Trembling With Fear – Valentine’s Day 2024 Edition

Happy Valentine’s Day! Welcome to our special edition of Trembling With Fear. What a selection this year! I always love seeing how our writers take the themes of the holiday and incorporate them into an intriguing story, a enigmatic encounter, a twisting tale, and this year did not disappoint! Love, sweet treats, romantic dinners, meet-cutes – this Special Edition has everything that makes a great Valentine’s Day story. It also has a little extra – that special something that makes it just right for our Valentine’s Special Edition at Trembling With Fear. From deep love to rejection, this edition covers all the many facets of love and just as many of horror.

We really hope you enjoy this Valentine’s Day Special Edition of Trembling With Fear!

Happy Reading!


Shalini Bethala

Editor, Trembling With Fear

Love is in the air, and we’re all about celebrating things getting a little… mushy. This year’s Valentine’s edition is really a return to form that shares all kinds of horror that really hits you like a stake to the heart (sorry, my vampiric friends!). As the twilight shadows stretch and the full moon blushes red, we invite you to a rendezvous with the macabre, where every heartbeat is a drumroll for the next chilling sentence.

In this collection, love isn’t just blind—it’s bound, gagged, and haunting the corridors of the brokenhearted. Prepare for tales where passion bleeds into obsession, and affection veers into the abyss of madness. These stories will entwine you in the arms of the forbidden, kiss your neck with a breath of the eternal, and leave love bites that linger beyond the grave.

So, light the candles and let the scent of roses fill the air, but beware the thorns among the petals and the shadows that move when you’re not looking. For in these pages, the only thing more terrifying than a broken heart is one that refuses to die.

Welcome to a Valentine’s celebration like no other, where we hope that you’ll fall in love with some new stories… or die trying.

Stuart Conover

Editor-in-Chief, Horror Tree

Halloween Time

Love Ella

By: Beth Mills


The first thing she can remember is the cold. So much cold. She’s so cold when she wakes up, she doesn’t even flinch when the doctor screams and hits the floor. He’s passed out, and she has a hole in her chest. Why can’t she remember who she is? Why didn’t the doctor treat any of her wounds?

Confused, she stares at her blood as it oozes from the cuts on her arms. Watches as it dribbles from the hole in her chest and heart beneath. She watches as it drips onto the doctor’s scattered papers; the blood forming vivid rain-drops.

Where is she? Why can’t she remember who she is, and why don’t her wounds hurt? All at once the thought comes to her as she slips from the freezing morgue drawer: “Is this hell? Did I do this to myself?” No, she looks closer at the doctor’s notes; sees the diagram mapping out her injuries and the note “defensive wounds” next to a little drawing’s arms.

Defensive? De-fens-ive… So she didn’t hurt herself, but then who did?

There is it! Coming back in a rush. Not her name, not who she is, but him.  The man, her man!  She sees the flashes and rushes of red and pink hearts. The rose center piece she’d spent an hour on, and the dinner she’d worked on all day.

Valentine, valentine, won’t you be my valentine?

Five minutes too long on the pork chops and he put me on the chopping block. She couldn’t remember ever feeling so furious. She left the cold little room, and the tiny drawing with its notes. The last portrait there’d ever be of her. She wandered, some unknown force drawing her, pushing her toward revenge.

The officer at the front desk dropped his coffee at the sight of her.  Others stood in slack jawed horror at the woman they had just put into a body bag not an hour earlier.  The detectives interviewing her husband (to try and find the “mysterious intruder” who had murdered her) scrambled away from their desks and huddled as far from her as they could get.  They both resigned the next day, and refused to say what happened.  The video of the things she did to her husband in that tiny room was made to vanish along with the entire case file. 

But it was a lot harder to get rid of the poem she left behind, written along the walls in both lovers blood:

Rose are red,

Violets are blue.

He murdered me,

Now he’s dead too.

The lady smiled as she finally remembered her name, as she signed the Valentine simply, “Love Ella.”

Beth Mills

Beth Mills is a librarian and writer living in West Virginia. She was a fan of horror movies before she could walk. Beth has previously been published by Pulse Publishing,, and Trembling With Fear. Visit her online:, or on Facebook @Beth Mills-Writer.

Halloween Time

You Saw Her for Her

By: Charlotte Williams


Maybe you paused by a near-empty store front to check your grocery list. Maybe you were on the train, on your way home. Maybe you slipped out of work for a smoke break. Regardless of where you were, you thought you were alone until you looked up and saw her staring back. 

Your first mistake was staring back.

She walked closer to you, never breaking eye-contact. Something is off, but you didn’t move. You should’ve kept walking, gotten off at the next station, or at least looked away and pretended you didn’t see her. Nobody knows why, but people don’t move when she approaches. 

When she was standing close enough, she asked you a question. “Am I pretty?”

You look over her. Glossy jet-black hair, long and fine lashes, stunning eye makeup, clear skin, a designer white jacket with crimson accents flattering her form. Overall, she’s conventionally attractive, though the bottom half of her face is covered by a mask. 

“Yes,” you say.

You turn away and look elsewhere. Out the corner of your eye, she reached for her face and took a few steps closer. There was a strange sound. It reminded you of a sticker peeling off leather, or linen tearing.

She asked again, “Am I pretty?”

You regret turning back to her. You saw what was under her mask, what’s supposed to be a face. Probably the one “pretty” thing was how straight and white her teeth were…

You held in a scream—that’s one of the two reasons you’re alive to tell the tale. The other reason you’re still among us is that you said, “Yes, you’re very pretty” and fled her right then.

You wouldn’t pause for the rest of the day. You hesitated to look others in the face, briefly worried you were going to see her staring back again. You didn’t see her, but you got glimpses of white and red out the corner of your eye throughout the day, disappearing the moment your head turned. You held your breath until you were home with every door and window locked.


You stay in for the evening, regardless of your nightly habits. At some point, you realize your anxiety may be silly. You left her where you found her, nowhere in plain sight for the rest of the day. There’s no way she could be here.


You look out a window, just to be sure.

She’s standing alone outside, her white and red jacket glowing in the dim lighting. She’s staring right at you, as if she knew you would look out that window. 

Blind panic envelopes you—you run around the house, check every lock in your home, blocking off every possible entrance to your home. You only calm down when you’ve closed every way in. 

You go look through that window again, checking to see if she’s still there. 

She is. 

She looks between you and the front door. You’re relieved she can’t come in. But then she does a strange arm-motion, an aggressive flick of her arm. Something slips out her sleeve, landing in her hand.

Your panic returns when you notice something glint in her hand as she walks under a streetlamp. 

Is that a knife? You wonder.

It is.

Did she always have that knife? You continue to wonder. When we met, did she have that knife?

She did. 

Had you screamed or dared call her something along the lines of ugly, you wouldn’t be here to read these words. Your remains would have been found in the gutter. Arguably, the mutilated remains in the street are the lucky ones.

Knife in hand, she’s walking to your front door, head still turned toward your window. 

You get the phone, call the police. If you have a weapon, you scramble for it. Your hands tremble as you arm yourself. You were shaking to the point you would have trouble keeping aim. You try to focus, but you remember her face and break into cold shivers. The dial tone drones at you, taunting you as you wait with bated breath.

There’s a knock at the door. You peer out the window.

To your surprise, you see her walking away. You can’t see the knife anywhere. She’s going up the road, away from you. She pauses only once, turning back to your window. She waved daintily at you, then gestured from her mask as if she were blowing a kiss. 

You wouldn’t move from the window until she disappeared down the street. 

An envelope was jammed in your front door—it wasn’t locked anymore. You wonder if you locked the door at all. 

You did. 

But considering who and what she is, doors don’t stay locked for long. 

The letter was addressed to you, your full name written in intricate, curled handwriting. Opening it gave you a waft of perfume. 

All it said was:
“It’s late. It’s time you sleep, dearest. Rest well. I’ll make you pretty as I am, someday. I love you.”


You’re not the first to find her. You’re not going to be the last. The folks who survived an initial encounter eventually go missing. Nobody is entirely sure where they are and what happened to them. Regardless of whatever she does to them, she always remains. 

Who knows, you might be lucky. You might be the first to survive her. 



Charlotte Williams

My name is Charlotte Williams, born and raised in metropolitan Virginia. I’ve always wanted to be an author, and my first published work is You Saw Her for Her. I enjoy writing about fantasy, usually with a theme relating to humans’ relationships with the unknown and how they process it. 
Halloween Time

Skin to Skin

By: Xan van Rooyen


Starlight limns your body blue and silver, skin translucent and pulled taught across bones breaching like whales against the fragile ocean of your decaying flesh.

I rinse my blade in saltwater touched by moon glow and make ready the spell in my heart. The candles flicker, the herbs lie scattered, the magic simmers ready to do my bidding.

With fingers you used to kiss, I stroke your spiderweb hair spreading dark lace about your head.

I trace the rills and plains, following the map of love I used to trail from mouth to neck, down sternum, across belly to groin, between thighs, tripping over knees to ankles. Now, I continue my meander to the tips of your slender toes.

The blade is sharp, my fingers deft as they cut and flay, opening tender seams along shin and hip, over rib and spine. I lap at oozing blood, swallow—letting carrion-copper bolster the magic words loosened from the gristle within my chest. They glide across my tongue, winnow between my lips and dolphin-leap between us.

The grief is sour, a plum not yet ripe, a cherry out of season, the lover who promised eternity, betrayed by a stuttering heart like a frantic bird with broken wings, beating a frenzy before stilling forever. 

But I will turn this grief sweet; we will have our endless together.

And so I work the blade. Leaving your face for last, slowly, I disrobe you, prying apart layer after layer, draping the folds of you across the driftwood table you whittled for us with calloused hands, how those rough edges etched your love into my skin in the shadow-drenched hours. Carefully, I smooth away the creases of your deflated topography across the stools you carved from quaking poplar. The trees whisper behind our cabin in hushed cacophony, your name trembling from the boughs to fall like autumn rain in paradiddles upon the shingled-roof.

Then, I fill a bucket with viscera, gleaming and cool between my palms—leave them on the porch for the hungry inhabitants of the dunes and woods. At last your bones are free and I set them beside the buckets, let them sing a chanson in the sea breeze accompanied by the crash of the surf, let them call to the carrion eaters who arrive on dusty wings and velvet paws to lick and sip and gnaw. I will let them consume you, scatter you to the wilds where you will soak the soil and be woven anew into leaf and bloom.

Swapping blade for needle, I begin to sew. Though we always seemed the perfect fit, now I know your true dimension: toes a little wider, thighs a little longer, back shorter, belly rounder, shoulders broader, and though I would like to stretch to fill you, I know it is you who must be gathered into my embrace, pleated with intricate thread at ankle and knee, ruched at hip and armpit, darned in delicate frills at my throat.

Together, we will become one.

My hands tremor, blood welling and tears wetting our cheeks as I place the final sutures along my jaw and across my temples. Our hair mats together like the matrimonial knots we tied wrist to wrist when we swore not even at death do we part.

And now, reunited, I test the bonds of our love. The stitches hold as I complete the spell with quivering breath, the words thick as molasses, rich with the magic glomming my lips and furring my teeth. 

Ritual complete, I feel the shape of you pulling taught, a quickening in the lattice of our shared veins, a prickle across our twinned scalp, an ache in the hollow spaces that were empty when you were gone but now pulse with renewed heat as—together—we draw our first breath. 

Perhaps this will be enough.

Xan van Rooyen

I’m an autistic and non-binary writer originally from South Africa. My words have been published by Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Galaxy’s Edge, Daily Science Fiction and others.
Halloween Time


By: Conrad Gardner


They met outside the restaurant in their best clothes, in accordance with the establishment’s dress code. She wore a red D&G dress that made her look as if she were from a different place in time, while he was dressed in an angel blue Nehru two-piece. 

They started with his kissing her on the cheek and handing her a bouquet. ‘They’re beautiful,’ she said, The white chrysanthemums and lilies were tinted red beneath the restaurant’s soft-lit sign. ‘So, shall we?’ He nodded, and they entered.

The restaurant’s interior consisted of thirteen tables, at which no more than five peoples, and a rich aroma surrounded the room, that reminded them both of an  Orthodox church.

‘Welcome to Vladimir’s,’ the waiter said. ‘I’m Roman, and I’ll be your waiter this evening. Some wine to start?’ The pair nodded and asked him which he recommended. ‘The Italian is very good. We’re supposed to recommend the French, but it’s a bit thick for my tastes.’ At their approval, he returned a moment later with two glasses and a bottle. ‘Some establishments prefer to let their red breathe, but we find it is better drunk after being freshly opened. Would madame and monsieur care to taste it?’ They both swallow a taster glass and exchanged glances. 

He smacked his lips twice before saying, ‘Excellent, we’ll take the bottle. Unless you’re not a fan?’ She was. 

Roman left the bottle and a pair of menus. ‘The wine comes with compliments from the owner.’ She watched the waiter leave before looking back to him. He had buried his face in his menu. 

‘So how did you beat the waitlist?’ she said. He chuckled a bit and looked away a moment. Were his complexion not so pale, he may have appeared to blush. ‘I promise not to judge. You bought me flowers, so I’m already impressed.’

‘I know Vladimir, kind of. I helped him move to the UK.’

‘So you got a table here through nepotism.’

‘Yes. I told him about the service, how I’d met you, and wanted to impress you, and he said he could help me out.’

‘Well, if you’ve got power, you may as well use it.’ She slid her hand over his. ‘I’m flattered, really. You have a-’ she pointed to the space below her lip and he dabbed at his with the napkin.

Roman returned to the couple after they’d spent a little more time checking the menus and sharing deep eye contact. ‘I’ll have the liver salad,’ she said. 

‘Do you have any loin left today?’ he said. The waiter nodded, and placed a folder on the table.

‘Would you prefer to choose your meal by photo, or in person?’ Roman said. Her eyes answered for both of them and they stood from their table after finishing off their wine. He waved to another waiter and indicated for another bottle. ‘If you would care to follow me.’

Roman led them to the cellar, where he offered to help madame down the steps in her heels, but she said that she didn’t require an extra hand and descended with a refined grace. The waiter switched on a set of stark lights that illuminated twenty wooden slabs. 

Upon each slab lay a person, naked. ‘We prefer to keep them asleep, otherwise the meat can be ruined. Adrenaline gets into the system if they’re too scared, and it can ruin the taste, and with our esteemed guests, we do not wish for them to taste the same meat as they could on any hunt.’

‘Vladimir told me that some drugs can ruin the taste as well,’ the man said. ‘Will the sedation affect it?’ The waiter shook his head. 

‘The master has perfected his concoction, and it is not detectable. It also, of course, makes it easier for our butchers.’ He clapped his hands, and from a door at the end of the cellar, two figures with meat saws in their hands emerged. ‘Of course, I would like to remind you that each meal comes with a starter of soup and tidbits, straight from their animal of choice.’ 

The couple’s eyes moved from each person, and after a few moments, they had both selected their meal. ‘I want her,’ she said, pointing to a short woman with a golden tan. 

‘I’ll have him,’ he nodded to a man with the physique of a ballet dancer. ‘Roman, may we sample our meals before they’re cooked?’ He looked to the butchers, who nodded with approval. 

‘Since you are a special guest of our owner, I am in no position to refuse you, monsieur Jonathan,’ he said. ‘The compound keeping them asleep halts blood loss, so your meal will still retain its juices.’ The man leant over his meal and closed his mouth around the its throat. A euphoric sensation ran through his body as he fed.

‘Vladimir’s right about it being fresher,’ he said. She sampled her meal too and sucked more vigorously than her date. ‘How is it?’

‘Delicious,’ she said. 

They returned to the upstairs and sipped away at their Italian. ‘What do you think the wine did for a living before being bottled?’ he said. She looked into the distance as she thought, before settling on farmer or athlete, due to how clean it tasted. He swished another mouthful from cheek-to-cheek. ‘I was going to say accountant, but you’re right, it’s very clean.’ They chuckled and shared some laughs whilst they had the soup and tidbits in anticipation of the main course.. 

‘She was a model,’ the lady said after biting into the liver salad, which mixed cutlets of the meat in with the vegetables. ‘No hints of pollutants in her.’ 

‘I can’t remember the last time my senses were that sharp,’ he said. ‘I’m faster now, better at hunting, but over time, that comes at the cost of senses such as yours, the ones related to taste, to feeling.’ He put his knife and fork down and tried not to look her in the eyes. ‘You dont think that I’m… too old for you, do you?’

‘Of course not,’ she said. ‘You might not be as good at telling what your food did for a living anymore, but your fangs are sharper than ever.’ She pricked the top digit of her index finger and a droplet of blood rose to the surface. ‘Would I be offering you this if I thought you were too old?’ Her scent rose from that small offering of blood, and he could not restrain himself. He closed his lips around her finger and sucked. The waiters started to clap and Roman set off a popper. 

‘Vladimir will be very pleased to hear that monsieur Jonathan has had such a successful date,’ Roman said. 

Jonathan licked a droplet of her blood from the corner of his mouth before offering her his in return. After she had taken it, they resumed their meals before it got cold.

 In the middle of her liver salad she laughed and purred. ‘I know what we can do next time, if you’d like there to be a next time?’ she said.

‘Well it’s not like I gave you an offering. What are you thinking?’ 

‘Hunting at night? I’ve heard that the new club outside of town is a great spot for picking out game.’ 

‘It sounds like a date,’ he said, putting a piece of tenderloin into his mouth. Vladimir was right: they tasted better when they weren’t scared.


Conrad Gardner

Conrad Gardner‘s writing has appeared in Superlative Literary Journal, Sci Phi Journal, and AutoFocus. He has stories appearing in several upcoming horror anthologies, and when he isn’t writing or running (from things in the dark), he can be found residing between Bristol and Bath.

Halloween Time

A Trifling Problem

By: Robert Allen Lupton


There’s nothing like a Dear Jane message on your phone. It was short and to the point. My name’s Joan, not Jane, but that really doesn’t matter

Joan, I’ve found someone else and she’s precious. I met Patricia a week ago and it’s like we’ve been in love forever. She has the most beautiful fingers, she’s a hand model for Magic Nails. I love her. Don’t call or text.

I composed a short vulgar text and hit send. It bounced back. Blocked! I threw my phone 

I called my best friend, Sandy. She said, “He’s not the first cheap ass to break up before a holiday. Saves him from buying you dinner and a gift.”

“Sandy, he has a new girlfriend. Patricia.”

“Damn, girl. That’s almost honest. Most men say that it’s not you, it’s me. Let’s get drunk.”

“Maybe, but first I’m gonna find out what the hell a hand model is.”

I entered ‘hand model’ in my favorite search engine. Hand models tend to have flawless skin and hands. For female hand models, long, slender hands and fingers are the standard. I held out my hand and spread my fingers. Scars from childhood and a couple dark spots. I curled my slightly pudgy fingers. Broken nails and one hangnail. Clearly, I wouldn’t be getting a paycheck from Revlon.

I couldn’t let it go. I kept visualizing the shameless hussy’s perfect hands caressing Joey’s face, one French manicured nail trailing down his arm, and those perfect fingers ruffling his hair.

I didn’t sleep that night. I dreamed about fantastic fingers, perfectly shaped phalanges, and delightful digits. Knuckles and nails dancing like Thing from the Adams Family. Dump me and block me, how dare he. I dressed at four, went to an all-big box store, and bought five burner phones, three cans of spray paint, and a box of glitter. That shit cost me three hundred dollars, but screw the rent. I waited in the parking lot across the street from the bakery where Joey worked.

He parked his car and I burner phone texted his unfaithful ass. Thought you’d dump me without facing me. Not that easy. Happy Valentine’s Day. Say hello to Patty for me.

He stood on the sidewalk, glanced around, and went inside. I tried to text him again, but he’d blocked me. Don’t care, I’ve got four more phones.

I didn’t text again, I waited and fantasized about ring fingers, pinkies, thumbs, and perfect lifelines. Four hours later, he came out and got in his car. I followed him. He drove to Pascal’s Bistro and met a woman for lunch. Miss Patricia Precious, I guessed. I followed her. She worked at a gym. Wow, double duty, a hand model and a fitness instructor. I couldn’t see her perfect hands, but the rest of her looked amazing. I could just puke.

I drove to the bakery and spray-painted hearts and flowers on his car. Sprinkled the wet paint with glitter. That’ll get his attention, but to be sure I slashed a tire. Nothing says “I Love You” like selective vandalism.

I drank wine and plotted revenge that evening. After the second bottle, I realized it wasn’t Joey’s fault. He’s just a man, after all. Miss Precious Perfect Fingers had stolen Joey from me. Simple solution. If she’s gone, Joey’s mine again. I made a plan and finished the third bottle, a nice domestic cabernet. Good thing, I made notes before I passed out because I didn’t remember shit when I woke up at noon. Two Darvocet and Irish coffees later, I bought supplies and waited for Miss Precious at the gym.

I burned the second burner phone and texted Joey. Happy February, Pain makes you stronger, fear makes you braver, and heartbreak makes you wiser. Soon, you’ll be the smartest, bravest strong man in the world.

I waited until her shift ended. I didn’t sleep, but I drifted into a world populated by finger people, beautiful finger people. I spent an hour repeating, here’s the church house, here’s the steeple. Open the door and look at all the people. No doubt her steeple was perfectly formed and taller than mine. Damn fingers.

I caught Perfect Patty by her car and I spilled a grocery sack filled with fruit and vegetables. She stopped to help me and I put a knife to her perfect throat. “Don’t fight. You might break a nail”

I ordered her into my car, zip-tied her wrists to the seat belt. She didn’t try to get away. Guess I was right about her not wanting to break a nail. She was hard to understand speaking through her tears. I’d never learned to speak blubbering, but I pieced it together.

“Why me? I don’t have any money. Why, why are you doing this? I don’t have anything.”

I smiled sweetly. “You took my Joey. He loves your perfect little precious hands. He’s mine, you understand. He’s mine.”

She kept blubbering and I stuffed my gloves in her mouth and drove home. I dragged her into the kitchen, and tied her to a chair. I used my third burner phone and texted Joey. I know you didn’t get me anything, but I got you a gift. Something small, just a trifle.  

I opened my dessert cookbook and set my glass trifle bowl on the counter. The recipe called for layers of cake, pudding, fruit, jelly, and whipped cream. I took inventory. Strawberries and blackberries, check. Whipped cream, check. Pudding, check. There was no jelly. And the recipe called for ladyfingers. I smiled at Miss Precious. I had ladyfingers, ten of them.

I grabbed her hands and inspected her fingers. Fricking perfect. I took two stainless steel bowls and one small cooking pot from the cabinet. I hefted my meat cleaver and sharpened it.

Pattycake’s eyes went wide and she struggled. I slapped her. “Joey loves your perfect little fingers. Together, we’re going to make a Valentine’s present for him.”

She fought while I tied her arms over the granite countertop and she broke two nails, but she stopped struggling the second time I hit her with my rolling pin.

Once she was properly restrained, I used burner number four. I’m fixing your present now, it’s not exactly finger food, but you’ll think it’s perfect.

I splashed cold water in her face. “Wake up, Miss Precious. You don’t want to miss this.”

Sooner started, sooner done. I chopped all four fingers off her right hand. I placed the pot under her hand to catch the blood and dropped the severed digits into what I laughingly called my finger bowl. I ignored her screams, chopped off her thumb, and repeated the process with her left hand.

I’m not a monster. I cinched zip-ties tightly around each wrist to function as tourniquets. “If you haven’t bled to death, I’ll drop you off at an ER after I deliver the trifle to Joey. Maybe, the doctors will give you a hand.”

I blended strawberries and blood with three cups of sugar and pectin. It took an hour to boil the strawberry-blood jelly.

Assembling the trifle was a piece of cake. Jelly on the bottom, mixed fruit, vanilla pudding colored with blood, five ladyfingers, and a layer of whipped cream. Repeat. Top with a tower of whipped cream and a strawberry on top. There was enough left over to fill two parfait glasses. I’d used all the preciously perfect fingers, so I added a perfectly manicured pinkie toe to each parfait. 

A trifle, like revenge, should be served cold, and there was no time to waste. I hummed the Finger Family song to myself while I dragged Pattycake to the car. Sister Finger, Sister Finger, where are you?

I dumped her ass at an emergency room and raced to Joey’s bakery. I had to hurry. I‘m not stupid, I know they’ve got cameras. Time wasn’t on my side.

Daddy Finger, Daddy Finger, where are you? Here I am, here I am.”

I sat the trifle by the bakery door and texted cheater Joey. Your Valentine’s Day gift is outside your door. Eat it while it’s cold.

I watched from the car. Joey opened the bakery door and looked around before he picked up the trifle. He sniffed it and took it inside.

Mommy Finger, Mommy Finger, where are you?

I heard him scream. It was like music to my ears. I dipped a spoon into my parfait trifle, stirred it, and then took a big bite.

I swirled it around in my mouth, savoring the taste. Ambrosia! I swallowed just as I heard the police sirens.

Two squad cars blocked my car. I took another bite and stepped outside, parfaits in hand. I took a third bite, swallowed, and held the untouched dessert out to the police. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know there would be three of you. I didn’t bring enough for everyone. You’ll have to share. It’s perfectly precious.”

One little finger, one little finger, tap, tap, tap.


Robert Allen Lupton

Halloween Time


By: Kevin Hopson


It was an unseasonably warm Valentine’s Day, which made the annual matchmaking event even lovelier. King Joseph held the gathering in his own private gardens. Only twenty-two people were invited to attend, and the list was split evenly between men and women. 

Claudia sat at a linen-covered table with two of her closest friends, Rosie and Pippa. Rosie was true to her name. She had curly, red hair and cheeks that often blushed, while Pippa was dark-skinned with chocolate-colored eyes. 

“I hope I get one of the Murphy brothers,” Rosie said. “Preferably, Casper.”

“I’ll take the other,” Pippa chimed in. “I don’t care if it’s Casper or Dante. Both of them are easy on the eyes.”

Claudia couldn’t help but chuckle. 

“What about you?” Rosie asked. 

Claudia shrugged. “I don’t have my eye on anyone in particular. I just want to have a good time.”

“Ladies,” a man interrupted, sidling up to their table. He was a balding gentleman with gray hair, donning a black and white tuxedo. “You’re the last three women. Are you ready to find out who your partner will be for the afternoon?”

Claudia nodded, and Rosie and Pippa did the same. The man rested a glass bowl on the table. Inside the bowl were three pieces of paper, each of them folded. Claudia reached a hand into the bowl and snatched one of the notes. But she didn’t open it. She waited for her friends to go first. 

“Oh, my God,” Rosie said. 

Claudia arched an eyebrow. “What? Did you get Casper?”

Rosie shook her head. “No. Jackson Woods.”

“Oh, he’s cute,” Pippa commented. 

“Yeah,” Rosie replied. “He’s not bad. But he’s not Casper.”

Pippa couldn’t stifle a laugh. “I got Freddie Bailey. He’s a sweet guy. And a lot of fun. I think we’ll have a good time.” She glimpsed Claudia. “What about you?”

Claudia finally unfolded the piece of paper, her eyes bulging at the name. 

“So?” Rosie said. 

“Arlo Francis,” Claudia spit out. 

Both of her friends’ eyes went wide. 

“Wow,” Rosie said. “The king’s mage. He’s actually kind of handsome. In a weird sort of way.”

“Alright, ladies.” The man picked up the bowl and spoke to the crowd. “Each of you should have a partner now. Seek them out and enjoy your day together.”

Rosie and Pippa stood from the table.

“Guess I’ll see you two later,” Rosie said. 

Pippa nodded. “Yeah.” 

“Have fun,” Claudia said. 

Claudia watched as her friends wandered off to meet their dates. Then she spotted Arlo. He was making his way around the gardens, shaking hands with men and kissing the hands of women, including Rosie and Pippa. Arlo appeared to be a flirt. Or perhaps he was just being friendly. 

Claudia got to her feet and walked the brick pathway, gradually approaching Arlo. She didn’t want to interrupt him while he was greeting people, so she stood at a distance, feeling a little out of place. 

Though many of the flowers had yet to bloom, a number of boxwood shrubs lined the garden, several of them trimmed in the shape of a heart. She eyed them, soon losing herself in thought. 

“Claudia?” a man said. 

When she turned to look, Arlo was staring at her. 

“Yes.” She held up the piece of paper and forced a smile. “It looks like we’re partners for the day.” 

Arlo grinned. “Magnificent.” 

He gently grasped Claudia’s left hand, dipped his head, and raised her hand to his lips. The soft touch of his skin caused Claudia’s cheeks to warm.  He released her hand, and Claudia lowered it, her cheeks still blushing. 

Arlo had wavy, dark hair and brown eyes, which were quite the contrast to his pale skin. But he was tall and muscular, and Claudia couldn’t help but notice how nicely Arlo filled out his navy-blue suit. She’d rarely seen him up close, but Claudia had to admit that Rosie was right. Arlo was handsome in a way. 

“Why don’t we sit,” he said. “That table over there is free.”

Arlo led her to the table. He put a hand to one of the wooden chairs and slid it toward him. Claudia tucked the hem of her floral dress under her thighs as she took a seat, then scooted closer to the table. 

“Thank you,” she said. 

“My pleasure,” Arlo replied, circling around the table and taking a seat across from her. 

Claudia swallowed, a bout of nervous excitement washing over her.  

“This is nice,” he said. “I know we were introduced at the ball last year and we’ve seen each other in passing, but we’ve never really talked or gotten to know one another. I don’t know much about you other than the fact that you’re part of the Gallagher family.”

 “That’s right,” she stuttered. “My father used to captain a ship in the king’s navy, but he’s since retired.”

“And what about your mother?”

“Her only job is making sure he stays retired.”

That earned a soft chuckle from Arlo, and Claudia felt some of the tension in her shoulders ease. 

“But both of them have moved away,” she said. 

“Why’d you stay behind?”

“I guess I have unfinished business here.”

Arlo nodded. “Speaking of business, you’re quite the entrepreneur. I don’t get out as much as I’d like, but I heard you own that quaint little bakery in town. What’s it called again?”

Claudia couldn’t help but grin. “Knead to Know.” 

“Yes. A nice play on words. I like it.” Arlo paused. Then he pulled something from the pocket of his suit jacket and rested it on the table. “I have a small gift for you.”

The object was, in fact, small. It was a tiny vial, to be precise. 

Claudia’s brow furrowed. “What is it?” 

“It’s a cure-all potion.”

She shook her head. “I don’t understand.”

Arlo rested his elbows on the table. “I’m probably getting ahead of myself. Allow me to explain.” 

Claudia sat up in the chair, a mix of curiosity and concern coursing through her. 

“Do you know what everyone here has in common?” Arlo asked. 

She pondered. “We’re all single.”

“Besides the obvious.”

Claudia shrugged. “I don’t know.” 

Arlo leaned forward. “You’re all traitors.”

Claudia’s eyes narrowed, and her heart pounded up into her throat. “What are you talking about?”

 Arlo raised a dismissive hand at her. “You needn’t bother denying it. The king knows you’ve been using the bakery as a front for your counterfeit coin operation. And Rosie and Pippa have been in on it, too. Is that why your parents left? To distance themselves from your criminal activity?”

She pursed her lips, holding in a breath of air.  

“Not everyone here is guilty of the same crime,” Arlo continued, “but they have crossed the king one way or another. That’s why the king used this year’s event to mask his real purpose. He could have brought charges against everyone here and jailed them. But he wants a different type of justice, so he’s allowed me to take matters into my own hands.”

Claudia huffed, her fear turning to anger. “What are you going to do?”

Arlo snickered. “I’ve already done it.”

That’s when Claudia heard screaming. Her eyes darted back and forth. A few of the guests lay still on the ground, while others rushed to their aid. But those offering assistance quickly succumbed to the same fate.    

“What’s happening?” she barked. 

“Everyone I touched, including yourself, has been infected with a toxin. One that’s swift and fatal.”

“You bastard!”

Claudia stood, searching for Rosie and Pippa. She spotted Rosie. Her friend was motionless on the grass, and Pippa knelt over her with tears streaming down her face. Seconds later, Pippa fell to the ground, landing beside Rosie. 

Claudia immediately moved in their direction but felt something tighten around her wrist. When she glanced over her shoulder, Arlo was holding her back. 

“Let me go,” she shouted. 

“There’s nothing you can do for your friends,” Arlo said. “And the same goes for the rest of them. But you can still save yourself.” He pointed to the vial on the table. “The king is allowing me to spare one life, and I’m choosing you. Because of your father’s service to the king. Unfortunately, you haven’t much time. You’ll be feeling the effects of the toxin any moment now.”

If Claudia drank the potion, she would spend the rest of her life in prison. That’s assuming she wasn’t sentenced to death by some other means. So, the choice was simple.

“Go to hell,” she screamed. 

Arlo released his grip, and Claudia ran to her friends. Her vision soon blurred, and her muscles began to spasm. Claudia dropped to her knees next to Rosie and Pippa. 

Her breathing slowed. Then everything began to fade as she collapsed to the ground. At least she would die next to the people she cared about the most. The ones who stuck with her until the end. 

Kevin Hopson

Kevin’s work has appeared in a variety of anthologies, magazines, and e-zines, and he enjoys writing in multiple genres. You can learn more about Kevin by visiting his website at

Candy Hearts

The first time the pink heart read, “Will You Be Mine.”

I looked around the office to see who might have put the candy on my desk.

Four days later, another pink heart. “You never replied.”

The next day, the message on the pink candy was concerning. “Seriously, I offered my heart.”

I walked into the human resources office to file a complaint. No one was there so I reached over to grab a sticky note to leave a message. There on the desk, a pink candy heart. “Fine, I’ll just take yours.”

Behind me I hear the door closing.

Don Money

Don Money writes stories across a variety of genres. He is a middle school literacy teacher. His short stories have been published in multiple anthologies including with Trembling With Fear, Shacklebound Books, Black Hare Press, and in Troopers, Martian, Stupefying Stories, and Stygian Lepus magazines. Don can be found on Twitter/X @donmoneywriting.

Love All

I watched entranced as she floated across the court; her forehands a thing of beauty, her backhands achingly graceful.

I wasn’t even looking as I emptied a bucket of balls into the machine. 

I didn’t notice when my sleeve caught in the grinding gears.

I barely cared as my body was pulled into its ball-gobbling maw.

And I was already dead by the time my body was served in a spray of gore across the courts, turning tennis whites blood red.

But somehow my heart still throbbed as it sailed across the net and landed at my beloved’s perfect feet.

Simon Lambert

Simon Lambert is a TV editor, producer, and long-time horror fan from New Zealand, who has just started on his writing journey.

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