Trembling With Fear – Halloween 2022 Edition!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
Happy Halloween! Monsters and slashers and ghosts… oh my. We sure do have a horrific collection this year that doesn’t shy away from the wicked and the macabre. There are stories of dilapidated houses and the evil things that haunt within, tales of people whose true forms are revealed on All Hallow’s eve, and lore of the tricksters who were never able get their treat.
On this Halloween, follow me and let’s immerse ourselves in this realm of fiction where the horror lurks only upon these written pages… or does it?
We at the Horror Tree wish you all a safe and happy Halloween.
As the chorus to one of my favorite songs of the season states, “This is Halloween, this is Halloween,” At the time we’re posting this, it IS Halloween!
We’ve got a great mix of stories for you this year, and hope you enjoy reading them as much as we have published them. Fun statistics. We’re printing the same amount of shorts and three less drabbles than last year. However, we received twice as many shorts AND drabbles as we had last year. So, we had to be a bit pickier to give you the quality that we want. I’d like to stress that not all of those rejected were by any means bad stories. Some just didn’t feel “Halloween-centric” enough, some needed edits that there just wasn’t enough time to pull off with how close to the holiday that they were submitted, and a couple were a bit too graphic that, while enjoyable, weren’t ‘right’ for a public-facing website.
I’d like to thank all of those who submitted. I hope you all had a blast and again, I hope you all enjoy reading these as much as we did!
Shades of Samhain
by Christopher Pate
She was very old, and her last Halloween had now come, skittering into her slow, pained life like the brown, brittle leaves borne upon winds tasting of winter’s harsh promise.
The Old Woman tottered out the front door, bearing a burden she placed with much care upon the steps. The big pumpkin flaunted a wide, leering look – a little comical and scary – but more than either. As if the jack-o’lantern knew an unspoken secret. For it did, as all good jack o’lanterns do- secrets shared between craver and craven, and the Old Woman knew many secrets.
She bent low over the jack-o’lantern and whispered ancient words, and a flame puffed to life within. The golden light from eyes, nose, and grinning mouth danced upon the leaf-littered walk leading from the street. One by one, all up and down the street, candle after candle flared to life within jack o’lantern after jack o’lantern until the night shimmered with their leering light. The way was lit.
Away in the darkness came children’s laughter mingled with howls of joy and yips of fright.
They were coming. Her dark eyes twinkled in the deepening gloom, and she stepped inside the house, one slow, carefully placed foot at a time. An old, black tom purred as it rubbed against her legs before hopping atop the jack-o’lantern. Its yellow-green eyes were bright as it waited with its ancient kind’s serene, inscrutable patience.
The children mobbed around the corner, loud and shrill, teasing and pushing one another as they drew nearer and nearer the Old Woman’s house. They hefted weighty bags of treats in costumes, bought and hand-made, scary and fun, terrible and silly. The group stopped as one, wide-eyed, pointing and whispering in hushed tones at the old black cat perched perfectly atop the jeering jack-o’lantern. It was the house for trick or treating, and only a few each year braved the deserted street that boasted no street lamps, no other homes, and was, on this uniquely fantastic and terrible night only, lined with glowing carven grotesqueries.
They squealed and giggled in frighted delight. All except one. The older boy sent to look after the others on this peculiar night when parents trusted their dearest offspring to that which lurked in the shadows. He lingered well back, sullen and bored, hands shoved deep in pockets, and head bent low, feet scuffling along behind the milling group of children.
It was that house where generations of children both feared and thrilled to brave the long walk up to the doorstep to see if she had a trick or a treat for them … and if they’d survive the experience. All the tales of the Old Woman, a monster – witch, vampire, werewolf, or ghoul – that only looked like an elderly spinster and who devoured unlucky children, their lips still stickied with chocolate and chins still sequenced in colored sugars.
They huddled, shivering with excitement and trembling with fear. The open door oozed greasy darkness.
The doorway wavered in the shifting light of the jack-o’lanterns. One moment it was the open front door of a quaint, 19th-century mid-western home, and the next was a cave mouth, dark and foreboding; then a mud and wattle hut, dark and lightless.
Then the Old Woman was in the doorway, a wicker basket of candy held in blue-veined hands. Her halo of fine, white, spidery hair framed dried apple features. The black cat hopped down to sit at the Old Woman’s feet, bathed in the jack-o’lantern’s quavering glow.
Nudging, prodding, cajoling, and daring, the children edged closer as first one in the group stepped forward, then others followed to take their place. Swirling and shifting, until gape-mouthed and big-eyed, they stood almost within arms reach of the Old Woman.
An owl hooted. The cat glared. The jack o’lantern glowered. And the Old Woman merely stood with the basket of sweets, dark eyes glittering. Waiting.
One by one, they came forward. Each child uttered the sacred words. The necessary words. The old words. And each child was rewarded with a sweet, wrapped treat plucked from the basket. One by one, they thanked the Old Woman and scuttled away to reform their shivering knot at the end of the walk.
All but the older boy, who approached, eyes hard and lips twisted to stand before the Old Woman, who still held out the basket. But the essential words came not, and the cat growled.
The other children laughed and snickered as they turned to head off to collect still more treats and perhaps reap a few tricks. To live their golden, happy childhood days in a dreamland of kindly monsters and other friendly horrors, mixing and mingling with those from both sides of the veil, never knowing which was which.
The older boy snorted harsh contempt and kicked over the jack o’lantern. It hit the walk with a hollow sound, and the candle winked out. A chill breeze breathed across the yard, stirring the leaves and making the branches overhead clatter. The moon dimmed and quivered. Far off in the dark woods came tittering laughter.
A terrible innocence ebbed away then. The old monsters and the old ways were fading. The new horrors, the horrible things people do to each other, were the new ways. Without rules. Without restraints. Monsters that blossomed from within. Suckled on fear, loneliness, and prejudice. Nurtured on unreasoning hate and contempt. Monsters without limit.
The Old Woman turned and passed through the dark doorway. The old tom lingered, eyeing the boy for long moments before it, too turned and disappeared into the gloom. The door closed with a solid thunk.
The boy shivered, suddenly frightened and very much alone.
All along the darkening street, dead leaves stirred in a sudden chill wind, and the jack o’lanterns guttered out one by one.
Christopher Pate was born in a small rural Ohio farming town and currently lives with his wife, daughter, and dog in coastal Virginia. He was short-listed in The Write Practice’s Spring 2022 Writing Contest and has previously been published at Short Fiction Break.
One More Halloween
By: T. Fox Dunham
“Are you a real zombie?” Death asked from behind his burlap cowl. I shambled towards the other trick-or-treater waiting at Emma Watkin’s door, limping on my numb foot. The freshly ripped shirt and jeans draped off my emaciated body, and I clawed at the air, searching for human flesh. A sable cowl draped over the kid’s face, so I couldn’t tell if he was smiling at my antics or looked freaked out by this weird dude who was way too old to be hunting candy on Halloween night.
“Maybe,” I said.
“You look the part,” he snarked. “Didn’t even need makeup, did you?”
“Pretty sure I died but got better. It’s all kind of hazy.” Something unnerved me about the kid. Why wasn’t he with his friends like I was at his age?
“Pretty sure you didn’t,” the little smartass said. “I’d know.”
“Why? Are you really Death?” The kid didn’t reply and just stood there, gripping the pole of his scythe as we waited for Old Emma Watkins to open the door and reward us both with fun-sized chocolate, gummies, nuts, or a myriad variety of candy—none of which I could swallow. But I’d suck on the chocolate and let it melt down my swollen throat, grateful for the rich flavor. I’d made it—one more Halloween. I took in the scene. Scowling triangular faces carved onto pumpkins glowed through Emma’s windows, watching them speak. Cotton cobwebs strangled her shrubs. Just moments before arriving at her door, I watched her deliver a bowl of treats. I tried the doorbell again, anxious to transact one more time before my body collapsed for the night. “I think she’s out of candy, Little D,” I said.
“I’m not here for sundries,” he growled, then squeezed the black plastic pole of his scythe. I still couldn’t see his face, but I felt this gnawing suspicion I knew the kid. Maybe I met him in the chemo room at Penn in Philly—someone’s grandson, perhaps. I resisted my curiosity at first but finally surrendered and reached for his cowl, to pull away the black burlap and reveal his face; however, chills cracked down my neck, and I tasted the metallic tinge of ozone—the electric flavor of radiation fired from the linear accelerator. Porchlight-cast shadows oozed from the kid’s robes and bled fresh black spates, reaching for me with spindly fingers. My heart pounded. I thought it had been a dream, an opiate-induced vision: One night in the hospital, when I woke from darkness to darkness and swore I could see someone watching me from the dark corner of my private room, a caped figure that lingered, waited, watched. That night, I couldn’t move, too weak to flee my bed. But I was free now—a miracle reprieve from a rare lymphoma granted just that morning.
“Will I need to continue radiation?” I asked my oncologist as I dressed, then tossed the flimsy hospital gown onto the bed.
“Your latest scan shows full remission,” Doctor McKenna said. “We’ll scan again in six weeks.
I didn’t believe it at first. I still didn’t. Friends brought me to the ER on October 1st, and I expected to never leave the hospital alive. For weeks, I lingered, detached from life, and floated farther and farther from awareness, sentience, dispersing the way a stream spreads out into a river, losing itself.
Mckenna signed the discharge papers and set me free on Halloween. I got home, showered, yanked off the EKG leads, pulled off the tape from my bony arms, and crashed on the couch, dozing to a zombie film—my kind, my kin. At dusk, the giggle of costumed kids woke me. I stopped trick-or-treating at fifteen, six years ago. In the hospital, I cursed myself for all the wasted Halloweens and pleaded for just one more Samhain night to be out in costume, invigorated by the brisk autumn air, enjoying the only night of the year when we opened our homes to strangers and shared candy.
I searched the house for materials to improvise a costume. A hundred zombies howled me on, and I realized I already looked the part. I’d dropped down to ninety pounds, unable to eat during radiation. My eyes had sunken in. Light hair had just started growing back after chemo, and my arms looked like bruised bananas from the blown IVs. A zombie growled on Romero’s masterpiece, and I practiced shambling towards the TV, stumbling on my unsteady feet—numb from neuropathy. I tore up some old clothes, grabbed an old pillow case, and shambled out into the night. But after harvesting candy from three cagey neighbors, my beaten body gave out; however, I pushed myself to ring just one more doorbell.
Just one more.
Emma Watkins always had the best treats. I didn’t see the boy dressed as the Grim Reaper standing next to me on the porch. He’d just materialized, I guess, out of the pooling black.
“You won’t like what you see,” the kid said, and I withdrew my hand. I’d gotten one more Halloween when so many other patients I’d met didn’t, and I decided not to tempt it.
“I’m dead for the night and heading home,” I said, nearly falling over from fatigue “Guess I’ll see you around, Mistah Reaper.”
“Guess you will,” the kid said, just standing there. I didn’t look back.
A siren yelped at midnight, waking me, and it took me a moment to remember I was home, in my own bed detached from tubes and wires. I pried back the blinds. EMTs casually rolled a stretcher out from Emma Watkin’s house, then the ambulance pulled out sans flashing lights or siren. There was no rush. According to neighbor gossip, a vein had blown in Emma’s brain in the time between doorbell rings, and her worried daughter had found the old lady face down in a bowl of candied apples.
No, I late answered. I’m not a real zombie.
T Fox Dunham
T. Fox Dunham lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with his wife, Allison. He?s a cancer survivor, modern bard, herbalist, baker and historian. His first book, The Street Martyr, was published by Gutter Books, and the book is in production by Throughline Films. He?s a well-published crime author. He?s also contributed to official Stargate canon with a story published in the Stargate Anthology Points of Origin from Fandemonium Books. More information at tfoxdunham.com & Twitter: @TFoxDunham
By Pat O’Malley
Somewhere, in a small suburban town that you may recognize, there is a quiet, two-story house made of bricks sitting behind a wide green lawn. The front of the house is a large triangle possessing a single window. Surrounding the property is a tall black fence with an arch at the entrance and concrete steps leading up.
Neighbors couldn’t tell you who lived there just that somebody took their mail before it piled too high and hired landscapers to mow the lawn.
There isn’t anything especially remarkable about the location. The window’s curtains are always closed and no noise or commotion ever catches anyone’s attention. It’s the kind of unassuming little house that you wouldn’t look at twice if you were to walk past it.
That is, until the days leading up to Halloween.
Each year, around the time the leaves fade to auburn and the summer air chills, something interesting would happen. For as long as anyone in the neighborhood could remember, every Halloween the mysterious little house would go all out on the most elaborate and stunning decorations. As if overnight, the empty lawn of the little house would become filled with denizens of the macabre.
Two, small, grinning skeletons hung from either side of the archway, staring with empty eye sockets at cars passing by. Towering near the front was a life-size statue of the Headless Horseman reared back atop his midnight-colored steed.
A rubbery Creature from the Black Lagoon with a face like a dead fish stood motionless by the bushes. To the Creature’s right was a guillotine with its blood-stained blade raised and ready for its next victim.
A scarecrow dressed as a werewolf in red flannel, hairy gloves, and a sagging, snarling werewolf mask stood poised to attack by the door. Hooded figures and horned helmets raised plastic sickles ready to strike. Tombstones decorated in skulls snaked across the lawn.
Jack o’ lanterns with glowing mischievous smiles were stacked on top of one another. White curtain ghosts with black holes for eyes hanging from the gutters. Large pipe cleaner spiders clinging to the windows of the house, now covered in cobwebs. In the back, by the side of the house, there were even statues of science-fiction movie creatures like the heavily armored extraterrestrial hunter Predator.
Somehow even with all these statues and decorations, the small lawn never seemed too crowded.
It was everything that made Halloween fun. Scary monsters that provoked chills but never anything sinister. The kind of thrill that brings horror movie fans back for more scares.
At night the decorations would be illuminated in the purple and orange glow by lights neatly set up at the front edge of the lawn. The house drew plenty of admirers, families with children staring in awe, couples smiling and holding hands at the chilling set-up. Spectators talked among themselves, sharing their amusement at the spooky menagerie, yet no one knew who lived in the house or why Halloween was so special for them.
That year Halloween arrived like it did every year before anyone knew what hit them. Word of mouth had traveled well over the years, and crowds of Trick r Treaters with their parents visited the quiet brick house staring in awe at the haunting monster and ghoul decorations glowing in purple and orange light. Despite all the many costumed kids stopping by for candy, the bowl never seemed to run out.
Later that night, as all the video game characters, Disney princesses, and other costumed children retired and houses turned off their lights, the little house with the many Halloween decorations was still lit. It was at this time that a fourteen-year-old troublemaker named Louis was walking by. A terror to teachers and his peers, Louis was the type of boy who got more joy from knocking things over than building them up.
“Halloween is for pussies,” he’d sneer at younger kids with his chipped front tooth.
Louis was red-haired and freckled, dressed in a dark hoodie, scarfing down mini-chocolate bars he had scored from some younger kids walking without parents. As he walked by, gobbling up chocolate, littering scraps of plastic on the sidewalk, the ghoulish statues and glowing jack-o’lanterns at the little brick house caught his eye. Louis knew about the “house with all the decorations.” He thought that the attention that crappy house got every year was stupid.
Anyone who spends that much time and money on Halloween has to be a mega loser.
Pausing from his stolen candy, Louis slowly crept up to the house. The only lights on were the two lamps out front. It didn’t look like anyone was even home. On an impulse, Louis started kicking over the jack-o’lanterns and tombstones.
Those life-size statues of old-movie monsters didn’t scare him. Laughing, he reached into the pocket of his hoodie and pulled out a can of shaving cream. He smeared globs the cream all over Headless Horseman’s cape and boots. The little shit continued, knocking down several of the creature statues, pulling down the ghosts and spiders.
Louis concluded his destruction by kicking over the lamps on the lawn.
Grabbing the huge bowl of candy from the porch, Louis spat a wad of chocolate spit onto the lawn before hurrying out of there, laughing his ginger head off. The little brick house’s Halloween decorations were in knocked over, shaving creamed shambles.
Super-charge from a combination of sugar and adrenaline, Louis held off returning home in favor of stopping by a nearby small park located in a pocket of the suburbs. The troublemaking kid was sitting on a swing, gorging himself in the bowl of Halloween candy, when he heard a sound.
It was almost midnight, Halloween would soon be over, so there wouldn’t have been that many people out. Yet, when Louis looked towards the sound, at the empty dark neighborhood street shrouded in mist, he saw a large group of people.
Thin, shambling figures were slowly walking towards him. The way they jittered and twitched as they walked was unnatural, unsettling Louis. Some of the figures seemed significantly larger than others.
None of the figures in the distance were making any sound. Feeling his heartbeat begin to rise, Louis stood up from the swing and started to shout something but froze when he heard the approaching sound of hoof prints coming from the other side of the street.
Turning towards the galloping sound, Louis saw something more horrible than anything he had ever seen in his fourteen years alive. Before he could run, the sound of the hoof prints found him. He had no time to scream. Soon, the rest caught up and joined in.
In the days after, no one knew what happened to Louis. A police investigation went underway but quickly hit a dead end, there were no leads, no clues. Unable to remain in the neighborhood where their son had disappeared, Louis’ family moved away. Eventually, people stopped asking about what happened to Louis, if anything, people’s lives improved.
A year passed, and it was Halloween again. The little brick house once more attracted groups of smiling trick-or-treaters, greeting them with its famously ghoulish flair. This year some people noticed a new addition to the decorations.
Propped up by the bushes was a skeletal Grim Reaper dressed in a dark robe holding a plastic scythe. He went well with the rest of the monstrous figures and was a welcome addition. It’s almost too bad that nobody took the time to look closely at the Grim Reaper’s face and notice the odd imperfection. One of the Reaper’s front teeth was chipped.
Hi, my name is Pat O‘Malley. I love to write the kind of weird/thrilling fiction that my friends and I would love to read. My writing has been published in text and online publications including The Weird & Whatnot, Mystery Tribune, Aphelion Magazine and more! You can follow me on instagram.com/Patomwrites and read all of my stories on https://medium.com/@patrick.
The Need for Monsters
Even before the dawn of recorded history, tales of heroes and their battles with monsters were integral to most cultures. Would brave Beowulf have been remembered at all without the god-cursed brute Grendel? And clever Theseus would likely have been, but a minor prince of no import in Athens were it not for the ruthless Minotaur. The redoubtable St. George was only immortalized in myth because of a dragon with an appetite limited to damsels.
Mankind has always needed monsters. We here at House Franken, Makers of Monsters, have been glad to do our part for millennia to provide them.
B. T. Petro is retired and living in Ohio. His published story genres include sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. The stories generally have a bit of whimsy or a touch of the macabre. His best friend when he was growing up was an invisible robot, who still visits from time to time.
Only five pieces, Ma says every Halloween. I scarf down chocolates at the table, and then I’m shooed upstairs.
I smile as I climb. My hands are quick, and my costume has pockets. I pray Ma can’t hear the candy wrappers crinkle.
Upstairs, I unwrap a caramel. It’s hard, sweet, makes my jaw work. I lay down, chomping harder, harder, harder—but the caramel refuses to dissolve. I try to spit it out.
But I can’t. My mouth is tight, immovable, cemented in place.
A cage of sugar muffles my desperate scream.
This time, I hope Ma can hear me.
Tiffany Michelle Brown
Tiffany Michelle Brown is a California-based writer who once had a conversation with a ghost over a pumpkin beer. Her fiction and poetry has been featured in publications by Black Spot Books, Jolly Horror Press, Cemetery Gates Media, Fright Girl Summer, and the NoSleep Podcast.
He stood in the shadows and watched as the young woman hurried down the road. Her cape flew in the wind as she passed the many trick r’ treaters. It was the perfect night to feed his hunger. He followed her every move careful not to be heard. The stench of her perfume lured him closer and closer until she was just inches away. When finally he had her in his clutches he muffled her screams and pulled her into the shadows. She pulled at his rubber mask desperate to know his identity as he slashed her throat wide open.
Parade of ghouls and ghosts, skeletons and superheroes approaches the door, rapping upon it with a seasonal refrain.
“Trick or treat!”
Don’t open it! Keep it shut. Stay unresponsive to their cries.
Hide in the dark… Pretend you’re not home… Pretend the house is empty…
Not some grouch, but a guardian.
For, on this night, the veil grows thin, thinnest here, in the cellar below. Things creep through, unbidden, wishing for release into the world, freedom to mingle – and terrify.
To open the door would be to invite disaster – to release horror.
So, keep silent, keep still… keep it shut.
DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Chilling Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree), All The Petty Myths (18th Wall), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), What Dwells Below (Sirens Call), The Horror Zine?s Book of Ghost Stories (Hellbound Books), and EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness (Otter Libris), and issues of Sirens Call, Hypnos, Occult Detective Magazine, parABnormal, and Weirdbook, and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).
DJ Tyrer’s website is at https://djtyrer.blogspot.co.uk/
DJ Tyrer’s Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/DJTyrerwriter/
The Atlantean Publishing website is at https://atlanteanpublishing.wordpress.com/
On Mondo Monday
A local fleapit: the annual ‘Halloween Horror All-Biter!!!’ Six sick flicks in a row, but everybody’s here for the re-discovered print of long-lost cult hit SAMHAIN SLAYINGS.
Teenagers scream, on and off-screen, as the ‘Saddened Meadow Slasher’ unleashes scenes of madness in crackling out-of-sync sixteen millimetre.
Blood pours, roaring audience applauding, but there’s more to the gore than exceptional effects.
Every kill is real. No faking. I should know. I’m the filmmaker. Forget actors, this is a proper directors cut.
Oh yes, it’s rewarding to finally see my work lauded, as it should be. You could even say…
Steven Holding lives in the United Kingdom. Most recently, his work has been featured in TREMBLING WITH FEAR YEAR FIVE from HorrorTree.com and DARK MOMENTS YEAR THREE from Black Hare Press, whilst his story EXTERMINATOR! is set to appear in the forthcoming collection ANNIHILATION from Black Ink Fiction. You can follow his work at www.stevenholding.co.uk
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Born with a love of scary stories and folklore, Amanda Headlee has spent her entire life crafting works of dark fiction. She has a fascination with the emotion of fear and believes it is the first emotion humans feel at the moment they are born. Most of her work focuses on horror associated with folklore as well as writing that would fall into the category of “cosmic horror” — the fear of humanity’s insignificance in the vastness of the universe.
By day Amanda is an Information Services Program Manager; by night she is a wandering wonderer. When she isn’t writing or working, she can be found logging insane miles on her bike or running the back country of Pennsylvania. She’s one of those crazy people who competes in long distance endurance races. She is inspired by the works of Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor, Margaret Atwood, H.P. Lovecraft, and Joyce Carol Oates — all who write terrifying tales of their own.
Amanda keeps a blog of her writing, wondering, and wandering experiences at www.amandaheadlee.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.