Trembling With Fear 03/20/2022
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 appeared briefly this week, I saw daffodils, heard a few lambs, and birds are gathering twigs in the front garden for their nests. Then it rained and the temperature dropped, the skies were also orange-tinted, apparently coming over from the Sahara, which happens from time-to-time. Needless to say, I’ve stayed indoors. I’ve been working on some new notebook designs, a short story and all the bits and bobs of a writer’s life which you can never quantify or remember doing! One thing I do remember was talking to Joe Koch on the Dark Fusion podcast last Sunday, such a lovely person to talk to and someone whose work I hope to be reading more of. If you like the weird stuff, then I recommend his fiction. I always look forward to talking to folk on this, even if I’m a bundle of nerves half the time, as it makes the writing world and all those social media contacts etc become more real. Speaking of work I like, here’s this week’s Trembling with Fear line up!
We start this week with Artificial Red by April Echols. A relationship developing purely by telephone conversation, the building up of trust and an imagination running riot. What happens though when you finally arrange to meet in real life? What are the expectations? Certainly not to be where you end up – which loops cleverly – and chillingly – back to the telephone. The first person POV is perfect for this story.
Soul Separation by Wayne Fenlon brings us some much needed humour and is a great example of innuendo.
Suck on a Soft Centre by Steven Holding is a Valentine’s anti-love drabble. If you want a reason to stop eating chocolate, this might be it! I should mention that a feature I’ve grown to appreciate in recent times with Steven’s work is his titles.
The Former Mrs Edwards by Steve Patchett appears to be simple contemplation of a photograph but then yourself being directed to think about what you can – or cannot see. The last line is used to solidify these directional hints.
I hope you enjoyed our stories, now send us yours!
Okay, progress made in a few areas. On Steph’s suggestion, we now have a Ko-Fi as another way to donate to the site. While I still find Patreon the easiest way to keep track of things, I’m always happy to make things as easy as possible for anyone looking to contribute to the site’s future!
Offhand, if you’re a fantasy or science fiction lover who is also obsessed with wrestling, please reach out to me directly on our contact form or social media.
We’ve got a variety of things in the works at the moment from future publishing ventures to site expansions and beyond. I’m so eager to tell you all about them but we’re in such early stages that I feel it would be a disservice to you to start talking about them now. Rest assured, things are happening my friends! 🙂
Artificial Red by April Echols
I had a bad feeling about her. But at first it was just a .5 on the Richter scale. Ever had one of those? Evil so faint, you can’t hardly even smell it. But that changed. Please excuse me for sniveling like a baby. Some things hurt when they come out. Believe me, if emotional pain caused bleeding, I’d have bled out a long time ago. I can’t let go of ideas easily. I keep going back and haunting the tracks. She knew that about me. I don’t know how, but she knew it.
Remember those old push button phones? Smooth off-white plastic, curly cord…the buttons were square, and they lit up when you picked it up. Mine was white, not off-white, and the buttons lit up red. I have this burned into my mind: the reddish glow, her voice, and touching that curly cord. I couldn’t stop playing with it the whole time. At first she made me nervous, so I fidgeted with it; this helped me to focus on her voice. I hear it when I see red. The feeling I get in my chest and my gut…I feel a little of that just seeing red; especially if it’s a light. A glowing red light. Then I’d hear her say my name. But I get confused. Is it that I see red and hear her voice, or does hearing her voice make me see red? I don’t know anymore.
She was into astrology. She called herself a Creatrix and laughed at me because I didn’t know what that meant at the time. I got the feeling right from the start that she wanted to be the dominant one. I didn’t mind playing along. Mind you, this was all over the goddamn phone, and a fucking landline at that. I have to put this into perspective; she’s had a hold on me for a while. One time the weather was getting bad while we were talking and there was a crack on the line when lightning struck outside. She said to me, ‘There’s a slow glow in the sky like the baring down black of a raven’s eye.’ Outside my window it was all yellow like it gets when there’s just the right mix of afternoon sun and black pre-storm sky. Needless to say I wasn’t sure how to respond. I’d say she was different from other girls, but that’s hardly scraping the surface.
She was obsessed with the song Hotel California. She told me that she believed it was real now because so many people vibed so hard to that song and spoke the words aloud so many times that it was forged into our collective unconscious. Crazy, I know. She told me one day that the hotel was framed by a sky so close to night that the purple has started seeping in. Beneath that lay the deepest red you could imagine. Right there on that horizon, she said, is where the hotel resides. In your mind’s eye, with a faint finger smear of dusty stars arced above it, you can see a pale structure of curved stone arches. It resembles a kind of Pueblo palace of giant gravestones. There are symbols carved into the side and a tubular cactus nearly tall as the two monastery-style wooden doors at the entrance, where huge red-faced turkey vultures wait stationed like sentries. She took me there, so to speak. She told me that vultures can smell parts per trillion, and they can detect the very first emissions from a dead body up to a mile and a half away.
I’m hung up trying to decipher the murderous supper in the song, where the hotel guests stabbed the entree with ‘steely knives,’ but they couldn’t kill it. I had always imagined some kind of wild boar with bloody tusks hopping off a silver platter and chasing people around, shaking salad tomatoes off its rump. She laughed pretty hard at that. She nearly peed her pants, she said. But I had it all wrong.
“The master is there to eat them,” she said. “One by one they perished the same way they were born: head-first, in order to seal the fear to their faces for all eternity. It has potency. The heads are mounted below in the catacombs, alongside all the others.”
I thought she was imaginative, but scary as hell. By then we’d been talking on the phone a few months, and she’d done this sort of thing before, but the flavor was different. I picked up on the fact that she liked telling me stories. This time she made her voice deeper and spoke really slow with a heft I hadn’t heard before. During certain parts I could tell her mouth was getting wider by the way her words came out. I imagined she was smiling, but that didn’t fit the vibe. It occurred to me as I listened to her unspool her black thread, that I couldn’t remember how we started talking or who gave me her number. She called me first. I told her one time I had a dream about her, and she said that people often dreamed her before they saw her. I thought that was a pretty fucking pompous thing to say, but in my case it turned out to be true. The dream was the nail in the coffin for me.
Inevitably we had a conversation about meeting. It had been plenty long enough, and my dreams were literally flooded with her. That’s when she propositioned me to draw a symbol on my bedroom window. I thought she was going into another one of her stories. This time I laughed at her. But she was serious. She had drawn me into her stories so easily already. It wasn’t much of a leap.
“Hear me out,” she said. “There are really only two things that could possibly happen here. One, you’ll curse my name as you clean up poorly rendered graffiti in the morning, but you’ll also smile to yourself at the manner in which I manipulated you, knowing it’s just my way of getting off on toying with you before we finally collide in real life. Or two, the power of the symbol I’ve designed especially for you is real, and I appear in your bedroom tonight at the foot of your bed, waiting for you to open your eyes. Once you see me, you’re all mine, no questions asked. Are either of those things disagreeable to you?”
Quite the contrary, I told her. Jesus Christ. When I hung up that night my hand was hot and sweaty. My ear was the same, right there where the receiver had suctioned to the curly hole in the side of my head where all her words had gone. I went looking for something that I could draw on the glass with that would easily wipe away should the first scenario come to pass. The longer I was off the phone with her, the more frantic I became. I had to consume half my weight in whiskey to get to sleep that night.
I have a metal bed frame, and what woke me up was the scratching. The sound of claws on metal pierced through my drunken sleep. The image faded in slow as molasses. My eyes were dry and too freshly peeled. I made out the black body of it first. It was V-shaped with a sunken head, like a mobster sinking into his suit jacket. My eyes adjusted and I saw red. The flesh of the thing’s head was bright as a sore throat turned inside out. It was a vulture. From the shadows I heard her voice.
“You called. Have you guessed my name?”
She laughed. The second she spoke I began to sweat. It poured off me. Her hot breath accumulated in clouds around my face.
“You’re just what I’m looking for,” she said.
The bed fell out from under me, but I remained suspended; the death eating bird hovering in front of me. There was a sound like a vault was opened, then a blast of heat and shiny particles. I was sucked down like I was on an elevator cut from its cord. My descent grew unbearably hot. I watched flames blur and stretch by speed as though I was re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. I felt whipping and scratching all over me as I fell, and my flesh stung. I crash landed into sudden hard blackness. I fumbled around frantically on what felt like dusty baked earth until I found my hand resting on something cool and smooth. I picked it up and heard the familiar robotic hum. My hand followed the shape to its slick curved end and my fingers slipped through a succession of rubbery loops. It’s a phone. I lift it and artificial red fills the hole I’m in. I hear my name and my stomach turns. But I get confused. Is it that I see red and hear her voice, or does hearing her voice make me see red? I don’t know anymore. Sometimes I think this body is too broke to live in.
“Will be when the priest leaves.”
“Aye, he’s upstairs conducting that soul separation thing for Gran. He’s taking ages.”
“Soul separation? Wait, what? An exorcism?”
“Aye, you know, stops you catching Covid.”
“Soul? You mean social distancing?”
“What’s the difference?”
“Well, I suggested she call the priest she’s always visiting. He’ll sort you out, I said. Her eyes lit up. Anyway… must be working.”
“It’s like that movie. She’s up there laughing, then screaming. The bed’s squeaking like crazy.”
“I don’t think…”
“Oh, shit. You’re kidding me?”
“You okay, Grandad?”
“No. I’m next.”
Wayne Fenlon resides in Danderhall with his partner Liz, and their kids, Joe and Katie. He is the author of drabble collection: Scattered Little Pieces. If he’s not writing, he’s either reading or creating little animations for book covers.
Suck on a Soft Centre
Of the traditions Valentine’s bring, my favourite thing’s choosing chocolates.
Perfume and flowers make perfect presents, but nothing’s sweeter than confessing your intentions via confectionary selections.
The supermarket aisle’s piled high with tempting treats: Turkish delight, coffee creams. I dream of sweet-toothed significant others feasting, eating them in a frenzy!
Picking the biggest box, I reach into my pocket. Finger the cyanide filled syringe secreted there.
Slip it out, pierce the packet, press the plunger.
Stealthily return them to the shelf.
You could say I’m the opposite of Eros.
No arrows. Just needles.
Starting partings by stopping hearts.
Steven Holding lives in the United Kingdom. Most recently, his work has appeared in HENSHAW FOUR from HenshawPress and HALLOWEEN FRIGHTS from Black Ink Fiction. You can follow his work at www.stevenholding.co.uk
The Former Mrs Edwards
Her photograph, in monochrome, hangs over his bed.
It was taken on a summer’s day, before they could be wed.
Breathless, she was waiting for her future to begin.
Captured in an image, before she disappeared.
The single picture is all that’s left; they never found the rest.
You can’t meet her staring eyes, no matter where you stand.
She’s looking past your shoulder, at whatever is behind.
When his nurses finally found him, he was already dead.
The scratches on the wall were a mystery, they said.
The drag marks are going upwards, they were careful not to add.
Steven Patchett is an Engineer, Father and Writer in the North East of England. His works have been published in Ellipsis Zine, Lunate Fiction and Bear Creek Gazette. He can be found on Twitter, being encouraging. @StevenPatchett7
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Stephanie Ellis is a member of the HWA and writes dark speculative prose and poetry which has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her work includes the novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel and the gothic novella, Bottled, both via Silver Shamrock Publishing.She can be found at https://stephanieellis.org/ and on twitter @el_Stevie.