Horror Tree has assembled all stories previous published in their 2018 “Trembling With Fear” column. That’s 204 tales of fright and weirdness (I counted). Stories are listed by the month they were published. Mine is in December.
Despite the title, this story is more horror than sci-fi. (And as horror goes, fairly mild.) As Corner Bar Magazine editor Garry Somers told me, “It’s like a Twilight Zone episode, only without the preface by Serling that warns you that you’re about to be freaked out.” Being a TZ fan myself, that is high praise. First published in July 2019.
Where Pluto Used To Be
by DL Shirey
The nausea hadn’t started yet, but it was just around the corner. Right now the problem was itching, and those awful thoughts that if she scratched too hard, too often in the same spot, her skin would shred like grated cheese.
Elsa tried not to scrape her manicured nails where it itched most, on her ankles. Instead she crossed her legs, placing a foot on her knee, then gently rubbed at the itch beneath her pant leg. But a laying-on of hands wouldn’t sooth it, nor would a lotion to moisturize skin. Oxy or Vikes would do it.
Published in February 2019 by the Oregon-based journal Cascadia Rising Review, this story can be categorized as creative-nonfiction-ish because it’s written about actual events. Truth be told, though, liberties were taken to enhance the drama. Since these characters are based on my relatives, but not 100% pure, their names have been changed.
I must give a shout out to Alle Hall, whose editorial prowess helped shape the story. Even though I withdrew it from consideration for her journal, some of the rewrites she requested definitely made the piece better. Thanks Alle.
Marine Corps Chow
by DL Shirey
If a machine gun expelled staccato laughter instead of bullets, that would be the sound my uncle made after every joke I heard him tell. HA-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh followed the punch line, a clipped rat-a-tat-tat before anyone else could laugh.
He was used to people doubling-up from his stories. Franklin Chandler Penney was a Marine, a commander of Marines, a full-bird colonel once in charge of an airbase in the Pacific theater. I never saw him in his Marine Corps cap, but there was no hair for it to hide. He had thick brows, constantly stuck in the frown position, which gave him a hawkish squint. He was tall and held his backbone at attention, even in the most casual occasions. Whenever he laughed, his jaw would barely unhinge, as if it was a Herculean effort to unclench his teeth.
This story is written in first person, which is weird because it’s from the perspective of an alien creature native to the planet Mercury. It’s also short. But somehow I was able to squeeze in the creature’s entire life cycle in 300 words. Published in June 2019 by Local Train Magazine.
The Thin Rim of Mercury
by DL Shirey
I crawl from the carcass of my motherfather. Me and thousands of sisterbrothers. Weaker ones are eaten to gain the strength needed to push against the baked shell of dirt above us. Most die trying, each arching a feeble spine against unbending crust, all eighteen legs pushing up, straining to crack through.
The ground gives above me, a fissure forms and the heat doubles. I push through vulva-end first and am immediately penetrated. The weight of my writhing suitor keeps me from pulling my phallus-half out of the ground. I brace myself until shehe is finished, then wrench the rest of me into massive sunlight.
Had my anatomy allowed it, I would have smiled.
They say “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” The hero in this horror story finds out that these words are more than an old saying when he discovers a mysterious object that grants wishes. My novella originally appeared in the debut edition of The Society of Misfit Stories Presents… along side more great speculative fiction.
What The Lord Giveth
by DL Shirey
A.D. 1988 – Brant Egan always tackled the worst job first when his shift started at eleven p.m. He ran the city’s incinerator, torching everything from hospital waste to old car batteries, but at the top of his list were the containers from Animal Control. According to policy, euthanized dogs and cats from the animal shelter were put in 50-pound bags, so Brant didn’t have to see the contents. He hefted the black bags by their handles and tossed them in the batch loader. The most unpleasant task came in barrels marked with biohazard labels. They contained road-kill that Brant was forced to unload with a pitchfork. The smell was bad and seemed to get worse with each raccoon, opossum or chunk of unidentifiable meat he pierced. There was the occasional deer carcass and when he struggled with its weight, Brant couldn’t help thinking of that old Bambi cartoon.
Although only 24, most of his muscle had gone to fat, but Brant was still quite strong. If only his stomach had the same strength. It was all he could do to push back against what threatened to rise in his throat when Brant recognized a clotted mound of fur as a house pet. He had to swallow hard with each dog and cat because Brant could not help but visualize them whole: fetching balls, romping and playing, dozing contentedly on a couch. He wished he could close his eyes to do this part of the job.
The idea for this humorous short story was already in place. What was missing was the movie star; someone well known and famous. To be honest, I don’t know if Nicole Kidman is as temperamental as she comes across in the story. When writing it I had just watched one of her movies on Netflix and decided she would be perfect. I even make a cameo appearance as “the writer.” This story was originally published by CommuterLit in January 2019.
Nicole Kidman’s Shoes
by DL Shirey
The day of the screen test, Gary got up early. He was so excited, sleep had evaded him most of the night. It had been a good eighteen months since he had made the decision to take Hollywood by storm. The classes, the training and creating the perfect look, all of it was going to pay off today.
When Gary’s feet hit the upstairs floor Wanda barked. She was always excited to see Gary, no matter the day. She didn’t know this one was circled on the calendar. And Gary started the morning like any other, giving the dog a good brushing and a big bowl of kibble.
As he put on the florid purple jacket, Gary couldn’t decide if he felt a fool for agreeing to the attire or for his dreams of stardom. Either way, he was immediately bolstered by a happy bark.
“That’s my good Wanda. Who’s my best girl? What is it you want to do today my sweet, my bestest girl? Go for a ride?”
Two vacations lent significant portions to this piece of fiction. The church came from Santa Fe, NM. The musicians came from Austin, TX. Together they formed the backbone of this tale. Although it strays from my usual speculative style, I think it’s one of my better stories. It was published in October 2018 by Wild Musette Journal for their “Vegetable Pulp” issue.
On the Flame of One Candle
by DL Shirey
Shrine. Perhaps too big a word for such a small saint, but people passing through Austin know where to find her. The table is wedged into a narrow notch at the dark end of the spare, little church, next to the storage closet.
As he does each morning before unlocking the doors, Carlo runs a feather duster along the wooden frame bolted to the wall above the table. It’s a reproduction of a fifteenth-century portrait: a woman finely dressed, hair pulled up and garnished with flowers. Dainty fingers lay on her viola strings, a look of serenity on her face as if she just heard something heavenly.