Tagged: Short Story

Trembling With Fear 4-7-24

Greetings, children of the dark. I’m neck deep in fairies as I write this, getting ready for my big Fae Day event which, by the time you read this, will be over. I feel like I’ve been less engaged in this edition of my Writing the Occult events, and I’m not sure why: life, probably, but maybe also I’m just not a fairy person? Who knows. Maybe by the time you’re reading this, I will have been converted and will be looking under rocks and behind bark for evidence. I’m feeling like a bad Celtic-blooded human right now!

But for that reason, we’ll go straight to the good stuff this week.

Well, first I should remind you that our April short story submissions window is open for just one more week! They are coming in thick and fast, and we are going to have to make some tough decisions. We just can’t run more than one short story a week for many, many reasons, and we get dozens and dozens submitted in each window. We used to get dozens every week, which is why we had to move to the windows! Submissions guidelines are here, and you submit by using this form, making sure to choose TWF from the drop-down box underneath the name field. Please, please upload your story in an editable document format, not a PDF and not posted into the form. And our process is not automated, so it might take me a while to acknowledge receipt of your sub. I will get there, I promise. TWF is powered by human volunteers. 

Remember, though, that we are definitely open to drabble submissions every day of the year, so if you’re not successful with your short, maybe go shorter? Give it a try?

Anyways, this week’s TWF menu. Our tasty main course comes from J.L. Royce, who’s gone off for a hike in the Michigan wilderness. That story is followed by the short, sharp speculations of:

  • Brian Maycock’s lazy long weekend, 
  • Noah Wood’s collective creep-out, and 
  • Richard Meldrum’s meeting in a dark alley.

Speaking of the boss man, he’s one of the panelists at Saturday’s British Fantasy Society online event day. The whole day is about “the book journey”—all those things besides the writing!—and I’ll be moderating the panel on marketing featuring Stuart, Jenn Hanson-dePaula from Mixtus Media, and indie writers and promo machines Beverley Lee and Nicole Eigener (aka Nicoverley). Ever wondered how to get your writing *out there*? Join us! It’s free for BFS members, and just £5 for everyone else, plus it will also be recorded if you can’t make any/all of it live. Details are over here.

Over to you, Stuart.

Lauren McMenemy

Editor, Trembling With Fear

 
We have a new site sponsor for the month, so if you’re looking to pick up a new book, I highly suggest The Dark Man, by Referral and Less Pleasant Tales by Chuck McKenzie!
 
***
 
 

Spent a LOT of time on Shadowed Realms and site stuff this last week. Nothing quite ready for an update but a lot will be announced soonish!

And now the regular announcements:

  • Don’t forget – Trembling With Fear Volume 6 is out in the world, and if you’ve picked up a copy, we’d love a review! Next year, we may be looking to expand past just the Amazon platform. If we do that, what stores would you like to purchase your books from?
  • ATTENTION YOUTUBE WATCHERS: We’ve had some great responses so far but are open to more ideas – What type of content would you like to see us feature? Please reach out to [email protected]! We’ll be really working on expanding the channel late this year and early into next.
  • For those who are looking to connect with Horror Tree on places that aren’t Twitter, we’re also in BlueSky and Threads. *I* am also now on BlueSky and Threads.
  • If you’d like to extend your support to the site, we’d be thrilled to welcome your contributions through Ko-Fi or Patreon. Your generosity keeps us fueled and fired up to bring you the very best.

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

(more…)

Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eleven – Finale

  1. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part One
  2. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Two
  3. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Three
  4. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Four
  5. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Five
  6. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Six
  7. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Seven
  8. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eight
  9. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Nine
  10. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Ten
  11. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eleven – Finale

 

 

Part Eleven: Dread Knows No Escape

 

After what felt like hours, Jeffrey finally mustered the courage to turn the flashlight back on once he could hear only the faint shrieks from below in that cursed chamber. Reaching the final ascent, he scrambled up out of the pit by bracing himself against those sickeningly slimy walls. It was only once he reached the hallway after sprinting along the rocky passage that he felt his stomach churning once again and vomited onto the floor, collapsing from exhaustion after a few moments. The man-made walls around him contrasted with the rocky tunnel just a few feet away, yet he felt no sense of relief- no sense of escape from the pit. The straight lines of the hallway and the pristine, neat door at the end appeared as a façade, masking the crushing weight of the universe’s savagery all around. The cheap veneer of control and order- human might and intelligence- was corroded all around him by knowing the brutal reality of was to come. All he could see were the fleeting, distracting pleasures given to a pig being fattened for slaughter, but he knew they would never taste sweet to him again- not after this night; not after seeing the rotted substance beneath a ravishing face. 

Jeffrey pushed the door open and stumbled into the main corridor, tracking ugly mildew and slime behind him. The early hours of the morning had brought the first employees in for the day, and he was soon whisked away by guards. His limp body slumped into a chair at the table in the holding room after a dazed walk through the building as he was escorted past bewildered workers looking from their laboratories. 

“Where’s Mr. Survant?” a security officer curtly asked. 

“W-who?” Jeffrey asked.

“Alan Survant, the other custodian on your shift,” the officer clarified.

“In the- in the cavern…” Jeffrey answered after a long pause, trailing off as the shrieks filled his memory again; he realized he’d never heard Alan’s last name until now. 

“You mean the bore hole behind door 4135 in corridor S-2 where we found you?” 

“I-I guess that’s it. The hole at the end of the tunnel… that’s where we were.” Jeffrey rolled the guard’s words around in his head, reflecting on the pit’s man-made nature that had not occurred to him. The story about the abandoned mining operation returned to his mind now. 

“Why were you back there? And how did you get access?”

“I don’t know- I woke up there. Alan had brought me there I think,” Jeffrey recalled. 

“Are you saying he assaulted you?” 

“He had a gun… he said I had to go into the pit,” Jeffrey’s recollection blurred as he tried to recount the night. “We were down there- we saw all of it.” 

“You saw the tunnel, you mean?” 

“Well, it was the- the…” he struggled to find the words. “It was moving, there were bodies.” 

“Sit tight for me, I’ll be back in a minute,” the officer abruptly announced as he exited the holding room, leaving Jeffrey alone to process the images in his mind- the images which could hardly be distinguished from those in his dreams over the past months. 

“Jeffrey, right? My name is Dr. Rechian.” A woman quickly entered the room and sat across from him, setting her notepad on the table and preparing to write. “You say saw something after you entered the-”

“I fell into it,” Jeffrey corrected, feeling as though he needed to communicate that he would have never entered of his own volition. 

“Right, you say that you saw something. Movement or bodies of some sort?” 

“Like I told the guard, ma’am, I saw the- the thing down there. It-I-it was, at least I thought- yes it was moving. It was there,” Jeffrey stumbled over his words, noticing the increasing difficulty he had in remembering the horrific entity in the cavern. 

“And these bodies- How many were there?”

“They were people… they were bodies of people,” he explained. “You know all of this, right? You know about what’s in the pit, or the bore hole, right?”

“Just answer the question, please,” Dr. Rechian instructed. “How many bodies? 

“At least ten or eleven, I would say… I-I can’t remember, it was hard to tell when they were around us.” 

“Around you? What do you mean?” she sharply asked, clearly taken aback by his answer.

“Well- they moved- they walked… or moved somehow… they came right toward us. I left, I left and I had to push through, I…” 

“And this creature, where did you see it? Was it with the bodies?” Dr. Rechian continued after visibly processing his answer in her own mind for a moment. 

“They were all in the same place. The thing… I don’t understand how it was… I can’t see why it would be like that… it filled all the room in front of us.” 

“Okay, take a minute to breath,” she advised, seeing the terror of recalled memories creep across his face and fill his eyes as he spoke. “Can you tell me what it looked like? What do you remember?” 

“I-I don’t know… I don’t know. It was so much- there were so many- I don’t know why it was like that,” he continued to repeat, sinking in his chair as the crushing recognition of helplessness once again closed in around him. 

“Okay, Mr. Wright, thank you for your time.” Dr. Rechian stood from her chair and began to leave the room. “Wait here and a paramedic will be in shortly to check you out.” 

“Wait, please, I-I don’t know what to do!” Jeffrey had become visibly frightened, gripping the table with white knuckles. “Please, tell me what-I just want to know what- I need…” he trailed off in defeat.

“Mr. Wright, I don’t have answers for you. I’m sorry,” she had turned back toward him, softening her stance.

“Please, I don’t know how… I don’t know why it’s like this,” he strained for words to describe the dread inside of him.

“Look, I wish I could help you,” she said as she attempted reassurance, calculating how she should manage his pleas.

“Those bodies… why did they- why did they move?” Jeffrey again contemplated. “Those bodies-”

“Those bodies have been there for decades, Mr. Wright,” Dr. Rechian cut him off with a sigh, apparently resigned to the fact that giving him information would do little damage at this point. “Those corpses have been motionless in that cavern since before this facility was constructed to study them. They’ve somehow been preserved among the growth along the cavern’s walls since a mining operation sealed off the opening after the miners refused to keep working. The fact of the matter is that we don’t understand any more than you do, which is why you’re in here and not in the back of a patrol car right now.” 

“Then… because they’re moving now, are you going to do something? What do you plan to do with them?” 

“As of this morning, they’ve all disappeared- and we didn’t find Alan Survant’s body down there either,” she replied with an informative coldness, though her voice betrayed the unsettled and disturbed fear that had fallen over the entire facility. “A new branch of the cavern system seems to have opened, though. We’ll start our search there once we’ve secured the area we know about already. This thing can’t hide forever.” 

“Hide?” Jeffrey asked in bewilderment, recognizing the assumption that it was hiding to be entirely absurd. “You can’t stop it,” he muttered, the eon-old and foreboding revelations in the book and on the blade swimming through his thoughts. 

“We’ll do what we need to do,” Dr. Rechian insisted with a renewed confidence. “We’ll find it.” 

“You can’t stop it…”  

Trembling With Fear 3-31-24

Greetings, children of the dark. A quick word first up: the next short story submission window opens tomorrow, 1 April. No, this is not an April Fool’s Joke. Send in your darkly speculative fiction that’s less than 1500 words. Yes, the word count matters. No, we won’t consider it anyway if it’s a bit longer or if it doesn’t meet any of our other submissions guidelines, which you’ll find here. Make sure you use the form to submit, and that you choose TWF from the drop-down menu, and then indicate it’s a short story and upload in a .doc or .docx please, otherwise we might not see it or be able to review it. The window closes in TWO WEEKS. 

Anyways…

After last week’s missive about neurodiversity, it’s somewhat ironic that I’ve just taken part in a panel about creating more authentic and affecting depictions of mental illness in horror. Ironic, but wonderful: this is my passion topic. And this one was actually my first ever involvement in StokerCon! Big thanks to the wonderful Lee Murray for inviting me, and to my fellow panellists Angela Yuriko Smith, LE Daniels, and John Palisano for their honesty and insights. (Yes, I’m pinching myself that I was among them as well.) It’ll be part of the online programming for StokerCon, 30 May to 2 June; details here

I say it’s a passion topic of mine for a good reason: it’s both personal and professional. I’ve been very honest, both here and elsewhere, about my own mental health challenges and how working with dark speculative fiction can be like therapy of sorts. That’s the personal side. The professional side? Well, you’re reading it. In this role (a volunteer one, btw), I read a helluva lot of dark stories, good and bad and in between. And far too regularly, I’ll read a submission that uses mental health as a lazy trope. Listen up, writers: that sort of thing will never make it through the TWF filters. The schizophrenic serial killer, the obsessive stalker, the “nut house” (yes, we’ve had subs using that terminology) as a setting for gore and violence, using mental health as a punchline, these are lazy tropes. There is so much more you can do to explore mental health within dark fiction. 

We were asked for examples of stories that do it well, so I thought I’d share my recommendations here to show you what I mean. First up, Scott J Moses’s novella Our Own Unique Affliction uses the immortality of vampires to dig deep into ennui, existential crises, suicidal thoughts, grief, trauma, and more. It was one of my favourite reads last year. Also on grief, trauma and identity, try Cassandra Khaw’s The Salt Grows Heavy or Alison Rumfitt’s Tell Me I’m Worthless, two very different works but both searing. The obvious one for me when it comes to mental illness in dark fiction is Catriona Ward’s Last House on Needless Street—I can’t say any more because that would be spoilerific, but it’s so well-researched, well-informed, and well-executed in its representations. And on the short story side, head towards Sarah Jackson’s stories exploring trauma through hauntings. I took Sarah’s workshop on the topic at the UK Ghost Story Festival and it was so darn good…

Anyways, off my high horse and onto this week’s TWF menu. Our tasty main course comes from Joseph E. Arechavala, who’s having trouble sleeping. That story is followed by the short, sharp speculations of:

  • SG Perahim’s adventures in babysitting, 
  • Lionel Ray Green’s vengeful scarecrow, and 
  • Christina Nordlander’s floral bursts.

To finish, my usual couple of plugs. For the last time: Writing the Occult: The Fae is coming up in MERE DAYS, with a whole globe full of amazing speakers. Never fear if you can’t make the whole day—it IS long—because we’ll record it all, but only for ticket holders. Tickets are £40+bf, which gets you entry to the whole darn day as well as a recording you can come back to in your own time for all time. Tickets here

Also: I’ve roped Stuart into being on a panel at the next British Fantasy Society online event day. The whole day is about “the book journey”—all those things besides the writing!—and I’ll be moderating the panel on marketing with the boss man, Jenn Hanson-dePaula from Mixtus Media, and indie writers and promo machines Beverley Lee and Nicole Eigener (aka Nicoverley). It’s free for BFS members, and just £5 (about US$6.50) for everyone else, plus it will also be recorded if you can’t make any/all of it live. Details are over here.

Finally, last week I spoke a lot about neurodiversity in the SFFH community. After making/politely inviting members of the BFS community to share their own stories, I figured I should probably share my own. So for those interested, here you’ll find my reflection on being an “unpublished author” trying to Do The Thing while trying to understand how they actually tick. “Just make time for it” doesn’t work for some people!

Over to you, Stuart.

Lauren McMenemy

Editor, Trembling With Fear

 
We have a new site sponsor for the month, so if you’re looking to pick up a new book, I highly suggest The Dark Man, by Referral and Less Pleasant Tales by Chuck McKenzie!
 
***
 
 

Shadowed Realms is INCHING towards completion! We have a final ebook proof copy and the text for the physical copy that we’re currently reading through. Once everything looks good, we just need to finalize the covers for the print copies and we’re in business! 

I’ve got some light, neat publishing news to share for my own work as well! I have two drabbles coming out in ‘Programmed Hearts: Stories of Robots and AI‘ and three drabbles coming out in ‘Wyrms 2‘. Fun fact on the second one, two of the three have characters who are parts of other WIPs and that you may read more about down the line! 

 
 
And now the regular announcements:
  • Don’t forget – Trembling With Fear Volume 6 is out in the world, and if you’ve picked up a copy, we’d love a review! Next year, we may be looking to expand past just the Amazon platform. If we do that, what stores would you like to purchase your books from?
  • ATTENTION YOUTUBE WATCHERS: We’ve had some great responses so far but are open to more ideas – What type of content would you like to see us feature? Please reach out to [email protected]! We’ll be really working on expanding the channel late this year and early into next.
  • For those who are looking to connect with Horror Tree on places that aren’t Twitter, we’re also in BlueSky and Threads. *I* am also now on BlueSky and Threads.
  • If you’d like to extend your support to the site, we’d be thrilled to welcome your contributions through Ko-Fi or Patreon. Your generosity keeps us fueled and fired up to bring you the very best.

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

(more…)

Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Ten

  1. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part One
  2. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Two
  3. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Three
  4. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Four
  5. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Five
  6. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Six
  7. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Seven
  8. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eight
  9. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Nine
  10. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Ten
  11. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eleven – Finale

 

 

Part Ten: The Horror Beneath The Veil

 

Both men tumbled into the void, sliding and rolling through the slimy tunnel of what felt like long, fibrous grass or moss of some kind. Jeffrey could see nothing when he landed at the bottom, pitch black surrounding them both. The floor was rocky but covered with a thick layer of the biomass. As he grasped at the walls for support, he noticed they too were blanketed. 

Jeffrey heard Alan stirring in the darkness near him and hurried over to find him. Feeling around for the gun, he found Alan’s flashlight instead. After clicking it on, he could see they were in a tunnel just tall enough for him to stand, with floor, walls, and ceiling coated in green and orange biomass. The passage extended beyond where they landed, winding deeper into the earth. The glint of the light on the gun barrel showed Jeffrey where to dig it out of the stringy mess on the floor. Alan had fully awoken and stared at Jeffrey with contempt. 

“What the fuck did you just do, kid?” 

“Doesn’t matter now, does it,” Jeffrey replied. “This is what you wanted, right?” 

“You smug piece of shit,” Alan growled, climbing to his feet but keeping his distance. 

“I guess we both-”

Jeffrey was cut off by a deep rumble that shook the rock around them, disturbing the biomass and stirring up that familiar, potent scent. The dizzying wave of toxins blurred his vision, and both men reached for the walls as their knees buckled. When he had recovered his balance, Jeffrey shook his head and cleared his vision to see that Alan was also rubbing his eyes. Keeping the gun aimed at Alan, Jeffrey shined the light down the passage and peered as far into the lengthy void as he could. 

A shriek suddenly echoed through the cave, as though coming from deeper within. Both men froze at the bloodcurdling cries emanating toward them. The shrill screams lasted only a few moments, and then ceased. Jeffrey took a step deeper into the tunnel, straining to peer through the darkness. 

“We’ve gotta help!” he suddenly exclaimed, surprising even himself. 

“W-what the hell are you talking about?” Alan grimaced with confusion. 

“Somebody’s down there, we have to help,” Jeffrey replied with an almost matter-of-fact attitude.

“Kid, there’s nobody there! It’s not real, it’s just trying to draw you in,” Alan explained.

“No, there’s somebody there, she needs our help,” Jeffrey’s eyes had dilated, and his voice was quivering with adrenaline. 

“Look, its fucking with you!” Alan became more agitated. “That’s not real, it’s just a-”

Alan was interrupted by another scream echoing from the darkness. This time, the shrieking sounded like a garbled cry for “help.” Jeffrey’s eyes quickly darted between Alan and the darkness. Waving the gun, Jeffrey motioned for Alan to proceed down the passageway. 

“You’re making a mistake, it’s not real,” Alan persisted as he slowly complied with Jeffrey’s zealous gestures. 

The two men started down the passageway, Jeffrey holding the light above his shoulder and keeping the gun aimed at Alan’s back. The tunnel wound back and forth, gradually descending farther into the earth. As they walked, the crying became louder and more clearly resembled words- those of a woman calling for help. The thick darkness seemed to oppress even the flashlight’s beam of brightness, and the cold, damp air filled their nostrils with that musty, increasingly fetid scent. 

Worming and winding, the cavern was filled with the shrieks, yet remained muffled by the mossy growth on that cold, ancient rock; but the wailing was no longer singular. Jeffrey now could make out what sounded like the whine of an infant. He prodded Alan along the passage even faster now, feverishly pursuing the haunting cries without ceasing. The tunnel felt as if it began to squeeze the men as they rushed along, constricting them in an ever-tightening embrace until, to Jeffrey’s surprise, the passage abruptly opened into large space. 

Waving the flashlight around, he could see that the room was tall, the ceiling looming at least twenty feet above, and the walls on either side made the space double that amount in width. The wall opposite the two newcomers was far enough away that it remained shrouded in darkness beyond the flashlight’s reach. Shrieks and cries filled the cavern, creating a horrific chamber of frightful and chaotic noise. 

“We shouldn’t be here, kid,” Alan warned with a grimace. 

“W-where is the-” Jeffrey stammered as he looked around for the source of the blood-curdling howls. 

It was when he took a step farther into the space that a new sound emanated from the darkness ahead and froze him in his tracks. The sound was no shriek or cry, but the movement of some lumbering behemoth hefting its weight around. Jeffrey strained to see into the blackness, forcing his feet to inch forward across the squelching cave floor. As if the dark void in front of him began to move, he could barely make out the silhouettes of massive, shifting parts. The beam of light slowly began to illuminate the entity festering in the shadowed depths of that eon-old chamber. Moving in all directions, expanding and contracting as part of it lurched between the walls of that opening in the rock, Jeffrey tried to fathom what oozed into the space before his very eyes. Nausea welled up from the pit of his stomach as he beheld that revolting, putrid abomination. His broken stream of thoughts flashed between bewilderment and his inner voice declaring that only the most debased and twisted of designers could have fabricated such a thing. 

Uncountable tendrils quivered and reached out from the various sections of whatever part of the body was visible in this section of the cavern, and gaps in the mucous-covered flesh revealed innards with functions and purposes no scientific inquiry could have explained. A heaviness accompanied all the eldritch thing’s movements as it shifted its mass around, slowly easing toward Alan and Jeffrey. The great fungal horror stirred and writhed about, filling the room with that potent, musty scent; vision blurred, and heads ached; heart beats sounded like thunder; the room seemed to peel away into expansive darkness in all directions, a bottomless pit of infinity leaving all feelings of gravity and anchorage behind. Jeffrey violently shook his head, trying to blot out the dread filling the very core of his being at the emptiness around him and the smallness of his own body.

Both men now recoiled in disgust, backing toward the mouth of chamber. Jeffrey surveyed the room with his flashlight once more, and, turning back toward the door, caught in his peripheral vision a slight movement above their escape. To their dismay, corpses in all states of decay suspended by long, fibrous tendrils were descending toward the door from the ceiling. Bodies of men and women and children hung as if on the gallows, and fungal coils served as nooses fused into the necks. As the corpses’ feet reached the floor the deteriorating bodies did not crumple or collapse, but instead stood crookedly, heads limply hanging to one side as the tendrils animated the bodies’ remaining muscular systems. Malformed shrieks and cries from decaying windpipes croaked from agape mouths. The bodies shuffled forward, arms reaching out with barely functioning hands and fingers to investigate the intrusion. 

Alan, noting Jeffrey’s preoccupation with this newfound horror, leapt and knocked the gun from his hand. The corpses immediately sensed the commotion and lurched toward the two men grappling on the ground. Jeffrey kicked Alan away and scrambled toward the exit. Alan, for his part, clambered after the gun while avoiding the grasp of a corpse nearby. Jeffrey pushed through the bodies as he launched himself back into the passageway, shutting off the flashlight just in time for Alan to turn toward him with the gun aimed through the horde. 

A shot rang out in the darkness, and Jeffrey heard a swarm of dragging feet behind him in the room as he crawled along passageway feeling the wall beside him. Then, a few more gunshots pierced the garbled cries, followed by Alan’s familiar voice shouting in terror and cursing Jeffrey with vitriol as the corpses engulfed him in the pitch black. Afraid to turn on the flashlight too early, Jeffrey continued to grope along the spongy floor as he made his way up the inclining tunnel filled for a few minutes by the echoes of Alan’s agonizing screams. 

Trembling With Fear 3-24-24

Greetings, children of the dark. How goes your new season? Yep, we just celebrated the spring equinox here in the northern hemisphere, and as much as I love the dark stuff, I’m really looking forward to longer days and less need for jumpers. I grew up in Australia, after all; I just can’t get my head around layering and dressing to constantly be adding and removing warm bits!

More important than my need for sun, though: today marks the last day of Neurodiversity Celebration Week. It’s a worldwide initiative that “challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences”, aiming to transform how neurodivergence is seen within the organisations that rule our lives (work, school, daily life), to recognise the “many talents and advantages of being neurodivergent”, and to help create “more inclusive and equitable cultures that celebrate differences and empower every individual”. At least, that’s the deal according to the official blurb on its website

Why bring this to TWF on the last day of the week? Well, because neurodivergence awareness shouldn’t be confined to a single week. Because we should all be better at inclusivity across the board. Because in the last 12 months I’ve been diagnosed as a high-functioning ADHDer with strong autistic traits, including sensory processing disorder and dyspraxia, and I’m still figuring out what that means for me while also trying not to beat myself up for not knowing sooner. (Heck, they just didn’t diagnose girls in the 80s when I was in primary school!) And, importantly, because we in the genre fiction community are surrounded by neurodiversity. There’s something about fantasy, horror and science fiction that resonates with the different, the traditionally ‘othered’ of society. And I really, really love that about our community. And I want to celebrate it every day. 

So let’s take a moment to raise a glass, our fists-of-triumph, our hugging arms, and celebrate the neurodiverse writers and readers of the genre fiction community. Go forth and seek them out, or share your own stories, and let’s do what we do best: support each other. For example, in my other life as publicity and marketing officer at the British Fantasy Society, I published a few pieces this week from member writers sharing their stories, like this one from E.M. Faulds on late-diagnosed ADHD, and this searingly honest one from David Green about autism and writing and the way a lack of understanding can really hit hard. I am so proud of them for sharing their stories in such an open and vulnerable way. Head over and check out their blogs, then check out their works as well because both are fabulous humans. Here’s to the neurodiverse writers and readers of speculative fiction: We are many, and we are awesome. 

But enough of that. Let’s get to the reason we’re here (as important and, I’m sure, as much as you love my weekly ramblings!).

This week’s TWF menu centres around regular contributor DJ Tyrer’s adventures with mirrors. That story is followed by the short, sharp speculations of:

  • Cassandra Daucus’s supernatural helper, 
  • Paul Fletcher’s warning to runners, and 
  • Alan Moskowitz’s vampiric pursuits.

To finish, two quick event plugs. Writing the Occult: The Fae is coming up on 6 April, with a whole globe full of amazing speakers. Never fear if you can’t make the whole day—it IS long—because we’ll record it all, but only for ticket holders. Early bird price ticket prices end (I think!) today! After that, the price will rise to £40+bf, with sales ending the day before the event. Tickets here. (Yes, I’ll probably plug this every week until the event.)

Also: I’ve roped Stuart into being on a panel at the next British Fantasy Society online event day. The whole day is about “the book journey”—all those things besides the writing!—and I’ll be moderating the panel on marketing with the boss man, Jenn Hanson-dePaula from Mixtus Media, and indie writers and promo machines Beverley Lee and Nicole Eigener (aka Nicoverley). It’s free for BFS members, and just £5 for everyone else, plus it will also be recorded if you can’t make any/all of it live. Details are over here.

OK, enough from me. Before the stories come, as ever, it’s over to you, Stuart.

Lauren McMenemy

Editor, Trembling With Fear

 
We have a new site sponsor for the month, so if you’re looking to pick up a new book, I highly suggest The Dark Man, by Referral and Less Pleasant Tales by Chuck McKenzie!
 
***
 
 
We made some changes in the past week, which hopefully have had ads decreased a bit on the site and made everything a bit more readable. We’re still fine-tuning it, but it should be much more readable now. Fingers crossed. On top of this, we’ve made some progress on Shadowed Realms. We’re in our final area of formatting, and fingers crossed, we will soon be able to release it to the world! 
 
And now the regular announcements:
  • Don’t forget – Trembling With Fear Volume 6 is out in the world, and if you’ve picked up a copy, we’d love a review! Next year, we may be looking to expand past just the Amazon platform. If we do that, what stores would you like to purchase your books from?
  • ATTENTION YOUTUBE WATCHERS: We’ve had some great responses so far but are open to more ideas – What type of content would you like to see us feature? Please reach out to [email protected]! We’ll be really working on expanding the channel late this year and early into next.
  • For those who are looking to connect with Horror Tree on places that aren’t Twitter, we’re also in BlueSky and Threads. *I* am also now on BlueSky and Threads.
  • If you’d like to extend your support to the site, we’d be thrilled to welcome your contributions through Ko-Fi or Patreon. Your generosity keeps us fueled and fired up to bring you the very best.

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

(more…)

Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Nine

  1. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part One
  2. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Two
  3. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Three
  4. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Four
  5. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Five
  6. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Six
  7. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Seven
  8. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eight
  9. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Nine
  10. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Ten
  11. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eleven – Finale

 

 

Part Nine: The Vanity of Mankind

 

The strands of colorful biomass lightly clung to Jeffrey’s face as he lifted his head from the rocky floor. His vision gradually focused enough for him to realize he was in the cave where Alan had caught him. A dim lantern cast orange rays on the cold stone, and the pit beside him seemed to swallow the light into a bottomless void. He could hear Alan shuffling about behind him, but Jeffrey was too late to feign unconsciousness before Alan realized he’d awoken. 

“Ah, how do you feel, son?” Alan rolled Jeffrey over onto his back with the heel of his boot. 

“W-What the hell is this?” Jeffrey asked, still suffering the fog of two strikes to the head. 

“You know, I’m not sure if I’m getting careless, or if it’s just your sheer fucking tenacity, but I haven’t had to do this before.” Alan leaned against the cave wall in exasperation, looking down at Jeffrey. “Most people leave well enough alone.” 

“What is this place? Why-” Jeffrey was cut off by Alan’s interjection.

“See, kid, any questions you have are honestly pointless. You know why you’re here.” 

“Let me leave, and we can forget about all of this.” Jeffrey became agitated now as he regained his mental clarity. 

“What did you expect would happen, eh? Did you think you were going to sleuth out the case? Figure out what I was up to?” Alan paced the room now, muttering as much to himself as he was to Jeffrey. “Did you really think I didn’t notice what you were doing?” 

“What do you want?” Jeffrey pleaded with a grimace.

“Nothing you can give me, I’m afraid. You see, as much as you think you’ve learned, you’re still just as blind as you were to begin with.” Alan stopped and made eye contact with Jeffrey from across the pit. “Did you expect some book to open up the secrets of the universe?” Alan sarcastically mocked. 

“I found the knife, too,” Jeffrey defiantly rebutted. 

“Oh, I know you did.” 

“And it’s already being translated. They’ll be here soon.” 

“There’s probably nobody on their way. People don’t see because they choose not to.” Alan began pacing again. “And I don’t blame them. This isn’t what life should be,” Alan declared, gesturing to himself and Jeffrey. “Better to die ignorant than live with a scenic view of ten thousand terrors beyond your wildest imagination.” 

“Once they’ve translated the knife, they’ll know what’s going on,” Jeffrey vainly protested. 

“They might. But they won’t translate that knife any time soon.” Alan pulled the ancient blade from his jacket, caked with dried blood. “It’s a shame you had to drag others into this mess. Did you really think I would let those idiots fumble around with something like this?”

“What did you do?” Jeffrey cried in horror. 

“I retrieved what you stole. Action, consequence. That’s just about the only thing in this world that stays true no matter how much you know about this god-forsaken place.” 

“I-I can’t-” Jeffrey stammered in disbelief. 

“It’s funny, really. What’s written on this knife makes the book a bit… misleading,” Alan explained as he turned the knife over in his hands. “See, the fellah who wrote that text so long ago thought we could appease somebody- that we could survive if only we had the right help from ‘above’ or something. Complete nonsense!” 

“Then what is this?” Jeffrey asked again, despair creeping into his voice.

“The knife tells a more accurate tale,” Alan continued. “Mankind is so self-absorbed we can’t imagine a world without us at the very center of it. What a strange story we’ve concocted. This planet, Jeffrey- it’s not our home.” Alan stood beside the dark void and looked down. “It’s theirs.” 

“What are they, then?” Jeffrey pressed. 

“No idea!” Alan answered with a whimsical tone. “How’s a person even supposed to comprehend something like this? Kid, we weren’t made to know what these things are. These words, here,” he said as he pointed to the knife, “they tell the first part of the story. Whatever these things are, they’ve been here since the beginning- at least since the early days of this planet. This place was built for them, not us. We spend ten thousand years here and think this place belongs to us? Ha!” Alan scoffed. “We don’t belong here. We were placed here, son. Those ‘great ones’ you read about in the book- they put us here, and they aren’t merciful or kind. They’re cunning, cruel masters, and we’re just fucking rats to them.” 

“Then why did you kill that woman in the cave? The one I found a few months ago?” 

“Pal, I didn’t kill her. The people that killed her have a copy of the book and think they’ve figured the whole thing out,” Alan explained with a sneer. “They don’t understand there’s no stopping this. We can’t appease anybody- we were put here for one reason.” 

“And what’s that,” Jeffrey asked, slightly shifting away from the pit.

“This planet isn’t some paradise of biological flourishing, Jeffrey. It’s a feeding ground. They put us here to die,” Alan sighed as he shuffled back around the pit and knelt next to Jeffrey. “It’s not our home, it’s our grave.” 

“H-how do we stop it?” Jeffrey asked, still straining to rationalize a solution of some kind. “Why are we still here if…” 

“Don’t know, kid!” Alan interjected again. “You can’t figure this one out. There’s no mysterious formula. They’ll wake up when they wake up, and that’ll be it. They’re already stirring- have been for the past couple decades. Who knows how long we have? If I’m being honest, my theory is that they’re being held off until humanity is… juicy enough,” he said with a sly grin. “From what I can tell, we’re in some gladiator match to see which species fills up the planet fastest. Almost eight billion and counting, that’s pretty impressive. I think these things weren’t supposed to wake up the first time. Humans were too few back then. Whatever these ‘great ones’ are must have had to come and put the brakes on the feeding frenzy until dinner was ready, if you know what I mean,” he concluded with a chuckle. 

“Then why are you doing this? If it doesn’t matter what we do, why are you trying to hide it?” 

“Can you imagine what people would do? Mass panic. It would be chaos. It’s all I can do keep idiots like you from blundering into this. The government hasn’t figured it out yet,” motioning down the passage to the rest of the facility. They know it’s something bad, so they keep it a secret for now. Fortunately, they don’t understand yet that all their efforts are ultimately in vain. They can’t stop what’s coming.” 

“I swear I won’t tell anybody- I understand now,” Jeffrey pleaded, feeling he needed to negotiate his way out of this situation. “I promise I won’t-”

“Look, kid, I have no idea whether you’ll keep your mouth shut. This is me sealing the deal,” Alan motioned to the pit. “Now, go ahead and climb in.” 

“W-what? You can’t be serious,” Jeffrey exclaimed.

“Oh, just get down there already,” Alan waved a gun he had pulled from his jacket. 

“Okay! Okay!” Jeffrey held his hands up in surrender, edging closer to the pit. “Please, you don’t have to do this!” Sweat broke out across his forehead, and his arms shook as he looked into the darkness. 

“Go on now, no need to drag this out. You won’t even know what’s happening once it starts, I promise,” Alan described in an almost reassuring voice. 

Jeffrey looked over the edge, his hands pressing into the soft biomass underneath him. The darkness seemed to reach out of the pit and embrace him, unknown terrors awaiting him at the bottom. The daze of his confusion over the past weeks cleared away, and his will to survive mounted. Images from his dreams danced in the darkness below him, taking on a thousand shapes in his imagination. Hearing Alan fiddle with the gun behind him snapped Jeffrey into action- with a sweeping turn he latched onto Alan’s leg as he dropped into the pit. 

Trembling With Fear 3-17-24

Greetings, children of the dark, and Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to the Irish diaspora. I’m fighting the urge to make comments about evil leprechauns and suchlike, and am thankful I’m feeling so drained from battling the mega virus from hell all week that I can’t think of anything Irish and witty to say. (The Irish are probably thankful for that, too!)

Speaking of the mega virus from hell—’twas not the plague; the test told me so—it is the reason I’m running a bit behind on TWF correspondence at the moment. A few of you have slid into my DMs to chase me on some things, and I can assure you I’ll get to it. Hopefully in the coming days. And yes, I said “hopefully”, because I have a lot to catch up on! I promise you, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. 

With those two ridiculous paragraphs re-read, I’m telling myself it’s time to cut my fevered losses and just jolly well get on with the show. So here we go.

This week’s TWF menu is some top shelf stuff, that’s for sure. Our feature short story is absolutely stunning—and its author, Miley Chen, is a high school junior, people!! I may as well throw in the towel now… 

That story is followed by the short, sharp (and somewhat gothic/folklorish, aka right in my wheelhouse) speculations of:

  • Steven Patchett’s chosen one, 
  • Samantha Lokai’s gardening tips, and 
  • Joshua Ginsberg’s award-winning service.

I hope you enjoy these offerings as much as I did.

To finish, two quick event plugs. Writing the Occult: The Fae is coming up on 6 April, with a whole globe full of amazing speakers. Never fear if you can’t make the whole day—it IS long—because we’ll record it all, but only for ticket holders. You’ve got one week left to get tickets at the early bird price of £35+bf; after that, the price will rise to £40+bf, with sales ending the day before the event. Get in quick before that price rise! Tickets here. (Yes, I’ll probably plug this every week until the event.)

Also: I’ve roped Stuart into being on a panel at the next British Fantasy Society online event day. The whole day is about “the book journey”—all those things besides the writing!—and I’ll be moderating the panel on marketing with the boss man, plus Jenn Hanson-dePaula from Mixtus Media, and indie writers/promo machines Beverley Lee and Nicole Eigener (aka Nicoverley). It’s free for BFS members, and just £5 for everyone else, plus it will also be recorded if you can’t make any/all of it live. Our panel will be up last, at 4pm UK time (11am East Coast / 10am Chicago for the boss’s diary). Details are over here.

And now it’s over to you, Stuart.

Lauren McMenemy

Editor, Trembling With Fear

 
We have a new site sponsor for the month, so if you’re looking to pick up a new book, I highly suggest The Dark Man, by Referral and Less Pleasant Tales by Chuck McKenzie!
 
***
 
 
We’ve had a lot of people reach out over the last three weeks about the notable increase in ads on Horror Tree. Not only do we hear you, we see it as well. The number of ads has skyrocketed. I went in with our ad provider and manually lowered it, but it didn’t have any change. I’ve got an open ticket with our ad network to troubleshoot the issue. I’m hoping that within the next week, things will settle down a bit on exactly how much is being shown. Fingers crossed this doesn’t drag on for a long time as we really can’t afford to lose our ad revenue, but we also won’t have any readers if they stay how they are. So… Hopefully soon. I’ve been in contact with them all week about the issue.
 
And now the regular announcements:
  • Don’t forget – Trembling With Fear Volume 6 is out in the world, and if you’ve picked up a copy, we’d love a review! Next year, we may be looking to expand past just the Amazon platform. If we do that, what stores would you like to purchase your books from?
  • ATTENTION YOUTUBE WATCHERS: We’ve had some great responses so far but are open to more ideas – What type of content would you like to see us feature? Please reach out to [email protected]! We’ll be really working on expanding the channel late this year and early into next.
  • For those who are looking to connect with Horror Tree on places that aren’t Twitter, we’re also in BlueSky and Threads. *I* am also now on BlueSky and Threads.
  • If you’d like to extend your support to the site, we’d be thrilled to welcome your contributions through Ko-Fi or Patreon. Your generosity keeps us fueled and fired up to bring you the very best.

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

(more…)

Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eight

  1. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part One
  2. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Two
  3. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Three
  4. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Four
  5. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Five
  6. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Six
  7. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Seven
  8. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eight
  9. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Nine
  10. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Ten
  11. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eleven – Finale

 

 

Part Eight: The Text of Terror

 

Having arrived home from the tavern on a night off work, Jeffrey collapsed into bed and fell asleep, drifting into his now-typical nightmares haunted by the ever-nearing shadow in his peripheral vision. To his relief, however, he was soon interrupted by Clara climbing into bed next to him. Contrary to what he expected, she reached over to him with a warm touch and pulled herself next to him. Surprised by her affection, Jeffrey turned toward her and returned the gesture by pulling her into his arms. The passion of her intimacy that followed further bewildered him, but almost immediately confusion gave way to desire, and the frightening forms of reality melted away. Jeffrey’s sleep for the rest of the night featured few of the terrorizing dreams, and he slept clinging to Clara’s hand as an anchor. 

As sunlight entered the room the next morning, Jeffrey lifted his head from the pillow and looked around the room. She lay next to him, buried in the blankets with her arm still extended toward him and clasping his hand. Sitting up in bed, he heard the apartment door open and close as somebody entered. The crushing anxiety of the past few months immediately rushed back into his thoughts, with images of a shadowy figure gliding through the apartment toward the door. Fright quickly turned to confusion in a matter of seconds when he recognized the figure who appeared at the bedroom door was Clara. 

“Who the fuck is that?” Clara cried out in complete shock.

“I….” Jeffrey could hardly form words in his state of equal astonishment. 

“What are you doing?” she exclaimed. 

“I thought… where-” Jeffrey gave up on his disoriented response as Lila sat up in bed beside him. She looked with confusion at Clara and then at Jeffrey as she pulled the blankets around her.

“We’re done, you piece of shit,” were Clara’s final words to him before she stormed out of the apartment. 

“Who was that?” Lila asked after Clara had slammed the door behind her. 

“That- that’s Clara… I thought that…” Jeffrey still struggled to piece together what was happening. 

“Shit, you aren’t married or something, are you?” Lila said with a hint of suspicion. 

“No, she’s my girlfriend. Or…” he corrected himself, “she was.” 

“Why the hell would you call me if you lived with your girlfriend?” Lila scolded with a casual attitude as she slid out of bed and began to dress herself. 

“I called you?” Jeffrey asked, entirely bereft of any explanation. 

“Yeah, you called me like an hour after I left,” she explained, grabbing her purse and phone from the nightstand. “You picked me up and we came back here. Were you really that out of it?”

“I didn’t drink at all last night,” he replied, probing his memory for any trace of what Lila was describing. 

“Well, then I guess you’ve got a strange sense of humor, because this definitely wasn’t funny to her,” Lila said with a slight smirk.

“I- I just don’t remember what happened.”

“Okay, buddy. You’ve got my number.” Lila had put on her shoes and begun to leave the bedroom. “Maybe figure this out before you call me again,” she advised as she waved her hand in a circular motion.

Jeffrey sat in silence for a bit after Lila had departed, trying to understand how he had lost so much memory of the previous night. Though he knew his hallucinations must be worsening, he was loathe to acknowledge that his perception was deteriorating more precipitously every day. After pulling himself from the stupor of confusion, he made his way into the kitchen and pulled the manuscript from his backpack. Finding his spot once again, he continued to probe the ancient words. 

Their many slender branches of bright and beautiful color crept across the ground, winding through the doors of our very homes and embracing us in our sleep. Life could not return to those wrapped in them, and their flesh soon disappeared from their bones. The insatiable behemoths drank of our flesh from afar with their ever-growing reach.

The text continued for many pages in which the ancient author recorded the names of those having perished, describing each household and how it came to its end. Every account began the same way: a member of the family began acting strangely, worsening to the point of madness. The madness would consume the home, finally driving husbands and wives and brothers and sisters to a crescendo of violence in which most or all members lie dead or maimed. Even before the rest of the community found them, the colorful tendrils had infested the home and engulfed the bodies.

Beasts we found, too, were overcome by the ravenous feasting arms which traveled far from their bodies, and no tool could break their almighty grasp. The madness spread among the people, driving us to ever greater bloodshed as the land became a cistern of unfathomable sights in which we were drowning. 

So few of us were left when the great ones arrived, and our souls were broken. Oh, how gracious are they that restored the veil to our eyes. Violent bolts of light struck the earth from dark clouds above, setting fires even among the rocks. Incomprehensible speech like thunder filled the earth from above, plunging our ears into numbness. The terrors beneath the rock returned to their depths and their branches of death soon withdrew. When the dark clouds had cleared, the stars returned once more to the peaceful lights we knew them once to be, and as they remain to this day. 

The veil now covers our eyes once more, and this frightful world is hidden from us again. Most now can remember the terrors only as a dream. Some even venture to claim it never was. But upon these pages I save the memory of those times for a future generation should our appeasement of the great ones cease. Yet shall these pages remain hidden from the many until then, for knowledge of this terrible truth is a burden too heavy for the soul to carry. A person cannot think rightly knowing these things. I write this now as even I forget. We must forget. We must forget.

Jeffrey sat back in his chair, gaze fixed upon the final words in the manuscript before him. The crushing weight described by the author fell upon him with a finality he had yet to experience. He felt he knew now what was in store for him; his hands trembled at the prospect that his fundamental picture of the world was but a veil. His resolve became all the more potent as his curiosity mounted into an obsessive, consuming desire: he wanted to see behind the veil

As evening approached, Jeffrey packed his things for work, stuffing the manuscript into his backpack. The building in the gorge had already fallen under the mountains’ twilight shadows. The break room was empty when he arrived, and it looked as though Alan hadn’t arrived either. Finding it a little strange, he asked the departing crew if they’d seen Alan at all yet. He was surprised to hear Alan had called out sick, as this would be the first time Jeffrey had ever noticed him take a day off. 

Alan’s absence didn’t linger long in Jeffrey’s thoughts as he grabbed a cart and began his cleaning route. Slowly progressing from one room to the next, his mind raced back and forth between obsession and fright. Down long corridors and through dimly lit labs he muttered to himself, recalling the haunting words in the final pages of the text. A suffocating anxiety broke over him in periodic waves between bouts of manic curiosity. Jeffrey wound himself up into a frenzy trying to imagine what lay behind the veil. The shadow that had stalked his dreams for months seemed to follow him down the halls as he cleaned. Each time he could feel the shiver run through his body he would spin around to try and catch a glimpse of what he knew was there but still evaded his searching eyes. 

Corner after corner he wheeled the cart, entirely losing track of time as he went about his routine. His hands shook and his eyes darted about. The sound of shuffling footsteps suddenly drew his paranoid attention, but he was too late to avoid the dizzying blow to the side of his head. Jeffrey’s knees buckled beneath him, and he braced himself on the wall with one arm to keep from falling, only to have a second strike to his head send him reeling onto the floor. The room shrank into darkness as he saw through blurred vision that Alan was standing over him.