Trembling With Fear 12/20/20
Christmas is upon us! I think some of us thought this time would never come after a truly difficult and horrific year for so many. I would love to have started with the traditional greeting of ‘Happy Christmas’ but it does feel somewhat out of place at this time.
A bright spot amongst all this misery has been the horror community, whose members I have seen reaching out and offering support to those in need. This caring aspect is one of the reasons I love being part of the genre. To all of you, I wish you a peaceful and restful holiday and that 2021 is a lot kinder to all of us.
Trembling with Fear starts this week with You’re Not Lizzie Borden by Tom Gumbert. A murderous tale and psychological horror feeding off the insecurities of a child and a manipulative. Whilst the story clearly signposts the path it is taking, the understanding of what is happening creates a bond between the reader and victim and keeps you reading to the end.
Hung Up by Patrick Winters is a tale of horrific torment, turning a recognisable trope into something more traumatic. Patrick has become one of our more original writers.
In Absentia by Hillary Lyon, brings a gift from beyond the grave. The description of the flowers and their state is spot on.
The Music Box by Will H. Blackwell Jr. is an entertaining story, which turns a child’s interests into something more ominous. He also uses objects which don’t often appear in the tales at Horror Tree. Raid your antiques stores, see what you can come up with.
Enjoy the stories and send us yours!
Christmas is coming.
This next week in fact, terrifying. This year has just flown by. We’ll have our regularly scheduled holiday edition out shortly, we just need to make sure all the contracts are in and get to scheduling!
I’ve been crazy busy with year-end “stuff’ at the day job so unfortunately don’t have anything new and exciting to share with you. I’m hoping that will change soon!
If you’re looking for more fun-filled fiction to read, I’d suggest entering to win our latest contest for one of ten digital copies of Dark Waters and Ronnie and Rita!
You’re Not Lizzie Borden by Tom Gumbert
“Calm down, hon.”
“How can I fucking calm down knowing this?”
“You’re being emotional. Sit down and I’ll fix you a drink.” She walks toward the kitchen, pausing to press her palm to his face.
He exhales sharply, his breath hot on her hand, before resuming his pacing. She shrugs on her way out of the room.
“What’s his deal?”
Standing at the back door, tears in her eyes, is her husband’s twelve-year old daughter. She dabs her eyes, blotting the mascara that is starting to run.
“You know he doesn’t like it when you wear makeup.” She looks the girl over. “And those clothes—he told you just last weekend that you’re too young to dress like that.”
“He hates me,” the girl pouts. “I remind him of Mother. He hates her too.”
“He doesn’t hate you. Have you taken your medication?”
“He does,” the girl insists, ignoring the question. “You don’t know him like I do. You’ve been married, what? Six months?”
The woman pulls a glass from the shelf in the cupboard. “I’m making him a drink. You can kiss the glass. It will make him feel better.”
The girl takes the glass, eyebrow arched. “You really think this will make him feel better?”
“Absolutely.” She pulls the whiskey bottle down from the top of the refrigerator and sets it on the counter.
The girl’s pink lipstick smudges the glass, and she sets it on the counter next to the whiskey bottle. “Why’s he gone ballistic? What did the therapist say?”
The woman folds her arms across her chest and leans against the kitchen counter. “It isn’t what the therapist said…it’s what you said.”
The girl frowns, her brows pinched together. “I don’t remember saying anything. At least, nothing that should make him lose his shit like that.”
“Language,” the woman sighs. “When you were under hypnosis. You said something that upset your father.”
“What? That I totally get why Mother left him? That sometimes I hate him and wish he were dead? ‘Cause, that’s nothing he hasn’t heard before. That’s why he’s sending me to therapy in the first place.”
The woman shakes her head, pulls her hair back behind her ears and looks up at the ceiling. “You said you had a previous life. You said you were Lizzie Borden.”
The girl shakes her head, eyes narrowing before her mouth drops open, her eyes opening wide. “The axe murderer? He thinks I’m an axe murderer?” The girl staggers back against the door like she’d been struck.
“First, you are not Lizzie Borden. Second, she was not technically an axe murderer. She was acquitted. Third—” the woman holds her hand up to prevent the girl’s interjection—“your father didn’t say you were Lizzie. You did. But you’re not.”
The girl puts her hands on either side of her head, her fingers clutching her hair, her breathing rapid, face pale.
The woman pulls a chair out from the kitchen table, takes the girl by the shoulders and directs her to the chair. “Breathe,” she instructs as the girl sits. “It’s going to be okay.”
“You don’t know that,” the girl challenges. “He, he…he’s going to put me away. He’ll have me locked away…in an asylum.”
“He won’t. I won’t let him.”
The girl looks at her, eyebrows raised.
“I’m serious. But you,” she points at the girl, “need to do exactly what I tell you.”
The girl nods in quick agreement.
“Where’s my drink?” her husband yells.
“You’re going to start being nice to your father, and start helping out around here.” The woman looks slowly from the girl to the drink.
The girl rises from the chair, picks up the glass and taking care not to spill a drop, goes into the living room.
He stops pacing when he sees her, cocks his head.
“It’s fine,” the woman calls from the kitchen.
He takes the drink from his daughter, gulps it, hands the glass back and mutters, “Another.”
The girl returns to the kitchen, holds the glass out to the woman, who nods toward the counter. The girl huffs as she sets the glass down.
The woman removes a twenty-dollar bill from her pocket, and holds it out to the girl. “Now, go to the hardware store and get that weed killer he’s been talking about. When you get back, you can spray the driveway. One less chore for him to stress about.”
The girl hesitates.
“Or pack your bags…”
The girl pushes through the door, then trudges down the street.
The woman calculates how long the errand will take, factors in the girl getting someone to buy her cigarettes.
“Where’s my fucking drink?”
“A moment, hon. Almost ready.”
She opens the cabinet under the sink and removes a small container. On the counter she pours a thimble full of the contents into the glass, then tops it with whiskey and stirs the mixture with her finger. Using a napkin, she lifts the glass from the bottom.
“Here you go, hon.” She kisses his cheek and returns to the kitchen. Humming, she wipes down the container and replaces it under the sink.
She glances at the clock, sits at the kitchen table and waits. It hasn’t been easy, the past six months. A workaholic husband with anger management issues, a stepdaughter with her own exhaustive list of emotional issues, and yet she has handled it all so gracefully. Ask anyone—the neighbors, the parishioners at St. Ann’s, the school guidance counselor, the goddamn therapist. She probes the bruises under her sleeve with her index finger. Not easy…
“Hon, I don’t feel so…” his body crashes to the floor.
But so worth it.
The girl will be back soon. The woman goes to the garage and returns with an axe. No child, you are not Lizzie Borden. But after this, the world will think you were.
Operations Manager by day and daydreamer by nature, Tom and his wife Andrea live in a log cabin in the woods of southwest Ohio where they’ve practiced social distancing since 2006. Tom has been fortunate to have previous work published in various journals, reviews and magazines alongside his literary heroes.
He cradled his phone, wondering: Should I call her again?
He’d told himself to stop. Just leave her be. What’s done was done, and there was no going back. Move on.
He dialed and waited.
She answered on the fourth ring—and started screaming before he could get a word in.
“Please! Whoever you are, please, just let me go! My family has money—!”
He cut the call off and threw his phone aside. Stupid.
He chastised himself a while longer, then calmed himself.
Soon, her air would run out, and then he could leave her where he’d buried her.
Patrick Winters is a graduate of Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL, where he earned a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. He has been published in the likes of Sanitarium Magazine, Deadman’s Tome, Trysts of Fate, and other such titles. A full list of his previous publications may be found at his author’s site, if you are so inclined to know: http://wintersauthor.
The flowers arrived before noon. They looked a little worse for wear: already leaves turning brown and curling, the flowers themselves—roses, mainly—dropping scabby petals. The clear glass vase they came in was cracked with a chip in its lip, and the water was beige with tiny bits of debris swirling in it. And the smell! Nauseating.
Annika rubbed her temples. Every anniversary, the same gift. Co-workers looked through her door, oooh’d and aaah’d over them. Until they actually saw the flowers, then they’d quickly back away.
Her ex turned over in his grave, congratulating himself for commemorating their first date.
HillaryLyon is a speculative,horror, and sci-fi writer whose stories have appeared in more than 60 print and online zines, as well as in over 30 anthologies. She’s also an illustrator for horror/sci-fi, and pulp fiction sites.
My nine-year-old niece—small for her age, but unnervingly knowledgeable—loves collectables: a faceted crystal-goblet, a fabergé-egg, and, especially, an antique music-box of unusual depth.
I asked, “Among many lovely objects, why do you like the music-box best?”
With ominous maturity she answered, “Its special versatility.”
“It plays different tunes for the little rising-ballerina: Brahms’ Lullaby, Schubert’s Ave Maria, Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
If it plays Tchaikovsky’s March of the Toy Soldiers, a miniature Russian-officer, with wee rifle, appears instead—See?
Stand—facing the table—Good!
Now—He’ll fire a tiny bullet into your navel!”
Will H. Blackwell Jr.
Will H. Blackwell Jr. is a retired professor living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he continues research on parasitic fungi in freshwater. He has fiction in The Drabble, The Sirens Call, and 365 Tomorrows; poems are in Aphelion, Black Petals, and Blue Unicorn.
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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 can be found at https://stephanieellis.org and on Blue Sky as stephellis.bsky.social.