Trembling With Fear 08/14/2022
Howdy, writers of the dark. You are my favourites, each and every one of you. How else can we process what’s going on in this world if not through writing our darkest fears, through exploring the possibilities and exorcising our demons on the page?
In the spirit of processing through writing, I asked Twitter the other day for recommendations. As I sit here, an Australian in London, watching everyone trying (and failing) to deal with this new threat of constant heat, I realised I want to read more climate-based fiction, both of the dystopian and of the solarpunk variety. It’s something I’ve dabbled in, and I’d love to do more exploration myself.
And you know what? Twitter is a dumpster fire most of the time, but sometimes the tweeters really come through. My notifications were flooded for days with recommendations from all over the place; so much so that I now feel a need to pull together those recommendations into a document that I can share, just to spread the love. Maybe you have your own beloved CliFi pieces? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter, and let’s keep building this list of greatness
Not much climate stuff for you this week, but as it’s my birthday (yes, today, the 14th) I have decided to indulge myself and bring you stories that align with my own mission: folk horror, the natural world, the mythic, monsters and… ghosts. Of a sort, at least.
This week’s trembling main course is an exploration of religion, nature and faith through the eyes of a child and a very intriguing woodland. This was actually one of the first pieces I read when I took over from Steph, and it took my breath away. Thanks, Matthew Crowder!
For the quick bites, we have three delicious offerings:
- Regina Beach puts her own twist on an old Welsh myth
- Paul Latham hides in the closet, waiting for his moment, and
- Deborah Sheldon shows why you should always help when asked
Enjoy my birthday selection – and be sure to share your own stories with us, too! You’ll find details on how to submit over here.
Over to you, Stuart….
Lauren has been just an amazing new resource for Horror Tree! Not only is she keeping me on track with Trembling With Fear’s incoming stories, she has also helped us update our Trembling With Fear Submission Guidelines! Behind-the-scenes, she’s also helping us get a bit more organized in other areas, though that isn’t really something front-facing but will be hugely beneficial to the site on the whole. We’ll have a few other page changes coming up and I should be seeing the first preview of the new layout by next Monday which isn’t a full preview but will be a framework and I’m thrilled to check it out.
As always, I hope you had a great weekend.
Twig and Bone, by Matthew Crowder
How to respond to the question of religion? Believing before seeing? Before I caught sight of my saviour, I had no church. I always knew that my life was a bit too quiet, that something was waiting to fill that space, that the air I breathed was all in anticipation of His arrival.
It was a stillness like no other, just outside my window, just beyond the limits of our farm. Everyone who visited felt it. Aunts and uncles, cousins and the old folks, they all said the same thing. That the treeline gives them the creeps, the heebie-jeebies, that at any moment they were liable to notice something not quite right about it, maybe something staring back at them or emerging into the ploughed fields. It was a wild and overgrown wood, dense and impenetrable; I could never get very far during my expeditions as a kid. It would always spit me back out. I was timid and tired easily, so it didn’t bother me too much. I didn’t have the curiosity that I imagine most kids have at that age. Coming back to the house covered in scratches and bruises didn’t sit too well with Father, so he banned me from going near it. He called it a frontier – dangerous and uncultivated, savage and rough. It wasn’t part of our farm and so wasn’t his problem, and I wasn’t to go near it.
A great yew was meant to rest at the centre of the wood; father said he saw it only once, and that was enough to know it was evil. Many who came before believed yew trees grew in Hell, he said, and he wasn’t one to disagree with them.
Some nights, I would wake from a fitful sleep, and I would see the shadows of that treeline dancing and swaying in my room. I was usually too scared to go to my window to look at it, but if I did work up the courage, I would be guaranteed to see my mother out there, standing facing the wood. The first time I saw her there I started crying, feeling that she was in danger, but as soon as my eyes locked onto her, I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t go to her, couldn’t call for my father. The scene held me firm. When I got over the shock, I learned to watch her. Most of the time, she would stand limp, head looking up at the overbearing trees, arms hanging loose at her sides, seemingly in a trance. Every now and then, she would raise her arms, outstretched and rigid, and she would sway and dance like the trees. Her feet would never move – she was rooted, just like the forms she was imitating. I knew not to ask her about it. Besides, I could never connect the woman I saw at night to the mother who would have my breakfast ready in the morning.
I know now that she was at church. She was singing her hymns and absorbing sermons. I also know that He could always see me watching. He was assessing me, deeming my worth, my chances of salvation.
One night, rather than being restless, I awoke from a deep and calm sleep to the movements of the shadows. Already unusual, it was made stranger by the voice that had whispered in my ear. It had told me to stay in bed, and, echoing my father, to stay away from the wood.
The window was open, even though I remembered shutting it before falling asleep. Through it, the wind was carrying the humming sound of my mother. The calm humming suddenly turned into a panicked squeal; this forced me to the window to see what was happening. As soon as I got there the sound stopped and my hearing became oddly muffled, as though someone had crept up behind me and clapped their hands over my ears.
I couldn’t see my mother, and the wind had died. None of the slender trees were stirring, instead they were holding their breath; watching and waiting for me to appear at the window. Before my eyes, the treeline bowed down to reveal Him. He was beautiful, but at first, I recoiled, and He quickly darted back into darkness, wary of me. As I leaned out of the window to look at Him, I felt hands on my waist. I turned to see the elongated torso of Mother. She had grown in stature, so that her head was covered in the darkness high up in my room, the same darkness that covered Him. Her voice still came down to me clearly; she said to show no fear, show no fear and He will come. Show Him a mother’s love.
With her strong hands still on my waist, she lifted me from my feet and held me out of the window. As she began her humming again, I could see His bright eyes winking from His hiding place. Encouraged by what I saw in them, I started to hum in time with Mother. I swayed in the air with stiff arms, playing out the dance I had seen her do many times. Her arms extended, pushing me closer to the treeline. I could smell smoke and pine; I could sense untilled earth and untapped currents.
He approached, brushing past cowed trees, unfurling His true form. He was unblinking. He stooped down to gather me up; at first the rough bark was painful, but in time I succumbed. I let the lichen and the moss grow, and the sprouting and the creaking became natural. I was rooted.
Now I am always at church, always in prayer. I stand in this line, and I sing and I dance. Mother tries to join us every night, but I think Father stops her when he can. He is fearful. Ever since I was saved, he occasionally walks down here, down to the extremities of his farm, the spaces that he was always at pains to ward me away from. He will stand and gaze with wet eyes at each one of us, sometimes looking directly at me for great lengths of time. I sway for him, but despite how he watches, he cannot recognise me. He falls to his knees and sobs; he is still afraid of us.
When I see him cry, I feel something, something I haven’t felt since the night I was saved, where a voice had told me to stay in bed. I think it was the farm speaking, or at least what it represents – which is an affront to us.
But time will pass, and I won’t worry about that anymore. I am grateful; He has communed with Mother, and soon Father’s blood will seep into the soil, feeding us, and fuelling our colonisation. I will lift Mother how she once lifted me, lift her towards the stars, above that darkness; He has shown us how, He has shown us the way…
I like writing speculative fiction and sometimes more overt horror stories, which usually involve some form of body horror. I grew up in the English Midlands and have worked as an archaeologist there. As a result, my writing is inspired by the multitude of ancient stone circles and prehistoric burials near my home.
The Birds of Rhiannon
Rhiannon laid on the grass grieving her grandmother’s passing. Each memory was painful, yet crystal clear in her mind.
As her tears fell, three birds circled while singing the most beautiful song. Were they a sign from beyond? Rhiannon listened; her grief was replaced with joy and bliss.
What did Gran sound like? What did she look like?
The sun sank and the ghosts began to roam. A vaguely familiar looking spirit called out. “The birds, they’ll steal your memories! Stop listening! Rhiannon?”
Rhiannon smiled through the figment of her grandmother. “Am I Rhiannon?”
“And who are you?”
Regina G. Beach is an American writer based in the Welsh valleys where she lives with her English husband. She usually writers about the arts, culture, travel, and wellness but she has a soft spot for myths and legends. Gina is obsessed with cats, The X-Files and tacos. Read more of Regina’s writing at reginagbeach.com.
Observations From the Closet
Parents will slather their children in sunscreen, try and feed them vegetables, and for unknown reasons never check the closets when kids insist there are monsters inside. Little Breanne screamed for her Mum, who soothed her whilst dismissing her concern. “There’s something with giant teeth in the closet!” Breanne yelled. “Big red eyes!”
This is true.
“Oh honey, sometimes we imagine things in the dark. Nothing is in your closet except for clothes and old toys.”
This statement is false.
“It’s a MONSTER!” Breanne is firm and I have to admire her resolve. Brave little girl. I’ll eat her last.
Paul Latham is a writer in Tennessee. He enjoys reading and writing short fiction and poetry. Previous publications include two pieces in The Flame Tree Fiction Newsletter and the story “A Bad Day at Sea” in the Maelstroms anthology from Shacklebound Books. Twitter: @Plamhat
The Unfriendly Ghost
What a talent! I chased her online. We became pen pals. Oh, she was so accessible. Lonely? Yes, of course. I mined her for contacts and her name opened doors. As I climbed the ladder, higher, higher, she became a waste of my time so I ghosted her. But now I’m sliding back down this slippery ladder, and while she could help me with just a word or two in the right ears, she won’t reply to my emails. Bitch. Tonight, through the parted curtains, she’s in pyjamas watching TV, oblivious. Will she ignore my entreaties? My knife? We’ll see.
Deborah Sheldon is an award-winning author from Melbourne, Australia. She writes across the darker spectrum of horror, crime and noir. Latest titles include The Again-Walkers, Liminal Spaces: Horror Stories, and Man-Beast. Award-nominated titles include Body Farm Z, Contrition, Devil Dragon, Thylacines, and Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories. Her collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories won the Australian Shadows ‘Best Collected Work’ Award. She has won the Australian Shadows ‘Best Edited Work’ Award twice: for Midnight Echo 14 and Spawn. Her short fiction has appeared in respected magazines and ‘best of’ anthologies, and received various award nominations. Other credits include TV scripts, feature articles, non-fiction books and award-winning medical writing. Read more at her website: http://deborahsheldon.wordpress.com
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Lauren is a writer with various hats – journalist, copywriter, content marketer, fiction – and considers herself a storyteller at heart. She writes gothic and folk horror and is currently working on a novel set in the world of the Victorian occult. It’s the supernatural and the occult that really give her goosebumps, and a good ghost story or vampire tale with a rising sense of dread will always pique her interest (and yes, Midnight Mass hit many of her buttons). She also has a developing fascination with folklore, the old ways and our fast-changing relationship with the natural world; this sneaks into her writing, too.
In The Real World, Lauren has more than 20 years’ experience as a professional content creator. She’s established and led global content teams and editorial strategies, including setting up content newsrooms for some of the world’s biggest brands. She was a music editor for a daily newspaper in her native Australia (a good gig and the beach remain her happy places), though she’s been London-based for 16 years and works as an editor, proofreader, marketer, and writing coach. She’s also a mental health advocate; her Substack, How to Be Self(ish), tracked her year of sabbatical and self-care, and she continues to write it irregularly as a mental health companion.
You’ll find Lauren haunting south London, where she lives with her Doctor Who-obsessed husband and their aged black house rabbit. You’ll also likely find her hosting Writers Hour sessions for the London Writers Salon a few times a week.