Trembling With Fear 1-14-24
Greetings, children of the dark. How’s your 2024 treating you thus far? I hope well. Me, after spending a few weeks in intensive family catch-up mode (our first festive season together in 12 years! This is what happens when you live on the other side of the world…), I’m now fully in alone-recharging mode. My hubby (and sometime-Horror Tree contributor Chris Hawton) is currently in Minneapolis, USA, appearing as a special guest (alongside his podcast co-host Matt) at the CONsole Room Doctor Who conference. It’s the first time he’s met his co-host in more than seven years of hosting together, so he’s been rather excited. By the time you read this, he’ll be on his last day at the con, but good vibes are always welcome so do send them his way.
It feels like January is the time for these new starts, for obvious reasons. I’ve vowed (yet again; but I’ve kinda cleared more of a path this year!) to get my writing habit under control and start subbing shorts to wet my nose, so to speak. But what to write about, that is the question! I’m hoping two upcoming events will help to inspire me.
First, I’m helping to host the British Fantasy Society’s “Inspirations” event this coming Saturday, 20 January. It will not only feature readings from SFFH authors, but also an interview with the brilliant CJ Cooke, gothic author extraordinaire (her latest, A Haunting in the Arctic, is now available), as well as three panels looking at how we can get inspired by different aspects of culture: Fairytales, Gods & Monsters (including our own Steph Ellis as a panellist!); Music, Movies & Media; and finally, History & Current Affairs. I’ll be moderating that last panel, and will be chatting with Mary Robinette Kowal, Benjamin Langley, and Olivia Atwater. It’s free for BFS members and just £5 for non-members, so get your ticket here.
A week later, on Saturday 27 January, I’ll be hosting the latest in my Writing the Occult series of events, presented in partnership with Alex Davis Events, and this time we’re talking about ritual. If you have any interest in folk horror, faith horror, or aspects of the occult in fiction, come and join us! You’ll hear from the likes of Tracy Fahey, LMK Sheppard, Adam Scovell, Dr Helen Frisby, and Eden Royce, and we’ve got a big panel finale where Lee Murray, Robert P Ottone, Stephanie Ellis (again!), and Kev Harrison will chat about their own ritual inspirations in folk horror. I’m so damn excited! Details are over at writingtheoccult.carrd.co, and early bird ticket prices (£35+bf) end tomorrow, 15 January, so get in quick! Tix are here.
But that’s enough plugging; let’s get to why you’re here. This week’s TWF menu features a delicate warning about the dangers of pick-up culture from Michael Subjack. Then we’ve got three fabulous tasty morsels for dessert:
- Joshua Diabo is all-in on body horror,
- Brian McAuley has some terrible neighbours, and
- Robert Allen Lupton goes around in circles.
Finally – today is the last day to submit a short story in our Winter Window. Anything submitted after midnight tonight will unfortunately be returned unread, with a note to resubmit in the next quarterly window if you’re still interested.
Now it’s over to you, boss man.
ATTENTION YOUTUBE WATCHERS: We’ve had some great responses so far but are open to more ideas – What type of content would you like to see us feature? Please reach out to [email protected]! We’ll be really working on expanding the channel late this year and early into next.
Almost, by Michael Subjack
He followed her through the alley, his brain foggy from too many drinks and a long-dormant libido. How long had it been since he was with a woman? The number was too embarrassing to think about, so he focused on her, who was leading the way to what he hoped was a sexual encounter that was as satisfying as it was overdue.
“Are we close?” he asked.
She offered him a coy smile.
This had become the refrain since they had left the bar and gone in the direction that was opposite his apartment, indicating they were likely headed to her place. That was something he told himself he could handle, but as they had weaved through countless alleys and side streets, the sounds of a bustling, lively downtown on a Saturday night became more muted with each turn, which was a bit unnerving.
“Where do you live?” he asked in a feeble attempt to keep his tone light. “In the desert?”
“No,” she replied, sliding up next to him and resting her head on his shoulder. “But I like the view at night. Don’t you?”
He thought about her hypnotic blue eyes and full lips and decided that he did. The only other thing that was sort of troubling was her smell. He couldn’t quite place it, but it had a chemical odor akin to rubbing alcohol or ammonia. Maybe she had a particularly stubborn brand of nail polish that needed removing. Either way, focusing on it seemed pedantic. It hadn’t bothered him back at the bar, but then again, he didn’t think the smell was coming from her at that point. She had accidentally knocked her purse to the ground, and he had dutifully bent over to pick it up, along with the assorted bric-a-brac that had fallen out of it. As he scooped up tissues, lipstick, and breath mints, the strange smell stung his nostrils. He chalked it up as a perfect storm of spilled drinks and who knows whatever else as he sat upright and handed the purse to her. They finished their drinks shortly after that, and when he made the fateful suggestion that they get out of there, she offered him a shrug and an amiable “Sure”.
Despite how easy the conversation had been at the bar, it was fairly limited now, which he chalked up to anticipation because it had been a while. Maybe too long. His head was really starting to swim, which was bad. He usually watched how much he drank when he was courting a woman, be it for that night or beyond. How many he had downed, anyway? He tried to count, but his brain was becoming increasingly foggier.
“Are we getting close?” he asked. “I think I need to sit down.”
“Almost,” she promised, pulling him even closer. The strange chemical smell was still present, but so were the faint, flowery strains of her shampoo, which was much more pleasant and alluring. He took several deep breaths, which steadied him slightly.
“So what brought you here?” he asked.
The noise from downtown was all but a memory now. The only sounds were their scraping footsteps on the wet black pavement as they navigated their way down yet another alley. She replied with something he couldn’t quite make out. And it wasn’t because she spoke softly or incoherently. There was a roaring in his ears, which he imagined was the rushing of his blood. It just happened to be going in the wrong direction. The lights, dim as they were, began to flare in a way that was harsh and obtrusive. Then there were his legs, which no longer felt connected to his body as he fell into what he imagined was a modern-day take on the St. Vitus’ Dance before he collapsed entirely.
To state the absurdly obvious, something was wrong. He attempted to retrieve his phone, but his spasming hands prevented him from getting a firm grip on it. He managed to look up, hoping to see her panicked and sympathetic face as she dialed 9-1-1, but there was no one. He was alone. Almost alone, anyway. From somewhere far away or perhaps too close for comfort, he heard the cautious movement of footsteps.
He awoke to find himself prone on something that might have been a plush mattress or a bed of spikes. He had no way of knowing, as there was absolutely no sensation of any kind in his body. He attempted to make a sound but only a labored croak emerged.
And then there she was, standing over him wearing a rubber apron and a plastic face mask. His head flopped to the side where he noted a metal table with a number of glass containers on top, all of them filled with a clear fluid. Some had strangely shaped masses floating inside them. Was one of them a kidney? He honestly didn’t know. It had been a minute since high school biology. A tingling in his throat followed as his vocal cords loosened. Some of his agency had returned, but as his brain still felt like it was wrapped in wet plaster, there wasn’t much he could offer. Just a question – the only one that made sense in his current state.
“Are we close?”
She held up a scalpel and smiled, her eyes not meeting his. As sensation slowly continued to return, he had just enough energy to raise his head and see what her gaze was fixated on, a decision he immediately regretted. It was his glistening, still-beating heart inside of his open chest cavity. In the time it took him to start screaming, she cooed a reply barely louder than a whisper.
Stop Picking, You’ll Make Them Worse
My face feels like it is stuck in the crook of a door with no one to pull it open and ease the pressure.
A layer of grease pervades and perseveres.
Rubbing only makes it worse, the situation is exasperated, my eyes run red.
Now it’s on my fingers. It’s always there, but now I’m reminded of it, and it of me.
The conversation begins again. They are hungry and lonely. A plea goes out for rescue.
I form a ring with my finger, and squeeze them out.
I hold them in my palm. They are beautiful.
They are mine.
Joshua Diabo, is Mohawk from Kahnawake, Quebec. He graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Film Production in 2019, and is currently working on a Master’s degree in Literature and Writing Studies at California State University of San Marcos. He writes in all modes of Horror, but specifically in Cosmic Horror, and folktales/urban legends.
The people who live above me are so rude.
Someone’s always lecturing with a booming voice while another ends up sobbing, sometimes screaming.
Don’t even get me started on the music. Only the most irritating instruments, all violins and bagpipes.
I swear they do it on purpose. They’re trying to get a rise out of me, but I won’t give in.
I will keep quiet, stay peaceful.
You won’t catch me punching through this pine box, clawing up through dirt to drag them six feet deep.
No, I will lie perfectly still in my home.
Because I’m a good neighbor.
Brian McAuley’s debut novel CURSE OF THE REAPER was named one of the Best Horror Books of 2022 by Esquire. His upcoming novella CANDY CAIN KILLS has already received a positive review from Library Journal in advance of its November 14th publication date. Brian’s short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Dark Matter Magazine, Nightmare Magazine and Shortwave Magazine. As a WGA screenwriter, he has worked for major studios and networks on everything from family sitcoms to horror films. Brian can be found on various social media platforms @brianmcwriter or via his website brianmcwriter.com
“Genie, my first wish is for riches.”
The genie surrounded the man with an unclimbable wall of gold and gemstones.
“My second wish is for long life.”
Genie turned the man into a giant tortoise. “Third wish, Master? I speak fluent tortoise.”
The tortoise looked at the prison made of gold he could never spend and considered centuries of loneliness and hunger as a tortoise. “Put things back exactly the way they were before my first wish.”
The genie waved his hand.
The man said, “Genie, my first wish is for riches.”
“Here we go again,” said the genie. “Granted.”
Robert Allen Lupton
Robert Allen Lupton is retired and lives in New Mexico where he is a commercial hot air balloon pilot. Robert runs and writes every day, but not necessarily in that order. Over 180 of his short stories have been published in various anthologies. More than 1600 drabbles based on the worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs and several articles are available online at www.erbzine.com. His novel, Foxborn, was published in April 2017 and the sequel, Dragonborn, in June 2018. His third novel, Dejanna of the Double Starwas published in the fall of 2019 as was his anthology, Feral, It Takes a Forest. He co-edited the Three Cousins Anthology, Are You A Robot? in 2022. He has five short story collections, Running Into Trouble, Through A Wine Glass Darkly, Strong Spirits, Hello Darkness,and The Marvin Chronicles. Visit his Amazon author’s page for current information about his stories and books. Like or follow him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, or visit his website.
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
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.