Trembling With Fear 10/24/21
Please note: We are temporarily closed to short flash stories (unless for one of the Specials) but open to drabbles, unholy trinities and serials. Please also remember to read our guidelines, especially on word counts!
By the end of the year, we will have caught up on all our short story publications for TWF. With that in mind, I feel it safe to reopen at the beginning of December – but please do not send before this!
My week has been busy reading works for those authors appearing on the Shotgun Logic podcast (which is currently undergoing a renaming). Last week, Shane Douglas Keene, Beverley Lee and I chatted to Craig Wallwork, author of the short story collection, Human Tenderloin. This is a new to me author but his work is excellent, he even had a rave blurb from Stephen Graham Jones! This Sunday, we’ll be chatting to Coy Hall, author of the Grimoire of the Four Impostors, another excellent book. I’m also looking forward to appearing on a different podcast in November with fellow authors and the editor of the What One Wouldn’t Do anthology. For someone who hates talking/appearing in public things seem to have been changing and it’s not been as bad as I feared! (Famous last words 😊 )
Remember if you have an upcoming book release or one recently launched, let me know and I’ll make sure it goes on our Indie Bookshelf Releases which is posted every Friday.
Our first feature in Trembling with Fear this week is The Cutoff by Jen Mierisch. A revenge tale which has a rather gruesome outcome for the guilty parties. Sometimes things don’t stay dead and buried. Revenge is always a good driver for a story and this has a nice change in the circumstances which triggered this.
Carousel by Robert Allen Lupton is one of those ‘be careful what you wish for’ tales and has a lovely touch of humour.
Daisy by Kevin M. Folliard is told through dialogue alone and again, some nice humour.
Terms and Conditions by Ryan Benson is a story in a loop – once a contract is signed, there is nothing you can do.
Enjoy our stories and send in yours!
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The Cutoff by Jen Mierisch
“You hear about Luke?” Dale asked, picking at the label on his sweating bottle of Miller Lite. Overhead, the bar’s speakers blasted AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.”
Trevor stared at his empty glass, not really seeing it. He’d heard about Luke, all right. In Lennox County, a man didn’t burn to death alone in his hunting cabin the night before Halloween without you hearing about it. Especially when you’d worked together for three years.
He caught Glenna’s eye and held up two fingers. Their bartender, dolled up tonight as Harley Quinn in a red-and-black bustier and colorful pigtails, nodded and hoisted the bottle of Johnnie Walker over two fresh glasses.
“It’s a damn shame, what happened,” Trevor said, sliding one of the whiskeys over to Dale and raising his own glass. “To Luke.”
“To Luke,” the younger man echoed, mirroring Trevor as they drank.
Dale rubbed his Saturday stubble with the cuff of his leather jacket. “I saw Fletcher from the coroner’s today,” he said. “He was there last night, at Luke’s cabin. You know what he told me?”
“He said they found Luke’s body—” Dale lowered his voice briefly as Glenna walked by. “—and he was burnt, for sure, but also, his leg was missing.”
Trevor looked at him.
“His leg was just gone,” Dale repeated.
“Don’t you think that’s strange? A fire don’t take your leg off.”
“Something must have fell on him, a beam or something,” said Trevor.
“Fletcher said there wasn’t nothing near him.” Dale’s voice was steady, but Trevor could see the whites of his eyes. “His left leg, Trevor.”
“What’s your point?”
“Don’t you remember? Last winter?” Dale’s fingers shredded a paper napkin. “That fat lady?”
Glenna, talking with some women near the end of the bar, glanced in their direction.
“Don’t talk business in here,” Trevor grunted, taking another swig. “And that’s all that was — business.”
“We shouldn’t have done it, Trevor.”
“We didn’t have much choice about it,” said Trevor. “Why are you thinking about that?”
“Don’t it seem like too big of a coincidence?”
“Want to know what I think?” Trevor set down his empty glass.
“I think you’ve been watching too many slasher movies, man.” Trevor looked down the bar. “Hey Glenna, who are your friends?” he hollered. “Come meet my buddy Dale. He likes movies!”
Dale was a nice kid, Trevor thought, but he talked too damn much. Maybe if Trevor got him laid, he’d finally shut up.
Dale stuffed the napkin with Holly’s number on it into his jacket pocket as he trotted outside. He got into his pickup, heaved the door shut, and assessed how drunk he was, cracking his knuckles and blinking at the moonlit parking lot. Good enough to make it the four miles home, he reckoned.
Heading through Smuggler’s Woods on Route 60, Dale switched on his high beams, and that’s when he saw it.
It was in the middle of the road, hunched over, blocking the lane. A bear? Dale eased his foot off the gas pedal as he got closer, squinting.
Not it. Her. She was naked except for some blackened rags that hung in tatters. Her skin looked distorted, mottled, like old scars from a fire. She crouched on her hands and knees, or rather, one knee. A jagged crimson patch marked the spot where her other leg would have been.
With a sudden jerk, her head snapped up, turned, and looked straight at him. Dale gasped.
I heard what you said about me, Dale.
Panicked, he swerved. Her pale face leered into his, and then the car was airborne, tumbling, bouncing off trees as it plunged down a rocky hill.
As Trevor left the bar, the cold air hit him like a wall. He sucked the air into his lungs; he’d been there a while and needed a wake-up. Better not take the highway back, he thought. More cops out that way.
Slapping his cheeks with his palms, Trevor started the engine, pulled out of the lot, and turned onto Route 60. His headlights sliced the country darkness, glancing off boulders as he rounded a bend.
The upside-down pickup blazed with flame at the bottom of the hill.
“Shit!” Trevor pulled the car off into the dirt. Wide awake now, he edged down the slope toward the inferno, arms out for balance, sneakers sliding on loose dirt. Squinting against the brightness, Trevor could feel the heat coming off the Ford truck, license plate DALE 95. Behind him, shadows danced against the hillside.
On the ground, pulverized window glass glittered in the firelight. Beyond the truck lay a man’s body, leather jacket shredded, arms splayed out. His right leg was bent at an unnatural angle, and Trevor couldn’t see his left leg anywhere at all.
Trevor dipped an oar through the water. Mandy hadn’t objected to him going fishing, not after he’d lost two of his co-workers in as many days. She’d even packed him a lunch, which was tucked under the wooden seat next to the beer cooler.
He baited the hook and cast the line. The lake was quiet but for the calling of birds and the slooping of fish underneath the water.
It had been a while since he’d thought about that big woman. He’d tried to forget that day at work, and other days. Working at the crematorium wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs. It paid better than the factory, though. And Brian would hire you with just a GED.
“Boys,” Luke had said that morning, “she ain’t gonna fit.”
“Look at that heifer,” said Dale, cackling. “Stand back. Gonna be one hell of a grease fire!” They had all laughed, poked at her belly, watched it jiggle.
They figured they ought to consult with the boss, though Brian was busy in the front of the funeral home, seeing some customers. Trevor had gone and talked to Brian. When he came back, his hand held the bone saw.
“Get to cuttin’,” Luke had said. “I could use a country ham for my smokehouse!” He hooted with laughter.
Shaking off the memory, Trevor pulled up the pole and recast the line. He didn’t believe in jinxes, he reminded himself. Hell, he didn’t even go to church, so little did he abide superstition.
He blinked at the water next to the boat. Something was coming to the surface. It looked too big to be a trout.
Her head parted the water, hunks of black hair streaming like seaweed across her sallow, scarred face. Beneath hairless brows, her eyes glared at Trevor. Dropping the pole, he yelled and scrambled backward.
I remember what you did to me, Trevor.
He smelled the smoke first. The flames licked over the sides of the boat, crackling hungrily. Trevor’s screams echoed off the canyon walls.
Brian’s boots jostled pebbles on the trail. Soon he’d be above the tree line, away from the news that kept coming, away from anything flammable, just in case.
He breathed deep, tried to clear his head, tried to call up logical thoughts, something factual, times tables, anything. But the fear flowing through his veins annihilated rational thought. He found himself pleading. “It can’t be true,” he whispered, shaking his head. “Please, let it not be true.” He felt like a child saying his prayers, not sure who he was praying to.
She was waiting for him as he rounded an outcropping. Brian shrieked and stumbled backward. Her burn-blistered lips twisted grotesquely into a smile.
“Please don’t kill me,” Brian stammered. “I — I didn’t do anything to you.”
You were in charge, Brian. You told them to do it.
“I’m sorry,” he sputtered. “The cremation chamber, it — it was too small.”
Not good enough. They cut my leg off, Brian.
“I know,” he babbled. “I know. I should have sent you to one of the funeral homes in the city that had a larger oven. But I — I needed the money—”
Where’s my leg, Brian?
“I don’t know,” he said desperately. “I thought they burned it, put it with your ashes.”
He was trembling uncontrollably. He took a deep breath and forced himself to look into her mutilated face. “I’m sorry, Adrienne,” he said. “I remember you from school. You were a good person. You deserved better than that. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
She stared at him for a few long seconds. Her head cocked to one side, and her green eyes studied his. Then, as suddenly as she’d appeared, she vanished.
Brian collapsed to the ground, feeling rocks digging into his palms, his face scraping scrubby grass. He felt hysterical laughter bubbling up. He barely dared to believe what had happened. She hadn’t burned him to death like the others. She’d let him live.
Slowly, the shaking began to subside. But something didn’t feel right. Brian raised himself onto an elbow and looked backward. The left leg of his pants, empty, lay flat against the ground.
Jen Mierisch writes humor and horror, because why not scare yourself silly. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Horla, 101 Proof Horror, Wrath (A Seven Deadly Sins Anthology), Macabre Ladies’ Extreme Drabbles of Dread, and elsewhere. She lives, works, and writes just outside Chicago, Illinois, USA. Read more at http://www.jenmierisch.com.
“Genie, my first wish is for riches.”
The genie surrounded the man with an unclimbable wall of gold and gemstones.
“My second wish is for long life.”
Genie turned the man into a giant tortoise. “Third wish, Master? I speak fluent tortoise.”
The tortoise looked at the prison made of gold he could never spend and considered centuries of loneliness and hunger as a tortoise. “Put things back exactly the way they were before my first wish.”
The genie waved his hand.
The man said, “Genie, my first wish is for riches.”
“Here we go again,” said the genie. “Granted.”
Robert Allen Lupton
Robert Allen Lupton is retired and lives in New Mexico where he is a commercial hot air balloon pilot. Robert runs and writes every day, but not necessarily in that order. More than a hundred and seventy of his short stories have been published in several anthologies including the New York Times best seller, “Chicken Soup For the Soul – Running For Good”. His novel, “Foxborn,” was published in April 2017 and the sequel, “Dragonborn,” in June 2018. His first collection, “Running Into Trouble,” was published in October 2017. His next collection, “Through a Wine Glass Darkly,” was released in June 2019. His newest collection, “Strong Spirits,” was released on June 1, 2020.
His third novel, “Dejanna of the Double Star,” was published in December 2020.
His edited anthology, “Feral: It Takes a Forest to Raise a Child,” was published September 1, 2020.
Robert has been an active Edgar Rice Burroughs historian, researcher, and writer since the 1970s. His contributor page on the ERBzine website is: https://www.erbzine.com/lupton/, and includes several of his articles and stories.
“Down, Daisy! You know better.
“She’s usually well-behaved! She must be a little nervous.
“Honestly, Daisy, that’s our new neighbor!
“Daisy’s so playful! She really likes you. She thinks she’s still a puppy!
“That’s not a chew toy, Daisy! That’s the nice man’s throat!
“No! Leave it!
“Daisy, you’ve done it again. What a mess.
“Whatever shall we do with you? You know you hate a bath.
“There’ll be no treats for you if you keep this up.
“Oh, those eyes. All right.
“If you dig a nice deep hole for Mummy, I’ll cook up a steak.”
Kevin M. Folliard
Kevin M. Folliard is a Chicagoland writer whose fiction has been collected by The Horror Tree, Flame Tree Publishing, The Dread Machine, and more. His recent publications include his novella “Tower of Raven” from Demain Publishing, his 2020 horror anthology The Misery King’s Closet, and his YA fantasy adventure novel Grayson North: Frost-Keeper of the Windy City coming from Dark Owl Publishing December 2021. Kevin currently resides in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL, where he enjoys his day job in academia and active membership in the La Grange and Brookfield Writers Groups. When not writing or working, he’s usually reading Stephen King, playing Tetris, or traveling the U.S.A.
Terms and Conditions
Carter V sat in his kitchen holding a hamburger when his phone buzzed. Squinting, he donned his glasses before checking the message.
CRITICAL UPDATE: 20/20 vision.
He cursed his past self—egocentric and terrified of falling behind his peers—for accepting the contract.
A man strode into the kitchen—his exact double without glasses.
Carter VI fired his gun, disintegrating Carter V. He eyed the hamburger, as his mobile received an alert.
Minor update: half-inch height enhancement. “Another already?” he muttered, before smashing the phone. “Not today.”
As Carter VI sniffed his hamburger, the doorbell buzzed. “Who could that be?”
Ryan Benson resides outside of Atlanta, GA, USA with his wife and children. Ryan keeps himself busy writing short fiction stories and his first novel. Trembling With Fear (Horror Tree), The Sirens Call Publications, On Spec Magazine, TERSE Journal, and Night Terrors Vol. 1 (Scare Street) have published his work.
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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.