Trembling With Fear 01/02/22

Happy New Year everyone and welcome to the first Trembling With Fear of 2022. It’s that time for both looking back and then fixing our sights firmly on the year ahead. I sincerely hope that we finally start putting the pandemic behind us. I’ve been jabbed and boosted, though with talk of the possibility of a 4th jab, I am beginning to feel like a human pincushion! I haven’t made any resolutions although I have a mental list of things to do and I’m trying to bring a bit of discipline back to my writing, it all went a bit AWOL over Christmas. The main decision has been to try and restructure my day so that I’m not working in the evening as well – a habit grown into when I was working the day job and which has continued, resulting in little ‘free’ time. Not sure how well that’ll go!

My Christmas Day book this year was The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers, and I can’t rate his work high enough. I’ve read two of his books now and I’ll be collecting the rest. He has a wonderful way with language and he is also a poet which feeds into his fiction. I love finding a new author and collecting them. I also finished Winterset Hollow recently by John Edward Durham. Plenty of whimsy but also plenty of horror alongside the fantasy. Now I have to start a new goodreads challenge! If you want to see what I read last year, go here.

The first story of 2022 in Trembling with Fear is Pitched Terror by Bernardo Villela takes you into that dreaded realm of sleep paralysis and the tricks the mind plays. When the visions overlap into a supposed reality, the effects can be horrific.

Conspiracy by RJ Meldrum delves into the world of conspiracy theories, some of which were bizarrely shared on social media in recent times, and turns them to good effect.

The remaining drabbles are offerings from myself and Stuart. We hope you enjoy them!



Stephanie Ellis

Editor, Trembling With Fear

Happy New Year my friends!
I don’t have too much to add this week. With the holiday season, not much new has happened. I’ve been spending my time with my family and have been trying to relax. The one thing I did do, as we lost about 300 subscribers when switching from Mailchimp to Sendfox is to add an opt in form on the main HorrorTree page again (top right if you’re in desktop mode or under the “more” section if you scroll down quite a ways on mobile. I’ve also added one to our contact page AND you can also subscribe directly to our newsletter right here. Our newsletter is compiled weekly by the extremely talented Holley Cornetto and contains our favorite posts from the week, more original free fiction from around the web, and any site news we have to share with you!

I will say that for those who enjoy writing drabble, we’re once again a bit short on them and could use more! For those of you who already max the amount of drabble we will print from an author each year, we will also be adding another opportunity! That is one a month and one for each of our four specials to those who keep count and there are a couple who do fill them up and we’ve got something growing to share with you soon!

We also have a new perk coming to our Patreons soon which Steph is putting together.

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

Pitched Terror by Bernardo Villela

Valerie awoke in the dead of night. That wasn’t unusual. She could count on being roused at least once a night. She had learned to live with it, but as soon as her eyes flashed open she knew something was different. 

Her usual awakenings took either of two forms: passing consciousness, where for one reason or another she resurfaced from the sea of sleep—mere repositioning and refocus was all she needed. Two, snapping up, she would fully awake and alert instantly. This was the latter.

She checked the alarm clock on her night stand, part of her usual routine. It was on her side not Beatrice’s for this very reason.

Beatrice doesn’t need the clock on her side of the bed, her job wipes her out. 

She wanted to say something, but couldn’t speak. Couldn’t even move her jaw.

Do I have lockjaw?

How was this happening? 


Panic pumped adrenaline through her body making getting to the bottom of the mystery hard. She tried to go over the night in her mind. Valerie was slow to fall asleep in general, she came up to bed when Bea did because of it. 

Tonight there had been some wine as per usual, not an excessive amount. God knew with the coffee and cigarettes Bea gave her enough of a hassle. Valerie didn’t need to invite more criticism with borderline alcoholism.

I mean, shit Val, you’re not supposed to drink at all with the meds you take. Can you at least slow the fuck down? 

One person in a relationship was the nursemaid regardless, when they were also a nurse-practitioner it was almost intolerable. 

How come Dr. Baumgarten never mentions it?

I think you forgot. He did. They’ll all warn you but if you come back once, twice, six times and still say ‘Oh, just a glass’ they say ‘Fuck it.’

Do they, Bea? Do they actually say ‘Fuck it’? Will that be on my chart?

Bea laughed.

That wasn’t in her memory, though. She heard it reverberate through the room. Valerie scanned the ceiling, took in as much as her eyes would show her. She still felt as if she had been pinned by the shoulders to her bed. 

A shadow flitted across the wall. Was that Bea or was someone else around?

Bea entered her field of vision. She looked down at Valerie’s face—her laugh before had been full and joyous—now she cackled maliciously at her.

Again, Valerie tried to scream. She was screaming, yet no noise escaped her throat. The only sound in the room was her beloved’s laughing.

Valerie wondered how this could be happening. They had been together more than six years and she had never been mistreated—nagged, yes—but never mistreated.

Valerie was adept (Too adept, Bea would say) at sensing potential abusive behavior from her partner. She had been the victim several times over of different forms of abuse from men (father and stepfather) and women (various girlfriends). 

What did Bea do to me?

That thought would malinger about her mind. It would echo back. It was made a louder, more terrible thought by flashbacks of Bea’s face—bug-eyed in smeared blue eyeshadow (had she reapplied it?); those eyes didn’t move, she smiled before she cackled, her mouth was larger than Valerie had ever seen it. Her whole face was unlike anything Valerie ever saw her make. 

And now there Valerie was, rigid, unable to move. All she could imagine was Bea, out of her field of vision—almost anywhere in the room—with that maniacal smile still plastered on her face.

If it was possible to hear Bear panting or giggling, Valerie still wouldn’t be able to. Her heart thudding, it felt like her chest was going to explode from the inside out. 

Dueling concerns battled in her mind: Why can’t I move? and Where is she?

Valerie couldn’t see the clock. There was no time, only darkness and fear. A fear that seeped into her threatening to drown her in the darkness.


Light came into her. The light could mean death or life. It came into her eyes, not her being. It was morning. She was alive. 

She turned over. 

I can move!

Fear struck into her for a moment. The other side of the bed was empty. Bea was awake.

She rushed out to the kitchen, needing answers. She told Bea what had happened, demanding explanations before she could say a word. 

“It didn’t happen, Val! Not the way you think, anyway!”

Morning hadn’t broken in Val’s mind despite Bea’s fervent denial, she was still operating on a plane of pitched terror. Bea’s choice of words didn’t help matters.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Valerie snapped. “You laughed at me in the middle of the night when I couldn’t move. How’d you arrange that?”

“Val, you woke up and couldn’t move. I believe that. I didn’t wake up. I’d never laugh—”

Valerie started digging through her purse.

“The fuck are you doing?” 

Valerie tossed aside tissues, lipstick, lip balm, moisturizer, her wallet and found what she was looking for: a syringe.

“Couldn’t even trash it!”


“You drugged me! Paralyzed me with this!”

“Val, put that d—”

Bea approached her and tried to wrest the syringe from her hand. Val’s arm came down. The needled jammed down into her neck, just above her collarbone. She pushed down the plunger.


“911, what is your emergency?”

“Hello, this—I’m at 2121 Grimwald Street, Apartment 3C. It’s my wife. I stabbed her with a needle.”’

“What’s your name?”

“It was self-defense, she used a paralytic agent on me.”

“Name, ma’am, paramedics are on their way.”

“Valeria Barbarossa.”

“Was something in the needle?” 

“Yes, she’s unconscious, hurry!”


The ER doctor who admitted Bea was a kindly looking older man. He looked like he was plucked out of Central Casting for an old-school medical drama. A younger, more dashing doctor, ready for daytime TV, attended to Bea in the ICU. Neither of these doctors was walking toward Valerie now, but rather a tall, elegant blond woman, with short cropped blond hair, wearing a burgundy pantsuit. Decontextualized Valerie hadn’t recognized her at first. When she did she wondered How did she know to come?

That question was answered by her police escort. They had already spoken to Valerie but were taking a different tack now. They finished giving the doctor instructions, and handed her a business card. 

“Dr. Puviete.”

She extended her hand to Valerie but was looking dour. 

“I wish we were seeing each other under different circumstances. Like on Tuesday evening as per usual.”

Valerie was beside herself, unsure what was going on. 

“I assume you didn’t realize you were spinning out of control or you would have called me last night. The police called, you mentioned me, gave them my number. Do you remember any of that?”

The dumbstruck look on her face answered the question. Dr. Puviete inhaled deeply and tried to look into Valerie’s soul.

“Let’s try this another way,” she said. “Tell me what happened in your own experience.”

Tears flowed from her eyes freely. She was quiet.

“Whatever I tell you won’t have happened will it?”

“Something happened, you just don’t understand it yet.” 

Valerie recited her version of events.

“It wasn’t a paralytic agent.”

“Then why is she—”

“Comatose. Because you just put her into hypoglycemic shock.”

“It was her insulin?”

Valerie felt horrified and stupid. Her face fell, her shoulders slumped.

“I saw her laugh at me! I heard it!”

“You did,” Dr. Puviete said, reassuring her. “It was an insidious hallucination. That and the shadow on the wall both were.”

“I’m not crazy!”

“My opinion is it was sleep paralysis.”

Anger and confusion overwhelmed Valerie.

“But I was still convinced this morning.”

“Of course you were. You probably never had an episode before, you could still remember what you were thinking and lost control.”

Valerie went limp, overcome with conflicting emotions, she nearly collapsed into a heap. Dr. Puviete held her close, doing her best to console her. Valerie was only there physically. They sat in silence. Waiting to see if Bea would wake took its toll, Valerie fell asleep where rest would no longer be found.

Bernardo Villela

Bernardo Villela has short fiction included in periodicals such as Coffin Bell JournalThe Dark Corner Zine, Constraint 280 and forthcoming in Rivet. He’s had stories included in anthologies such as 101 Proof Horror, A Monster Told Me Bedtime Stories, From the Yonder II, and Disturbed. He has had poetry published by EntropyZoetic Press, and Bluepepper and others. Website: Twitter: @BernardoVillela Instagram: @bernardodeassisvillela


He was a dreary individual, intent on pushing his conspiracy theories. I had the misfortune to live next to him. He came into my garden.

“You know celebrities drink the blood of teens and the vaccine contains a microchip.”

I nodded.

“Lizard people too. They wear masks to blend in. They control governments.”

That hit a little too close to home. He’d guessed too much. I reached up and removed my mask, it felt wonderful to expose my scales to the sunlight. It warmed me. His eyes filled with horror.

“Sorry mate,” I whispered, as my claw opened his throat.

RJ Meldrum

RJ Meldrum is an author and academic.  Born in Scotland, he moved to Ontario, Canada in 2010.  He has had stories published by Sirens Call Publications, Horrified Press, Trembling with Fear, Darkhouse Books, Smoking Pen Press and James Ward Kirk Fiction.  He is an Affiliate Member of the Horror Writers Association.

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Nature’s Bounty

Outside, all was frozen, ice packing both soil and stream. Livestock and wildlife alike were going hungry. There was no feed for their pigs and even the crows were plaintive in their distress, ignoring the ragged scarecrow, a bad sign for the future. Winter had laid its deadly trap.

The farmer’s wife listed their needs, a list which their precarious finances could barely touch.

“Nature provides,” said the farmer. “But sometimes I wish she’d get a bloody move on.”

There was a knock at the door. A lost rambler.

“My, that’s a lovely jacket,” said the wife, inviting him in.

Stephanie Ellis

Stephanie Ellis is a published writer of dark fiction and poetry. Her longer work includes the novellas, Paused and Bottled, and the novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel. She is an active member of the HWA and can be found at and on twitter at @el_stevie.

It was going to be a great new year

Joseph smiled and thought to himself.
It was going to be a great new year.
He had followed the woman for weeks.
She was amazing.
Attractive, smart, funny.
She had no idea he existed.
He was going to change that.
With the last moments of her life, she would know him.
He opened her apartment door.
Into the darkness he stepped.
It erupted as something crashed into his skull.
Erica smiled.
Another victim ready.
She could not wait until he woke.
Could not wait for his screams.
It was going to be a great new year!

Stuart Conover

Stuart Conover is a father, husband, rescue dog owner, author, blogger, horror enthusiast, comic geek, science fiction junkie, fantasy fanatic, and IT professional. Somehow, with enough coffee, he is able to get everything done on a daily basis. He currently resides in the suburbs of Chicago.
You can follow Stuart at his homepage,, on Twitter at @StuartConover, On Facebook, and RARELY on Instagram.

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