the thick sludge overflowing from the tank. And I knew I wouldn’t be going anywhere.
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
Grandpa William had passed away, and it was up to her to clear out his house.
When she went to his bedroom closet, she found nothing but bare coat hangers and a box on a shelf.
When she opened the box, she discovered more coat hangers inside. Dozens, stretched out and wound up. On top of the pile was a journal containing dates, most from the 50s and 60s, with names scribbled beside them in quotations. As if they were hypothetical.
“Mary.” “Adam.” “Emily.”
She looked back to the hangers in the box. Their tips were stained a rusty red.
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.
When John was nine, his mother told him when the sun set and light left the land, the darkness killed anyone not completely tucked up in bed. He was terrified by the image and believed it absolutely. Even as an adult he stayed entirely wrapped up in his duvet, no matter the weather. His wife, mocking, dared him to sleep with a foot exposed. Humiliated, he agreed. As he lay awake in the fluid darkness, he felt something touch his foot; a cold, dry sensation. Only imagination, he said to himself, as the darkness swarmed round him and engulfed him.
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.
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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, Reborn, and The Woodcutter, and the novellas, Bottled and Paused (all via Brigids Gate Press). 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 and on Blue Sky as stephellis.bsky.social.