Trembling With Fear 01/03/20
Happy New Year! It’s that time when people look back at the year – not sure anyone wants to at this point with 2020 being horrible in so many ways for so many people. However, there are such things as silver linings and I always seek those out, try and remain glass half-full, though that has been tough. My high points were the publication of my novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel and novella, Bottled. I hope you can also find your own pluses in last year.
2021. What will it bring for you? I know I’ve made the decision to change my lifestyle and have handed in my notice at work so my husband and I can return to a more rural setting. Doing this in the middle of a pandemic is somewhat stressful(!) but it’s all set in motion so whatever happens, I’m sure we’ll cope. If you are planning on making your own changes, making resolutions, I wish you look. Perhaps at the end of 2021 we can compare notes.
TWF contributor Steven Deighan, not only provides us with this week’s leading story. He also has a novel, Bethany Chiller, available on amazon. Snag a copy and let him know your thoughts! You can pick it up here.
***Important Notice – Bios!*** I have a folder holding many bios, most are probably out of date. I will be clearing out all these bios and starting afresh for 2021. Please can I ask all submitters to TWF to make sure they include their bios when submitting new stories so that we are as up-to-date as possible. Thank you! 😊
Trembling with Fear starts with Nightmare After Midnight by Steven Deighan is a ghost story centring on childhood tragedy. Despite the horror of the situation, I enjoyed this tale because of the clear bond between siblings and the elder’s desire to support the youngest during this time. Building on emotion really pulls the reader in.
Nothing Will Grow Any More by Rader DeBoard is a classic misdirection of intention.
The Heir by Mike Rader is a last line story which completely undermines the protagonist’s intentions.
The Reaper by RJ Meldrum is a bit grim but it did remind me of a true story where someone actually dressed up as the Grim Reaper and peered in at the windows of old people’s homes, with a similar effect. Art imitating life!
Enjoy the stories and send us yours!
Well. We’re in 2021.
I hope that you’re excited for the coming year and we’ve got some great stories to help kick things off for you!
A sad side note, Catherine K., our secondary TWF editor is stepping down this year. She has too much on her plate to keep up with this responsibility at this time and we wish her all the best! We’re eagerly interviewing a potential replacement and I hope that I’ll have mode details for you soon! As Steph mentioned above, she is in the process of moving too so we might be playing catch up on TWF at some point so I hope to be working with her soon around that time to try to pre-schedule as much as humanly possible to ease the stress of moving and settling in and not having to worry about this at the same time 😉
Also, because I decided to apply to an MBA program so my already crazy busy life is about to get even more hectic. More can be read on that in our Welcome to 2021: Hope You Survive The Experience post!
Image by Beth Godfrey.
Nightmare After Midnight by Steven Deighan
The first time I saw them–those bony, pale limbs that dangled from the top bunk–I knew they couldn’t have been real.
I mean, how could they have been?
Leukemia can be a cold, indiscriminate killer. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia–now that’s a mouthful for most people, but even more so for my younger brother, Steven, who was eight.
“Do you think I’ll ever get used to saying it?” Steven asked me occasionally from his hospital bed; woefully, most days.
At twelve, I was more aware of the condition than young Steven was. I had to keep positive–we all did. Mum and Dad, our grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins.
“Course!” I said back. “You’ll be saying it in your sleep soon!”
The hospital visits were manic, but Steven rarely needed overnight or lengthy stays in. Though we preferred most days that he remain in bed or, at least to stay relaxed at home, Steven took to being just as energetic as most other boys that age. But the signs and symptoms eventually surfaced. Those were early signs that we saw but didn’t quite register despite all the literature we had been handed and verbally fed by clinicians, because it was tough trying to work out just what was common with his illness, and what wasn’t.
One night, Steven was up on the top bunk–my bed space, usually–whilst I lay on the bottom. We were each laying on our left side, such was the position of the bunkbeds and the TV that was screwed to the wall. Though it was not my cup of tea at that age, Steven preferred to watch spooky YouTube videos–or listen to them: short, narrated audio tales. Serial killers, skinwalkers, missing people–it freaked me out a bit, but to him I think it helped make sense of the unfair world he was cast into. You know; why terrible things happen to good people, and all that. To me, there wasn’t much sense to be made from it, even more so with these horrific situations some unfortunate folk find themselves in. I doubted many of these stories were real, but they did seem to serve some purpose, I concluded: they were warnings.
“Can you turn it up a bit?” Steven asked, drowsily.
“Sure,” I said.
I found the remote control and thumbed the volume up a few digital notches.
“Did you like that last one?”
“The one with the blood-covered cash machine?” I replied.
“Yeah! I’d just keep the money under my bed.”
“Our bed!” I said, lightly punching the mattress through the slats above.
I usually had sleepovers at friends’ houses come weekends. It was nothing personal–I had grown out of that young age Steven was in the middle of, and since I’d not long started high school my interests in computer games and video apps had waned. Up on our bedroom walls sat shelves filled with sports trophies–all in my name. I was an active teen.
I could hear him rolling in his bed; he was agitated; seeking ways to get comfortable before falling asleep.
“I don’t mind,” I said.
There was no answer. I was about to repeat myself when I heard him starting to snore. He had found that sweet spot that would give him a few hours’ rest.
I don’t mind, I thought myself to sleep.
I woke up a few hours later; the YouTube videos had either finished, or the internet crashed, for the screen was stuck on a horror graphic too eerie to look twice at.
As I felt around the covers for the remote to turn off the TV, something caught my eye. It appeared Steven was sitting up in the bed above, as his legs were hanging over, almost touching the top ladder-rungs.
“Steven?” I whispered. “You okay?”
No answer. Perhaps he had got up and conked back out. I tried whispering out again a little louder, but got nothing. I didn’t fancy him sleepwalking down the ladder.
I was more awake by now; the black and red of the TV graphic was more visible and shocking, and the stationary legs with matching wrestling socks was enough to get my blood pumping in anxiety.
I sat up and was about to lean forward and playfully push the legs when I heard a voice above and behind me:
It was Steven. He was leaning over the side looking down at me, despite his legs being three or four foot down the bed. Impossible–unless you were David Copperfield splitting yourself in half in one of his many crazy illusions.
“I thought you were coming off the bed,” I started. “I saw your legs down there and I–”
When I turned to point to the limbs, they were gone.
“I woke up when you called on me. I’ve been lying here, facing the wall.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I told him. “Just go back to sleep.”
That, we both did.
In the early hours of one morning the following week, we had to rush Steven to hospital for what would be the last time. I had lain under the top bunk earlier that night, having my last conversation with my younger brother.
“How are you feeling tonight?”
I heard him rolling about again. His energy had drained to near zero.
“I feel like I’ve been hit by five or six trucks!”
“Really?!” I said. “That’s pretty exact! Well, you sound good!”
“Can you put one of the videos on?” he asked, draping his hand over with the remote.
It was a shame, but he must have been really tired to be unable to work the remote. I took it from him and opened the YouTube app on our TV. I quickly found the stories he liked–some ran into hours’ worth of narration–and clicked play. The monotonous voice of an adult male began the audio chills, whilst I only had a few hours to wait for my own visual scare.
The rain tapping at the window woke me, and to add to my distress the horror stories continued to drone on from the TV. I was sure some of the tales had filtered uninvitedly into my dreams, such was their impetus and ability to shock.
It was just after 3am. I could hear Steven snoring again; nothing like he would be in a few hours’ time, gasping for air and turning pale and deathly. My little brother.
I thumbed the mute button on the remote; suddenly, without sound the whole room came alive with only the illumination from the TV: I could see all our toys and drawer sets, casting meagre shadows across the floor and walls that both grew and shrunk in size from the TV light. The rain on the glass made it sound like there were thousands of tiny creatures attempting to break in, like maddened insects flying blindly into the pane.
I swivelled my legs out the side and got into a sitting crouch, so my head didn’t connect with the top bunk.
I felt something bump against my right shoulder. When I turned to see, that something was actually ‘they’, and they were pale.
I felt my stomach drop. I jumped up in fright, almost banging my head on the top bunk then. When I stood up fully, I could see that Steven was still up there, sound asleep and facing the wall.
When I looked by the ladders, I noticed those legs had vanished.
In less than 24hrs, my brother did, too.
The heart of our family was torn out mid-August, just days before Steven and I were due to restart school.
When we should have been having fun picking our new school clothes and school bags and extra-curricular sports kits, we ended up having to look up funeral attire and its subsequent furnishings. I clearly remember that time, my parents and I walking through the funeral office, reading booklets with the choicest selection of burials and cremation services. My parents chose a nice, basic-looking burial; something sweetly simple that even now, twenty years later, it still looks decent. My wife and I top it up with fresh flowers every time we visit the gravesite, and Steven’s niece and nephew assist with the maintenance of the ground around it.
I wouldn’t have them growing up not knowing who that little boy was.
The very last time I saw them–those bony limbs dangling over the top bunk–I knew they were not real.
How could they have been? Steven had been dead for over a month…
Steve Deighan lives in Scotland, UK, and has been into horror fiction for about 20years (about 25 all in; his first published short story was in 1997 – still got the £3 cheque payment!). His supernatural horror, Bethany Chiller was published by Dreaming Big Publications in Oct. 2020 – please watch out for it! His tales are dotted about the horror universe, and he loves to collaborate. Try him! His 3D horror comic book, ‘The Party’, is available for sale on eBay (UK site) but if you email and ask nicely, he’ll mail you a PDF of another illustrated story, for FREE!
Nothing Will Grow Anymore
The corn stalks stood above his head. He scanned the rows of crops that were spread out before him. This would make for a very plentiful harvest.
He reached out and lightly touched one of the stalks which immediately withered away in his grasp. Then the other plants around it began to fall as well. The rows of crops that had been healthy just mere seconds before were now shriveling up and dying.
He walked away from the land rapidly decaying around him. His job here was completed. There would be no more harvests. Famine had just struck the land.
Radar DeBoard is an aspiring writer who just wants others to find enjoyment in his work. Even though he lacks publication and experience, he hopes his work will have an impact. He has a passion for horror and finds it the most interesting genre to write.
1889. My father owned the railroad. I loathed him. I swore I’d stop his womanizing, his cruelty to my mother and me.
He traversed his empire in a gilded carriage, while I traveled with the guard. But one night in Arizona, my chance came.
When I let the rattlesnakes out of the sack and into my father’s carriage, I retreated to watch.
I heard the screams, the thrashing of bodies in his compartment, he and his mistress. The rattlers would finish them both.
It was a noisy death. Too noisy for me to hear the rattling sound by my feet.
Mike Rader is a pseudonym used by Australian author and poet James Aitchison. As J J Munro and Mike Rader, Aitchison writes horror and noir crime. As James Lee, he writes Asia’s biggest selling horror series for middle readers — Mr Midnight — which has sold over three million copies. His work can be seen at www.flameoftheforest.com
The first thing Hilda did everyday was to take a breath of fresh, morning air. She opened her curtains, expecting to see blue skies and green grass. Instead, she saw a figure dressed in a long black robe staring in at her. It held a scythe in one hand. Hilda’s heart froze. Her limbs felt weak. Her vision went dark.
John saw the old woman drop. He smiled, another success. The money he was paid to visit his clients’ aged relatives was very nice, but he derived almost all of his pleasure from the satisfaction of a job well done.
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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Stephanie Ellis writes dark speculative prose and poetry and has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her longer work includes the folk horror novels, The Five Turns of the Wheel, Reborn, and The Woodcutter, and the novellas, Bottled and Paused (all via Brigids Gate Press). Her dark poetry has been published in her collections Lilith Rising (co-authored with Shane Douglas Keene), Foundlings (co-authored with Cindy O’Quinn) and Metallurgy, as well as the HWA Poetry Showcase Volumes VI, VII, VIII, and IX and Black Spot Books Under Her Skin. She can be found supporting indie authors at HorrorTree.com via the weekly Indie Bookshelf Releases. She can be found at https://stephanieellis.org and on Blue Sky as stephellis.bsky.social.