Tavern of Terror vol. 9: Short Horror Stories Anthology
Tavern of Terror vol. 9: Short Horror Stories Anthology
Tavern of Terror vol. 9: Short Horror Stories Anthology

Tavern of Terror vol. 9: Short Horror Stories Anthology

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Join us for a tasting of the finest flavors of fear…

A writer’s work retreat ends in horror when he discovers the locals have a diabolical end in store for him. Bad reviews lead to bloodshed when a local theater production unleashes a sinister spirit. And a PI’s investigation leads him straight to a cozy little pub, with a reputation for terror…

Welcome to Tavern of Terror, the tavern of a thousand screams. Our bartenders are masters of the macabre. Our waitresses will send shivers down your spine. And our menu offers a tantalizing assortment of dark dreams and nightmares.

Take a sip. We promise you’ve never tasted fear like this.

And we offer a guarantee.

If you don’t end the night screaming in terror, the next round is on us…

193 pages

Mourning Flowers

The cities weren’t even pinpricks of light on the horizon, making the night thick and deep. As hard as they struggled, the scattered lamp posts couldn’t fight it off. They could only illuminate small, disjointed patches of the chipped concrete slab. The rest of the rural train station was left in darkness. Lila had been on the train for days and still hadn’t gone far enough. She couldn’t go far enough. Not after they’d found her again.

She checked her phone as the train slowed to a crawl. Dozens of unanswered texts clogged her screen. Her friends couldn’t understand why she had left. To them, it had just been another night out at Hannigan’s. The pub attracted weird people; that was the whole allure. Cheap drinks and listening to strangers spout off about ghosts and alien sightings. They didn’t understand what it meant when the woman gave her a bouquet of small crimson flowers.

Red morning glory: I attach myself to you. That’s what they meant.

Lila had stared into the woman’s dead, unblinking eyes. She had seen the hints of silver bleeding across the pupils. The woman smiled, knowing the message had been delivered and understood. Lila’s time had run out. Her husband was coming.

Lila had fled that night. That hour. She had kept the locker at the train station for this very reason. Within it was a single bag with all her essentials. Her apartment would serve as her response. More specifically, the pots of purple pasque flowers. She had crammed them onto every available surface. A sea of pointed petals and yellow centers.

Pasque: You have no claim.

Her husband wouldn’t see it that way. He would keep looking. Lila could only hope to outpace him. Confuse him. Keep jumping onto random trains that crossed the country like twisted vines.

She scrolled through the messages to distract herself as the train slowed. Each stop made her want to crawl out of her skin. She didn’t notice them until the train stopped. Regulars bid farewell to loved ones and hurried to gather their belongings. But these women didn’t move. They stood like statues, waiting, gripping bouquets before them with both hands.

Lila slid down in her seat, hunching her shoulders to better hide beneath her hood. No one else seemed eager to pay attention to the strangers, but they were noticed. And avoided. Splitting the crowd like boulders in a stream. This far north, the air itself seemed frozen. No matter how weak, the wind cut through the protection of even the hardiest snow coats. People dressed in layers, wrapping themselves with thick scarves and gloves. But these two didn’t care about comfort, logic, or body heat. The thin material of their dresses flowed like water in the breeze. Their long hair whirled around them, tangling in their ivy wreaths.

Lila pulled her heavy coat tighter around herself. Or tried to. It was an impossible task, given the odd angle she had twisted herself into. She told herself they didn’t see her. One hand slipped across the seats to clutch her backpack. If they got on, she would get off and take the next train before they got back. She would be fine. Everything would be fine.

The doors popped open with a hiss. The small sound made her flinch. She tightened her grip on her bag until her nails bit into her palms. People filed out into the night. Those on the platform crept closer. Slowing her breaths, Lila lifted her head just enough to peek out from under her hood. The women were closer now. Flurries dusted their bouquets, making their colors brighter by contrast. She strained to see them better, needing to identify them, desperate to interpret their hidden meanings.

Purple pansy: You occupy my thoughts.

Mistletoe: I surmount all difficulties.

Plum blossoms: Keep your promises.

Hot tears welled in her eyes, and her hand trembled against her bag. They were never her promises.

The women neared the window. Lila dragged her backpack onto her lap, clearing the way to the aisle. She froze when a man seemed to materialize out of the shadows. He congealed between the two women, there, but not. His sheer size made them look almost childlike in comparison. Lila’s stomach plummeted. Her primal instincts screamed at her to run. Hide. Keep as far away from him as the laws of physics would allow.

Every night for decades, she had dreamed of her husband. Of their wedding day. Of the few minutes her husband was allowed to stalk the earth. He could only come when summoned. Only remain for so long. Just enough time to make his deals and claim the souls. Lila had thought she had distorted her memories of him. Made them worse. She had been too scared, too young, to remember him correctly. The thought had comforted her. And now, she knew better. She had recalled him exactly.

The women stepped closer to the open train doors. Their eyes caught the light, reflecting it like polished silver coins. They were getting on the train. The thought pushed Lila into action. She lurched up, clutching her backpack to her chest, and rushed down the aisle. Cold air pressed against her back. Images flooded her mind. She envisioned him behind her, reaching for her. Ready to claim his bride and drag her down into the earth. To wherever it was that creatures like him could exist.

At the end of the carriage, she glanced over her shoulder, already cowering away. But he wasn’t there. Her eyes flicked to the window. They weren’t on yet. Hitting the release, she bounced on her toes, anxiously waiting for the doors to open. Pushing her way into the next carriage, she broke into a sprint. Bells sounded through the speaker, announcing that the train would be moving soon. The doors started to close. Lila shoved past a man and hurled herself outside. The icy wind crushed the air from her lungs. Her muscles cramped, and her knees buckled. She stumbled before dropping onto the platform. On hands and knees, she looked behind her. The train was moving. Slow, but quickly picking up speed. The women stood at the door, still as stone, watching her with silver eyes. Lila didn’t breathe until the train had vanished into the night. Then she picked herself up and found some warm space to hide and wait.

Hours passed before the next train came. She wasn’t sure where it was going. It didn’t matter. Wherever it stopped next, she’d get off and pick somewhere new. She sighed and settled into her seat. They didn’t keep the trains hot, but the warmth after so many hours in the bitter cold felt like a luxury. Her muscles relaxed and melted against the wall. Her eyes closed.

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