This is my stop during the book blitz for Beneath the Ferny Tree by David Schembri. This book blitz is organized by Lola’s Blog Tours. The book blitz runs from 7 till 13 January. See the tour schedule here.
By David Schembri
Genre: Horror/ Mystery
Age category: New Adult, Adult
Release Date: 20 December 2018
Dig into the cold earth, pull away the damp leaves and burrow deep down to uncover true darkness…
Face the horror of war-torn Germany with Edmund as he fights to rescue his family. Confront the same overwhelming dread as Cody, in the midst of a futuristic prison, is haunted by his past and desperate for a chance at redemption. Discover true monsters aboard a slaver’s ship on the high seas and witness a more twisted side to Christmas.
Uncover these and other bleak mysteries in Beneath the Ferny Tree.
You can find Beneath the Ferny Tree on Goodreads
You can buy Beneath the Ferny Tree here:
Watch the book trailer here:
Excerpts from Beneath the Ferny Tree.
A Horror Collection
The Unforgiving Court
There is a fear of things that dash from tree to tree,
In haunted places where creatures bear no breath.
To be caught seeing their skin, scarred and pale,
Is an Omen for certain Death.
Umschlagplatz, Warsaw Ghetto, 1941.
The boxcars loomed in the distance before a sea of petrified faces. Fabiane’s hand was hot in Edmund’s grip as they were forced along the flow of the crowd. Helina, their daughter, cried in-between them, clasping her suitcase to her chest. The whistle of the black steam locomotive pierced the air. German infantry and SS officers had begun to penetrate the masses. Edmund looked on in horror as everyone was divided. Machine-gun fire cracked as warning shots were blasted into the sky. “Stay close!” Edmund yelled to his family.
The condemned were being sent to the left and right of the platform. Edmund saw the boxcars, normally used to transport cattle, being filled with terrified civilians.
“What is happening?” Fabiane cried.
Edmund looked deep into her eyes. He had never seen her so pale, so frightened. “Help us, Papa?” Helina begged and he drew her close and kissed her hard on the forehead.
The division had reached them.
“No!” Fabiane screamed when her shoulder was grabbed.
Edmund held his grip firm and Fabiane surged towards him. A soldier’s gloved fist met her jaw. Edmund looked on in terror as the trooper shoved her away. He cried with Helina as they watched Fabiane scream back at them, her arm raised to the sky as if she were drowning. “Edmund! Edmund! Helina!”
“I love you!” Edmund cried, but before he knew it, Helina was snatched from him also, shoved into the flow that claimed his wife.
Edmund was forced to follow a surge of countrymen to the right.
He could still hear their screams when he was loaded onto a truck.
The treacherous journey went on for what seemed like days. It was enough to shake one’s bones to the point of breaking. Two German troopers, clad in winter coats and with rifles strapped over their shoulders, rode against the tailgate. They stood against the backdrop of a red dawn that felt like the entrance to hell itself.
The crank and squeal of the brakes shook everyone. Startled from a somnolent daze, Edmund looked upon the bemused faces of his countrymen. The two troopers leapt off the tailgate and their boots hit snow. Edmund looked upon the snow as it fell from the heavens.
The heavens that had forsaken them all.
He could hear German voices in the surrounds. A gate was opened. The truck’s engines were throttled again, and barbed-wire fences passed by. Through the haze of falling snow, Edmund could see troops closing the gates. The truck stopped, and the engine was killed. His head ached at the sudden absence of the roaring motor that had thundered his ears for so many long hours. The tailgate was dropped, and they were ordered out.
Edmund was seated close to the rear, so he was one of the first to exit. They were all lined up, hands on heads, along the length of the beast that had taken them so far. Four soldiers stood before them. Edmund looked beyond their helmets to see a decent occupation of German military. Mostly infantry soldiers, either marching along the boundaries or towards what looked to be a large, two-storey building. The haze of snowfall clouded the hefty Swastika flags that waved lazily from the rooftops, and the flag of Nazi Germany centred between them – high and proud atop a small bell tower.
Edmund was scared to his very marrow. He wondered what Fabiane and Helina would be seeing. One of the soldiers marched toward them, selected two from the line-up and led them out of sight. Soon, two more troopers appeared escorting an SS officer – tall, thin, and wearing distaste upon his face. His coat was double-breasted and secured with gold buttons and a thick, black leather belt. A Luger automatic pistol was holstered at his hip, along with accompanying pouches, housing ammunition no doubt.
He walked slowly to Edmund’s end of the line with his hands casually crossed behind his back. He walked down the line-up with eyes of piercing inspection.
“I am SS Commandant Gotifried Harrer. This is my Weimar Headquarters. To the south of this site is the labour camp of Buchenwald. Here, we need a labourer. You have been brought to me because you are all farmers!” he said and reclaimed his position.
The two countrymen returned, rolling a large, freshly-sawn slab of a pine tree. An axe was dropped onto the wood and the men hurried back into line.
“Take the axe. Have two attempts. Once you have taken your turn, step back into line at once! I will decide who will work to survive,” said Harrer.
In that moment, a soldier grabbed the man next to Edmund – the first in line – and thrust him before the slab. The man grabbed the axe in trembling hands. Edmund looked on as two quick cuts were made. The countryman dropped the axe and ran back into line.
It was Edmund’s turn.
Shoved towards the slab, he held the axe as firmly as he could. In all of his fear, he looked at the slab as it was being lightly covered in snowfall. He eyed the knots in the grain. Edmund had chopped many slabs of wood in his time and knew where to aim. He feared that two attempts would not be enough.
“Hacken!” ordered Harrer.
Edmund quivered and raised the axe and put as much might into his first attack as he could. He aimed away from the knots, and created a deep fissure in the left quarter of the pine. He steadied his footing, and with the faces of his family embedded in his mind, swung again. Splinters flew as the left portion of the slab was cut clear. He kept his eyes shut and exhaled, almost crying, and let the axe fall from his grasp. To survive would leave hope, no matter how small, to see his family again.
Before Edmund reclaimed his place, Harrer shouted, “Halt!”
Edmund obeyed and turned, his trembling hands instinctively raised above his shoulders.
Harrer gestured a harsh finger, ordering for Edmund to stand aside. Edmund did so and was held clear of the soldiers before the line-up. Then the echoing voice of the Nazi shouted, “Feuer auf mein Kommando!”
Edmund whimpered; he had learnt how to speak German from his father. Having traded with German farmers it was customary to learn the language. He knew what Harrer had just ordered. The soldier behind him shoved his shoulder as if to silence him, yet Edmund continued to whimper.
The crack of rifle fire erupted, reducing the countrymen into a line of motionless bodies in the snow.
Edmund’s vision blurred through his tears. Harrer stepped before him. “Your duties here will be to collect and chop wood to feed the fireplaces within the Headquarters. Store your wood by the rear door in the provided bucket for the house attendants to retrieve. If you are seen doing anything other than your duties, if the attendants complain of not having sufficient wood, you will be executed. Food and water will be supplied once a day. Your quarters are located to the west behind you.”
Edmund nodded before being left alone, cold and petrified.
It took several moments before he had the courage to roll the pine west. As he laboured with the wood, he burdened himself with the axe beneath his arm. Edmund eyed the building to his right. Its geometric architecture looked newly-built with perfect ninety-degree angles. White boards, and a tall tiled roofline with four chimneys reaching for the angry sky. The further he pushed on, the more he thought of Fabiane and Helina. It had been over two days since he last saw them.
He reached the rear of the house and stood gasping. A shelter, little more than a shack fit to house firewood, stood before him. He slid open the door, stumbled in and looked at the interior. There were holes in the roof and the walls were made of rusted sheeting. His heart sank further when he saw a makeshift bed to his left, crudely constructed from timber. Upon it was some damp bedding – a single army blanket and a small pillow. He noticed some writing on the outer panelling of the door painted white in large letters:
Arbeit Macht Frei.
Work brings freedom.
The floor of the shelter was the ground itself, muddy with melted snow. The wind whistled through the many holes in the walls, and he wrapped his arms around himself and shivered. Before long, he decided to inspect the exterior. A small port, with a single piece of sheeting for a roofline, housed an old wood cart and a small assortment of rusted saws.
He then braved the wood bucket by the rear of the Headquarters. He trudged his way over and noticed to his left that soldiers were walking in and out of a single-storey building. Their barracks, he guessed.
To his surprise, the bucket was full by the rear door. He couldn’t help but think that someone else had died to fill it. He then noticed the nearby woodlands further south. He knew with heartache that Fabiane and Helina were imprisoned within the distance.
He spent hours thinking of the sign that was painted crudely on the boxcars that had swallowed them.
Buchenwald, it read.
Edmund kept working until night and cold demanded he stop. He was exhausted when he entered the darkness of his shelter. He dropped to the bed that may as well have been made out of a slab of stone. He listened to the thud of his broken heart, the ache of his bones, and the painful rumble in his stomach.
Beneath the Ferny Trees
My grandma, when a little girl,
One gloomy, storm-cloud night,
Ran up the path around her house
To see a dreadful sight;
Among the twisted, ferny trees
In shadows dense and black,
A gathering of terrors lurked
Around a moving sack.
Foul lights lit out from their great eyes,
A glowing, red and bright,
Brought forth the sack—released the prize,
To slay with great delight.
And I then saw the feasting beasts—
“The horror!” Grandma cried.
So off I ran back to the house
Beneath my bed to hide.
My ears could hear the distant screams,
And many tears were shed.
I cried in mourning for that soul,
Devoured by the dead.
There was no mistake.
Norman rubbed his eyes, thinking the gloom might have been playing tricks on him. Or was it the half bottle of whisky in his gut?
He was real, hunched over, jostling through a large sack.
The yellow rays of light that seeped in through the living room window gave hints to a frizzled, white beard.
“I know you’re there, Norman. You can stop hiding in the shadows,” Santa said.
Norman hesitated then stepped out of the hallway. “I-I-I can’t believe it,” he said with a dry throat. Sweat covered every inch of him, the loose drapes of his checkered pajamas stuck to his legs and arms, making them itch. “You’re really real!”
“Why would there be any doubt?” Santa said, straightening and turning to him.
He was huge. Not just big, but almost giant-like. Seven foot at least, Norman thought as his heart quickened.
“I-I wanted things. Y-You never came,” Norman said.
“That was a surprise to you?” Santa said, resting his huge hands on his hips.
“Come now, Norman. As a child, you were as naughty as they came. Stealing baseball cards. Bullying poor Kenny Jarrett; he’s still seeking therapy for your constant thefts during grade school. He might be a successful real estate agent now, but he still frowns at his scarred feet. Remember the firecracker you hid in his sneakers?”
“It was just a joke,” Norman said with a shrug, but knew it was vengeance. “He told on—”
“—and so he should have!” Santa said, his voice a little louder. “Too bad that Kenny wasn’t the only one to suffer your brutal, stealing behaviours.”
Norman lowered his head, remembering the other incident.
When he was twelve, he tried to trade baseball cards with Ricky Burke; he had a popular Roger Clemens card but wasn’t trading it for anything. So he’d dragged Ricky out to the street, stretched out his left arm over the concrete gutter, and brought his foot down on it like he was breaking a heavy stick. He stole the card and swapped it weeks later for one of Craig Biggio.
“Norman. . .” Santa sighed, nodding his head, as though hearing his thoughts. “So naughty for silly cards.”
“I know. But if I was so bad, why are you here?”
Santa huffed out a small laugh. “Well, although you were a menace, you have somehow managed to raise a delightfully good, little girl.”
“Indeed. She shares her toys, helps children in class, and has been known to help the odd old lady across the street. Sometimes, things like this can’t be explained. Your daughter is an angel, so I’m here for her.”
“What have you brought?”
Norman watched as the giant man in red leant down to his sack and lifted a long gift, ornately wrapped in paper flecked with gold and red stars, and tied with a thin, curly ribbon.
The gift unwrapped on its own, as though by invisible hands, revealing a boxed Barbie Doll by Stefano Canturi. The white jewels around the small neck sparkled when they caught the light.
“Th-That doll. . . that can’t be found any—”
“—are you forgetting who I am?”
Norman lowered his head.
“Your daughter deserves the best,” Santa said as the paper and ribbon wrapped and wound itself around the expensive collector’s doll.
Santa placed it beneath Norman’s tattered excuse for a Christmas tree.
Norman cowered a little as Santa rose, staring down at him. “Try and be good, Norman. You’re doing something right to have such a kind little girl. Be good, now?”
Norman watched as Santa and his sack transformed into an array of gold sparkles. Like a swarm of bees, the sparkles swirled around him and raced up the chimney.
Norman waited for endless moments, collected the gift from under the tree and raced upstairs to the tired computer by his bed.
The doll would fetch a great price on eBay.
End of excerpts
David Schembri is an author, artist, genre poet and designer from rural Victoria, Australia. He is the author of several short stories, and his first graphic collection, UNEARTHLY FABLES, was published in 2013.
David’s poetry has been published in several issues of the Hippocampus Press Magazine, Spectral Realms edited by S.T. Joshi. The Anno KlarkAsh-Ton Anthology and Strange Sorcery magazine released by Rainfall Books. His latest poem is published in issue 13 of Midnight Echo.
David lives with his lovely wife and children.
BENEATH THE FERNY TREE is his second released and is published by Close Up Books.
You can find and contact David Schembri here: