Trembling With Fear 03/06/2022
Welcome back to Trembling with Fear, our online flash zine. We publish both new and established writers with many becoming familiar faces and being an ongoing open market, we are always after material. Submissions don’t have to be horror, they can be dark sci-fi or fantasy or some other aspect of the speculative fiction field. Nor are we averse to a touch of noir or a dark thriller. Humour is also welcome!
Spring has sprung – or so they tell me. Today has been grey, gloomy and wet and the world around us is a pretty grim place as well. My thoughts are with the Ukrainian people and pray that the country is returned to its rightful state of freedom, independence and peace as soon as possible and if things continue as they are, that the rest of the world does not look the other way. Each week we give you horror stories but reality has proved far worse. With that in mind, escape into fiction can provide a little respite.
Trembling With Fear starts with The Beast of T’Moma River by Jonathan Sherwood is an absolute gem in the art of building tension. The crawling, enveloping presence of the fog, its personalisation so it becomes another character in this tale, is expertly drawn. A really chilling piece.
A Rueful Rubaiyat by Mike Rader is another of Rader’s wonderful poetry parodies, in this instance The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Edward Fitzgerald gets his treatment.
Fin by Kevin M. Folliard is another poem, this time of folk adrift on the sea, delivering some lovely imagery (eg The orange globe of sun sank/Behind magenta pillows of pulled cotton cloud) in what is a horrible situation.
The Last Sandcastle by Brandon Applegate brings the emotion this week. Such a sad story, a tragic outcome no one wished for.
I hope you enjoyed our stories, now send us yours!
Not much to report this week. I WAS able to get some writing in as I’ve been working on a novella that kind of fell to the wayside from being mentally overwhelmed with the last two years. So, that is progress! Not much new to report for the site, though. Kind of hard to really focus on progress with family, work, school, and everything going on in the world at the moment. Hoping to deliver a solid update soon with some new updates to the site or Trembling With Fear.
The Beast of T’Moma River by Jonathan Sherwood
With a shrug, the dull metal bow of the canoe came around. From the rear I watched the muddy water writhe silently alongside until its eddies dissipated, leaving the boat turning gently and the hazy sun glinting its way along the gunwales. The fog rode across the cold eye of the sun like a sinewy, migrating membrane. I paid no attention. My every glance, every thought, was underlined with the dark metal of the rifle barrel as I craned forward, lining up the sight on every ripple that stayed too long, every curl of mist that defied the breeze. No sounds. Quiet enough to hear your ears ring. Quiet enough to hear your hair prickle. I wasn’t alone out here.
“We’re all alone out here,” he said, lying down in the bow, legs draped over the seat, head wedged into the prow. A long reed he’d scored off a sandbar twitched in his mouth.
“Shut up,” I whispered.
“Yeah, yeah. I shut up. I also getting cold.”
The veins and tendons and ligaments of the mist trailed across the dark white glow of the sun. Clouds aren’t supposed to stay this low. Maybe at night. But by this time in the day, they go back up where they live. A cloud that enjoys slumming enough to stay the day has got other agenda.
A tiny little wave trickled a crest, and my rifle snapped to and eyed it intently.
“What are you expecting?”
I didn’t answer.
“Chrissake. Ya drag me out here—”
“Shut you up. You got me out here all spooked, then we sit here for hours and do nadda. I’m getting cold.”
“You ever seen fog like this?”
“Yep. Every goddamn morning. Warm water, cold air. Don’t take rocket science.”
“You ever see a fog like this?”
He finally opened his eyes. With a hand to his hat, he wriggled out of his wedge, sat up, and swung the reed over one side of the boat, then the other.
“What – is it like some special color? Waitaminit. Is that—?”
I turned to look, my gunmetal snout arcing to follow.
“Oh my god. Is that—?”
“What?” I asked, the end sight cutting a zigzag through the membrane around us. “What?”
“By god it is! The fog’s green! It’s actual pea soup!”
He laughed as I re-seated myself and took aim again into the undulating gray around us.
“Goddamn. What’re we doin’ out here? Would ya tell me just that?”
The fog reached out again and stroked the stern. We twisted a little in the water. You couldn’t tell we were moving, except by keeping an eye on the hazy outline of the sun.
“You remember?” I asked, quietly. It was like talking in space. As soon as your words left your mouth, they were gone. You only got to hear them in your head. As soon as they weren’t made up of breath anymore, they found their own way in the world. You never heard from them again. “You remember how we always came up here when we were little?”
“Gee, if I try real hard.”
An arrow of mist edged along the surface and hit us like a slow torpedo. It made its own silent explosion. Would never have known it’d happened if I hadn’t been watching. The rest of the arsenal churned around on itself like an angry stomach.
“Remember how this valley sounded? How it echoed?”
“Yeah. Damn loudest place in the world. Finally got rid of that little beach ‘cuz everybody was pissed about people laughing. Sound bounced back and forth all over the place. Pissed everybody off.”
“Everybody,” I nodded. Something tried to take form off the port side, but backed off when it saw the rifle looking at it.
“Damn, they even passed a thing about motorboats. No motorboats anywhere up and down the river. A motorboat five miles away would echo down here like it was on yer front porch. Whatda they call it? Acrostics?”
“Yeah, croustics. God, everybody complained down here.”
“You ever see fog like this?”
“Goddamn, I told you it’s thick like pea soup. What else you want me to say?”
The one eye tracking the gaze of the rifle glanced over at him. It was the only time the rifle didn’t follow my eye. I turned my attention back to the mist. Something was moving in there. Maybe it would happen today. Maybe it would come out.
“You know, every year when we come up here, you get all funny.”
I could feel the mist moving, shuffling around us like an itchy crowd.
“I always find you down on the dock, taking notes in the mornin’. Fact, you been doing it fer years and years and years. Almost every morning, down on the dock, lookin’ out over the water, writin’ stuff. Damn waste. What’re you writin’ about all the damn time?”
“The mist. The way it comes off the water.”
“What’re you gonna do with it? Sell it to the farmer’s almac?”
“I saw a fog like this, once.”
“Bully fer you.”
“Twenty years back. I was sitting on the dock, sun rose up into it. It was dead silent, like this, but thick, so thick it completely swallowed the sun.”
He looked at me, bored.
“That’s when I felt it.”
He waited for me to continue. Just enough tension built up for him to break it.
“The beast. I knew it was there. I’ve been waiting, every year, waiting for this fog. Every single year. If it’s the right fog, it’ll come.”
Something moved. I took the sight tight into my eye. The butt pressed firmly into my shoulder. Tiny ripples slipped out under the mist. He saw me flinch and lowered his voice.
“What’s goin’ on?”
“Something awful is out here.”
“Don’t be bullshittin’ me. Ya got me jumpy.”
“Think about it. You said it yourself. This place is the loudest valley anyone ever heard of. How come we don’t hear anything now?”
He didn’t say anything, just stared out into the gray that seemed to take form, but didn’t. Water trickled down my ribs under my arms. The end of the rifle bobbed with my pulse.
“You ever seen fog you could touch? It always keeps a discreet distance. But not this stuff. Lookit, it’s no more than three feet away.”
“Hey, I don’t like this. Home, let’s get home.”
“Not until I kill it.”
“Kill what? What’s out there? Damnit, I ain’t up for your crap.”
It was hard to keep the rifle still. Something moved. Shifted about. Slid across the water. Left no footprints.
“You’re a damn fool, you know that?”
It was coming.
“You always was. Ever since we was kids, you been up to somethin’ stupid.”
Ripples flowed out under the curtain.
“Always thinkin’ about stupid things and never doin’ em.”
The fog stepped closer.
“Always with yer head in books, dreamin’ up monsters instead of helpin’ out.”
The cold glow of the sun, just a few feet away, faded.
“I’m getting us out. I got things to do.”
Something loomed, sinuous, tendons, arteries, giant shifting cells.
“Yer a stupid dreamer, ya know that?”
The sun eclipsed. No directions left. I could hardly hold the rifle.
“Where’s the paddle?”
Like an iris, the fog closed in. Tight, silent, omniscient.
“Stupid. Always was.”
I swung the rifle, saw the thing at the end of a long line of gunmetal gray, and squeezed the trigger as hard as I could.
I didn’t even see his expression. His head just snapped back, his body arched, and he back-somersaulted over the bow. The shout of the barrel ran into the fog. Like shooting in outer space. No sound. He hit the water as quietly as sliding into a bathtub. In the loudest valley in the world, I couldn’t even hear my own rifle. The mist extended a consoling hand to my shoulder, then passed along like a crowd with somewhere to go.
I laid the rifle across my lap, picked up the paddle, and set it to the water. In less than a minute, the mist rose back into the sky where it belonged, and the Beast of T’Moma River paddled quietly home.
Jonathan Sherwood has written about science and scientists for research universities for more than two decades, and written fiction for much longer. He holds a bachelors in science writing from Cornell University and a masters in English from the University of Rochester. His fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, and others, and has been translated into Chinese, Czech, and Polish.
A Rueful Rubaiyat
(after Omar Khayyam)
Awake! For Zombies in the Bowl of Night
Have flung the Skulls that put the Stars to Flight:
And lo! the Headless Hunter now has caught
The ancient Tombstone in a Noose of Light.
A Book of Curses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Blood, a Strip of Skin, — and Thou
Beside me singing in the Cemetery —
The Cemetery is Paradise enow!
I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Vampire bled;
That every Broken Tooth the Garden bears
Dropt in its Lap from some once lovely Head.
Ah, make the most of what we may yet spend,
Before we too into the Grave descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Slabs, to lie;
Sans Visitors, sans Flowers, and — sans End!
There was the Tomb to which I found a key:
There was the Shroud through which no one could see;
I lured you there to talk of ME and THEE,
Until — throat slit — no more of THEE, just ME.
’Tis all a Chequer-board of Graves by Day
Where Gravediggers with Men for Pieces play;
Hither and thither move, and mate, and slay,
And one by one back in their Coffins lay.
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: I see no Hand is joined to it!
How does that Finger even write a Line —
And with no Errors in a Word of it?
Now when you think that Death won’t come to pass
And all the Ghosts are scatter’d on the Grass,
Take up your Spade and dig yourself a Plot,
You’ve had your Time — turn down an empty Glass!
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
On the last day adrift,
Mouths chapped with salt,
Stomachs panged in hunger,
The orange globe of sun sank
Behind magenta pillows of pulled cotton cloud
Into the churning Pacific.
Silvery pink light danced
Around every horizon,
Circling us in the glittering firework
Of the ocean’s burst heart.
Chilled bones numbed.
Blistered skin cooled in night’s embrace.
Water lapped our pruned extremities.
We rocked to nature’s chopping rhythm.
Words had fled overnight like lost gulls.
But we shared our shivers.
Communed under dusk’s shadowed blanket.
And birthed a prayer
Welcoming the gleaming V-shaped wake
Of a great gray dorsal fin.
Kevin M. Folliard
Kevin M. Folliard is a Chicagoland writer whose fiction has been collected by The Horror Tree, Flame Tree Publishing, The Dread Machine, and more. His recent publications include his novella “Tower of Raven” from Demain Publishing, his 2020 horror anthology The Misery King’s Closet, and his YA fantasy adventure novel Grayson North: Frost-Keeper of the Windy City coming from Dark Owl Publishing December 2021. Kevin currently resides in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL, where he enjoys his day job in academia and active membership in the La Grange and Brookfield Writers Groups. When not writing or working, he’s usually reading Stephen King, playing Tetris, or traveling the U.S.A.
The Last Sandcastle
Daddy said we were going to the beach. I was so excited. We hadn’t left the house in weeks. The infected wandered the sidewalks.
We found a lonely stretch of sand—just the ocean and us. We built a sandcastle. Daddy pointed a gun at me and cried.
“I can’t.” He put it away.
We finished the sandcastle and Daddy laid down.
“I love you,” he said, still crying.
“I love you, too,” I said.
He pulled the trigger. Red sprayed from his head onto the sand.
I sat with him until he got up. Then I had to run.
Brandon Applegate lives and writes in a parched suburban hellscape near Austin, Texas with his wife and two daughters who have so far failed to eat him. He spends his free time finding creative ways to deal with his Chupacabra infestation. His debut collection, “Those We Left Behind: And Other Sacrifices” is available on Amazon and at bapplegate.com where you can also get updates on all his upcoming projects.
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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.