Trembling With Fear 09/11/2022
Hello, children of the dark. I don’t know about you, but I am f***ing exhausted. I’ve had quite a week of being pulled and pushed in all sorts of directions for work and life, and my writing is well and truly on the backburner. But there is light on the horizon: by the time you read this, I’ll have started a class on horror writing with guest lecturers and attended a whole day of folk horror talks as well.
I’m one of those people who feels a desperate need to keep taking classes, when I should probably just put my bum on the seat and improve by doing. I’ve spent so long avoiding the writing that it’s now a massive, massive cloud hanging over me. I’m in awe of those of you who can dedicate time daily to nurturing your craft; how do you do it?! It’s often said that if it’s important to you, you’ll make time for it – but sometimes it’s *so* important that it becomes a source of fear and anxiety.
I’m starting to think that maybe I just need to stop overthinking and just do something. I need to go through recent submission calls featured on this here site and pick a few to play around in. (I also stepped in for Belinda to do this week’s subs round-up for Horror Tree; you may laugh at my discomfort over on the Horror Tree YouTube channel.) There’s definitely a lot going on, especially as we reach Official Spooky Season and all the Halloween stuff comes around. This is our time of year, children of the dark! Let us embrace it and create magic and madness wherever we go. Just like these contributors…
We are edging towards the disturbing on this week’s TWF menu. Our trembling main course from Nicholas Zielinski is a disturbing view into family rituals. Meanwhile, we have three delicious quick bites for you this week:
- Patricia Miller combines creepy dolls and creepy kids in this dialogue-driven short
- Tiffany Michelle Brown considers how humans and ghosts deal with shared trauma, and
- Stéphane G Perahim goes shopping with a psychopath
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.
For now, it’s over to you, Stuart…
For those of us in the US, I hope that today’s fiction is a distraction from the tragedy that occurred on this day.
As a pre-warning to our store. It will likely be going offline soon for a bit while preparing for the update. It has a huge conflict with some of our set up so we’ll be moving it offsite completely to another domain in the near future. Probably, in the next 2-3 weeks it’ll go offline and come back on the new domain following that. So, if you’ve been preparing to buy some Horror Tree swag, now is the time!
As Lauren mentioned above, be sure to check her out on our YouTube! There is a good chance you’ll be suffering with me on the third week that Belinda is gone for. I apologize ahead of time!
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.
The Boil, by Nicholas Zielinski
My family clings to The Boil. It’s a yearly tradition for us, and a sense of duty compells me to attend, although often I fantasize about blowing it off. But that’s the thing about visiting family: sometimes it hurts, and the pain can linger for years, yet I keep returning, because—always—when it’s over, I feel better, stronger, more complete.
Preparation for this year’s Boil started at the airport, when the matriarchs—my grandmother and her seven daughters—saw me in the arrivals lane, assessing my appearance. As I loaded my suitcase into my grandmother’s van, the cadre of women discussed how my body had aged since they last saw me, how my hair had grown, how my eyebrows had gotten thicker, how my skin seemed dryer, how much weight I’d lost, and how little I had slept. I agreed about the sleeping. On the way to my grandmother’s farm, I tried to sleep but the bumpy road kept me awake. Still, I kept trying, and when the group thought I was safely unconscious, I heard my aunt whisper, “This is gonna be a good one, I think.”
Everyone knew she was talking about The Boil.
At the farmhouse, the matriarchs and I performed a familiar ritual: the “catching up” conversation which always precedes the event. Meanwhile, in the front yard, a moving truck made a fuss as it backed onto the gravel driveway. And I pretended not to notice when, through the bay window, I saw my uncles unload a twelve-foot-high, stainless steel vat and haul it into the woods, cursing under its weight. Neither I nor the women said anything about it, which is part of the fun. Acknowledging The Boil before it happens is a violent breach of courtesy, like ripping off Santa’s beard.
Later I enjoyed a meal of glazed ham which faded into dreamless sleep. During the night, the men threw a mask over my head, and led me placidly through the woods, as they did every year. The boiler is not meant to see The Boil until the last possible moment, for reasons obscured by history, but I knew every inch of my grandmother’s farm, so the location was not a surprise.
This year, the site was near a ring of giant anthills in the northeastern corner of the property. I could tell because the earth underfoot was gritty, and, when we stopped walking, I felt scores of ants crawling up my legs.
Water in the vat was already boiling when I showed up. I could hear it from my position twenty feet away, bubbling madly with heat emanating from its base of red hot coals.
My uncle’s contracting business gave him access to heavy equipment. Every Boil, he shows up with a crane, which takes some heavy lifting out of the process.
Someone, I don’t know who, strapped me into a harness, and the crane lifted me into the air. I could feel my legs getting damp from the steam as my body dangled over the water. When I was little, this part used to scare me, but doing it every year has forced me to grow a thick skin, and I mean that literally.
These days, I can hardly feel it when my family boils me alive.
Slowly, the crane lowered me into the water. Through great effort, I stayed conscious until the bubbles raged against my neck. It’s a little competition I have with myself, to stay awake as long as possible, so I can observe my skin’s transformation.
Imagine a hot dog submerged in boiling water. Think of the way the casing splits, exposing the meat inside. That’s what happened to me. Like a plastic bag in the microwave, the skin on my back split open, showing a red slash of muscle running up my spine. I passed out before the split, which was disappointing, but I did feel the oil on my chest sizzle underwater, which was a new sensation.
My unconscious state lasted for many days. During that time, I dreamt of men chanting dirges over my bed, and women plunging their hands beneath my skin, rearranging organs, plying tendons, and sewing my skin shut.
When I woke up, I felt a new layer of scar tissue raised over my spine. The tear always happens in the same place, and every year the scar gets bigger. Now it’s as wide as my thigh, and raised so high it looks like there’s a snake hiding beneath the skin.
This ordeal sounds wicked, I know. But there were benefits.
After I’d built enough strength to look in the mirror, I was pleased to see that I looked younger. My hair was shorter, my eyebrows were thinner, I’d gained about ten pounds and my skin had a “dewy” quality. All features the matriarchs criticized when I arrived had changed. Does my scar get weird looks when I go swimming? Yes, and because it protrudes so much, I have trouble sleeping on my back. But, despite the side effects, I never miss a Boil. Because every time the wound heals, my skin grows back thicker. And I look a little more like myself.
Nicholas Zielinski reads, writes, and attempts to be kind in Los Angeles, California. You can find him on twitter at @final_nicholas.
A Doll for Sadie
“Hey, how’s everything going?”
“No problems to report. Sadie played quietly all night, then went right to bed.”
“I’ve been babysitting a long time. Once you know the secret, most kids are a breeze. I get a new truck for boys, a doll –”
“Tell me you didn’t buy her a doll. Didn’t I warn you about that? Never get her a doll!”
“Well, yes, but –”
“But nothing. Things are going to get weird really fast. You need to get out of there now!”
“But what about –”
An inhuman scream, a thump, a singsong whisper –
“Too late again, Mommy…”
Patricia Miller is a US Navy veteran on the spectrum who writes SF, fantasy, and horror. Publications include short fiction in A Quaint and Curious Volume of Gothic Tales, 206 Words, Wyngraf, and the Cinnabar Moth Literary Collection e-zine. Upcoming publications include short stories for Zooscape Magazine, Wyngraf, and TouchPoint Press. She a member of SFWA and CODEX. Website: https://trishmillerwrites.com / Twitter: MillerTrish42
It’s almost time. I don a robe and ascend the stairs. Halfway up, another set of footsteps joins mine. As she follows, the floorboards groan a melancholy symphony.
In the master bedroom, I open the window. I wait until I can feel her beside me, an invisible presence so cold it burns. I don’t shy away.
When the grandfather clock announces the witching hour, we lean forward and scream. Our vengeful cries snake through town.
No one comes outside to investigate; they know better.
When our lungs are empty, I retire to bed, she to the ether.
Tiffany Michelle Brown
Tiffany Michelle Brown is a California-based writer who once had a conversation with a ghost over a pumpkin beer. Her fiction and poetry has been featured in publications by Black Spot Books, Jolly Horror Press, Cemetery Gates Media, Fright Girl Summer, and the NoSleep Podcast.
I surmise that he frowned when he stumbled upon my classified ad.
‘Seeking shoe-shopping buddy. Left foot only. Size 11’
He crutched inside the pub with anguish painted on his face, expecting a mean joke. I cheerfully waved at him, and he relaxed.
Not entirely, though.
I get it.
I look askew.
As we were driving to the mall, he blurted:
‘What kind of accident were you involved in? You look…’
‘Mismatched?’ I filled in. ‘Car accident. Left me a quadruple amputee.’
‘But you have arms … and one leg.’
‘TWO legs, soon.’ I rectified as I unsheathed a syringe.
S. G. Perahim
Stéphane G. Perahim is a middle-aged French lady who lives in Belgium and teaches English for a living. When she’s not surrounded by her young, charming yet snotty students, she writes detective novels and short stories, plays with rather lifelike and creepy dolls, runs half-marathons or works on improving her nascent skills at capoeira. Find her on Instagram @Nefisaperahim.
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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.