Trembling With Fear 10/06/2019
I’ve been let loose in the Horror Tree office this week. For the time being, I’ve stepped in to help Stuart out as and when he needs to take time out for family plus I’m also helping coordinate and post reviews and interviews so I will be wearing a few different hats for the foreseeable future. HT is currently in discussion with a possible Review Co-Ordinator but Stuart also needs an Interview Co-ordinator so if anyone fancies the role, get in touch; same for those who wish to be part of the review team. I have set up posts and done various bits-and-bobs but I am learning so bear with me if you spot any mistakes (although please let me know about them!). This is very much an interim position for me as I doubt I can keep it up forever – and NaNoWriMo is looming! Cue mental breakdown 😊
Now back to my more natural habitat, Trembling With Fear which opens with White Sepulchre by Jude Reid. This is truly dark, playing upon perversions you think are going to be carried out and you wonder how this got past our submission guidelines, then you discover the twist, which is just as dark. Two aspects of horror, both a form of taboo, clearly drawn but never mentioned directly. Not only that, but you are also directed to sympathise with the mortician because of their apparent poverty or difficulty in life? Will you still sympathise at the end? This is a perfect example of reader direction and then pulling the rug out from under them.
All the drabbles this week rely on the twist ending:
Birthday Surprise by Scarlet Berry reminds us that there can be more than one surprise at a birthday party and there are some perks to gathering much-loved(!) family and friends in one place. But don’t try this at home, folks!
Last Day by RJ Meldrum is a short tale of retribution. That longed-for retirement beckons but …
Rocking Horse by Kevin M. Folliard brings us the bitter dynamics that can exist within a family, the complete subversion of a lifetime’s memories by a deathbed confession. Short and brutal, like the denouement.
Thank you to all, for writing and submitting to TWF.
First off I’d like to stress that I apologize for a slowdown on e-mail responses. Steph has graciously stept up on some of them while I deal with some real life matters and trying to get posts scheduled with our backend issues.
That being said, we’ve got some great stories this week which I was thrilled to re-read while posting them. Many of our shorts and drabbles are picked months in advance so it is always a thrill to re-read them while preparing these posts.
Also related to the site, our interview and review coordinator recently stepped back. We have a potential bite for the review position though are still looking for someone to help on the interview side. Responsibilities would be to track what we have on the docket for interviews (I’ll help provide opportunities for this), who is currently interviewing someone with a timeline attached (we try to post them every Saturday) and formatting them either on the site to be scheduled or in a document that can be sent over. Please reach out if you like to organize things and have some free time!
I take my job very seriously.
The way I see it, people trust their bodies to me, and it’s my duty to honour that trust as long as they’re in my keeping. It doesn’t matter that in a day or two they’ll be incinerated or dumped in the ground to rot. That part’s nothing to do with me. My role is to keep them safe and cared for, from the moment they enter the mortuary until they leave it.
My newest resident was thirty when she died, hit by a car and injured beyond recovery. There’s a soft patch on the back of her head where her skull was shattered, and the bruises under her eyes make her look in need of a good night’s sleep. The nurses did their best, of course, but her long, dark hair was matted with congealed blood when she arrived. It took me two hours to wash and comb it out last night, but it’s worth it to see it lying smooth and glossy over her shoulders.
She donated her organs, this girl. I love the ones who do that. They understand the meaning of life after death – how their sacrifice sustains those they leave behind. It makes what I’m about to do even more difficult. I’m not proud of it – but the job doesn’t pay me what I need to live, and I’ve had to find other ways of putting food on the table.
The mortuary bell rings perfectly on schedule. Four a.m. is the correct time for this kind of business. Even hospitals grow quiet around then. The trickle of drunks and walking wounded dries up, the nurses keep their quiet vigil over tea and toast, and the dead-eyed spectres of junior doctors curl up until morning like dry leaves. There’s no one to notice the man at the door.
I take my time. He’s waiting with his hat pulled down and his collar up, a caricature of a man seeking anonymity.
“I brought the money,” he says, with a nervous laugh. “Gloomy old place, isn’t it?”
I take the envelope and count the contents – brought, as instructed, in ten-pound notes. It wouldn’t be the first time it had come up short, but tonight it’s correct. I like that. It shows he’s approaching the transaction with respect.
I show him into the cold room, where I’ve laid her out on the table, completely covered with a white hospital sheet. I try to accommodate their individual wishes when I can, but in all honesty, usually their requests follow a predictable pattern.
He runs his tongue over dry lips. I can see a flush of colour rising to his cheeks. “May I…?”
I nod permission. He reaches a hand and draws back the sheet. I once had a customer who wanted the body dressed in clothes he provided, including a curly grey wig. I tried my best, but it all ended up messy and on balance I wouldn’t call it a success. Now I give them the choice of a hospital gown or a sheet, and that seems to hit the spot nine times out of ten.
Her skin is yellow-white on top, shading to a mottled purple down her flanks where the blood has pooled. White adhesive dressings cover the long wound from sternal notch to pubis. He looks at me, hesitant. I almost feel sorry for him.
“Do I just…?” He waves a hand towards the body. “Do you wait next door?”
I shake my head. I don’t enjoy watching, but I don’t have the luxury of looking away. If I take my eyes off him, I don’t know what he might do. I heard about another mortuary where the client carved his initials into the body, and that’s the sort of thing that risks bringing the whole enterprise crashing down.
Usually, though, they’re discreet. My customers are all too aware of how society views their particular perversion. Some of them have partners, children and jobs. The ones who make it this far have a keen sense of just how delicately matters need to be handled, and those that don’t, I turn away in the early stages. I don’t know how I’d have managed before the internet made vetting applications almost effortless. I suppose it was all word of mouth back then, or discreet messages in the personal adverts of newspapers. Now I have clients from all over the world, far from anyone who could recognise them even if they were spotted – and that suits me just fine.
He still hasn’t laid a hand on her. “They used to call it a Rose Cottage,” he says, as if we were friends. “A mortuary, I mean. So you can talk about it in front of dying people without upsetting them. Sounds kind of romantic.” I stare at him, and he wilts. “Sorry. I’m nervous, that’s all. Never done this before.”
I shrug. It’s his time. He’s paid for it.
He scowls, upset, I think, by my indifference. “I know what you are,“ he says abruptly.
I feel my muscles tighten. This happened once before, early on, before I knew how to set the proper ground rules. Behind my back, my hands ball into fists. I calculate the distance between him and the door.
“You like to watch, don’t you? That’s what gets you off. I mean, you can join in if you like, I don’t mind.”
The cool tiles of the wall press into my spine.
“Fine. Whatever,” he says.
He undoes his belt and kicks his way out of his trousers. I feel a stab of revulsion, but that has its advantages. He puts a knee onto the table, his intention so focused on the cold alabaster body that he doesn’t notice me behind him.
I’m quick. He’s dead before he realises it, windpipe and carotid arteries severed, six seconds of wide-eyed bewilderment before he falls to the ground and goes still. I do hate leaving it so close to the wire, but it’s important to make sure he’s properly distracted first. Otherwise, things can get untidy, and I don’t enjoy that at all.
By a stroke of luck most of the blood is on him, the sheet and the floor. There’s a tiny splash on the roof, and a delicate diagonal arc across the woman’s bare legs. I fetch a wet-wipe to clean her up. The rest can wait, but I’ve already sacrificed enough of her dignity for my survival.
Once she’s safely back in her locker, I lay him out, savouring the anticipation. In an hour’s time, he’ll be jointed and bagged up ready for the freezer, and everything will be neat and tidy again. When I go through his clothes, I find an organ donation card in his wallet. That pleases me. I like to think this is what he would have wanted.
I should wait, but I can’t resist a snack before I start. It’s silly, I know, but I don’t like the idea of him watching me while I work. Besides, the eyes never freeze well.
Jude is a Glasgow based horror writer who creates things to unwind in the gaps between full time work, chasing after her kids and trying to wear out a border collie. She is an avid Zombies! Run fan, a keen student of ITF Tae Kwon Do and drinks a powerful load of coffee. You can find some of her work here:
He had told them not to make a fuss over his turning 50, knowing full well that a birthday party was already in the works.
He feigned surprise when he walked through the door and a house filled with people shouted at him. He even smiled when the cake was brought out and everyone sang.
After blowing out his candles, he managed to slip outside. As he drove away, he watched in his rear view mirror as his house exploded into pieces. While tossing the detonator and gloves out of the open window, he softly sang, “Happy birthday to me!”
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.
Collins smiled. The last exam was marked. Retirement beckoned. He thought about the last forty years. He’d been a tough professor. Tough but fair.
There was a knock on his door.
The door opened.
It was Davidson. Collins twitched. Davidson had been kicked out the program twenty years before. He’d killed himself three months later. Collins had felt a twinge of guilt at the time; Davidson had only been an hour late submitting an assignment, but rules were rules.
“I heard you were retiring. I wanted to see you, one last time.”
Davidson closed the 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
My dead twin’s rocking horse sits in my mother’s attic, draped with cobwebs.
“I disposed of Henry’s other toys, his clothes, but he was so happy on that horse.” Mother unleashed a painful series of coughs. “I thought by keeping it, I’d keep his smile, his laughter alive.”
“Of course.” I gripped her hand by her deathbed. “After Dad confessed. Got the chair. How could anything ever be right again?”
“It will be soon.” She smiled. “You see, Daddy confessed so he could be with Henry. We had always intended to kill you, but you boys looked so much alike.”
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
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