Trembling With Fear 10/11/20
I had a query the other day about whether we took stories from other countries if said stories focussed heavily on their own geography and culture rather than our own more recognisable ‘Western’ tropes. Naturally, my answer was of course we’re open to such submissions – our only criteria being that the story is good and is the right fit for Horror Tree. To be open to other cultures, be exposed to stories from different viewpoints and backgrounds, can be nothing but enriching. Remaining within what you ‘know’ as a reader – and as a human being – is limiting.
I have also taken another step this week following the swirl of comments in the media about freedom of speech and officially joined English Pen, the UK branch of PEN International. This charity supports and fights for the rights of writers around the world. I thought it was time to move beyond the retweeting and occasional involvement and become an actual member. Freedom of speech, a basic human right, is something I care very deeply about. It does not mean carte blanche to abuse others but it does mean the right to express an opinion and to tell dark tales!
Speaking of which, our first story this week is Out of the Dirt by Pete Alex Harris. This tale reels you in so smoothly with its gravedigger providing a service to the local community, taking pride in his job. He even has a cat. Truly atmospheric misdirection.
It was the Couch by Radar DeBoard shows how we don’t have to rely on humans, supernatural creatures or plain old rabid animals all the time. Objects can be used to effect.
Strange Fruit by Mark Anthony Smith gives us a warning about eating that bizarre-looking fruit in the bowl. It might be exotic – or something else entirely.
With Apologies to Dr Seuss by Catherine Berry warms my heart. My children pretty much learned to read with Dr Seuss and I remember the rhythm and the pace of his rhymes and stories. This is a wonderful pastiche.
Enjoy the stories and send us yours!
First off, a big thank you to Rebecca Rowland. She was recently interviewed over at Genre Junkies and right about at the 36-minute mark we got one of the nicest shoutouts we’ve had this year! THANK YOU!
Secondly, progress on the potential podcast is still occurring, just not quick so don’t get your hopes up that we’ll have something live in the next month or so. We’re currently organizing stories we were given the rights to in order to compile episodes and after that will re-reach out to authors who have in the past given us permission to verify they’d still like us to record their work.
Finally, If you’d like to interview any of Horror Tree’s staff on your website or podcast please reach out! We’ll see what can be done. 🙂
Out of the Dirt by Pete Alex Harris
Albert sat on a low stool by the front door, humming snatches of hymn tunes, scraping gritty clay and pine-needles out of the tread of his boots with the last tine of a broken weeding-fork.
Some round here hold that grave-dirt is bad luck, or magical. Not Albert.
Nothing in your daily toil could be all that magical. Nothing that buys your daily bread could be much bad luck, the way Albert saw things.
In the end, everyone wants six feet of dirt—three if you’re in a hurry—on top of a man when true bad luck has caught up with him. If anything is a terror and a nuisance, it’s a grave without enough dirt on it. Nobody wants that.
Albert knew, then, he was doing a righteous service for the town, and he had been for twenty years. And then some more years. His mother hadn’t got numbers much bigger than twenty into his head so they’d stick, and there’d been no school-masters for the likes of him back then.
His humming wandered in and out of different hymns, pausing with a grunt whenever he had to dislodge a tricky stone or twig. When he was satisfied, he stood and carried his boots inside and closed the door.
It was already late in the evening, since he’d put in some extra time burying after hours, so Albert wasn’t surprised to hear his cat, Grisell, mewling at the door before he’d even got a pot of tea brewed.
“Little pest,” he muttered, but kindly. Grisell was a good mouser, and kept herself well fed around the graveyard, so she was undemanding. Not needy or idle, a good worker and a good hunter; and she’d never had a litter, so not a harlot either. She did like to come in to keep warm at night, and Albert didn’t mind her on his lap, where he could tell her about his day and all about his work, and she would purr approval. Good cat.
As soon as he opened the door, Grisell strutted in proudly. She’d had good hunting, and had something pale in her mouth.
“Now what do you have, my girl, my best cat? You can’t bring that in here.”
He knelt to take a look. Some of the things Grisell found were disgusting, but since she never judged him, he never judged her either. As long as they both cleaned up after a day’s work it was all right.
This was not alright.
Grisell dropped what she held and batted at it with a paw so it rolled across the boards and lay against Albert’s boot. A human finger. Slender, probably a woman’s. Grey, smeared with clay, a pine-needle stuck under the nail.
“Where did you find this, girl? Oh, we have to do something about it. Can’t have people thinking I’m not doing my job properly.”
Albert reached for the finger, and jerked back as it twitched and flexed on the floor.
“This isn’t good. Not for anybody. I wish you could talk, my pet, because somebody isn’t lying quiet tonight who should be, and it’d be a help to me to know who.”
But he had some idea. There aren’t any pine trees in the graveyard, of course. Only yews and a hawthorn hedge around it. And the ones in the graveyard were laid there by priests, with a good six feet of dirt above them, since nobody was in a hurry. They tended to stay lying down.
“Well, here goes.”
Albert touched a spill of bark to the coals of the fire and lit his oil lantern. He put the finger, still twitching, in his waistcoat pocket, and on the way out the door lifted his long-handled spade. He liked to keep it sharp between burials.
Out into the dark, through a cold drizzling rain that plastered his greying hair down and dripped into his eyes. Past the graveyard, and on up the hill, along the old coffin road, between tall hedges. A quiet, dark road, leading from his cottage up to the boggy scrubland where he continued under low, twisted pines. A secluded place. Holy.
The rain hissed above him, and dripped larger and slower through the branches. It sounded too much like pattering footsteps all around him. The lantern shone weak and yellow on the nearest pine trunks, and more than a handful of steps away in any direction was utter blackness. Albert knew his way well enough, though. Knew where he had to go. It had to be her, of course. The bitch that had fought back. His right knee still throbbed from when she’d kicked it.
Well, he’d give her back her finger, chop off any other bits that were poking out, and cover her up properly this time.
It seemed odd that Grisell might have come out this far to pick up that finger, now he thought about it. It may be a fox had dug it up, and dropped it, startled when its prize started to move. Never mind.
When Albert got to the grave, it seemed at first the foxes had done a proper job of digging, a hole two feet across and deep so the lantern didn’t light the bottom of it. Until he saw the footprints, a few barefoot smears of clay on the pine-needle carpet of the woods. Heading downhill, the way he had come.
“Not good, not good,” Albert muttered to himself, hurrying back with the spade held out like a spear in his right hand, lantern held low in the left, so the glare of it wasn’t in his eyes. And, “where did she go? Where did she go?”
There were scuff marks in the pine-needles here and there. He couldn’t be sure they weren’t his own steps. But when he came out onto the coffin road, he knew. Somehow he knew. The finger in his pocket twitched as if pointing the way. She must be walking back to town. She’d shamble down there, half-remembering her sinful life, trying to get back to it, and by the dirt on her, and the cuts of his spade, she’d accuse and condemn him before the whole town.
He broke into a run, the lantern swinging wildly, sending a flickering light on the hedges to either side, useless for seeing the way ahead. Yet he ran on wildly, until he slipped and fell, scraping his shin and bruising his sore knee, dropping the lantern into the ditch where it sputtered out.
“Not fair. Not fair.”
He heaved himself upright, leaning on the handle of the spade, and hobbled as fast as the dark and his knee would allow. There was some light ahead at last. His cottage. His little window, with its little glow of firelight, and Grisell sitting on the sill, waiting for him to come home.
He’d get his lamp lit again, and then come back out to finish his hunt. Finish it for the second time, properly. At the door he stumbled as something rolled under his foot. The handle of the little brush he used to sweep grave dirt off the doorstep. Annoyed, he pulled the door open to get enough light to see by. What was that doing there? He picked it up to put it beside the old weeding fork, under the stool where it belonged. The weeding fork wasn’t there.
The rain hissed, and drops fell off the eaves, plopping onto the path like wet footsteps behind him, and he turned too late, as Grisell’s sudden yowling mingled with his screams.
Pete Alex Harris
Pete Alex Harris is a SFF & horror writer and software engineer living in Scotland. You can find him as @ScavengerEthic on twitter, and find out more about what he’s writing on https://torn-and-crumpled.page
It was the Couch
Jason walked in and plopped down on the new couch. “Have you seen Mark?” he shouted to Phil. “Not since we brought the couch in,” Phil replied from the kitchen. Jason sighed and pulled out his phone. “I’ll give him a call,” he shouted.
Jason dialed Mark and waited for him to pick up. He felt something vibrating from under the couch cushion. He reached his hand into the crevice and pulled something out. He gagged as he looked at Mark’s bloody phone.
“What the hell!” he screamed as the couch cushion opened to reveal a set of razor-sharp teeth.
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.
My girlfriend keeps saying, “You really should eat more fruit.” With reluctance, I finally pick up some bananas and apples just to stop her from scowling at my ‘poor’ diet. I also buy something round and prickly. It is green.
I start to peel away the flesh. It gapes open and I can see the seeds. I smell it’s putrid stench before it clamps on my nose and rips a slither off. I fall to the floor. The fruit tears gobs off my face. I try to split it in half. But the fruits of my labour are in vain.
Mark Anthony Smith
Mark Anthony Smith was born in Hull. His fictions have appeared in several Horror Anthologies and small press including ‘Aphotic Realm’, ‘Rune Bear’ and ‘The Horror Tree’. His third book, published by Red Cape publishing, is on Amazon pre-order.
Facebook: Mark Anthony Smith – Author
With Apologies To Doctor Seuss
I like the sounds, like snicker snack, as blades part flesh and their bones crack!
I’ve killed a man that’s very tall.
One fat. One thin. One very small.
Some strong, some weak, some in between. It’s hard to hunt and not be seen.
I stalk each one, day after day, learning so much about my prey.
While planning how to have my fun, I try to guess which fools will run.
They squeal and fight and try to flee; I taste their fear, hunting with glee.
Their glassy eyes reflect my grin.
Then their blood spills; my lovely sin.
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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.