Trembling With Fear 09/15/2019
Firstly, this week I’d like to say thank you to everyone for their congratulations and support last weekend when I was able to announce my contract signing with Silver Shamrock Publishing for my novella, Bottled. It’s a somewhat macabre day gothic horror in which an inheritance brings with it more than is bargained for, including a collection of impossible bottles. I always wondered how people made those detailed little scenes inside a bottle, not sure my method is right but it’s certainly one way of doing it! The book will be out February, next year. Happy days! Oh, and just to bring me back down to earth, the very next day I woke up to a rejection for a couple of poems. Hey, ho.
And so onto yet another mention for Hailey Piper. This busy writer has just announced her novelette, Invitation to Darkness, which is part of Demain Publishing’s Short Sharp Shock! Series and is available to preorder from amazon and is ‘live’ on 27th September. Something more to add to my TBR pile!
You can also enjoy some more free fiction from Richard Meldrum who, having taken over TWF, is also bidding for world domination at the Pen of the Damned.
Over to Trembling With Fear and the first story up is Don’t Change the Station by Aristo Couvaras. This is a hauntingly atmospheric story which uses sound to great effect. Music is a large part of my life and it certainly takes centre stage here. It reminded me very much of the story of blues guitarist Robert Johnson who was supposed to have made a deal with the Devil by playing his guitar at a crossroads (I recall watching a documentary on this, possibly Netflix). Music can make you do many things and here it nearly had disastrous consequences for one young couple. Nicely paced and perfectly chilling.
Cute Aggression by Jack Deel is a wonderful revenge tale and makes you look at nature’s fluffy little creatures in a totally different way. Beware ducklings, bunnies and kittens!
Sacrifice by Alyson Faye reads like a prose poem and reminds me very much of early Anglo-Saxon poetry with its strong imagery. Yes, I do have a book of this and my favourite poem is The Wanderer. The way this and the early Norse and Icelandic sagas were written is wonderful and I’ve often borne their methods in mind when writing my own stories. This is TWF’s moment of culture, by the way.
Unwanted Crawlers by Radar DeBoard is an ugh story – in the best possible way. He brings us spiders, and I can’t stand spiders. And their number increases and they never go away. Playing on a common phobia or fear is a good way of bringing in horror without going the usual route of gore and madness. More use could be made of phobias in stories and might be something for people to think about it (although I would avoid clowns and the other more commonly used ones).
While I still need to update our submission guidelines on the website – Contracts have been updates! This means that:
A) For short stories (not drabble) we are now a paying market for anything accepted for 2020 and beyond! For all short stories outside of any upcoming Halloween or Christmas holiday specials this is what we’re already accepting for. It is sadly only a token payment of $5 (paid via PayPal) but it is an improvement over nothing up front as it used to be!
B) The new contracts for any non-holiday short stories moving forward are now being used! This will allow you to (hopefully) have a painless time on getting the contracts back to us! So far, feedback has been great and I hope it can continue that way.
All of that being said, we’re still having some backend site issues so while I’m a bit behind from how long it is taking me to compose posts that does mean there will be some additional freetime now available in my schedule. Hopefully, that means more posts, features, and more!
Don’t Change the Station
The tune drifted and waned, the guitar riffs splayed, the rhythm of the drums staggered, the bass tones grew distant, the vocals broke up. The static invaded. He stopped singing along, just before Bruce Springsteen could ask if there was anybody alive out there.
Aimee looked across from the shotgun seat at Bryan, only the car’s headlights, refracted through the windscreen, showed him the shadow of the smile on her face. Full lips, a strawberry pout with pearly whites. “Don’t,” he said, laughter at the back of his voice.
“I didn’t,” Aimee answered, her hand going to her mouth to cover her smile. The static played through the radio, the car’s tires rumbled on the dirt road, and still he heard her muffled laughter. “You were enjoying that though,” Aimee said, and Bryan noticed he was still thrumming his fingers on the steering wheel. Even though the song he’d been tapping them to had since been interrupted, replaced with a grey noise. He looked out, the world was so dark, the car’s headlights seemed feeble, broken even, the high beams struggled to part the solidity of the midnight hue. They sped past a road sign, momentarily illuminated by the headlights, the sign read: Dockery.
“Just say it,” he said, casting his eyes to the clock on the dashboard, it was nearly midnight. Aimee giggled. When she wouldn’t ‘say it’, Bryan put on an exaggerated imitation of her, “You don’t need an old car like that. Get one with a GPS built-in, one with an aux cable, hell, even a CD tray, we can buy some for the drive. Some honeymoon it’ll be, Route 66 and rock ‘n roll, and us lost somewhere in the great wide open of the United States.”
Aimee mimicked him, “There’s nothing to worry about, hon, this is good old American Muscle,” she patted the dashboard in mock affection. “This car’s got soul. Besides, we won’t be driving through the badlands, it’s all straight-shootin’. A long stretch of road, there’s no way we’ll get lost and if we do, at least I’ll be lost with you.”
He was just about to respond when he saw her reaching for the radio’s dial, he heard something new but with an old sound, something muffled by the static but growing – like a drowned voice escaping through bubbles popping on the crackling surface. Musically, it was a hunk of stone, what others saw before the sculptor began chiseling; a sculptor never saw just a hunk of stone and Bryan didn’t just hear fuzzy airwaves.
“Don’t change the station,” he said. Aimee’s fingers perched on the dial.
They stayed like that, Bryan’s foot on the pedal, wheels churning dust and pebbles, his eyes on her hand, the same as hers were. He thought she must be hearing it too. The music was still soft, but not distant, muted but not far. It was like someone was playing for them, right there in the back seat, so softly – like all the musician wanted was to be background music, like he didn’t want to disturb the couple.
“Don’t change the station,
Don’t you do that my dear.
The music’s a playin’,
And the Guitar Man’s near.”
Steely chords strummed to a pentatonic scale, twanging acoustic melodies rode out, frantic fingers fidgeted and frolicked along the fretboard, caressed by a bottleneck slide, and Bryan was almost certain a whiff of smoke had just been blown from the backseat. Tendrils of nicotine, silver streamers of tar, wafted across his vision.
“Don’t change the station,
While the music’s so clear.
Ain’t heard this before,
But there’s nothing to fear.”
The clarity was perfect but raw, no polish, the pitch hypnotic. Aimee’s fingers had drawn back ever so slightly from the radio, but the volume was steadily increasing. Bryan thought it was backcountry music, early blues, jazz; the first stones laid in the foundation to the temple of Rock. His fingers drummed out the tune on the steering wheel, even though he’d never heard this song. His foot still pressed the pedal down, motoring the car through the liquid night.
“Don’t change the station,
Baby, we’re nearly here.
Motor’s a runnin’
And the Night’s shifting g –”
Aimee was right next to him, but she sounded further away than the Guitar Man in the backseat. Bryan was still fixated with the radio and its eerie song, barely aware that Aimee had reached over and grabbed the wheel. The rental car spun about on the dirt tract, skidding and grinding on the hard-packed gravel. Tires screeched and wailed. The vehicle teetered, one side off the ground, before it crunched back down on all four wheels. The headlights made the swirling cloud of dust opaque, a rubber-induced sandstorm corralled about the car like ghostly dancers in an empty juke joint. For a second, Bryan believed he could make them out, actually see them. The music had stopped, and all Bryan heard was Aimee sobbing.
He was about to reel on her for what she had done, how stupid and reckless it was, but one look at her in the darkness, her eyes bulging out of the shadows dancing across her face stopped him.
“Didn’t you hear me?” she murmured, as if scared of the answer. He didn’t reply to her, feeling goosebumps rise on his skin. Hear her? All he’d heard had been the song, she had been as frozen by it as he, hadn’t she?
She grabbed his arms, nails digging in, panicked, and asked, “Didn’t you see the tree? You were going straight at it!”
“Tree?” he asked slowly, his mind working like a cirrhosis infected liver did on a bad hangover.
“The tree!” Aimee insisted, one arm flashing backwards to point it out. “The one right in the middle of the road!” She turned to look out the rear window and gasped. Bryan, didn’t want to turn around, thinking there might be a man in the backseat with a guitar on his lap and a cigarette drooping from his lips. Instead, Bryan looked out the side mirror.
Behind the car, painted in red from the brake lights – his foot was pressing down on that pedal now, his thigh and calf jittering in spasms – was a crossroads. There was no tree at the middle of the four-way intersection, but if Aimee hadn’t taken the wheel, Bryan would have run over a man sitting in a chair at the crossing.
In the crimson glow, reflected in the mirror, Bryan could make out a guitar on the man’s knees, and a cursive trail of smoke rising from the man’s lips, up past the brim of the hat that obscured the man’s face.
“Don’t go out there, Bryan, please. It doesn’t matter what he’s doing there. Please, let’s just go.”
“I thought you said it was a tree,” he mumbled as he got out the car. With his foot off the pedal, the man in his chair at the crossroads was swallowed up by the night. The man’s head was bowed, the red eye of his cigarette the only light. As the shadowy figure began to strum on his guitar, Bryan heard that same song come through the radio again. He took a step closer to the man, the music from the car sounded a little further away now, but Bryan didn’t hear any notes floating towards him from the man in the chair.
Another step closer and Bryan froze as the man raised his head. The glowing ember of the cigarette wasn’t the only red eye Bryan saw. The man stopped with his guitar, and raised his hat from his head, as if acknowledging Bryan as his solitary audience. Noticing two bony stubs that grew out of the man’s head, Bryan spun about as fast as the car had before, and ran back to the driver’s seat, slamming the door and shifting the gears. His quivering leg struggling to catch the clutch.
Forcing his foot against the accelerator, wheels churning up more dust and skidding as the car lurched forward, Bryan didn’t look in the rearview mirror as they raced off in the direction they’d come from. He kept his eyes straight ahead and moved his hand to squeeze Aimee’s. The radio came to life as they sped away, and no matter how many times Aimee hit the button to turn it off, the music kept playing.
Bryan was too frightened to check the rearview mirror, not sure if he was more terrified at the notion of seeing the Guitar Man there in the backseat or still sitting at the crossroads.
“Don’t change the station,
Was a pleasure my friend,
I’ll keep a playin’
The crossroads ain’t the end…”
Bio: Aristo Couvaras is twenty-eight years old, Greek, but born and residing in South Africa. He attended the University of the Witwatersrand, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in English Literature and Clinical Psychology, as well as a Bachelor of Laws.
As far as other publications are concerned, he has had stories featured at horrortree.com, and included in Things in the Well’s anthology, Beneath the Waves- Tales from the Deep, and most recently in Critical Blast’s anthology, Gods & Services.
Regarding social media, Aristo can be found on twitter @AR1sto.
Through trial and error, Adam became an expert in bringing animals almost to the point of death, so he could then film himself resuscitating them. Nobody could almost-drown a critter like he could, and the feel-good social media channels paid handsomely for ‘animal rescue’ content. Few suspected the truth; those who did couldn’t prove it.
The ones Adam had killed in the course of perfecting his technique were not forgiving when they caught up with him on Revenant Day. For an amateur, the reanimated duckling turned out to be a surprisingly competent cameraman. The rabbits and kittens held Adam under.
Jack Deel is the fiction-writing pen-name of Jack Fennell, a recovering academic from Limerick, Ireland. He is the editor of the Irish science fiction anthology A Brilliant Void, and his own short fiction has appeared in the anthologies Hell’s Empire and Chronos. He can be found at https://jackfennell.com, and on Twitter at @JFennellAuthor.
We are the village’s tithe, one child, a youth, a mother full with child and an elder.
Drugged, the child slumps. Wings beat the air. Talons lift him skywards.
“He is one with the stars. We die for a fruitful harvest.” The elder chants the olde lies.
My knife hums, blade glimmering. Leaping high, gutting the raptors; entrails spill like bloody necklaces. Rubies of offal. The fallen child smothered in guts. Reborn.
The mother weeps; her belly flickers. The elder raises his stick in anger at me. I have undone the ancient ritual.
I am a pariah.
I am free.
Alyson lives in West Yorkshire with her husband, teen son and 4 rescue animals. She has been a teacher, a carer, a road safety instructor and a lifetime film buff. Currently she teaches creative writing workshops and writes dark fiction, both short (flash) and long. Her short stories have appeared in print in the anthologies, Women in Horror Annual 2, Stories from Stone, DeadCades:The Infernal Decimation, Coffin Bell Journal 1 and Crackers. Her debut flash fiction collection, Badlands, was published in January 2018 by indie publisher, Chapel Town Books and her own Trio of Terror – Supernatural Tales (all set in Yorkshire) came out in December 2018. Her flash fiction has appeared in several charity anthologies and can be heard on several podcasts. Her fiction has won, or been shortlisted in several competitions.
Her latest horror story is out as an ebook from Demain publishing, on amazon, Night of the Rider.
Her blog is at www.alysonfayewordpress.wordpress.com.
Her amazon author is at https://www.amazon.co.uk/l/B01NBYSLRT and she’s on twitter as @AlysonFaye2.
Mara kept waking to spiders crawling across her body. On Monday she woke to one,
then Tuesday it was three, Wednesday it was five.
She had smashed them all to bits. Leaving nothing left of them but flat arachnid bodies
tossed away in toilet paper. The feeling of their creeping legs began to fill her mind, leading to horrifying night terrors.
She had torn apart her room. Searching every inch, every corner for the eight legged menaces. Yet, she was unable to find where they were hiding.
Of course, Mara didn’t think to check the new pillows she had bought.
Radar DeBoard is an aspiring writer who just wants others to find enjoyment in his work. Even though he lacks publication and experience, he hopes his work will have an impact. He has a passion for horror and finds it the most interesting genre to write.
“You might want to wear something on your feet. The sand’s burning today.”
He waved away her concern. “Nah, I’m good.”
“I’d stay out of the water though. Sharks have been sighted.”
He nodded, ran his tongue over pointed teeth. “What about them?”
The lifeguard shrugged. “They’ve been warned and it’s the end of my shift.”
“Any one on duty next?”
“No, not at this time of day.”
The sun had begun to set.
“Have a lovey evening, sir.”
“Oh, I will, thank you,” he said. And made his way along the slowly emptying beach. A shark circling his prey.
Stephanie Ellis writes dark speculative fiction, finding success in a variety of magazines and anthologies, the latest being Asylum of Shadows as part of Demain Publishing’s Short Sharp Shocks! series and The Way of the Mother in Nosetouch Press, The Fiends in the Furrows anthology. Her own collection of short stories has been published in The Reckoning and her dark verse has been gathered in Dark is my Playground. She is co-editor and contributor to The Infernal Clock, a fledgling press which has produced three anthologies to-date. She is also co-editor of Trembling With Fear, HorrorTree.com’s online magazine.
She is also an affiliate member of the HWA
She can be found at https://stephanieellis.org and on twitter at @el_stevie.