I’ve been thinking about feedback again in recent times, not so much in terms of what I might comment on in in the conversation I have directly with an author, but in terms of letting readers know what I actually think of a story, why did I enjoy it? The lead short story this week is Faithful by Daniel Shirey and is certainly a story to make you think, showing the two faces of man. In the west, he is a peace-loving guru with followers among the wealthy and well-fed, in the east, he was a monster, a man who left his prisoners behind to starve and suffer relentless mental torture. This was a different setting to many submissions (covering two continents doesn’t happen very often) and there was a neat mirroring of opposites throughout the tale. The use of the phone to aid meditation in one country whilst torturing others at the same time on the other side of the world was particularly clever.

The Amulet by Greg Fewer, is a nice bit of gothic ‘be careful what you dig up’, whilst Fayth Borden’s What Mollie Said is an example of how bad children can be (I do like stories featuring a ‘devil’ child) In complete contrast, you get Kim Plasket’s very raw, very blunt Heartbeat – sometimes it’s just the underlying energy or emotion that will carry the story through for me.

Now to the doings of TWF/Horror Tree alumni beyond these pages (love the word alumni, makes us sound posh):

Robert Allen Lupton has some stories up at www.aurorawolf.com and www.erbzine.com. Give them a read (I have, they’re great fun) and share them with friends.

Alyson Faye has been extremely prolific of late. Not only has she released Trio of Terror – Supernatural Tales on amazon – an excellent read, by the way – but also has a Christmas story over at The Casket of Delights (not horror, just nice and cosy).

Eric S. Fomley had a great story, A Girl Like Us, in Flame Tree Press’ December newsletter. Scary and all too possible.

Kev Harrison has just announced the publication of his first YA story, Your Blue Friend, in Frostfire Worlds.

CR Smith has also announced she will have a poetry pamphlet, Fourteen, published by Hedgehog Poetry Press. I enjoy poetry but love writing it even more as it’s a great exercise in producing strong imagery or emotion and find that feeds into my prose writing. We both used to create cut-up poems over at Verstype (currently on hiatus) and I would highly recommend you pop over there to see what she created, you can also read mine if you want.

On a personal note, I have suffered rejection (Shock Totem), still waiting (Pseudopod – apparently a good sign?) and just sent in first 3 chapters of my novel to Crystal Lake Publishing who’ve currently got an open call for novels for the month of December. At this point I would also like to say a very big thank you to Alyson Faye, Kev Harrison and Phillip E. Dixon from this site who very kindly beta read my CLP submission. Beta readers are incredibly useful when you have become ‘too close’ to your work. They see with clearer eyes.

Like you, still reading, writing, doubting and waiting … always waiting

Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

I’m writing this kind of last minute but have to applaud Steph’s goal of giving what we liked about the stories we include each week! I am going to strive to include this as well in future introductions. Just as a reminder, if you had picked up a copy of ‘Trembling With Fear: Year 1‘ we’d love to snag a few more positive reviews on it!

Offhand, I just wanted to re-point out a few areas which we’d appreciate more submissions for if you’re in the mood to get writing which we included last week as well!

  • The Unholy Trinity – We’re looking to have 3 stand-alone drabbles that link together either in theme, character or to expand upon one another. They need to work alone but there has to be some connective tissue!
  • Serial Killers – On the opposite end of the spectrum, we’re hoping to print a few more serials. Stories which can easily be broken up into 4-10 installments of 1,000-1,5000 words or so in length (we’ll go longer or shorter a bit as long as it works!) We’re not looking for a story to just be cut up though, these have to work as mini-chapters for the overall tale being told.
  • Finally, in January we’ve got a call for authors in the LGBT+ community or stories that would fit in that area!

‘Trembling With Fear’ Is Horror Tree’s weekly inclusion of shorts and drabbles submitted for your entertainment by our readers! As long as the submissions are coming in, we’ll be posting every Sunday for your enjoyment.

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

Faithful

The first blue of morning came before Lowell looked at the sky outside his window. The phone in his hand lit in azure, prompting the middle-aged man to get out of bed. His fingers were combing back the memory of hair when the white letters appeared on the blue background:

*faithful*

Lowell swept his legs out from under the sheet and placed his feet onto polished oak, feeling the cold wood floor. His new morning ritual was all about feeling, connecting to his emotions and embracing what the daily word truly meant. Be in the moment, the Master had said, feel this moment. But all Lowell could feel now was a scratching need for coffee and the chill of a bachelor’s bedroom before the heater kicked in.

Still, he had made the commitment to do Mantra first thing every morning. And Lowell was nothing if not a man of his word. After two weeks of unbroken adherence, he still found it difficult to push past his discomforts or set aside the To Do List in his head, even for a few minutes of meditation. What else had Sri Raga said? Give it 40 days. God cleansed the world for Noah in 40 days. After 40 days, Mantra will become habit.

*faithful*

The white letters on the blue screen exited left, then flew in again from the right, one letter at a time. Lowell remembered from his three-day training to mimic the motion of the letters in his imagination; consciously sweep out all extraneous thoughts, brush them aside and let the feelings from the daily word resonate.

As a software developer, Lowell knew that the screen’s repetitive motion, the exit and rebuild of the letters, was only an animated overlay to allow video to load. He could see the code in his head, but he just as quickly dispelled this intruding thought. Without self-admonishment, Lowell regained concentration and smiled inwardly at his improving ability to meditate.

*faithful*

The blue screen dissolved to a vivid splash of fabrics: a Persian rug, embroidered floor cushions, block-print pillows overstuffed with color. The white letters continued to sweep on and off; the motion seemed to push a gliding thrum of sitar out the phone’s speaker. And as Sri Raga walked into the frame, the word dissolved to ghostly transparency; there in digital spirit, but no longer the center of attention.

They said this old man emerged from the Kush Mountains and walked all the way to Mumbai to bring his messages of enlightenment. They said he was once a powerful warlord with a vengeance so great that its fury blinded him. He could no longer see, but his sight was replaced by an angelic vision of peace. Sri Raga took the divination to heart, convinced his followers to escort him to the West and left the warring tribes behind. They said his former enemies did not believe in his loving transformation, that the only thing Sri Raga found was a way to finance his wars. Yet his legions of followers believed.

The Master took a seat on the colorful cushions, and Lowell could see the hard lines of resolve that creased the man’s face. Even though he was blind, there was something deep inside Sri Raga that still sparked emotion in those sightless eyes. On screen, the Master slowly crossed his legs, sat upright and pulled a gray, oily braid over his shoulder. His loose caftan and drawstring pants were peach colored, well-worn and immaculate.

Lowell had tried previously to emulate the meditation pose, but his own pudgy body would not follow suit. In that three-day retreat there were scores of followers who could not comfortably sit in the Lotus position. Lowell remembered looking at his plump peers, each with their complimentary Sri Raga t-shirt, sitting in chairs instead of on floor cushions. It was no shame, the instructor said, to use a chair. Just keep feet flat to the floor and hands relaxed in laps. Lowell assumed this pose now, placing the phone on one chubby thigh.

*faithful*

Sri Raga spoke the word. One syllable purposely spaced from the other. In his non-English pronunciation, it sounded like fate-fall. He said the word at the top of each inhale and again at breath’s release. Sri Raga repeated it at least a dozen times, while the camera pulled in to frame the old man’s face. His dark, ageless, almost vengeful eyes widened when the Master spoke again, “Now you say.”

     “faithful”

Lowell chanted and breathed to the instructed rhythm. He peeked at the phone, only once, to make sure he was speaking loud enough. Because of his blindness, the Master wanted to hear his followers. The Mantra app let devotees, anywhere in the world, chant with Sri Raga. The screen on Lowell’s thigh had an icon of a microphone, and stretching from it, a red line that squiggled violently the louder Lowell spoke. After checking the waveform, Lowell reclosed his eyes and repeated the Mantra over and over.

“faithful

faithful

faithful”

 

#

 

Nadj woke because the noise had changed, not the volume. The loudspeaker had stopped pounding one word and started another. Every day came a new word chanted by a thousand voices. This one sounded like fate-fall.

Since his hearing was almost gone, Nadj woke by the change in tremor. This new word vibrated differently throughout his body. He opened his eyes. Months of ear-splitting volume had deafened the pain of noise, but the debilitating crush of headache and exhaustion never stopped.

He rarely slept long, a few minutes at most. Nadj thumbed the corners of his eyes to remove the grit and saw Hedo. His older brother looked a hundred years old, lying on his side, knees pulled up to his chest. His skin sallowed by lack of sunlight, a coat of dust on matted hair. The only color other than gray was the yellow-brown of his cataracts. Hedo blinked. Still alive.

Nadj’s own misery didn’t matter. Seeing what his brother had become reignited the hate. It burned when Nadj saw Hedo and those who remained from the village. It burned for revenge on the warlord who put them here. Kaled Bahn. Just thinking the infidel’s name soured Nadj’s mouth, but he could not afford the spit to remove it.

As Nadj pushed up from the thin foam pad his papery muscles did not comply. He fell back onto his sleeping mat, feeling it skid on the grit of the filthy cement floor. His first concern was for his fellow prisoners, hoping the noise he’d just made had not disturbed them. Had he the strength to laugh, Nadj would have, realizing that none of the eight remaining men could hear him under the volume from the loudspeaker.

“fate-fall

fate-fall

fate-fall”

Though his ear damage rendered the sound to a distant, hollow buzz, Nadj assumed the thousand voices still chanted in English. The words didn’t make sense; no one in the cell understood any of them. But Nadj knew two things: Kaled Bahn was responsible for this torture. And the words on the loudspeaker changed every day.

Nadj knew it was a daily occurrence, even in a room without windows. When the bare bulbs dimmed, it was nighttime. In his poor town, the electricity was overused at night, improved by day. Even so, everything in the village was better at night. The warlord and his soldiers halted attacks by sunset.

When the bulbs dimmed, prisoners were served a bit of food. The long table, just within reach outside the bars, was laid with stale scraps of flatbread and a shallow pan of weak broth. Nadj watched until the men with fat orange cups on their ears left the room, struggling to his feet only after the door shut behind the guards. Nadj still had strength enough to tear at the hard crescents, soak them in the tasteless soup and bring the food to Hedo. Praise be, his brother could still eat.

Only a few of the prisoners had strength left to stand. All were naked from the waist down and did their best to hide the shame. It was a cruel joke that Nadj, Hedo and the others had only t-shirts to wear; thin, cheap material with Kaled Bahn’s face printed on the front. There were two words on the shirts–Sri Raga–but they were just as foreign as those from the unrelenting loudspeaker.

Wherever Nadj looked, he always saw the thin smile of his enemy, head and shoulders tented in fabric the color of peaches, vengeful eyes never breaking gaze.

Nadj scowled. And this time he spat.

Then he knelt to feed Hedo another piece of bread. After his brother, Nadj delivered food to all who could not walk. It was an honor to serve the few who remained from the village, the faithful.

 

 

END

 

D.L. Shirey

DL Shirey lives in Portland, Oregon under skies the color of bruises. Occasionally he lightens up, but his dark fiction can be found in Confingo, Zetetic, Liquid Imagination and in anthologies from Truth Serum Press and Literary Hatchet. Find more of his writing at www.dlshirey.com and @dlshirey on Twitter.

Heartbeat

You told me that you gave me your heart, yet I see the confusion on your face. You do not understand why I press my knife into your skin, your blood flowing free because
of me.

Terror mars your once handsome face, your eyes glaze over time.

“Don’t worry baby,” I croon softly. “You won’t feel the pain for long.”

You try to push me off but I am stronger. My fierce love for you makes me a warrior.

I hold your once beating heart, your hot blood painting my face and hands. Yet I smile knowing you are mine.

Kim Plasket

Kim Plasket is a Jersey girl at heart relocated to sunny Florida. She enjoys writing mainly horror and paranormal stories and lives with her husband and 2 kids. When she is not slaving away at her day job, she can be found drinking coffee with fellow author Valerie Willis and planning the demise of some poor character. Currently she has several short stories featured in anthologies such as ‘Demonic Wildlife’ and ‘The Hunted’, also has a story in an Anthology Titled Fireflies and Fairy dust she also has had a story featured in Shades of Santa  with more to come!
https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B074YCLRCF

 

The Amulet

Income from the estate no longer supported Lady Agnes, but seeing the gold amulet in her great-great-grandmother’s portrait, she recalled the story that it adorned her corpse. Agnes resolved to seize the amulet for herself.

Crowbar in hand, Agnes unlocked the family crypt’s wrought iron gate and pushed it inwards, the metal screeching in protest. Finding the coffin, she peeled back the lead lining and prised off the lid. Gagging at the stench, Agnes ripped the amulet from the fleshy corpse’s neck and scrutinised it, but a cold hand grasped her wrist, a voice hissing ‘No, dear – that’s mine!’

Greg Fewer

Greg Fewer has had genre stories and reviews published in Aoife’s Kiss, Eile Magazine, Tightbeam and Workshop (@TETWorkshop).

What Mollie Said

After pulling an unforgivable prank on Mollie she yelled, “I could kill you all!

When she said that we laughed and laughed because Mollie has a squeaky

voice and we can be jerks.

Next day Carla was found with her neck slashed to the bone.  Nina’s brains were bashed in and she

was left on her parent’s lawn.

The twins were found floating in the river, and after two days it was difficult to ID them.

I’m cornered in room 207, Geology, while Mollie is tossing a huge geode at my head.

You should never laugh and laugh at Mollie.

Fayth L. Borden

I have written and published nearly one dozen horror poems the past few years in small press zines.

I have written these poems for many years now and began submitting them. Happily several editors enjoyed them and published

From the conciseness of horror poems I turned to writing horror drabbles.  I discovered the challenge of Drabbles which have the feel of poetic storytelling to me as they must be concise, direct and grab an emotion at the end.

Horror in any form has intrigued me all my life.  I’d spend hours in the libraries, from childhood till even now, reading horror and learning how authors create macabre worlds with a thought and a string of sentences with the right words that scare!  

My love of the horror genre began as a child listening to the stories told by my Sicilian aunts and uncles of ghosts, exorcisms and all unholy phenomenon from the homeland.  Scaring me and my cousins was an achieved goal. And we loved it!

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About Stuart Conover

Stuart Conover is a father, husband, published author, blogger, geek, entrepreneur, horror fanatic, and runs a few websites including Horror Tree!

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