Trembling With Fear 08/28/2022
Hello, children of the dark. I’m curious: what’s been your relationship with the darker side of fiction?
It’s a question that’s been on my mind a lot these last few weeks – really, since I took over this column from the wonderful Steph Ellis. I had the usual inferiority complex issues about the role (who am I to take this on, etc etc), but amongst all that lurked a different sort of inferiority. It’s the one that criticised me for my on/off relationship with dark fiction.
For most of my adult life, I told myself I didn’t get along with horror. My 20s were spent in the era of torture porn films, and I was very averse to it. Like all good Australians, I saw Wolf Creek at the cinema and had to look away for most of the last half. That was the last scary movie I saw in the theatre for years and years; I concluded I’d lost my mettle.
Over the last decade, though, as I’ve been getting back in touch with my own fiction writing – and let me tell you, writing copy and articles for a living had ruined that love, too! – I’ve been re-embracing my dark side. Since the pandemic, even my wardrobe has changed and I’m back to celebrating Halloween fashion all year round. I’m rediscovering myself, and it’s been a journey… Still, I thought, I’m too new to this to be taken seriously yet.
Then I was stuck on the couch for a week with the much-talked-about injury (I really am not a good patient, you might have noticed!). I picked up my copy of Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell and read it cover to cover. I began to remember these books and ones just like them. I remembered them in my hands, on my library request list, in our home book shelves. I remembered how much I devoured horror fiction as a kid. Point Horror, of course – I was a teenage girl, after all – but also more adult fare. Stephen King short stories. Discussions of Flowers in the Attic. Friends obsessed with Anne Rice.
One book and one week stirred so many emotions and reawakened so much of myself that I can’t quite believe it. I spent 15-20 years hiding my spookiness so that I could fit in with the real world. Now I can’t wait to escape it and be with you all, dark ones. Maybe this is just a homecoming, after all.
But enough of that. Let’s get to this week’s feast of darkness. Our trembling main course from Lancaster Cooney finds plenty hiding in the dark depths of the earth.
For the quick bites, we have three delicious offerings:
- Dustin Mills channels the oppressive heat of recent times to bring us some body horror
- Carson Fredrikson can’t quite make it to the end of a challenge, with dire consequences, and
- Pauline Yates puts a very different sort of meal on the table
If these stories inspire you to get writing, you’ll find details on how to submit to us over here on our freshly-updated submission guidelines page.
Over to you, Stuart….
Since we’ve last spoken, my MBA program has started back up, so I’m currently back at it and in another class that will involve math and formulas that won’t apply to what I actually do at my job… 🙂
Our site update is on hold this week as our designer had a scheduled holiday. Hopefully, more on that next week. That isn’t to say that we’ve been standing still! For those of you who submit to Trembling With Fear, we’ve slightly updated our contract to be more inclusive and rephrased a couple of lines that were a bit vague.
A quick reminder that we’re now on MSN and would LOVE it if you can throw us a follow on MSN! We should have more content coming soon!
As always, I hope you had a great weekend.
Death of a Proven Creature, by Lancaster Cooney
In the initial stages I’ll admit to thinking it a gift. Even entertaining the premise that the good Lord had come down from the mountain and stamped out a patch of earth directly. But this would not be how I’d come to understand it. You can never truly know the land. Never digest the nature of its offerings.
She was not always screaming, though she never gave me words. Mostly I’d just remove the grass to prove her still there. That my mind had not fractured. She had a mouth as wide as a bear-trap that slammed open in a mechanical way. And though this was nearly all that was revealed, there was no mistaking who she was.
At risk of the neighbors, I could only allow a moment before replacing the earth. Not more than a divot really, watching each time as she choked back dirt and stray grass. On occasion I’d try and speak to her, peel back that patch real slow and careful, but she’d catch her breath, gain her bearings, and go right on into hollering. I couldn’t help her, you, see? She was gone, every nuance of existence, her entire colony.
As I said, at first it was all shits and splendor, come home from work and there it was, the first item revealed. Not sure what triggered it really, but I got to thinking about one of those old wooden rocking horses I had when I was kid. Swear half the day that dude kept popping back into my mind. I could see where the paint peeled along the crest. Feel those nubby wooden handles in the palm of my hands. Even summon the back-and-forth play. Eventually though we had to go and pitch that odd-toed ungulate. A split forged itself where the fetlock came into contact with the sled. (Nothing so sad as an eight-year-old boy watching while his beloved wooden-Equus gets jammed croup-deep into a heavy-duty trash receptacle.) And just as I had seen him last, so would he present himself upon our reunion, only planted instead right there in the scalp of my lawn. I fetched a shovel and brought the ancient beast from the ground, laid it to rest on the kitchen table frozen in mid-gallop, a look of exasperation upon its face. Into the wee hours I sat and stared at the thing, unable to wrap my head around any sort of sensible logic. In the morning I awoke a mist, a litany of Bud Tallboys and gutted pizza rolls. The rocking horse was gone. A pyramid of ash was all that remained. I pinched a sample between my forefinger and thumb and wriggled it out like a pot enthusiast loading a joint.
For nearly two weeks no other items appeared. Until one spring evening…
I was sitting on the back deck listening to the ballgame. Early humidity had settled upon the city, thick as cobwebs. And perhaps that’s where it stemmed? The moment was right. Whereas the horse had come when I was not at home, the second item showed no reluctance, as if it wanted me to see, breaching the surface of the grass like the dorsal fin of a shark and ducking back beneath before finally parking it not ten feet from where I stayed. I looked from side to side, wanting someone to witness, but there was no one available. My approach was slow. Unsure. I knelt down in the grass and tore away its blades. And there, jutting out from the soil, was the brim of a ball cap, maroon and smelling of sweat. With no accessible tools I dug my paws into the earth and extracted the head wear in the manner of a stubborn root. It popped free and the teeth that tightened and loosened the back made that awful plastic tearing sound.
My father wore the hat. Placed it upon his head the moment he returned from work. Pulled it down real low so you could hardly see his eyes. On occasion he’d let me wear it. It was the same cap the players wore nearly every night on the television, save for the color was less that bright red of a newly severed artery and more the color of less oxygenated blood. Not to mention the emblem, that sharp mouthed C residing just above the bill was less the white of chipped bone and more cigarette stained yellow. The stitching losing hold, frayed. “First major league ball club,” he’d say. As though this was information he’d never before offered. His stories always came in twos and threes. Something I would later miss about him. Without much thought I placed the cap upon my head, pulled it real low, and just as my father often had, I slept in the thing. In the morning I rinsed my hair and watched the black sooty water run down the drain.
She died on a Wednesday, which seemed to me an awful day to die. Hospice came in and let her die in her own bed, allowed us to bypass all the bells and whistles that come with a hospital death. That sick smell you can’t get out of your nasal cavity. White hallways. Fluorescent bulbs that turn everything in the room jaundice. Our spaniel Roughie laid out across her torso in some futile attempt to pin the soul down. She hollered out. Spoke of that which was not there. And then she died. I never got into the logistics. Hardly see how it matters. But somewhere along the line a decision had been made, or not been, and these were the results, the death of a proven creature.
Now I’ll admit it was a low thing to do, but I got rid of that dog. Nothing too awful, drove out to the country and found a well-maintained farmhouse and dropped him over the fence. It was my belief that he’d be alright, you couldn’t hardly look at that sweet little face and not do right by him.
After nearly a weeks’ worth of deliberation, I knew what had to be done. Once unearthed, all the other items had returned to ash. Surely, she would follow suit? I went to the garage to fetch a roll of duct tape and shovel. I worked aggressively and without emotion, stripping the silver tape from its roll and spreading it from cheek to cheek. Same with the eyes. I could not bear to look at them directly, instead working in a peripheral motion, slapping the sticky cover over them. I told myself this was not my love, but instead sadness had invaded my little territory of the universe and punishment had visited me in the form of re-lived pain. Even still, when I saw the heave in her chest, tendons in her neck taught as piano wire, I began to cry. She was skeletal. Her skin hung. She breached the earth in limp reality; any possibility of movement was little more than a dream. And as I carried her across the lawn and into the house, I knew she would always remain with me, that nothing new was coming.
Lancaster Cooney graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a BFA in Playwriting. His work can be found or is forthcoming at decomP, Alice Blue Review, Everyday Genius, Gone Lawn, Matchbook Lit Mag, The Indianola Review and Heavy Feather Review, among others. He lives with his wife, two daughters and pup in the Northern Kentucky area. He is currently working on his first novel.
Sunburned and sweating, I stagger toward the pond. The clusters of quarter-sized tumors populating my scalp throb. They are pregnant with parasites, and the oppressive heat is liberating them earlier than planned.
Pressure builds. I cannot regulate it. Terror has hijacked my thoughts.
Spiny-headed worms burst forth, dropping to the ground. Some codependent instinct compels me to rescue as many as possible.
On the bank, I drop them by handfuls into the epilimnion layer. It’s therapeutic to watch them swim away.
I know in a day or two, the throbbing will begin again. I just hope something positive comes out.
Dustin Mills is a writer living and working in the mountains of Appalachia. He has been previously published in Bearqueft Comix and Schlock! Webzine.
So Close, Yet So Far
“I bet I can swim to the other side and back before dinner!”
The words rattled in his mind relentlessly as the young man tried to reach the other side of the lake. Getting to the one side had been no challenge; he was the top swimmer in his high school after all.
But when he tried swimming towards the other side, it seemed to just move further and further away from him.
He couldn’t even see his little sister standing on the beach anymore.
He cried in agony as he swam faster and faster.
But the shore never came.
Carson Fredriksen currently resides in Calgary, Alberta and enjoys writing speculative fiction in order to enrich his mundane life. When he’s not plugging away at his dark imagination, he can be seen cycling the neighbourhood, watching Jeopardy and spending time with his friends and family. You can also find him on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/carsonfredriksen/.
When you wheel the corpse into the morgue, I leave drawer 6A, the portal connecting our worlds, and slip inside your body. You resist my demonic possession, but we’ve had this battle before and I always win. Using your hands, I slice open the torso with a scalpel, peel back the skin, and feast on the heart and liver. Hunger quenched, I return to my world while you staple the skin closed with trembling hands. You don’t vomit this time. You’ve developed my taste. And my insatiable appetite. You search the morgue for another corpse so we can feed again.
Pauline Yates lives in Queensland, Australia, and writes horror and dark speculative fiction. She’s an Australian Shadows Awards short fiction finalist, an AHWA short story winner, and is translated with Riflessi di Luce Lunare (RiLL), Italy. When not writing, which rarely happens because thinking about her stories is the same thing, she enjoys reconnecting with nature and taking photos of the sunrise. Links to her website and publications can be found here: https://linktr.ee/paulineyates
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Lauren McMenemy wears many hats: Editor-in-Chief at Trembling With Fear for horrortree.com; PR and marketing for the British Fantasy Society; founder of the Society of Ink Slingers; curator of the Writing the Occult virtual events; writers hour host at London Writers Salon. With 25+ years as a professional writer across journalism, marketing, and communications, Lauren also works as a coach and mentor to writers looking to achieve goals, get accountability, or get support with their marketing efforts. She writes gothic and folk horror stories for her own amusement, and is currently working on a novel set in the world of the Victorian occult. You’ll find Lauren haunting south London, where she lives with her Doctor Who-obsessed husband, the ghost of their aged black house rabbit, and the entity that lives in the walls.