Trembling With Fear 01/16/2022
Welcome back to Trembling with Fear, our online flash zine. Many thanks to those who responded to our call for drabbles! We had a number but keep them coming!
I’m sat here waiting for the glazier as I type. The damage to our house caused by Storm Arwen back in November is finally getting looked at – the fixing will be in a couple of weeks though! Another plus has been the release of my latest novella, Paused, which I hope people will like. Initial feedback has been pretty good. I’ve a few writing projects on the go but rest assured, the 2021 TWF anthology is one of them!
Latest reads? Chad Lutzke’s Cannibal Creator, not something I would normally pick up but I’m glad I did as I discovered what a great storyteller he is. It also prompted me to finally read Of Foster Homes and Flies (a heartbreaker) and Wormwood (brutal in parts but poignant) which he co-wrote with Tim Meyer. All three of these books are novellas. I also took Kenneth W. Cain’s A Season in Hell.
Trembling with Fear starts this week with Personal Reflections on Bloody Mary by Jennifer Lee Rossman. Written in a casual tone, it sprinkles little asides and snippets as if chatting to the reader directly. It explicitly refers to our understanding of Bloody Mary, as something we can dismiss as no more than childish belief and then undermines that completely by introducing a much darker, and ultimately horrific, element. A skilfully told tale.
Captain of the Dead by Dee Grimes takes us out to sea for a survival story, but who ultimately survives is the twist.
Salon Secrets by Elyse Russell brings in my own personal horror – the trip to the hairdresser which necessitates small talk. It’s where gossip spreads and secrets are learned, or you’d think so.
Water Babies by Jonathan Worlde is a great, almost humorous twist on an alien invasion.
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Personal Reflections On Bloody Mary by Jennifer Lee Rossman
It was around midnight that the girls decided to abandon the sleep part of the sleepover in favor of communing with the spirit world.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking this is another one of those stories about why little girls shouldn’t play with Ouija boards, complete with demon possessions and speaking in tongues and maybe a little levitation for good measure, because wow, floating children, that’s nice and spooky.
It isn’t one of those stories.
Starts the same way though, with one girl trying to convince the others to play this scary game her older brother told her about, and everyone else saying there’s no such thing as ghosts. Of course, they could say that with all the confidence in the world, but none of them volunteered to go first.
There’s just something… off about mirrors in the dark. You can see yourself, but you can’t really see yourself, and it triggers all of those leftover instincts and the reflexes we don’t need but can’t bear to get rid of so we shove them into the junk drawer cortex of our brain. So the girls said they weren’t afraid of ghosts, and they thought they were telling the truth but the thing is, it didn’t matter. Our brains are primed to look for danger even when we know it isn’t there.
And so they sent the first girl in, and they waited and they giggled through the terror they pretended they didn’t feel, and she screamed and ran out of the bathroom talking about the horrible demon she saw in the mirror. And somehow, not only did this fail to deter the others, it made them even more excited for their turn.
I should mention the dog.
Cute little mongrel, his pedigree a mystery but most likely a mix of terrier and something resembling a domesticated chupacabra. He’s not really important to the story, per se, but I should mention him.
While the girls took turns whispering “Bloody Mary” in the bathroom mirror and getting scared out of their wits by optical illusions and obsolete instincts, the dog had found a makeup compact. You know, one of those clamshell shaped deals you can fit in your purse, with powder on one side and a mirror on the other.
Well, the dog found one, barking and growling at his reflection. Thought it was another dog, not because he was a particularly unintelligent pup—he was, but that’s beside the point—but because for whatever reason, evolution did not see fit to grant good old Canis lupus the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror.
The girls joked that he was playing Bloody Mary, too. Maybe he was, in his own way, because despite appearing angry and sometimes even a little scared of the terrier/chupacabra in the mirror, he got upset if they tried to take it away.
He was having fun, experiencing the adrenaline rush of the fight or flight response without actually being in danger.
So one by one, the girls went into the dark bathroom with its kitschy dolphin decor and they thrilled themselves with imaginary dangers like a dog growling at his reflection. And with every subsequent girl, the delighted shrieks of terror grew louder, their brains already on a fight or flight hair trigger after listening to their friends’ testimonies about what horrors awaited them.
Then came the last girl, and you’re probably thinking to yourself, this will be the girl who gets grabbed by the demon in the mirror, the demon all her friends somehow escaped without ever knowing it was real. And that would be a good ending. Nice and scary, maybe a final description of bloody handprints that can’t be washed off because they are inside the mirror.
But that’s not what happens in this story.
The last girl put on a brave face that fooled no one, least of all herself, and went into the shadowy bathroom. Closing the door behind her plunged the room into a darkness so complete that she had to double check whether her eyes were even open. They were, but it made no difference at the moment.
She waited for her vision to adjust, knowing she was alone and safe but at the same time unable to convince her amygdala of that. The sound of her breathing, coming just a little more rapid now, echoed off the tiles, played tricks on her mind. If she wasn’t alone, how would she know? How close could something get before she noticed?
When the edges of the bathroom fixtures finally dared reveal themselves, she made her way to the sink and the mirror looming above it. She could see her reflection, barely, but she could see it, and she stared into her own eyes while taking a shaky breath.
“Bloody Mary,” she whispered quickly, and waited, fingers curling around the cool porcelain of the sink.
“Bloody Mary,” she said again after a moment, watching herself in the mirror and summoning the courage to utter the name for the third, final time, because it’s always three times, isn’t it.
“Bloody Mary,” she said finally, feeling foolish for being so afraid.
And that’s when it happened, when her mirror self changed, became the terrible thing that had sent her friends running from the room in terror.
Her skin grew gray and blotchy, even in the monotone darkness, she could tell. Her lips curled up in a snarl, every tooth a serrated fang, and empty sockets crying bloody tears replaced her eyes.
She didn’t scream like the others. Oh, she tried to, opened her mouth and everything, but so did the monster in the mirror, and the scream died before it ever reached her vocal cords.
Seeing a ghost in a dark mirror, that’s an unnerving experience no matter who you are, no matter whether you believe in spirits from beyond the veil or just shrug it off as a quirk of the human brain. But this was different, this girl was different, and so her fear, naturally, was different than her friends’.
Her friends were dogs growling at a reflection they couldn’t understand, enjoying the manufactured danger in their minds while knowing all along that they were safe and there was no such thing as Bloody Mary.
The last girl to chant before the mirror had no such assurance. She was not a growling dog, because, as we’ve learned, dogs do not recognize themselves in the mirror.
She looked at her reflection, at the hideous face of Bloody Mary, and she recognized herself, and she could run and scream like her friends but it wouldn’t matter. The bloody handprints weren’t on the other side of the mirror, they were inside her.
Jennifer Lee Rossman
Jennifer Lee Rossman (she/they) is a queer, disabled, and autistic author and editor from the land of Rod Serling. Her work has been featured in over thirty anthologies, two of which she co-edited. Read more from her at her website http://jenniferleerossman.
Captain of the Dead
They’re here! I start to cry. The rescue team surveyed the remains of my crew and the crab-like creature strewn around the spaceship: ravaged bodies, limbs, scalpless heads with half-eaten faces. A man broke down seeing one of my feet missing toes and the ugly pincer marks on my neck.
I begin salivating as I decide which of the new arrivals I’ll consume first. I haven’t fed in days, eating my own foot was no picnic after I ran out of men to devour who survived the alien attack. And this damn shell forming on my back itches like hell.
Dee Grimes is from Barbados and writes poetry and stories featuring humorous, dark or social themes. Her work has been featured in ArtsEtc Winning Words publications and in the “Beneath” anthology by Ghost Orchid Press. She can be found on Twitter as @DHGrimesbb
“How do you like that, ma’am?”
The hairdresser smiled, holding the comb and trimming scissors. Her customer was a petite elderly woman. The old lady had frequented the salon for twenty years. Everyone loved her.
They all knew she was lonely, and chatted with her for a while (poor thing: her husband left her for another woman ten years ago).
Suddenly, the old woman clutched her chest and collapsed to the floor. The hairdresser quickly knelt, shouting for help. The old lady was whispering, so the hairdresser leaned in closer to hear.
“My husband…I buried him…under…the barn.”
Elyse Russell is a writer of short stories and graphic novels. She has works accepted with: Mermaids Monthly, Hyphen Punk, Crone Girl’s Press, Outcast Press, and more. Her horror graphic novella, “The Fell Witch,” will be released in 2022 with Band of Bards comics. Follow her on Twitter: @ElyseRussell13 (BraveLittleTeapot).
The night sky was filled with a dazzling display of phosphorescent meteors, all landing in waterways like the river in front of my house.
The next morning I observed, crawling up the riverbank, hundreds of tentacled creatures with oversized octopus heads, bulbous eyes, and gaping mouths of buzz-saw teeth.
I heard a voice in my head. “Do not be alarmed, we wish you no harm, we are a vegan species.”
The same message was received from waterways around the world.
Within one month the invaders had devoured all the forests on Earth and departed, leaving behind a barren sawdust planet.
Jonathan Worlde is the fiction byline of Paul Grussendorf, who is an attorney representing refugees and a consultant to the UN Refugee Agency. Paul Grussendorf’s legal memoir is My Trials: Inside America’s Deportation Factories. (Available on Amazon).
Jonathan Worlde’s neo-noir mystery novel Latex Monkey with Banana was winner of the Hollywood Discovery Award (available on Amazon). Paul is also a traditional country blues performer under the stage name Paul the Resonator, whose CD is Soul of a Man. (Available on Spotify, etc). He enjoys performing African-American blues for schoolchildren in Africa.
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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.