Trembling With Fear 09/18/2022
Hello, children of the dark. I’ve been reflecting this week on the idea of community, and how important it is to us even when we operate in such a solitary (and sometimes lonely) world. I wrote on this a few weeks back, but it’s back on my mind.
Like many of you, I’m sure, I have often felt like the outcast, the needle in the haystack, the odd one out. I have often felt like I stick out like a sore thumb, that everyone is staring at me, laughing behind my back. This is, of course, largely to do with my own mental health (hello, chronic depression and anxiety!), but it’s also the world we live in today. Community is hard to come by.
But that’s also why we’re lucky, dear readers, to inhabit this world of dark and genre fiction. I have always found genre writers to be the most welcoming, the least judgmental, the most compassionate and caring of humans. And I’m personally very lucky to be nestled amongst them this weekend. As you read this, I’ll likely be finishing up at the British Fantasy Society’s annual convention, my first foray into the fantasy world after taking my baby steps into the world of IRL horror cons over the last few years. While I will have a security blanket with me in the shape of my other half and a handful of friends, I have no doubt I will be meeting some fabulous new people and making new friends. I can’t wait.
For now, though, I bring you this week’s TWF tasting menu.
In our trembling main course, Jeremiah Minihan picks up a hitchhiker with ulterior motives. This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Paul Latham explores a new home
- JJ Munro offers a poetic piece of curiosity, and
- RJ Meldrum ponders what true evil looks like
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…
Just a ‘few’ things going on this week. Standard Horror Tree stuff, a TON of work for my MBA, actual writing in again, and… not much to report on the new layout quite yet. By the time you read this, I’ll likely have gotten an update. The problem is, I’m writing this to you FROM THE PAST! (Ohhh, Time Travel.) As to the website, we did finalize changing up our contract a bit more for inclusivity. We have a pile of other things in the works that I’m eager to share with you. I promise that some of them are coming soon!
Just a reminder about 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!
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 Rider, by Jeremiah Minihan
“I almost didn’t stop.”
Harry adjusted himself in his seat and, for some reason, began to grip the steering wheel tighter.
He looked over at her, almost as though he was an actor, feeding her the next line. But she did not respond, only giving the barest of smiles before she stared ahead. “I’m only going to Portland. I think I told you that.”
“Yeah, you did.”
Harry waited for the next words from her, but he knew they wouldn’t come.
The girl was pretty enough, with dark hair and fair skin. If Pam had been in the picture, she would have been all over him. What were you thinking; Harry, she would say loudly, a man in his fifties picking up a kid who was young enough to be his daughter?
That is what Pam would have said if she was still in the picture. But she was not in the picture. Pam was dead.
He would wait and try again. Harry picked up people from time to time. He had the strength to overpower troubled souls. At least he thought he did. But you could never be sure what a person might be like. Even an old lady could pull a knife on you.
“I’m too chatty, Jackie. See, I remembered your name. It would be a bad thing, for a salesman, if I didn’t.”
“Fine.” The girl had propped her knees against the dashboard just like Rose used to do. He imagined Rose sitting there, sullen that her dad had to drive her to school. But that was over. Rose was in California now, doing God knows what.
“Why are you looking at me like that, Harry?”
Embarrassed, Harry had to say something. “I don’t know. You remind me of someone.”
She laughed. “That’s one hell of a line. Your kid, I suppose.”
“No, not that at all.” But she did remind him of someone. Beth.
“Who then?” He shook his head. He had to concentrate. This stretch of highway was dull and tedious, with broad fields and the scrawniest trees you have ever seen.
There were differences. Jackie and Beth were the same height, but Beth had darker skin and hair that was of a light brown color.
“Where are you parents?”
“In Boston. What do you ask?”
“Just curious. No, that it is not it all. I suppose that I am trying to make conversation.”
“They don’t approve, if that is what you want to know.”
Harry looked down at her hand. For some reason, it seemed darker than it had been. He knew he would need to end this, to leave her beside the road. But he could not do that now.
“I don’t want to pry.”
“If you had a daughter, you would understand.”
“I have a daughter, older than you.”
“My parents want me to stay a kid, keep me in my room and all of that crap.”
When he looked at her again, her hair seemed straighter. Was she turning into Beth or was he imagining it? And her voice was it the clear voice of a young person or something deeper, hollower?
He needed to look ahead. That was the thing he had to do unless he wanted to crash. And he did not want to crash.
“Are you all right, Harry?” Was it the voice of Jackie or Beth? But he had not heard the voice of Beth for years. He wanted to think of happy images, but he could only think of the wasted-looking girl at the end of her life, nothing like the pretty girl he had played with.
“No, I’m all right.”
When you are frightened, you try to calculate the time it will take you to get to your destination. Harry knew some of the roads. He would not arrive in time to call on anyone today. He would check in at the inexpensive motel and make appointments for the morning. He had done this many times before.
“What do you remember, Harry?”
“Remember? What do you mean?” Harry spoke rapidly. Jackie or Beth? But he had just met Jackie. They had no previous life together.
“The dance.” The girl’s voice was low. “The dance. After the dance, when we first did it.” She giggled. If you have ever heard a phantom giggling, that is what it sounded like. It was horrible.
“Yes, of course I remember.” He forced himself to look at her. She was truly Beth now, but in a more mature way than the girl he had known. “Why are you doing this?”
The rider shrugged. “I don’t know, Harry. It isn’t because of any penance I have to do. I didn’t live long enough to commit any terrible crimes.” She laughed again. “In the end I paid for everything with the pain, the dreadful pain.”
He nodded. “I know. I remember. I’m sorry.”
“You see, where I am now, we are given assignments form time to time. Today it was my turn.”
“What about the other girl? What about Jackie?”
She laughed. “There is no Jackie. Oh, I suppose there could be, but she was just a shell.”
It wasn’t that he was going faster, but it was almost as though the car was driving itself. That wasn’t true, of course. He wanted to look across at Beth, but he knew that would be unsafe.
“What will happen?” Harry knew that he voice sounded weak.
She answered slowly. “What do you think will happen?”
There were no good answers, and Harry wanted to avoid a silly back and forth. When he looked at Beth again, she seemed to be darker. This was not the darkness of a corpse, but it could have been.
“I did the best I could, Beth, and I did not forget you.”
“Of course you didn’t, Harry. And I am not here to torment you, just to ease you into the next place.”
Harry thought he knew what she meant. But this was not possible. He had more things to do. He could reconnect with Rose. This was all ridiculous.
Harry saw the twisted tree over the next rise, and he seemed to relax. He was nodding and murmuring.
“Will it hurt, Beth?”
“No. Well, only for a moment.” She paused. “Here, take my hand.”
Jeremiah Minihan lives in Rochester, New Hampshire, USA. He has taught school and worked as a software developer and manager in the insurance and banking industries. He has published stories in Pif Magazine, Dark Dossier, Yellow Mama, Blood Moon Rising, Theme of Absence, Bewildering Stories, Literally Stories, Literary Yard and CommuterLit.
This Old House
Jay, five years old, knew that he should stay in bed. This was a new house though, and he was excited about its secrets. Mom was asleep and snoring. Jay tiptoed through his opened door and walked down the narrow hallway to the foot of the stairs. One step, then two.
He stomped on the third step, and nearly squealed with excitement: it was like an actual adventure. “Five,” he said aloud. “Six.” Then, in the pitch black a raspy voice whispered, “Seven”.
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. Find him on Twitter @Plamhat
On An English Beach
The heat bleeds into the sand,
feeding into lost bones
within the crystals.
Man, who slaughtered you here
in some forgotten invasion?
The Romans, was it?
The Vikings, then?
I will stretch my towel
across your remains,
and read my book,
and together we shall sleep
beneath the sun.
JJ Munro is a pseudonym used by Australian author and poet James Aitchison. As JJ Munro and Mike Rader, Aitchison writes horror and noir crime. As James Lee, he writes Asia’s biggest selling horror series for middle readers — Mr Midnight — which has sold over three million copies. His work can be seen at www.flameoftheforest.com
She lay in the debris of her ruined apartment. She could feel blood trickling from a dozen puncture wounds. It’d been a shell, or a missile, or something. She didn’t care. Scattered round her lay her book collection. Dracula, Frankenstein, ‘Salem’s Lot. Her friends thought she was odd for loving stories with such evil characters. She disagreed, it was just fantasy. None of it was real, it was just an escape. Most of the ‘evil’ characters were actually just victims.
She stared at the hole in the ceiling. Her blood. She finally knew what true evil was. It was us.
RJ Meldrum is an author and academic. Born in Scotland, he moved to Ontario, Canada in 2010. He has had stories published by Sirens Call Publications, Horrified Press, Trembling with Fear, Darkhouse Books, Smoking Pen Press and James Ward Kirk Fiction. He is an Affiliate Member of the Horror Writers Association.
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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.