Trembling With Fear – End Of Summer 2020 Edition

Welcome to the SUMMER SPECIAL 2020!

These stories and authors are going to take you back to pre-COVID summers, when we could go on vacation, to concerts, and on dates. When we could actually enjoy ourselves. Well, let’s not get carried away…I’m not sure any of the victims (uh, characters) would call their particular summer activities joyful. But perhaps these creepy tales serve a more noble purpose: they will make you want to stick around and stay safe in your own homes. 

Remember when summer meant big outdoor music shows and rocking out to your favorite band when they hit the stage? G.A. Miller does…and his rock ‘n’ roll tale Final Encore gives us a little something to chew on while we’re social distancing. COVID lockdown has nothing on Armageddon!

No music festivals? A simple beach vacation might be on the bill. But Dale W. Glaser takes readers on a Holiday with an Unholy Trinity that will make you think twice about hitting the beach. Uhhh…no thank you.

OK, then, how about date night? Be careful what you wish for. James Burr takes a vacation in his girlfriend’s head and is horrified to see himself from her point of view in A Cerebral Vacation.

Some summer sports lend themselves to social distancing. Tennis, anyone? In More Balls Please, Stephanie Ellis serves up a ‘love’ match that doesn’t end well for a cheating spouse. 

Erik Handy’s Vipers gives us a glimpse into that family favorite, the small-town visit. In this twisted tale, city folks and summer campers are welcome…to stay.

Fishing, perhaps, or a refreshing drink from a lemonade stand? Sounds harmless, right? Not sure you’re going to enjoy the Summer Snacks Evan Baughfman has on offer.

Staying at James Rumpel’s Lake Omega sounds relaxing, though. Lots of camping spots left. Park your trailer right on the beach and enjoy everything Nature has to offer. 

Seriously, if you ever needed a reason to stay home safe and sound this summer, each of the stories in this year’s Summer Special. 

Enjoy! 

Catherine Kenwell

Editor, Trembling With Fear

So… What a summer. Am I right folks? Enjoying spending time outdoors, 6 feet apart from one another…
When the warmth got a bit much we all started looking forward to the upcoming Autumn and what will surely be the most messed up Halloween of all time (though not for fun reasons!)
After that, we get to have a (nuclear) winter (because it’s 2020) which means those who were braving the outside in public spaces will now be confined to their houses for months on end.
Don’t even get me started on the election which will be massively divisive in the US no matter who wins.
YES!
Thankfully, we’ll continue to have an influx of fiction to help keep your spirits up through these ‘interesting’ times we live in. (Unless that nuclear joke I made above ends up actually happening.)
This year, we once again have a slew of great stories worth checking out. I hope you enjoy!

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

Final Encore by G.A. Miller

When the band struck the last chord of the song, the stage lights all went out, plunging the stadium into darkness. A moment later, low stage lights came on, the band no longer there, just tendrils of fog wafting across the stage and the first fleeting second of silence in the last two hours, soon broken by the wild cheers and applause from the packed stadium.

“Holy shit, my ears are bleeding, dude!” Billy yelled to his friend Chris among the thundering cheers of the thousands of people packed into the stadium. The most popular Death Metal band in the world, Satanic Panic, had left the stage after their last song, but the house lights remained off, so everyone knew they’d be coming back for an encore.

Besides, they hadn’t done their biggest hit, “Countdown to Armageddon” yet, the one that everyone was screaming to hear.

Moments later, the stage went dark again as a deep growl emanated from the synth, strobing lasers began firing and waves of fog began swirling onto the stage.

“Oh, HELL yeah!” Chris screamed, punching Billy in his arm. They’d paid dearly for their nosebleed seats, but both felt it was worth every penny to actually see this band live for the first time, having followed them since their debut album released just two years before.

The members of Satanic Panic strode back onto the stage, looking like stop motion animation from the strobing lasers, and launched into their signature tune. The floors of the stadium shook from the sheer force of the volume as the first chords erupted and lead singer Myles Anderson yanked his wireless mike from the stand. 

Satanic Panic’s powerhouse drummer, Jack Holeten, grinned ear to ear as he attacked his kit with his sticks, earning his nickname of Thor, God of Thunder. His kick drum provided extra heartbeats to the thousands of chests filling the stadium and reaching homes with their windows open for miles around, enjoying a rare break from the usual August heat.

The security guards in front of the stage reached into their ears to try and fit the plugs more tightly against the sonic onslaught.

As the band made its way through the first and second verses, the screaming crowd reacted with renewed cheers when a tall figure in a black hooded robe made its way onto the stage from behind the drum riser, carrying a huge scythe in its skeletal hands. Thousands of phones raised and began filming as this was something new, something no one had ever seen the band do before.

Both Chris and Billy held their phones high, using their fingers to try and zoom in to the stage from their high vantage point.

Myles Anderson held his left hand up, ringed fingers spread wide and threw his head back, belting out the chorus, completely unaware of the approaching visitor.

“It’s a Countdown to Armageddon,

Don’t you know that’s where we’re heading?

Where the race is lost

At the ultimate cost…”

It was then that the hooded creature suddenly swung his scythe with tremendous force and speed, just at that last line. The blade passed smoothly through Myles’ arm holding the microphone and then continued through his neck without any hesitation at all.

Myles’ head rolled backward, down along his spine, falling to the floor behind him, his eyes still closed as they had been during the chorus. His hand, rings on every finger, still gripped the microphone which boomed like thunder when it hit the stage floor. His knees buckled and his body dropped heavily to the stage, blood spurting everywhere from the open neck and stump of his right forearm. The stop motion effect of the laser strobes had people wondering if this were a CGI addition to the stage show they’d never seen before. 

Some even wondered if the severed head would continue singing.

Frantic band members looked wildly at each other in fear, knowing this wasn’t part of the show at all as cheering gave way to panicked screams in the stands.

This was real.

As the band stopped playing, lighting tech Tony Lamont immediately killed the lasers and fog machines and hit the house lights, bathing the entire stadium in bright white halogen light. Band members huddled behind Jack at the drum kit, looking around fearfully, but the hooded figure was gone. All that remained of the slaughter was Myles’ body on the floor, his head and hand next to his lifeless torso.

The sound crew killed the mains as the microphone in Myles’ severed hand began to feedback, howling like a mortally wounded hellhound.

Security guards swarmed onto the stage from both sides, some holding weapons, looking behind the stacks of amplifiers, searching for the perpetrator who had simply vanished after his gruesome act. A few herded the band members together and rushed them backstage before anything else could happen as the others searched the stage area and all the exits from the stage in vain. Those familiar with the venue checked the stage trap doors that were used for some performances, but found them all secured from below. Members of the police detail shouted into their radio microphones, calling for backup and medical personnel.

And for the county coroner.

People in the stands were trampling one another as they swarmed toward the stairs leading to the exits, the ushers ducking into the now empty rows to get out of the way of the rushing throng, realizing the patrons were well beyond reason at this point.

Among those remaining in the stands, shocked fans began playing back the videos on their phones, all discovering the same thing.

Not one video source showed the hooded figure at all. The footage all showed Myles singing and then his head and hand separating and flying away from his falling body as if they’d done so entirely on their own. It looked like a slasher movie, but without the slasher.

The band had been filming this show for a future Blu-ray release, and the video crew and editor huddled around their console, viewing their footage. Not one of them had seen that figure enter the stage on any monitor during the filming, and it did not appear during the playback either. They had the same footage as the fans did, but theirs was in grisly high definition.

Backstage personnel were watching the show from the wings and clearly saw the hooded figure approaching Myles. They’d assumed it was all part of the show, and hadn’t looked at the video monitors, leaving that chore to the editors.

No one realized that the hooded figure didn’t appear on any camera until after the attack occurred.

Social media exploded with an onslaught of posts about the Grim Reaper attack, along with the fact that he didn’t appear in anyone’s photos or video. At first, people thought it a hoax or a publicity stunt by the band, until the first reports from legitimate news channels began to appear.

People then realized that the countdown to Armageddon had indeed begun…

THE END

(“Countdown to Armageddon”, words and music by Al Costa. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission of the author.)

G.A. Miller

G.A. Miller is a new voice in the chorus of horror authors, drawing his ideas from everyday, commonplace events that take unforeseen turns down dark corridors.

Web: https://talesfrommiller.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/GMiller666
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100015787309417

Vipers by Erik Handy

“I’ll try to get you back on the road by tomorrow afternoon,” Henry told the couple from the city. He saw their mutual disappointment and added, “At the earliest, noon.”

City woman looked around the garage, saw the one car up on the lift and said, “You’re not even, like, that busy.”

Henry blushed. “I’d get you going today, but Jim, the guy I work with, didn’t show up. I’m a little backed up.”

City man and woman looked at each other.

“We can’t go anywhere without a car,” the woman said. “Worst summer vacation ever.”

City man turned to Henry and said, “How much will it cost?”

Henry gently smiled. “I’ll just charge you for parts so maybe $100 with tax.”

City man made a show of mulling the offer even though he didn’t really have a choice.

“Okay,” he said, turning to face the main street. “Is there a place to stay?”

“And eat?” city woman chimed in.

“Of course!” Henry guided the couple to the sidewalk. It was hot. Tourist season would be in full swing soon. Henry sighed. “You’ve got your franchise hotel about half a mile down the road or you got Francis’s Bed and Breakfast right across the street on the corner over there. I’d recommend the B-and-B. Francis makes the best cheese eggs and biscuits. Homemade. Plus it’s cheaper than that hotel. Cleaner, too. Francis despises a mess. And for dinner, you can head next-door to the Old Cracker. They have a menu, but they can make just about whatever you want.”

City woman looked like she wanted to stay at the franchise hotel, far from the rustic charm of the small tourist town.

“And of course, you got the beach just a few feet away,” Henry tacked on. “There aren’t too many people here yet, but that’ll all change at the drop of a dime, I bet. Now’s a good time to take in the peace of it all.”

City woman wasn’t sold on the idea, but the decision was already made.

“Well, thank you for your help,” city man said. He was in a hurry to get going so Henry could get back to work. “We appreciate it.”

“Do you have anything in your car you need?” Henry asked.

“Of course!” city man said. “I’m not thinking straight.”

He went to the trunk, Henry in tow. He peeled off his car key from his keychain and unlocked the trunk.

“Now don’t mind the dead body,” he told Henry.

Henry paled at that.

“Just kidding,” city man said, disarming Henry’s concern.

City woman rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.

“You’re funny,” Henry said. He meant it, too. “I’ll keep working until the sun goes down so you and your lady-friend relax. Your car is in good hands.”

City woman wasn’t buying what Henry was selling so he avoided looking at her.

“Well, good deal then,” city man said. He rolled his suitcase out of the way and said to city woman, “All right?”

“I suppose,” she replied.

Henry felt sorry for the guy. To have to put up with that attitude – Henry was glad he lived the single life. Heck, he was glad Jim didn’t come to the garage more often than not. Henry liked having his space. The only person he had to deal with was himself and he was easy to handle.

“Stop by around noon if you haven’t heard from me by then,” Henry said.

City man thanked him and, with suitcase and woman in tow, left Henry to his work. Henry heard the two mumble to each other, but he couldn’t understand them. No big deal.

Henry leaned against the side of his garage, a full view of the street at his disposal. He could even catch a glimpse of the beach and ocean beyond the row of low buildings that sat empty no matter the season.

“I hope you make it across the street,” Henry said. “Your lady, I don’t care if she does, but I hope you do.”

Two loud snaps took the couple down right in the middle of the intersection.

Henry flinched. “Didn’t even give them a chance.” He sadly shook his head as blood crept out of the couple’s respective head wounds. Right above their eyes and straight out the back. The kills were clean as usual. Henry wondered if there were two snipers working or one superior one.

“Doesn’t matter much now,” he said to himself. “Soon the masked men will clean up the mess and no one will ever know what happened. Except me. I saw the whole thing.”

Henry turned to his garage and went back to work. When he looked back out a few minutes later, the bodies and suitcase were gone. Even the hot asphalt was clean of blood and brain. The masked men were that good.

“Dang, this heat,” he said. It was getting too hot to work so he pulled down the bay door and turned the lights off. Tomorrow would probably be just as hot. Maybe hotter.

And busier.

Henry just remembered that Francis told him that a summer camp had rented out a pavilion on the beach for tomorrow. Henry hoped Jim would come in so he could take an hour off to watch the show.

 

Erik Handy

Erik Handy grew up on a steady diet of professional wrestling, bad horror movies that went straight to video, and comic books. He currently absorbs silence and fish tacos. In his spare time, he works a full-time job he hates. Info about his books can be found at ErikHandy.com.

Lake Omega by James Rumpel

The old man called himself Joe. He looked way too old to be a campground host. It was hard to imagine that he could handle the day to day chores of bringing firewood, cleaning the public restrooms, and helping campers with any problems that pop up.

“The cost is $20 a day,” he said. “You can pick out any of the other twelve sites you want. Mine is the only other camper here.” He pointed to a dilapidated pop-up model resting in the back of his rusty pick-up. 

“Great, we’ll take the one closest to the lake,” said Ron Braun as his wife, Andrea, pulled a couple of twenty-dollar bills from her purse.

“This is such a beautiful campground,” said Andrea. “I can’t believe there aren’t more people here.”

“Well, it’s still early in the season,” replied the host. “Things will pick up soon.”

“I would come just to see these beautiful flowers.” Andrea pointed to the many crimson blossoms growing all around. “I’ve never seen red lilies, let alone anything as deep and dark as these.”

“They don’t last long. You were lucky to get here when they were in bloom.”

***

“I swear it was a rattlesnake,” insisted Andrea.

“There are no rattlesnakes in northern Minnesota. It must have been a garter snake or something like that,” replied Ron from the comfort of his hammock.

“I know it was a rattler and it came down the trail chasing me. I don’t know how I got away without it biting me.” Andrea was still shaking. Her frantic panting was nowhere close to returning to a normal rate.

“Okay. Show me where you saw it,” said Ron, climbing out of his resting place. A loud cracking sound drew his attention. He looked back just in time to see a large oak tree falling toward him. He managed to dive out of the way before the tree landed squarely on top of the hammock, missing him by inches.

“If you hadn’t been climbing out, that tree would have crushed you,” said Andrea, tears welling in her eyes. “I don’t like this place. Let’s get out of here.”

Ron took a deep breath and waited for his heart to stop racing. “Tell you what, let’s jump in the pick-up and take a little drive. We’ll tell the host about the tree. He’s going to have to move it for us to get the camper out. We’ll feel better after a short drive.”

***

Surprisingly, the camp host and his camper were gone.

“He probably ran to town for supplies,” explained Ron as he continued driving toward the camp entrance.

“Then why did he lock the gate to the camp?” asked Andrea. She pointed to a large steel gate blocking their exit. A thick steel chain was wrapped around it and an oversized padlock attached.

“Maybe he forgot we were here. Is there a number we can call?”

“It won’t do any good. We don’t get any reception out here.”

Ron sighed. “I guess, we should just go back to the camper and wait.”

Leaning over the gate, Ron looked up and down the dirt road that passed by the campground. He was hoping to see clouds of dust kicked up by an approaching vehicle. All he saw was empty road and the sign proclaiming, “Lake Omega Campground – Nature’s True Home.” 

“We’ll be fine,” he told Andrea as he climbed back into their pick-up. “If I have to, I bet I can find something to break the padlock with back in the camper.” While he turned the vehicle around, he noticed that the lilies were an even darker shade of red than they had been that morning.

***

 The wind had picked up considerably and storm clouds were forming in the west.

“Maybe we should climb in the camper and sit the rain out,” suggested Andrea. She started to say more but was interrupted by Ron’s frantic shouts.

“Get in the camper right now,” he cried. He pointed behind him as he raced to open the door. “Two bears are coming down the path.”

He ushered his wife inside and followed, quickly pulling the door shut. A bolt of lightning struck a nearby pine tree.

“Why would bears be out in this kind of weather?” asked Andrea.

“I have no idea. Hopefully, they’ll just pass us by.” He glanced out the window. “Oh my God. They are heading right toward us.” He pulled the shade as if that would somehow stop their advancement.

Soon, the camper started shaking violently. Peering beneath the blinds. Ron watched as a third large black bear joined in the assault.

“They seem to be trying to push us toward the lake,” he shouted over the howling wind.

“This can’t be happening,” screamed Andrea. 

Another tree fell, crashing against the side of the camper, pushing it even closer to Lake Omega. Andrea screamed in horror as it began to slide down the steep embankment. 

Moments later, the camper was in the water. Unnatural currents carried it toward the deepest section of the lake. Ron tried to open the door, hoping to have the chance to swim to shore. The door would not budge; it had been twisted and broken by the fallen tree.

Helpless, the couple hugged each other as the camper slowly sunk. Ice cold water started to seep through the walls.

***

A crowd of about ten people stood on the porch of Rusty’s Bar watching the dark clouds and lightning bolts off to the West.

Joe parked his old truck and slowly walked over to join them.

“So, it looks like you found someone to take your place,” said Rusty.

“Yup, a nice young couple.” Joe turned to look at a patch of ivory white lilies growing next to the tavern. “It looks like Nature is satisfied.”

“I bet you’re happy. According to tradition, we should have a couple of years before another sacrifice is demanded.”

“I think so,” answered Joe, “but Nature has been pretty unpredictable lately.”

He looked at the flower garden one more time. Was it his imagination or were the lilies already showing a slightly pink hue?

James Rumpel

James Rumpel is a retired high school math teacher who has enjoyed spending some of his free time trying to put the many odd ideas circling his brain into words. He lives in Wisconsin with his wonderful wife, Mary.

Rainy Day Visitors by Jordan Whatman

I have been in this lodge for three weeks, and I won’t be leaving soon. My grandma, my daughter and the new man are all outside. I can’t look at them, nobody can look at their visitors for long out here anymore. I have a kettle on the stove and the steam is stroking the air in the same way as my breath, white and fleeting. I’m sitting opposite the tiny worktop in the only chair the lodge keeps downstairs, it is comfortable and battered with a matching tartan blanket. My daughter, that’s what I call her now because it’s easier not to give the visitors names, hits her head against the single pane of glass. She could see the kettle through that window, if she can see anything at all I think. That slivering pane of glass and its only counterpart behind where I am sat are all that really separate my guests from me, but not once in three weeks has there been an attempted break in.

Our visitors do not physically intrude.

It is unclear why they come back, but it is apparent that the rain is the reason they died. Only those caught in the downpours, oily and thick, have returned to watch us. I am from a town thirty miles away, but when the panic set in I knew where to go, where to retreat. My car took me most of the way, I left it on the side of the road a mile in front of the last abandoned truck and a mile behind the next. This village is hemmed in on three sides by a beautiful ridge, the view outside is stunning and endless in its peaks and dives of wealthy green. The view however, quickly became obfuscated by Grandma Vic. I had lost contact with her the same day I lost contact with Abigail, one had been putting clothes out on the line and the other had been playing football on her break at school. I looked for them for two months, spending nights out a time under weeping cover as the downpours came again and again. I felt trapped, how then must they feel, vulnerable and afraid? I did not give up on them until I followed the smell, as we all did in our grieving bluster, and saw the sheer number of bodies in the pit that had been dug.

Two weeks ago, the lodge trembling in the whistling and wild gales that sweep the valley, I came downstairs to read for an hour to help me sleep. It would involve lighting a match, as the power had been one of the first things to go. I was halfway down the stairs, feeling for the next one some infinite space below me with a toe I also couldn’t see. It felt like my body was disconnected at night, the sense of touch that I now relied on after the sun had left was like a new sensation after a lifetime of flicking switches and carrying on as usual. The origin of the noise had not even occurred to me, I had assumed it was the branches of the elm clattering into the window, the little one behind my chair downstairs. I lit the match to set my candle up before I sat down, and that is when I saw her in the window. The austere orange bulb at my fingertips caught two twinkling eyes out there, in the dark. Her head was just hitting the pane again and again. She only stopped when she saw me, I must have blacked out for a second because I know I felt fright crawl over my body but I do not recall screaming or ever having calmed down. I became fugue. I did not sleep that night, and only plucked up the courage to go outside and approach her the next morning. I had never been afraid of my grandma, but I was afraid of the person in my window. I asked who she was, stupid, and I cried a lot when I realised it really was her, it had not been a night terror or just one of the neighbours from across the ridge. She only watched as I grew verbose and hysterical and I knew then, that it wasn’t Grandma Vic any more. 

Inside the ridge there are six other lodges like this one, set above the main village which now sits quietly by day and bears a terrible black weight on the landscape at night. Each is separated across the hills by at least half a mile, and I’ve only met three of my neighbours. The last one took his own life yesterday. I was collecting firewood, the pit of my stomach a turgid ball as I saw eerie yellow storm heads on the horizon. I remember looking at those clouds and feeling a sense of pending doom, I knew I had already seen his body swinging from the arm of an elm, but cast in silhouette against that greater threat his death had seemed plausible and matter of fact. On account of the fact that I have not met the other two neighbours, that the little amber twinkles from their windows at night have stopped, it could be the case that I am alone out here now.

The first to take her own life was Georgia, my immediate neighbour separated from me by two acres where cattle still pastured and a clear stream still gurgles. We had, without having to ask one another, begun meeting each morning in those maiden seven days. At first light we would pick berries and support the other in fishing. We never mentioned what had happened; we were, and still are, all in shock. We simply carried on as if we had always known each other, two tired friends cherishing a chance encounter whilst on holiday. She had told me about her husband visiting her first, and then her sisters. One of her ex partners showed up after that, a day or two following each new arrival, each guest hot on the heels of the last. Finally two men showed up, men she said she had no memory of, no relationship with, no prior connection to. It had driven her mad, it had driven them all mad, wondering who these flagrant strangers were. If only loved ones, significant others, came to visit then who were these others before? I don’t know. I can assume they might have been stalkers, their relationship to us stronger than it ever was to them, or perhaps they were people we went to school with as babies and their bodies had remembered us and somehow brought them here, more nebulous still was the prospect that they were nobody at all. Someone you had once passed in the street but made no mental note of, or a stranger with whom your path had never crossed.

Georgia had been young, not thirty years old, and I had assumed that she did not have children. She never mentioned any, and as if to confirm this no children ever came to her door. This may have been false, but I suspect not. Each day I told her about Abigail, and each day she reassured me as was customary and polite that she might still be out there, safe with relatives or friends or the staff from school. I know this isn’t the case, because my daughter turned up the day after my grandma. 

We would fill our bottles, canteens, pans and buckets whatever we had in our respective new lodgings with the stream water. It was the purest, slickest cut of nature, I have to remind myself that it is just water when I go back in the afternoon to bathe. Water had never felt as good before as it did here in the peaks, the sensation of it licking my skin and slopping over my brow in its cool, breathtaking guise has become my daily solace. I don’t think I could live without it anymore.

Grandma Vic and Abigail had a strong bond and I had never taken it for granted. I had often caught them baking together in the kitchen, or playing old board games in the back room and stayed behind the scenes, perched on the doorframe and taking it in. There was never anything I would have changed, it was perfect even when it was silly, or boring, or at the end of a long day. Now my grandma and my daughter are dead, and they visit me most days but not in my daydreams drifting to me from unconscious or from photographs springing warm memories on me. The first day my daughter showed up I had burst from the lodge screaming and wailing, shaking the body and begging it to speak. But that’s not what dead people do, and that is what I was speaking to. Its eyes were the same as Abigail’s, exactly the same. That might sound obvious but it’s not. Eyes full of smiles, tears, concentration, wonder they are the eyes of my baby, those eyes shone like bursting nebulas with all my dreams inside. It might have been hours before I acknowledged the gnawing spark in the back of my mind whilst I bore into those eyes with mine, trying desperately to find my star. There was nothing there, no love nor malice, it had just come here the same as the other one. My grandma and my daughter, I could understand them visiting me, but the man who turned up last night, not at all.

The rain is siling down outside now, my grandma’s head is still thudding into the glass bringing percussion to the rhythmic storm. I don’t know where my daughter is and I have to avert the frenetic need to ensure her wellbeing, to save me from following her when she goes back to wherever they take their leave between visits. I thought about it once, thought about following them when they both began to leave in unison just after my second week here. It was sundown, and I gave up when I heard a crack of thunder too loud for me to feel safe so far from my roof. This man, a stranger, he tells me where they go. He says they have other appointments, and that’s why they sometimes leave a couple of days without visiting. I asked him once if my grandma visits granddad and the man laughed, what would be the use in that he said when granddad died before the rain? We talk about my daughter much more, she had so many friends in school that she would no doubt be going to see. Maybe they were all dead together, did they sing and play when nobody was watching? Did my baby come back when I wasn’t around to remind her of what she was? He told me no, she did not play, and I felt a cool spot in my heart.

I ask him who he was, and he tells me exactly that. I’ve asked him time and time again by now and it’s always the same story, consistent, true. He is nothing to me, truly, but here he is, my only noisy guest beside the rain. I speak idly, desperate to take the opportunities when he is here to speak to someone that can hear, and talk about opening the door. I would just step out, and extend my arms with my eyes closed and turn my face into the heavens. He says it’s not a bad idea, but not a great one either on account of it being the last thing I do. The water though, I think about it often, the water or the noose? Why do they all choose the latter? 

Because they don’t have me, he says, they ran out of people to talk to. 

So I choose water.

Jordan Whatman

Jordan Whatman is a Nottingham-based writer from Eastwood, once renowned as the home of D.H. Lawrence and now better known for the large Swedish furniture store nearby. He studied Philosophy and International Relations at Nottingham Trent University and recently worked for a Local Authority, meeting lots of characters along the way. He has spent the last couple of years writing short stories whilst completing his first manuscripts for two science fiction novels.

Unholy Trinity – Toast, Tribute, Torpid by Dale W. Glaser

AUTHOR’S NOTE: These three drabbles are obviously connected by the common motifs of the ocean and the beach.  I grew up taking family vacations to all kinds of seaside locales – Long Island Sound, the Jersey Shore, the Outer Banks, Myrtle Beach – and nowadays my family takes a beach rental every summer which I look forward to all year long.  I find the sun and surf, the smell of salt air and the sounds of seabirds, a thoroughly relaxing and restorative balm of the soul.  But my soul also has just enough of that horror-loving darkness in it to recognize that even the most pleasant of settings can be hiding places for nightmares, and these drabbles reflect some of the idle thoughts I’ve had while lazily drinking a beer, daydreaming about seafood and working on my tan.  You could also, if you’re so inclined, see them as a triptych making a progression from ill omens into apocalyptic upheaval and on to the afterlife.  Thanks for reading!  DWG

Toast

“Cheers,” she said, raising her glass.

I shook my head.  “Bad luck to toast with water.”

She rolled her eyes, extending her arm and forcefully clinking.  “Don’t be ridiculous.”  She drank, and I did too.  I was thirsty.

That night, the sea surged into the house, stinging with cold and brine.  Waves rose out of the floorboards, riptides crashed through the ceiling tiles, crosscurrents swirled out of the walls.

The cause of death on the medical certificates will be ‘drowning’ and the legal classification of the circumstances will be ‘freak accident’ … but my sodden, superstitious ghost will know the truth.

Tribute

An orange seashell tumbles from a little girl’s tiny fingers into the waves burbling around bare shins.  Dune grass follows it, then something small, round, black – a fish eye?  No, must be a tiny pebble.

“Whatcha doing?” her father asks.

“Giving frings,” she says.  She’s almost five.  He’s never noticed her trouble saying ‘things’ before.

She drops a pale molted crab carapace.  His gaze follows it, sucked away at once by the ebbing tide.  Three things happen simultaneously: he sees the stygian colossus rising over the horizon, realizes she said ‘offerings’, and feels her shard of seaglass stabbing his leg.

Torpid

Amber wakes, disoriented.  She rises to her feet, staggers a bit before wondering where she’s going.  She blinks the dazzle away, turning in a small circle.  Tide’s out, sky’s white hot as the sand, going on forever in every direction.

Every grain beneath her feet burns like hot needles.  She wants to step back onto her towel but it’s gone.  She asks a man nearby, “Am I heading the right way to the street?”

“There is no street,” he answers.

“Oh, right,” she says.  “I always forget.”

“That’s fine,” the devil laughs, “I’ll always remind you.  That’s how this works.

Dale W. Glaser

Dale W. Glaser is a collector, re-teller and occasional inventor of fantasy tales. His secret origin involves his father stepping on a mutated sea urchin in the Caribbean Sea, which passed along to his progeny the ability to move slowly, think deeply, and extrude defensive spines at will.  His short stories have been published in magazines such as Weirdbook, Occult Detective Quarterly, and Cheapjack Pulp, as well as anthologies such as Subliminal Reality, Eldritch Embraces and Carnival of Fear.  He currently lives in Virginia with his wife and three children.  He can be found online at https://dalewglaser.wordpress.com.   

Unholy Trinity – Business Arrangement, Shore Thing, Lured

Business Arrangement

Twin girls beckon with a hand-drawn sign.

Lemonade for a quarter? Why not?

Dan pulls over and, fifty cents in hand, meets the little entrepreneurs at a table on their lawn. 

“Two, please.” 

The street is empty. The girls can use the extra sale. 

Dan finishes the first cup in three gulps. Pretty sour. Strange aftertaste.

To be polite, he drinks more. 

Then, dizziness overwhelms him. The July heat, or…?

Dan collapses, unconscious, in the grass.

Behind the girls, the basement window opens. Something emerges, hissing at sunlight.

It thanks the girls for its lunch, dragging Dan back into darkness.

 

Shore Thing

The tide changes, rushing in, ready to swallow Connor whole.

Rebecca lifts the four-year-old into her arms, seawater splashing over her shins.

Connor cries as the ocean overtakes his sandcastle, his hard work.

As murky water recedes, Rebecca sees that gallons of it have collected in the wide moat encircling her son’s structure.

“Look, Con! Think you caught any alligators in there?”

The boy giggles, shaking his head, no.

The tide relaxes. Rebecca places Connor back onto sand.

He approaches the moat, searching for tiny reptiles.

Barbed tentacles explode from the trench, hauling Connor headfirst into a fanged, alien maw.

 

Lured

Trout aren’t biting, but Marty hardly minds.

He has the creek all to himself, a brand-new fishing pole, a comfy chair, and a cooler full of beer.

He leans over for another beverage. Notices he forgot to shut the lid.

He also notices a brewski brand he’s never seen before.

How’d that get in there…?

Marty grabs the curious can for closer inspection. Realizes too late that it’s covered in a sticky substance.

He struggles to free his hand of the aluminum.

Marty is yanked upward, screaming, into the treetops, by a creature reeling in its own taut gossamer line.

Evan Baughfman

Evan Baughfman is a middle school teacher and author. Much of his writing success has been as a playwright. He’s had many different plays produced across the globe. A number of his scripts can be found at online resources, Drama Notebook and New Play Exchange. Evan also writes horror fiction and screenplays. His first collection of short stories, The Emaciated Man and Other Terrifying Tales from Edgar Allan Poe Middle School, will be released by Thurston Howl Publications in 2020. More information is available at amazon.com/author/evanbaughfman and his website www.evanbaughfman.com .

A Cerebral Vacation

I remember the holiday I took in my girlfriend’s head when I wanted a break in point of view.  Our gaze lingered on the muscular waiter longer than it should have before I saw my flabby face spouting pseudo-intellectualism which I apparently thought was clever.  As I pompously held court our attention was drawn to the gut that I was unaware I had, before we again turned to stare at the waiter’s tight buttocks. 

As I recoiled in horror from how she saw me, she tapped her temple and simply said, “What’s the matter?  Don’t you wish you were here?”

James Burr

James Burr has had a couple of one-minute pieces staged by SLAMX in London as part of the Vault Festival in February and has also had many short stories published in anthologies and Independent Press magazines, including Bizarro Central, Horror Sleaze TrashdecomP, Suspect Thoughts, Darkness Rising, Raw Edge, Ellipsis and Ideomancer.  His first collection of short stories, Ugly Stories for Beautiful People was published in 2007 and his second collection will be published by Nihilism Revised in the summer.

A full publishing history and list of reviews can be found at http://www.james-burr.co.uk

A Lake’s Grasp

My feet dangled off the dock, extending toward the black water. My fishing rod was cast, line steady. I noticed the trees surrounding the private lake resembling organic hands from the Earth, reaching to the sky.

As a child, while swimming in these deep murky waters, I often wondered what lurked below. These thoughts would cause me to splash and thrust my feet, warding off imaginary creatures from the unknown depths. 

The fishing line grew tight. I reeled it in. As the bass breached the surface, a grey decaying hand grabbed the fish, dragging it deeper into the lake’s abyss.

Josh King

Josh King is a structural engineer by day, and a physics college instructor by night. He enjoys reading and writing all things involving speculative futures and thoughts of the unknown. 
 

New Balls, Please!

“Fault!”

No way that was out. Lily served again.

“Double fault!”

She blinked the sweat from her eyes, wiped her hand on her skirt. Stalked over to grab a towel to wipe the racquet handle. Its weight felt heavy in her hand even though it was a newer model. Her arms ached from exertion.

Lily glared at Humphrey. He thought she didn’t know about his bit on the side. The knife inside her bag winked at her.

It was late and no one else was around. Sometimes, you just had to do it yourself.

It was time for new balls.

Stephanie Ellis

Stephanie Ellis writes dark speculative prose and poetry and has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her latest work includes the novella, Bottled, published by Silver Shamrock, who will also be publishing her novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel in October. She has recently been published in Flame Tree PressA Dying Planet anthology with “Milking Time” and the NHS charity anthology, Diabolica Britannica. She is also included in Silver Shamrock’s upcoming Midnight in the Pentagram anthology with “Family Reunion”. 

Steph can be found at https://stephanieellis.org and on twitter at @el_stevie.

Sammy’s Summer Sandy Sunday Beach Blanket Party A-Go-Go

Butties on the beach are a bitch, and it’s not just the grit in his shitty Marmite sarnie.

It’s the same every Summer. Sammy’s family hit the seaside. Within minutes they’re dredging up his childhood fear: mis-hearing SANDWICH as SANDWITCH.

“Blubbering baby!” guffaws Grandpa.

Sammy’s cheeks are burning before UV’s even get a look-in.

Later, as the clan splash in the surf, Sammy watches the old man doze. A frenzy of bucket and spade action and the codger’s covered from head to toe, carefully constructed castles concealing his nose.

Meanwhile, beneath the surface, the sandwitch twitches, sniffing out another sacrifice.

Steven Holding

Steven Holding lives with his family in the United Kingdom. His stories have appeared both online and in print. Most recently his work has featured in the collections ‘TREMBLING WITH FEAR YEAR TWO’, ‘SPLASH OF INK’, and the anthologies ‘MONSTERS’, ‘BEYOND’,’LOVE’,’OCEANS’ and ‘DARK MOMENTS – YEAR ONE’ from Black Hare Press. He is currently working upon further short fiction and a novel. You can follow his work at www.stevenholding.co.uk

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