Trembling With Fear 09/20/20
Last week brought me a highlight of my writing year. I finally saw the cover of my new novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel. If you pop over to our Pandemic Book Launch page, you will see it has now claimed its place on the October shelves. The artist is Kealan Patrick Burke and I can’t recommend him highly enough.
A couple of shoutouts this week. First to the boss, Stuart. His stories are gracing the pages of Forest of Fear 2, an anthology of microfiction. Also, please support the good folk from Things in the Well. Their charity anthology Trickster’s Treats #4, Coming Buried or Not is raising money for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. Improving literacy, and therefore the life chances, of people is critical. It’s a central feature of my day job and something I am passionate about.
Stranded by Karen Crawford is our first story in Trembling with Fear. A rain storm, a creepy motel and a breakdown feature, as does a deliberate homage to a certain classic in the cannon. But the writer’s made it their own with a great sense of setting, and almost movie-like imagery.
Broken Shell by Nicolette Ward is a potted apocalyptic vision. I do like this sort of story but we don’t tend to get that many.
Holding Hands by Alyson Faye is a great bit of zombie humour, mixing the fussy mindset of the elderly made me chuckle. Cockneys vs Zombies is a great film in this ilk, by the way.
The Walls have Eyes by Tabatha Wood brings us assumptions vs reality and a punch in the last line.
Enjoy the stories and poems and send us yours!
Between helping with remote learning and my day job. I’ve been in a bit of flux on updates as of late. Thankfully, we’ve got some great fiction for you to read over this week which will hopefully keep you distracted that I don’t have much news to share about the site in the works! 🙂
Stranded by Karen Crawford
Mia had never seen rain like this.
Tidal waves of water, driven by winds so furious the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up.
“This will be fun. Something different. An adventure.” Mia mimicked under her breath.
Jay’s eyes remained focused on the engine light flashing. “Not helping, Babe.” He steered the car towards the side of the road while it sputtered and shook. Then it died altogether.
Earlier that week, he’d talked her into going on an impromptu vacation amidst the threat of a tropical storm. Now they were stranded in the Florida Keys, on a deserted highway, with no cell phone service.
Jay got out to lift the hood, the door practically going with him, “I think there might be a motel at the end of that driveway.” He shouted, pointing towards a rusted sign just yards away.
Mia grabbed their backpacks and jumped out after him.
They trudged through mud and gravel, pushing against a punishing rain, towards a warm orange light that glowed in the distance. When they reached the motel, the door blew open. A man behind the counter with a wandering eye looked up through coke-bottle glasses. “Didn’t expect to see any customers in these parts tonight.”
Mia’s nostrils flared as a waft of cow dung escaped his lips. Two parts whiskey. One part Chock full-o nuts. Worn-out overalls hung loose on his withering shoulders. All that was missing was a gap tooth and a straw hat. He looked them up and down while rain dripped off their clothes, leaving little mud-cakes on a well-worn floor.
Mia’s eyes swept the lobby, fixing on two voodoo looking coconut masks hanging crooked on the wall behind the counter. The features were carved with a heavy hand. Garish lips, distorted noses, but it was the eyes that got her attention. Doll eyes. The icy blue kind. The kind you’d see on a blind person.
She tugged at Jay’s sleeve, and they took a step back. He cleared his throat, “Our car broke down. We were hoping to get a room for the night.”
“Y’all are in luck. I was just about to leave. I got plenty of rooms.” The man followed Jay’s gaze and reached back to one of the masks stroking its cheek with the tips of his tobacco-stained fingers. “You like these?” He leaned into Jay’s ear, “I can carve one for the little missus if ya like.”
Jay’s lips twisted into a tight grimace. “That’s okay.”
The man turned his attention to Mia, her rain-soaked tee wasn’t leaving much to the imagination. “Your eyes sure are pretty, Miss.”
She tapped her temple with her middle finger, “My eyes are up here.”
He picked a toothpick off the counter and began to chew, his face a fiery red.
Crossing her arms, Mia shifted, “Anyone else staying here?”
“Nope, just you two. Had a ton of no-shows on account of the storm. I’ll get you a tow when I come back in the morning.”
He pulled the toothpick out of his mouth and waved it towards a back wall covered with keys, “The rooms are outside to the left. Have your pick.” His shoulders shook with schoolboy laughter. Then he bid them goodnight and staggered to his car.
Jay pulled a room key off the wall and handed it to Mia. He picked up their bags, and they walked outside. “Was that dude straight outta Deliverance or what?” He gave her a nudge, but she didn’t respond. Her eyes were too focused on the name printed on the key tag, THE BAIT MOTEL. She opened the door and tried to shake off the heebie-jeebies that were crawling up her spine.
The room smelled of mildew and industrial-strength bug spray, but at least it was clean. Jay switched on the TV to nothing but the hiss of static. A lengthy sigh and the scent of weed soon followed. Mia held her tongue, irked by his constant need to self medicate. She grabbed her knapsack and headed for the shower.
The pipes clanged and groaned, and clanged some more. The brown water evidence, the shower hadn’t been used in a while. She was mad at Jay, no, she was mad at herself. He’d convinced her the storm would never make landfall. She used to think his penchant for throwing caution to the wind balanced her more prudent nature. Now, it was wearing thin.
The lights started to dim, and the room went black. Mia froze, her pulse quickening. She turned off the water, and steam rose around her. Wrapping one arm across her chest, she pulled back the shower curtain with a trembling hand. “Jay?” Her voice, a distant thunder drowned out by howling rain.
The wind was pummeling every wall in the motel. It seemed to shake the lights back on. A flurry of cockroaches scattered across the floor. Mia grabbed a towel and sprinted from the bathroom. Jay lay oblivious on the bed until the front door flew open with a loud bang. She swore she could see a shape outside.
He got up and kicked it shut. Then, bang, a door to the adjoining room burst open.
Then, slam! It shut.
Bang! Slam! Bang! Slam!
The rooms were all connected. The doors in the motel were opening and closing in rapid succession. Mia pulled on her clothes, and they ran from one room to the next, trying to secure them. But as soon as they locked one, another flew open.
“What’s happening!?” Mia was coming undone.
“Forget it!” He yelled, “Let’s get back to our room.”
They pushed a few chairs against the doors to barricade themselves inside, and the slamming stopped. Exhausted, they laid on the bed, staring at the white noise on the TV. Jay began to snore. Mia wished she could sleep like him. She closed her eyes and listened to the wind, rhythmic in its frenzy. Whipping, whooshing, whistling, and then a child-like moaning. It was a drawn-out, high-pitched, underwater sounding warble.
“Hell-o Mee-aah. Hell-o Jaaay.”
Something thudded against the outside of the door. Then a coconut came crashing through the window.
She shot up, “Baby, I’m starting to freak out! This place isn’t right. I think we need to go.”
Jay rubbed his palm across his forehead, punctuated by a heavy sigh, “You gotta get a grip. We’re safer here until morning. It’s windy. There are palm trees. Besides, a wild animal could be out there.”
“That was not an animal, Jay. Did you hear its voice? It said our names.”
“For Christ’s sake Mia, your imagination is out of control. It’s just a bad storm.”
“Is it?” She held up the motel key. “Maybe we’re the bait.”
“We’re gonna be okay.” He turned away, but not before she saw a sliver of uncertainty in his eyes.
Mia pulled the covers over her face and prayed for daylight. The winds were dying down. The TV roared back to life. A Seinfeld episode was on, and the familiar laugh track calmed her nerves. Jay wrapped his arms around her, and it lulled them both to sleep.
BZZZZZ. Mia awoke to a string of texts:
Didn’t wanna wake you.
I’m by the car.
AAA is on the way.
She looked at the empty sheet beside her and smiled:
Be right there!
When she walked outside, the sky was a bright and endless blue. The only signs of a storm were a bevy of palm fronds and broken coconuts strewn across the ground. She went inside the office to settle up. The manager was leaning against the counter, carving the skin off an apple in a long steady peel. A black cat wandered in and began rubbing up against his leg. He broke into a wide grin.
“Found her this morning outside your door. Poor stray is in heat. Been moaning up a storm. Hope it didn’t keep ya’ll up last night.”
He gave Mia a once over, and she resisted the urge to adjust her tiny cut-offs.
“What do we owe you?” She looked up at the masks hanging on the wall and took a step back.
This time there were three.
“Do you like ‘em?” His face lit up, with a glint of fire in his eyes as he twisted a cellphone in his hands.
She stared at the third one, a shiver of hair rising up on her skin. This one was different. It was covered in gruesome slashes creating angular features. With shriveled lips, a beaklike nose, and hollow eyes. The kind of eyes you didn’t want to dream about at night. Black except for a frenzied patchwork of toothpicks impaled into both of its sockets.
He placed it on the desk and slid it towards her.
She took another step back.
Waves of dizziness crashed inside her head. Her knees started to buckle. She grabbed the desk to steady herself, but she couldn’t stop staring.
The coconut mask stared back.
It looked disturbing.
It looked horrific.
It looked… Like Jay.
Karen Crawford currently lives in the City of Angels. She writes to exorcise those pesky demons around her and within her. Her work has been featured on Short Fiction Break, The Acentos Review, Trembling with Fear, and Flash Fiction Magazine.
It’s wild like a mist soaked angel whose breath smells of aerosol cans sprayed across city streets. Once, long ago before the Fall, skyscrapers stood here, tall and strong, glistening with metal and glass, but now they’re gone and all that remains is the wood. And its denizens, feral and dark.
They walk through the tree entwined streets, through the ruins of man and they laugh and smile and make merry at all they now have, their sharp teeth gleaming against their bronzed skin. They look for the remaining humans and when they capture them, then they have their fun.
Nicolette Ward lives just outside London with her long-suffering partner and rescue cat – Sigi Kneebiter the Shadow Cat. She is the author of the Handy Little Book of First Lines and has approximately 280 fanfiction stories under her belt. Her favourite type of stories to write are dark drabbles.
Holding Mary’s hand had brought him pleasure during their marriage. He loved her soft palms. He gazed in disgust at the greying flaccid object dangling in his grip.
The rest of his wife lay on their Ikea sofa, frothing at the mouth, gnashing her teeth, behind the barricade of bookcases he’d built to imprison her.
‘The Changing’ took two days. Charles had dutifully sat at her side, holding her hand – until it dropped off.
This, more than his wife becoming a zombie, really bothered Charles.
It was – untidy.
Charles sighed. He’d have to chop her other hand off 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.
The Walls Have Eyes
The nightmares started when my mother died.
I tried to tell my doctor I saw faces in the walls. They cried out to me from rooms within my childhood home.
He told me not to worry, that it was normal.
“Pareidolia,” he said. “It’s a very common, human experience.”
He doesn’t realise it’s my mother’s visage locked inside the concrete. Her solid prison poured by Father’s hands. My brother, Aunt and Grandpa scream in silence next to her.
Father says it’s necessary. He must “preserve the family line.”
I am frightened. One day he may decide to preserve me too.
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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.