Trembling With Fear 03/29/20
And still the times they are a’changing. My school is closed except for children of keyworkers and I am down to going in one day a week. My husband is still working as he is also in a school. My children? Well, it looks as though I won’t be seeing any of them for a while unless we are able to bring them home or they want to come home. What does that mean for me in terms of time? Hopefully I will at last knuckle down to finishing off a number of projects that keep getting pushed down the To Do list by all the other demands on my time. I’ve managed to get one novel to beta readers which leaves a couple of poetry projects, one 2/3 finished novel and a collection of folk-horror stories to complete. But beware procrastination!
This list though is more than what it appears, it is my silver lining. My family’s ok, we can keep in touch easily, I have some real-life work to do and we’ve had some beautiful spring days. For the sake of your own mental health, find your silver lining if you can. I am perfectly aware also that if this had happened a few years ago when my husband was self-employed, difficult enough back then, it would be even more so today and I would probably be crying in a corner somewhere. If people want to chat, I’m around on twitter (@el_Stevie), on Facebook, or you can just drop me an email. I’m quite happy to give a listening ear to those who are feeling isolated or down – I don’t want anyone to feel isolated and alone at these times.
Book Launch Reminder: Pandemic Book Launches is on Facebook to provide a means to launch your work if the event has been wiped out by lockdown measures, eg StokerCon’s cancellation. Horror Tree provides an overview of these posts on Fridays. If you are someone who prefers not to be on Facebook but have a book launch coming up, send me details directly to Horror Tree’s contact address and just put ‘Book Launch’ in subject line. I’ll then add it to the following Friday’s listing.
Before you read this week’s TWF, apologies to G.A. Miller, whose story Silent Witness was initially published with an early version of his submitted story. It has been rectified and the proper version was uploaded to the site. Please take the time to give his story another read. It deserves it.
Now, let Trembling With Fear take your mind off things this week with Flow in the Dark by Donna J.W. Munro. A woman’s maternal instinct for a child, to protect the innocent puts her in a dangerous situation. This story shows how hard it is for the human instinct to be denied, even when warnings are given. Dark and chilling and so much that is subtly conveyed rather than just told makes this a great read.
Hell by Janine Pipe turns the tables in appropriate fashion. Where exactly is Hell and who created it? I like this one because it shows us how we can be viewed as a race.
Home Inspection by Madison McSweeney tells of a disappearance but it is the tone in which a horror is revealed which I particularly like. Such an ordinary comment as if they’d discovered a simple missing item, creates a jarring note and makes it an even greater horror.
Sakura Viewing by J.A. Hammer brings cherry blossom, Japanese custom and friendship together and completely subverts the warmth of the image.
Music again provided this week by Dylan, ‘Don’t Look the World’s About to Break’. Sung and written by him.
Also a little something from Ms Audra Blu ‘Can You Spare Some Change’. Better half of wonderful writer and TWF contributor, David Berger. She has an amazing voice.
Pandemic Update #… I’ve lost track of the days. I’ve been spending my time reading fiction for Trembling With Fear, editing fiction for a Patreon, and preparing the coming week’s posts. You may also have noticed that the site has a new look. Our old theme finally became such a resource hog that it was quite literally killing the site and making it impossible to get work on. This new one has straightned that all out. We’re still looking to make changes but we’ll see what they are as time passes (if you have any thoughts or suggestions on this, please reach out!)
….Also, outside of Horror Tree I’ve about 8 hours a day working for my day job remotely while also trying to help my wife watch and teach our 2 kids who are at home. Yes, things are still a bit crazy in the Conover residence and don’t look to be letting up anytime soon. However, I feel this week was a little more open than last and I’m starting to adjust to the insanity of it all. I’m also REALLY adjusting to being able to sleep in an extra hour and a half so when this thing all blows over down the line it is going to be painful waking up at 5:30am on a daily basis again. I do look forward to having time to write again as I really don’t without my daily commute.
At any rate, there is movement on our anthologies! We’re hoping the 2019 ones will be getting more shored up in the next couple of weeks and there will be an interesting surprise there. For fiction, we’re on the look out for some new Serial Killers so if you have any longer short stories which you’d like to see released serialized on the site please do check out our “Serial Killers” submission guidelines at the Trembling With Fear Submissions Page!
Flow in the Dark by Donna J. W. Munro
When the sinkhole opened up in Marion’s front yard, the neighbors watched her survey the damage and shouted encouragement from across their chain-linked fences.
“Quite a hole you got there. Doesn’t stink. That’s good. Could be an old septic collapse and then you’d be up to your ears in shit,” neighbor Joe said, scratching his beer-belly thoughtfully.
On the other side, Holly balanced her boy on a cocked hip and watched as Marion dropped a stone down the throat of the hole. “Watch out, Mar. Might have more collapsing to do. Like that sinkhole downtown that swallowed a whole street, houses and cars and all.”
Holly was right. Just as Marion stepped back from the lip, it trembled and crumbled, widening its mouth by another two feet all the way around. It was at the edge of her stamped concrete patio and her elephant ear plants were gone down into the dark of the wide hole.
“Who should I call?” Marion choked out at the neighbors.
“The city,” they settled on after floating unhelpful suggestions like Roter Rooter and a landscaping company and the Ghostbusters.
On the phone, no one knew where to send Marion’s call. The city manager sent her to public works. Public works sent her to the building engineer. He’d put her on a hold that stretched into an eight-minute-long ordeal and while she sat on the patio, bouncing her knee nervously, another two feet crumbled away from under the chain-link she shared with Joe and he was screaming that she’d better do something.
“What am I supposed to do,” She screamed back, cupping her hand over the phone.
From the mouth of the hole, an acrid mist rose like steam from a pipe and groaning echoed up its long throat.
The phone in her ear clicked from hold music and a soft voice took its place.
“Marion? I’m with the university geology department. Has it started to smoke yet?”
“Yes,” Marion answered, “just now. And there are noises… like someone is in pain.”
“Okay. We’ll be out soon.”
“Thank you, my address is…”
“No need. We’ve got a fix on you. The instruments locked as it opened.”
“Oh… See you soon.”
“And Marion—” He paused like the words needed to be put in the right order. “Don’t talk to anything that comes out of that hole, ok? Tell your neighbors to just stay inside.”
As the call ended with a click, the mouth of the hole widened into Holly’s yard, the run of chain-link, sagging in the air like a swaybacked bridge. The smoke swirled with yellow and orange. The others ran inside their houses, though Marion wondered if the hole wouldn’t just swallow them all up. It might be right under her feet. The thought sent her scrambling back from the edge, to the step of her kitchen door, but seeing them stopped her.
Little round eyes peered over the edge of the chasm, black circles lit, glowing out from a face too smooth and white to be skin. A tiny mask, set on a small head with sooty hair standing out at all angles. Stubby little fingers clutched the clumps of grass that rimmed the hole.
“Help me,” cried a voice as sweet as a kitten’s.
Marion couldn’t let the child hang there, though the geologist’s words ribboned around her mind. Before she could think another thought, her feet carried her to the edge where she gathered a boy no older than three into her arms. The smoke’s thick stench burned her eyes and she suppressed a gag, but she managed to carry him back to her house.
Inside the kitchen, she set him on the edge of the sink where the back window let sunlight in.
“Here we go,” she said with a singsong voice. She pulled his arms out of his coat, wool and so old-fashioned. His shoes were nothing you’d buy at a big box store. They were cobbled, leather shoes. She pulled them off and warmed some water to rinse away the drying dirt. “Where’d you come from?”
The boy shook his head and let it droop, then pointed out the window.
Marion could see the whole sinkhole, so wide it touched the back end of the neighbor’s house behind her. No more fence. The dark had swallowed it. But from that dark rose others dressed in long smoky robes that slithered as they climbed over the lip of the hole, onto her patio. Their faces were covered, like the boy cooing from her sink, sliding his sooty hands along her skin and leaving streaks of muddy ash on her forearm.
The five of them stood taller than most grown men and their masks were something from a nightmare. Diaphanous covers with horns and ridges, deep black holes for eyes, no mouths or noses, just like the boy. The boy muttered behind the mask, sounds almost words she might understand.
Marion snatched the boy up and backed just as the five figures turned toward her house, toward the window she’d been standing by. Could they see in? She shuffled back with the boy clutched to her, mumbling behind his white mask. Cold fear froze her against the kitchen wall as the tallest figure pressing its mask against the glass until it filled up the whole view and blotted out the light.
She bit back a scream and spun with the child rushing into the living room toward the front door.
The child’s moans began to hitch, rhythmic and sharp, sounding like giggles to her frightened ears.
“Quiet now!” She peered down into the boy’s black eyes. The edge of his mask pressed into his skin, a seam she touched with her fingers. She could just her fingers under it, but he gasped scared wheezes that made her heart squeeze tighter in her chest. His body clung to her tightly, bruising her sides with surprising strength. Behind them, the back door clattered and the knob twisted.
They wanted in.
Marion glanced down at the boy. She had to save him…
What had she brought into her house?
Cold pressure folded her into a squat. Her breaths came in razored pants and her stomach knotted and clenched with every rattle of the door. The boy was silent when she slid her fingers under his mask. He sat in the fold of her knees, hands still pressed into her side, face turned sideways on her chest like a sleeping doll.
She tugged at the mask, but it didn’t come away easily.
It ripped like a scab.
The pounding on the door stopped.
She pulled again, unable to stop, even as blood and stringy skin pulled away with the mask.
She pulled until it was in her hand and she stared into the boy’s ruined face. No skin covered the muscles twisted into a smile and slick with the blood that freckled their surfaces. And his eyes.
She’d thought his eyes were hidden by the depth of the mask’s eyes, but they weren’t. They were just black holes deeper than the cavern in the yard. Deeper than forever.
The little boy clutched her harder, pressing into her sides, flowing into her skin with a hot, prying persistence.
The front door banged open as the boy completely melded into her, his insides conquering her veins and byways, staking claim to her muscles. The echoes of his thoughts and her fears entangled behind her fluttering eyes. Just a child, she kept thinking. But what he knew and shared with her wasn’t some child’s understanding. It flowed inside her synapses like streams of flame.
“Marion?” Holly called.
She was flanked by men with guns and shovels. One kneeled and gathered Marion up in his arms.
“Come on!” He shouted, herding them all out of the house.
As they exited, Marion clutched the mask to her chest. She felt her house collapse behind them with an exhalation of held breath, heard the creaking and cracking and final tumble of all she’d owned. She peeked over the man’s shoulder and saw five figures descending back into the hole.
The man set her down on the asphalt inside the cordon the police had set up around the hole where her yard and house had been. The man turned her toward him and stared hard, looking into her eyes.
“You didn’t talk to them, did you?”
Marion didn’t answer. Instead, she asked, “What were they?”
The man shook his head. “We don’t know. They dig holes under particular people or places they want. The hole will be gone tomorrow. Anyone who goes down disappears. Anyone who talks to them disappears. Marion?”
She struggled to follow his words, even though she wanted the information. “Disappears?”
He nodded. This was the geologist she’d talked to. She remembered his voice. He knew more about the under people than anyone. She admired his eyes. They’d be beautiful in the dark.
She whispered to him, touching the soft skin of his neck, “They sing in the dark.” Then she pressed against him. She and the boy within her, pressed and flowed and he didn’t fight. Those who heard the voice of the hole didn’t fight.
Soon, the geologist would know the underworld forever.
Soon, he’d flow through the dark.
Donna J. W. Munro
Donna J. W. Munro has spent the last twenty-one years teaching high school social studies. Her students inspire her every day. She has an MA in writing popular fiction from Seton Hill University. Her pieces are published in Dark Moon Digest # 34, Syntax and Salt, Sirens Ezine, the Haunted Traveler, Flash Fiction Magazine, Astounding Outpost, Door=Jar, Spectators and Spooks Magazine, Nothing’s Sacred Magazine IV and V, Corvid Queen, Hazard Yet Forward (2012), Enter the Apocalypse (2017), Killing It Softly 2 (2017), Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths II (2018), Terror Politico (2019), and several Thirteen O’Clock Press anthologies. Contact her at https://www.donnajwmunro.com or @DonnaJWMunro on Twitter.
I stood, frozen to the spot, petrified.
The scenes all around me were terrifying.
For days, I had been hiding, watching.
Surrounded by the most violent, disgusting deeds of pure wickedness.
Acts of abuse, torture, murder, conducted with no remorse.
I thought I knew depravity. That after everything I had been put through to get here, I would know no fear.
What could I teach them? There was nothing new, no depths left to sink to.
Humans were done. Finished …
I crawled back into the Pits of Hell with my tail between my legs.
Only then, did I feel safe.
Janine has loved to write spooky stories and tales with a twist since she was at school. She is a huge fan of Stephen KING, first devouring Salem’s Lot at the tender age of just 9. Her work is heavily influenced by this. She also loves C J TUDOR and credits fellow Swindon horror writer Graeme REYNOLDS as an unofficial mentor. You can find her work on Ghost Stories the Podcast, Graveyard Tales and Tales to Terrify. She shares some of her original shorts and flash fiction on her blog, https://janinesghoststories.wordpress.com/, where she also reviews and interviews authors of horror.
Art became a shut-in after his wife disappeared. He took no calls and received no visitors. His groceries were delivered and left on his porch. And then, he died.
The next family to move in had a little girl who complained of monsters under the bed, ghosts whispering in her ears, and rats in the walls. Her mother took seriously the spectre of rats and hired a local handyman to inspect.
The handyman was unsurprised by what he found when he ripped open the bedroom wall. “There she is,” he said placidly, unaware that the homeowner had fainted behind him.
Madison McSweeney is a Canadian author and poet with an interest in the macabre and fantastic. She has published horror, science fiction, and fantasy stories in outlets such as American Gothic, Cabinet of Curiosities, Unnerving Magazine, and Zombie Punks F*ck Off. Her poetry has appeared in Cockroach Conservatory, Rhythm & Bones, and Bywords, as well as the Twin Peaks-themed anthology These Poems Are Not What They Seem. She lives in Ottawa, where she moonlights as an arts and culture blogger covering genre fiction, movies, and the local music scene.
“During the war, the Japanese government encouraged citizens to see the dead as fallen sakura. I’ll admit though, I’m not sure when the drinking started.” I laughed, raised a bottle of Kirin beer.
“Kanpai everyone! Remember, drink it dry!” The International Friends of Japan group let out a cheer, clinking together the cups I’d poured before tossing them back. I waited.
“Personally, I believe there’s a connection. Those pretty pink petals? Blood tinted. I just disagree about using pure Japanese blood.”
Slurred voices rose in confusion. A Brit stood, then doubled over in pain.
“Thank you for next season’s blooms.”
J.A. Hammer is a coffeeholic in the wild concrete city of Tokyo. Known online as CoffeeQuills, they are a multi-genre writer who enjoys a wide range of speculative fiction. Previous publications include Apocalypse and Unravel by Black Hare Press and Trembling with Fear Year 2 by the Horror Tree. To catch up on future 2020 projects (a LitRPG serial and a superhero romance), feel free to find them on Twitter and at their website.
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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.