Trembling With Fear: Happy 2021 Valentine’s Day!

We have always regarded the contributors to Horror Tree as ‘family’. If we hear of your successes, we like to share them, and if we hear of a need for support, we try to give that. Sometimes, we also hear of other things, including those real life events which we all dread. This week, came the unhappy news that one of our most prolific, and consistent, TWF writers – Richard Meldrum has sadly lost his partner, Sally, to a short illness. I know you will all join is in sending our love and condolences to Richard.

This news does however, makes this week’s Trembling With Fear a bitter-sweet edition as it is our Valentine Special. To this end, we would like to dedicate it to Richard and to the many happy years he and Sally had together.

Take care

Steph and Stuart

 

A Gift with Spirit by Andrew Jensen

“This rust-colored one is nice. What kind of stone is it?”

“Hematite. Most are silver-black, but this is the red variety. That’s why we carved it into a heart shape.”

The teen-aged boy was obviously looking for a Valentine’s gift. He was trying very hard to get it right.

“Hematite,” he repeated.

“It’s from the Greek word for blood. Like ‘Hematology’.”

“So it means ‘blood-stone’!” He smiled proudly.

The shop-keeper snorted. “Blood-stone is green with blood-red flecks. A completely different mineral.”

“Sorry. Does Hematite have any special properties?”

“It’s slightly magnetic.”

“I meant spiritual properties.” The teen looked hopeful. “Alyx is really into that stuff.”

“Young man, I am deadly serious about mineralogy. If you try to commune with my crystals, you will have to leave. I cannot abide fuzzy thinking.”

“Alyx says crystals . . .”

“Crystals are inanimate mineral structures. They’re beautiful, but they’re not alive.” The man was becoming furious.

“But Alyx says . . .”

“No! The only way to give a stone a spirit is to petrify a person!”

“That’s impossible!”

“Is it? Is it?” The shop-keeper waved his hands in an angry gesture and uttered a word from a long-dead language. There was a flash of light, and then silence.

“You deserved that,” he said to the Hematite teen statue. “You don’t understand the logic of science. Or magic.” 

Calming down, he smiled wryly. “On the bright side, now Alyx can have a truly spiritual stone. Well done.”

Andrew Jensen

Andrew Jensen lives in Braeside, Ontario with his family and too many dogs and cats. He is the minister at Knox United Church, Nepean. Twenty of his speculative short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and podcasts, including a cover story for Dreamforge Magazine and a special Christmas story for Abyss & Apex. Andrew is also the author of a book of Church humour called God: The Greatest User of Capital Letters, published by Wood Lake Books. When not writing or ministering or walking dogs, Andrew plays trumpet, impersonates Kermit the Frog, and performs in musical theatre. You should have seen him as Henry Higgins . . .

Beneath a Bridge by Steven Holding

Time flows. Another year passes by and so much has changed, yet here we are: beneath a bridge, by the river. It is impossible to resist the pull of this place. Strange that such an ordinary location can hold such significance for two people. That we still meet is testament to how, despite our efforts, we can never put an end to that which is between us. Twelve months and I know without a doubt that I will see you once again.

The moss-covered red brick of the bridge provides shelter from the dismal February weather. Fat drops of rain strike the river, sending out circular ripples that distort the muddy water. Watch them for too long and they become dangerously hypnotic. As if you’re suddenly aware of this, you break the heavy silence.

“This is hard for me,” you say.

I imagine it is. Twenty years have passed since you first brought me here. Such a long time ago. Now, the anniversary is always marked by this ritual. A tiny slice of time, secretly snatched back from the hustle and bustle of everyday existence. Just thirty minutes of talking. Nobody walks the path along this bank, and you seem to take comfort in this solitude. It allows you to speak freely, and I wonder if the rest of the world ever gets a glimpse of the real person that I get to see here.

You tell me how your life has changed in ways you never thought possible. A successful career, a happy home. A family to love and to love you. Events you never dreamed of when you first met me. Things, that even though you are uncertain that you deserve them, you could never bring yourself to surrender. And I can understand your perspective for I have seen, with the passing of the seasons, the way that your life has grown. That it wasn’t me that was with you for this magnificent adventure no longer holds the pain that it once did. I have found my peace, and with this comes the wonderful blessing that is forgiveness.

“I am sorry,” you whisper, and I can even pardon you this sin, for I know the truth. That the real reason you come here is for you and not for me.

“I am so, so sorry.”

By way of an apology, you hold out a single red rose in your hand, offering it to me as you always do. I reach out for it, stretching, wishing to God that I could pluck it from your fingers. But, as always, I cannot quite reach. 

Sensing my rejection in the bottom of your heart, you release your grip and allow the flower to fall. It tumbles through the air and settles upon the liquid surface. I envy the freedom it has as the slow current whisks it away.

“Goodbye.”

You turn and walk back towards your life. Knowing I’ll always be here. Waiting for you.

By the bridge.

Beneath the river.  

Steven Holding

Steven Holding lives with his family in the United Kingdom. Most recently his work has appeared in the collections OCEANS and ANCIENTS from Black Hare Press and the TWF anthologies TREMBLING WITH FEAR YEAR 3 and MORE TALES FROM THE TREE VOLUME 2. You can follow his work at www.stevenholding.co.uk

Salt in the Wound by Vivian Kasley

Becker tried to figure out his next move. He’d already called and texted Lori too many times, and showing up at her place at this point would probably just piss her off. Sure, they’d broken up weeks ago, but how could a break-up truly be the end after three whole years of what seemed like the near perfect relationship? The day Lori broke it off with him, she’d called him a slug. She’d said, “You’re a slug, Beck, and I wish I could pour salt on you, and then watch as you writhe around in agony, bubbling and frothing until you dissolve.” Who the fuck says shit like that? Lori, that’s who. But that’s why Becker adored her. She was a bad ass who rocked his world, and he wanted her back in the worst way. Truth was, he was a slug and he knew it. 

Love can be most wonderful feeling in the world, where every cell in your body buzzes and your blood practically tingles in your veins or it can be the worst feeling you’ve ever felt and you want nothing more than to rid yourself of its poisonous drip. Becker felt like he was in detox all over again. Days would go by where he felt like he was on the edge of dying, gasping for air as he sobbed in his sweat drenched sheets wondering how much longer he’d be able to hang on. Then he’d scroll through his phone and look at pictures of happier times until his agony was somewhat assuaged. Something had to give. It just had to.

Becker called Lori again. His heart felt like it was being punctured by loads of tiny arrows as he listened to her raspy voice telling him to leave a message. He wished her a happy upcoming Valentine’s Day and told her how much he loved her. Then he said he wished they could spend the holiday together again. February was the month they’d first met, it was the month they swore they’d get married in one day, and now it was the month he hated the most. All he wanted was for her to understand how much he loved her. He called her again, and again and again, not even feeling the blood that slid down his chin from the hole he’d chewed into his lower lip. 

It was cold outside for Florida. The kind of cold that feels like tiny needles are tattooing your exposed flesh. Becker wore a tee shirt and ripped jeans and he shivered uncontrollably as he walked down a tree lined street toward Lori’s house. He’d seen her earlier that day. She’d popped outside for a cigarette, something she always did when she went on a break. Her old number was no longer in service and it crushed him when he could no longer hear her voice. She didn’t see him watching her as she held her phone to her ear. A smile had lit up her pale oval face as she talked. Rage soared through Becker’s body as he wondered if it was another man. She had another Valentine.

There was a crawl space under her house. Becker crawled under and went further in, before he then laid on his back and stared at the cloud of thick cobwebs above him. Spiders were the least of his concerns. There was a bad smell. Damp musty dirt, but also a sweet sickening rot that permeated his sinuses. When he turned his head to the side, he saw the cause of the odor. There was a dead cat, its body was stiff and bloated, and it looked ready to burst and leak its festering contents. 

Becker couldn’t take his eyes off the cat’s carcass. He heard somewhere once that it was instinctual for animals to find a place to die when they were sick or near the end of their lives. Something resembling calmness washed over him. He was ill, too. I understand completely kitty, he thought. Becker was going to give Lori the ultimate Valentine. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his knife and the note he’d written earlier. There was one last thing he had to do now. As he sliced into the meat of his throat, he grinned.

It wasn’t long before Lori noticed a putrid odor. She figured another stupid animal had crawled under the house to die. They seemed to like to do that, for whatever reason. She’d had a few removed before, but funds were low so she lit some candles instead. Except as time went on, the stench only ripened and candles weren’t doing the job. Lori decided to see if she could find what was causing the smell, and remove it herself. With a flashlight in her rubber gloved hand, she got down on all fours and shone the light under the house. 

The recent cold snap had slowed the decomposition of Becker slightly, but not enough. His lips were peeled back into a morbid grin, and his cloudy eyes were sunken deep into his rotting face. Bugs skittered all over his corpse, annoyed by the bright light. Lori screamed the kind of scream that pierced the sky. Birds flew from of trees and dogs barked. Soon, familiar flashing lights surrounded the house and Lori tried to collect herself as she hugged the blanket wrapped around her trembling shoulders. The note they found next to Becker’s body read, Dear Lori, Forever Your Funny Valentine

An entire year went by before Lori could bring herself to sleep without the lights on. She didn’t believe in ghosts—not really—but someone had died beneath her house. And not just someone, but someone she knew and once loved. When February fourteenth rolled around again, Lori tried to ignore it. It was just another boring winter day. She turned down dates and declined phone calls and texts. That night, gusts of chilly air seemed to meet her around ever corner of her house and when she heard a familiar voice whisper her name, her guts twisted into knots and her bones rattled inside of her goose-pimpled flesh. There was no denying whose voice it was. Becker really would be her forever Valentine.

Vivian Kasley

Vivian Kasley lives in the land of the strange and unusual—Florida! She’s an educator and a foodie who also loves to write and travel. At a young age, horror and science fiction opened their arms to her to which she ran head first and stayed to cuddle. Her stories have appeared in several anthologies and online magazines some of which include Dark Moon Digest, Blood Bound Books, HellBound Books, Castrum Press, Gypsum Sound Tales, and Sirens Call Publications. She has more on the way including an upcoming story in Vastarien and her first novella. When she’s not writing, she’s enjoying time with her other half, snuggling her fur babies, eating something weird, or reading in a bubble bath.

Social Media Links:
https://www.facebook.com/bizarrebabewhowrites/
amazon.com/author/viviankasley

 

The Valentine Intruder by Margarida Brei

I

Blast my brother for smugly driving away in his souped up spacehover! The bone doorbell jangled horribly. TheValentine party was Earth Halloween meets kitsch space. Red lights strobed causing party goers to stutter around. Tetro music blasted, spotcha beer flowed freely and a  few alien corpses were  being drained of fluid. A Cyber Vampire with razor sharp canines, a bloody werewolf android and some hungover robots hovered around a grave evoking a devilish spirit. A ghostly lime phorescent being emerged and the guests stampeded back to safety. Wait, I recognized that profile. Trust my brother to make a dramatic entrance!

II

My brother was a buffoon to crash this Valentine Party as a ghoul. Alone, I backed into the kitchen and something rancid touched my shoulder. Hell, one of the aliens being drained of its juices and made into Valentine punch, was still alive! I nearly threw up my eyeball burrito. Strangely it communicated through mind thoughts, saying a space witch had turned it into a ghastly alien. Unlikely story, but I felt compelled to save its life. Under the beams of the Valentine moons the alien metamorphosed. It became an incredibly ugly and troubling creature. A disturbing mortifying earth human!

III

The human raced for his spaceship leaving a trail of rosy heart bubbles and intoxicating scent; the results of lying under the Valentine Moon. I used my mind powers to push him forward. He entered a dilapidated ship sprayed with cyberpunk Valentine graffiti. Garish roses, winking hearts, and cheeky cherubins shooting love arrows would attract robocops. He powered up and whoosh he was gone, leaving a glass rose. I later discovered that he had stolen some valuable Valentine bijous- ruby tail rings, pink gemstone tattoos and rare star garnet antennae jewels. So ended my sweet love with a human pirate.

Margarida Brei

My real name is Margarida Brei.
As a female Senior gold,
She thinks in rhymes and inventive couplets bold.
From England, the land of cat and dog showers,
through Canada, she was chased by the snow-covered Yeti,
Now in Texas, the blazing sun and Vitamin D, in abundance, she getti.
Her two naughty dogs inspire.
From the perspective of a teacher, mother, wife, granny and animal lover, the world she sees.
Horror Tree are publishing her trinity drabble. Her historical novel is on Amazon
Scifaikuest magazine is publishing some of her scifaiku, tanka, fibonacci, ghazal and drabbun.

Be my Valentine 

Pinned to my front door, the note in red ink:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Be my Valentine

Or I will kill you.

Pathetic joke, local kids, I thought, pushing open my door, struggling inside with the groceries. Called, “Carla, I’m back.” Dumped the bags on the bench, opened the fridge for a beer, my wife’s head rolled out.

An arm circled my waist. My neighbor, Julie, the divorcee. Eyes wild. The knife in her raised hand drenched with Carla’s blood.

“I’m waiting for your answer,” she whispered in a voice that had once sounded sexy during our affair.

Mike Rader

Mike Rader is a pseudonym used by Australian author and poet James Aitchison.  As J J Munro and Mike Rader, Aitchison writes horror and noir crime.  As James Lee, he writes Asia’s biggest selling horror series for middle readers — Mr Midnight — which has sold over three million copies.  His work can be seen at www.flameoftheforest.com  

That Night at the Carnival

You were late.

So I held your place in line.

You feared the rollercoaster.

So I held your hand.

You went to the bathroom.

So I held your purse.

You looked like you might kiss me.

So I held my breath.

But we didn’t kiss.

We just drifted on a rickety swan boat in the darkening Tunnel of Love. 

You told me how much you loved your ex.

How you held him in high esteem.

I whispered, “Maybe I love you.”

You laughed.

You held me in contempt.

So I forced your head under the water. 

And held it there.

Kevin M. Folliard

Kevin M. Folliard is a Chicagoland writer whose published fiction includes scary stories collections Christmas Terror Tales and Valentine Terror Tales, as well as adventure novels such as Matt Palmer and the Komodo Uprising. His work has also been collected by The Horror Tree, Flame Tree Publishing, Hinnom Magazine, and more. Kevin currently resides in La Grange, IL, where he enjoys his day job as an academic writing advisor. When not writing or working, he’s usually reading Stephen King, playing Street Fighter, or traveling the U.S.A.

Author Website: www.KevinFolliard.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kevinfolliard
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Kmfollia
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kmfollia/

 

Valentine Parts

Valentine Day, would he or wouldn’t he come? I was biting my nails into metal bleeding shavings. My bimetal pacing feet dug trenches in the terraform- a grave for the stupid android! Is he flawed, being more human than robot or vice versa? Mr. Punctuality will arrive late saying his batteries were drained of humanoid juices. Mr. Smooth Talker once claimed a passionate embrace with some cyborg degenerate was a death kiss. A Spacecar throws a jumble of metal parts and human limbs out. Jeez Louise not again. I have my tool box but refuse to put Casanova Android together.

Margarida Brei

My real name is Margarida Brei.
As a female Senior gold,
She thinks in rhymes and inventive couplets bold.
From England, the land of cat and dog showers,
through Canada, she was chased by the snow-covered Yeti,
Now in Texas, the blazing sun and Vitamin D, in abundance, she getti.
Her two naughty dogs inspire.
From the perspective of a teacher, mother, wife, granny and animal lover, the world she sees.
Horror Tree are publishing her trinity drabble. Her historical novel is on Amazon
Scifaikuest magazine is publishing some of her scifaiku, tanka, fibonacci, ghazal and drabbun.

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Stephanie Ellis

Stephanie Ellis is a member of the HWA and writes dark speculative prose and poetry which has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her work includes the novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel and the gothic novella, Bottled, both via Silver Shamrock Publishing.She can be found at https://stephanieellis.org/ and on twitter @el_Stevie.

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