Trembling With Fear 10/18/20
Oh, the ups and downs of a writer’s life. The week started off with an acceptance for a poem, saw the Silver Shamrock anthology Midnight in the Pentagram launch (including my story, Family Reunion) and then rounded off with a rejection from Apex Magazine. I’d managed to get through a reading round, like before – and like before didn’t get any further. One day – perhaps! I’ll keep trying.
If you like poetry by the way, I’d really recommend Alessandro Manzetti’s Whitechapel Rhapsody: Dark Poems. Steeped in the atmosphere of the Ripper’s Whitechapel, it’s a wonderful read.
The first story in Trembling With Fear is The Wake by Steven Holding. A dark tale many of us can relate to. The time after a funeral is the time when old secrets come tumbling out, when grievances are aired and home truths are spoken. In this instance, there is an even darker undercurrent of ‘truth’ waiting to reveal itself. A few hints, crafted with a light touch, a creaking floorboard. You know what’s coming.
Ignorance is Bliss by Connor Long-Johnson attributes something horrific to something quite normal. With a main character lacking the imagination to see beyond the everyday, his blinkered view allows real evil to roam.
Passing on the Genes by Ryan Benson distorts the view of parenthood. You don’t have to feel fatherly just to humans!
Under the Corset by Alyson Faye is a wonderful gothic poem clearly showing the horror of the female lot during this era – of childbearing, of hunger and of repression (evidenced by the restrictive corset from which she escapes only at night).
Enjoy the stories and send us yours!
We have had a LOT of support come into the site this month, and I’d like to thank everyone involved. This is the sole message I want to share today as your support is vital to helping Horror Tree grow!
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The Wake by Steven Holding.
She’s dead now.
There’s nothing to be scared of.
He makes his way up the gravel drive, this and other thoughts running through his head. Arriving at the front door, he slips a key into the lock. At first there is no movement. The chamber is stiff and getting the key to move requires more strength than anticipated. Eventually he feels it give. The door pops open. A blast of stale air, pleasingly warm to begin with, wafts past him. Any pleasure it brings quickly evaporates. An unappealing odour seems to linger, making him wince. He can make out the decay of rotten food, the sharp tang of gone off milk. Strongest of all is the heavy stench of urine; a biting cloud of ammonia that burns his eyes.
“Christ,” he mutters.
The sudden hand on his shoulder makes him flinch.
“Piss off Terry! Don’t touch me,” he hisses.
He spins around to face his brother. The two of them stand almost nose to nose. It is, he thinks momentarily, like staring into a magic mirror. One that shows you how things might have turned out if you had been less fortunate in life. Coughing, he turns his head to one side. His brother’s breath is only marginally better than the stink coming from inside the house.
“Come on Bill,” slurs Terry, “Let’s get in and have another drink, eh?”
Terry pushes past him and shuffles off into the darkness of the hallway.
“It’s William… Not Bill…” he shouts as he turns to follow the disappearing shadow. “Why can’t you bloody remember?”
There is no clear response from Terry, just an indecipherable muttering as he vanishes from sight. Sighing, William shakes his head and trails in after him. He neglects to wipe his feet. If he has trod in anything unpleasant, he suspects that it wouldn’t matter if he brings it in with him.
The bottles that Terry has been cradling in a plastic shopping bag clink together loudly. Using the sound as a guide, William walks through the pitch-black hallway and into the kitchen.
* * *
Later: black ties have been removed and shirt collars loosened. Drinks have been poured into tea stained mugs. The two brothers sit opposite each other at the kitchen table. The smell in the room is awful, but William has grown accustomed to it. Terry does not seem to be aware of it at all. For a long time, there is silence. Terry lights a cigarette. William frowns.
“You never came back here. Not once.” says Terry through a thick, purple cloud.
“So?” replies William as he waves the smoke away from him.
“She was our mother, for Christ’s sake…”
William drains his mug, grabs the bottle and pours himself another drink.
“A real mother loves their children.”
“She loved us…”
William’s lip curls quickly, his face pulling into a tight grimace of distaste.
“Don’t give me any of that shit Terrence, she only ever loved him!”
Terry is suddenly on his feet, hands on the tabletop, leaning in so closely that William can feel drops of spittle splashing against his face.
“What do you know, eh? You weren’t here! You never had to wipe her arse then carry her kicking and screaming to bed! Washing her nappies, day in, day out, breathing in the stink of her piss!”
Terry stops, eyes bulging. He begins to shake. William remains motionless. Slowly, he brings his hands together. The lazy slap of his clapping echoes off the dirty tiled walls.
“Bravo! You’re a saint, big brother. Is that what you want to hear? You’re the good son. I’m just a selfish shit… Whatever makes you happy. It’s over now, Terry. You’re free. And this pathetic excuse for a family finally ends, right here, right now… When we’ve finished this bottle, ok?”
Terry crumbles, crumples back down into his chair. William sips from his drink. He fumbles with the bottle, then pours a generous splash of liquid into his brother’s cup.
“Sod it,” murmurs Terry as he raises the drink to his lips.
The bottle does what it has always done, easing things and allowing both men some respite from themselves. This, in turn, means they can tolerate being with each other. There is even a little laughter. Stories of schooldays. Bullies and adolescent crushes, questions of who went where and where they went wrong. For a precious hour, resentment appears to subside.
William finds himself in the musty downstairs toilet. His forehead leans against the mould stained wall; his water splashes off the seat onto the tops of his shoes. Oblivious, he giggles to himself. A suppressed belch brings acidic bile into his mouth. He frowns, swallowing the sick back down. Another smile. He wonders why, then realises there is no real reason. It’s just the booze doing its thing.
He freezes, suddenly sober, stuffing himself back into his trousers so quickly that he chaffs himself on his zip. Hairs on his neck stand up, just like an amphetamine rush and William is acutely aware of the space behind him. He spins around.
There is, of course, no-one there.
He lurches back into the kitchen, noticing how the light bulb above seems to flicker. Terry is still slumped in his chair, gazing vacantly at the drink before him. He looks up at William.
“I never hated you,” he mumbles, “Not really…”
William stands at the kitchen window, looking out into the pitch-black garden. His fingertip traces lines through the condensation.
“Course you do… That’s what real brothers do… Despise each other…”
The overgrown brambles outside sway as if advancing towards the house. The shadows contained within them unsettle him. He gives up on them, choosing to look away.
“Just jealous I suppose… You managed to get away…” sniffles Terry, struggling to light another cigarette.
“Never escaped that bastard, not really… You should know better than anyone… Even after we buried him, he was always there, in my head… Telling me how useless I was…”
William stops, thinking about the smell of whisky on hot breath, about the bite of a belt buckle on goose pimpled flesh. He looks up, moisture forming in the corner of each eye, and gasps.
His finger has drawn a row of four stick people, all of them frowning. He has no recollection of doing this. He screws up his face and obliterates the portrait with his hand.
“It did her in… Dad dying, you going away…” whispers Terry.
“That was thirty years ago!”
“She needed us.”
“She let him get away with it!” hisses William through clenched teeth.
“You could have called… Could have spoken to her… Not that it mattered in the end. Mad old cow thought I was you half the time”
“There you go, no problem then, eh?” giggles William. Terry glares at him. Slowly a smile spreads across his face. He begins to chuckle.
The sound of both men’s laughter echoes through the empty house.
Hours pass. Another bottle is consumed. Somehow the two brothers have ended up in the living room. William is sprawled on a beaten-up sofa as Terry rummages through a collection of old records. He selects one and manages, with difficulty, to play it. The crackle of jazz fills the room. He collapses into an armchair.
“Mum and Dad used to dance to this.”
“She still talked to him you know… Thought that he was still here…”
“Really?” says William as he struggles to sit up.
“Yeah… Used to sit right there and swear that she could hear him from upstairs… Said that he was lying on the bedroom floor, whispering to her through the floorboards…”
William shakes his head, rubs his face.
“What was he saying to her?”
Terry swigs his drink, the harsh bite of alcohol twisting his features. He stares at William.
“That he would never, ever let go.”
He awakens with a jolt, head and heart pounding. The first rays of dawn are creeping through the closed curtains, shafts of thin light illuminating the dust that dances in the atmosphere. He realises that he is desperately thirsty. Sitting up, he sniffs the air.
The unmistakeable scent of blood floods his senses.
William looks around, bleary eyes struggling to focus. He can see Terry, still in the armchair, head tipped backwards. Can see the straight razor clutched in his fingers.
Can see the gaping wounds in both of his wrists.
A second later, he is by his side, unaware that he is standing in the black pool of blood that has started to congeal upon the linoleum. He puts a quivering hand against Terry’s neck, searching for a pulse.
There’s nothing there.
He looks around the room, unsure of what it is he is looking for.
He trips back over towards the sofa and comes crashing down on it. Tears begin to flow as he reaches across for the bottle that sits on the coffee table.
He pauses as he notices the letter. He picks it up, recognising his brothers’ childish scrawl, and begins to read;
SHE DIDN’T KNOW NOTHING NO MORE, NOT WHO SHE WAS OR WHERE SHE WAS OR WHAT IT WAS SHE DONE. BUT I CAN’T FORGET. CAN’T FORGET HER, CAN’T FORGET HIM. AND I CAN NEVER FORGIVE. WE NEEDED YOU. I NEEDED YOU BACK HERE.
SO I DONE HER IN.
BUT SHE’S STILL HERE… AND SO IS HE…
SEE YOU SOON…
William crushes the letter into a ball and tosses it onto the floor. Using his sleeve, he wipes away the snot that is beginning to run from his nose. Shivering, he realises for the first time how cold it is. He glances once again at the lifeless body of his brother.
From above, he hears the subtle creaking of a floorboard.
William grabs the bottle from the table and pours the contents down his throat, coughing and gagging as the amber liquid spills down his chin. He clutches the near empty bottle to his chest and slowly begins to rock in his chair.
He lets out a tiny giggle.
And sits back, patiently waiting for the family reunion to begin.
Steven Holding lives with his family in the United Kingdom. Most recently his work has appeared in the collections Oceans and Ancients from Black Hare Press and the TWF anthologies Trembling with Fear Year 3 and More Tales from the Tree Volume 2.
Ignorance is Bliss
Shrill screams pierced the midnight stillness. Below his window, a ritual was underway.
“Those damned foxes are going at it again.” He murmured to his wife. The foxes were mating; they saw more action at night than he ever did.
As the high-pitched squealing continued, he found himself jealous and irritable, rolling over he buried his head into the pillow, trying to block out the screams.
It began to work, the noises ebbed away, and sweet sleep came.
The next day on his doorstep, beside his morning paper he found the blade caked in dried blood.
And sirens edging closer.
Connor Long-Johnson, currently writing his thesis on the fiction of Stephen King at the University of Greenwich in London, England. He enjoys writing short stories in the Gothic, fantasy and Science-Fiction genres inspired by the stories of Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson. In June 2020 he had his first short story titled The Man in the Mirror serialised in Trembling With Fear. He can be found at cljohnson.co.uk.
Passing on the Genes
Vincent sat in the terminal, watching the planes lift off. Thousands passed through here, many bonded by family blood.
Each person contained tenfold more bacterial cells than human. Vincent dedicated his career to tiny organisms, dashing chances for wife and offspring.
So he cultured one strain from his body while bestowing genes for competition and survival.
Vincent removed a vial of cloudy liquid from his pocket.
Plenty to do. Tears of happiness welled as he swabbed the rails, chairs, and counters.
His offspring would spread throughout the world, eliminating all rivals—the dream of every parent for their children.
Ryan Benson’s fiction has appeared in Trembling with Fear (Horror Tree), The Sirens Call Publications, TERSE Journal, and the anthologies The Collapsar Directive (Zombie Pirate Publishing) and A Discovery of Writers.
Under The Corset
a ladder of bones,
a pair of deflated breasts
which fed a quintet of babes,
a web of sprawling stretch marks
autograph my now infertile belly.
I lock away
my rage, passion and
the death of my dreams,
wear my scars in silence.
Myriad metal hooks nip my flesh
but it’s poverty’s bite,
which gnaws to the bone.
the laughing child I once was
the joyful lover
who kissed your precious lips
the shrouded shrunken widow
who howls her grief.
Nightly at the releasing
of my frame, my infrastructure –
a soft sigh, a whimper
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.
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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.