Trembling With Fear 1/22/2023
Hello, children of the dark. How are you doing on this fine January day? Me, I’m still on a bit of a high after seeing filmmaker Darren Aronofsky be interviewed at the British Film Institute last night. He’s made some of my favourite films – ok, maybe not favourite, but certainly films that have left a lasting impact on me – and it’s always a privilege and a pleasure to get to hear these creative leaders speak live, in the same room.
Since I made the decision to truly prioritise my creativity and make big changes in my life, I’ve tried to make the most of these sorts of opportunities to attend events and Q&As and suchlike. Living in London is such a gift for these things, but I’m also grateful for all the virtual events that have become a staple since the beginning of the pandemic. It makes the creative arts more accessible to those outside the big centres, and that can only be a good thing.
Case in point: next month in the UK, we have the Ghost Story Festival happening in Derby, which is in the Midlands of England. But the organisers know that not everyone will be able to get there, so they’ve added a preview night with two virtual sessions happening on the day before the festival proper kicks off, as well as launching a YouTube channel featuring interviews with the speakers. Then there are all the writing groups around the world who are using Zoom and other platforms to bring writers and creatives into our phones and computer screens to share wisdom, tips and expertise. Yes, even Horror Tree tries to make opportunities and offerings more accessible – have you subscribed to our YouTube channel yet?
Nothing is perfect and no one is doing everything right, but I am heartened to see these steps towards embracing different needs within the creative world. And, from where I sit, I reckon the world of speculative fiction is leading the way in embracing diversity. In Penguin Random House’s list of 10 most anticipated books of this year sits Victor Lavalle’s forthcoming Lone Women – no way would a horror book have appeared on that list a few years ago. In our own way, Trembling With Fear welcomes submissions from all writers of the darkly speculative, no matter your age, gender, ethnicity, beliefs, abilities – as long as you adhere to our submission guidelines, of course. Please do check them before submitting to us, as we will automatically decline stories that feature graphic sex, rape, racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and misandry, or killing or abuse of kids or pets.
But now let’s turn to this week’s menu. The Trembling main course comes courtesy of neurodiverse writer Robert Zerbe and his sticky garage door. This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Marc Sorondo faces an end of the world scenario,
- Chelsey Pippin Mizzi goes to hell, and
- Finbar Hussey writes in a diary.
If these stories inspire you to get writing, you’ll find details on how to submit to us over here, and we have an insatiable appetite. As Stuart said the other week, we would like to re-open to short stories soon but we still have quite a few waiting for publication. If you really want to get your short story mojo going, we are looking for submissions to our Valentine’s special – that’s shorts up to 2500 words or drabbles of the usual 100 exactly. Our new specials editor Shalini awaits your imagination!
Over to you, Stuart.
I know that I keep talking about the new hosting and design and that we’re not there yet. I promise you; we’re getting SO CLOSE! This is the big hold-up for quite a few upcoming changes and I’m hoping it shall be sorted soon.
Another change, I know that once upon a time in the past, it had been mentioned that we might be bringing iPhone and Android apps of the site into existence. We’re still exploring that idea and might have a way to feasibly do so that won’t kill our already pretty low budget. (We’ve lost a couple of Patreons lately so the budget has been shrinking. Gah!)
For those looking to support the site, we’re always open Ko-Fi donations and always have our Patreon going.
As always, I hope you had a great weekend.
Grave Garage, by Robert Zerbe
Inside Jon Cooper’s garage, junk clattered and cardboard boxes rustled. Crickets chirped outside and a cat screamed somewhere in the distance. The air inside the garage was stagnant. Like most garages, it had no access to the home’s air conditioning and the enclosed room was irritatingly hot.
“Where is it?” Jon blurted, questioning no one in particular.
He wished he had a time machine. He could stop himself from signing the closing papers. Wouldn’t pack a single box. He wanted to tell himself – ‘Don’t hire the movers!’
Jon and his wife Kris had just moved into that new house. New to them. In truth it was the oldest house Jon had ever lived in. The move had been frustrating and sudden, almost impulsive. At the end of the day it was Covid that forced them out of their rental and into buying the place. As it had been for so many others. That was the problem with Covid – everyone was going through the same thing you were – or worse. So you had no right to complain.
“You have no right to complain.”
Jon’s toxic landlord had actually said that to him. That was the day Kris decided they were moving.
So they moved. It was done. Jon just wanted to move on despite being more traumatized than he’d like to admit. He’d given up on the counseling he’d tried to sign up for (therapy was another casualty of Covid – most therapists weren’t taking new patients, and if they were, it was tele-health only, something insurance companies didn’t want to cover). So he decided he’d just put up with the Covid anxiety and settle for being unpacked and relaxed for Halloween season, something that seemed unlikelier by the day.
And there he was in that unfamiliar garage, looking through containers of junk. All the while being seized by a rage that he sometimes possessed. Or sometimes possessed him. Little things that could make Jon’s life easier had always escaped him. Case in point, labeling moving boxes. He’d been looking for a flashlight for at least 15 minutes. Jon grabbed a box, popped it open, and peered inside.
Flashlight found. Jon threw the box back onto the ground and began to scuff across the garage floor toward the mudroom that separated the garage from the house.
Suddenly, as suddenly as anything Jon had ever experienced, the garage door was opening.
Jon whirled around and instinctively raised the flashlight over his head. He wouldn’t have been able to tell you why, but he simply stared and watched the old garage door open fully.
The door clanged to a stop. It was darker outside than Jon would have thought. The crickets were louder.
Jon backed up the last few steps to the mudroom door and slapped the garage door opener on the wall. The garage door began to clang and whine shut.
A beeping noise trilled and the garage door banged and shuddered to a halt.
Something was blocking the garage door.
Jon stumbled back over to the front of the garage. Nothing appeared to be blocking the door. He leaned over the imaginary line where the door would fall. Still nothing.
Another cat screamed. Maybe the same one. Jon clicked the flashlight on and looked out into the gloom. A light rain flirted with the night and combined with just a hint of fog to form Scotch mist. Jon’s skin suddenly prickled and a chill ran down his spine. Despite the hot August night, his breath suddenly puffed out of his mouth. Jon only half noticed. It occurred to him how exposed he was.
The point of a house, Jon thought, is to keep you safe inside and keep things out. The garage door completely exposes your home.
Jon huffed and rolled and stretched his head around and around, eyes tightly shut as if that would cure his developing headache. He thought of Kris, who was inside sleeping. She had every right to be – it was the middle of the night after all.
It hit Jon again that his garage door had opened on its own and was now refusing to close. He quickly turned and walked back to the opener. His finger hovered over the device and his eyes turned towards the door. He pushed the button. The door returned to the open position. A reset. He pushed the button again. And the same thing happened. The door went down a few feet and then stopped violently.
No reason to complain.
Jon stomped back to the garage door, kicking boxes as he went, his fear forgotten. He scanned every inch of the floor, looking for the offending item. He saw absolutely nothing in the way of the door. He even grabbed a few items near the entryway and shoved them aside. He again walked back to the button and pressed it. The door fully opened and Jon pressed the button again. Again it stopped, blocked by something. Jon had had enough.
Jon stormed to the center of the room, reached up, and pulled the garage door’s emergency release cord. He walked to the entrance, reached up for the door’s handle, and pushed forward and pulled down.
A loud and powerful grinding and creaking noise overtook everything.
Jon lowered the door until the bottom was level with his chest, blocking his view of the world outside. That’s when he heard the footsteps.
Jon stopped and listened, a mix of fear and curiosity filling his head. A few moments passed. All he could hear were the crickets and the door was heavy, so he finished lowering it. He listened for a few moments more until he was satisfied he’d been imagining the footsteps. He stepped back.
Jon stopped and looked at the garage door. He thought with it closed, he’d see what had blocked it. Nothing.
Jon thought about engaging the door motor again but figured he’d leave it off for the night. He turned to leave and got halfway to the mudroom before he heard the garage door grinding and creaking open again.
Opening by hand.
Jon whirled again and watched in horror as the garage door continued to open. He saw no one standing on the other side and his mind spun and spun with confusion and fear.
The door finally came to a stop and Jon looked out in horror. Nothing happened. Even the crickets had gone silent. Jon began to wonder if maybe the door had some sort of backup mechanism that would explain how it had just opened. Then he heard it. An unintelligible whispering filled the garage. Jon saw his breath for sure this time as the air turned cold and the whispering grew louder and surrounded him.
Some part of Jon – a sixth sense, the lizard part of his brain, his peripheral vision – sensed a ghostly figure lurking outside the house, but only briefly. It then rushed the garage so fast Jon could only scream. But not before one final thought.
No reason to complain.
Jon Cooper’s house sat with the garage door open for about a minute. Slowly, the door began to lower shut with stressful creaks and groans. It banged closed and the crickets began to chirp cautiously again and the Scotch mist continued to form.
Robert Zerbe is a writer and podcaster. He co-founded a creative writing club at Florida State University and has authored numerous short stories and audio scripts. As a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder, Robert understands the importance of neurodivergence in the arts. He lives in Jacksonville, Florida with his wife and two children.
The asteroid impact was an “end of life as we know it” scenario. The point of impact—just along the Antarctic coast—vaporized eons worth of ice, sending a tsunami several stories high northward. Weather went insane across the planet. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions were triggered across every fault. Crops failed. Millions died and societies collapsed.
Then, exposed to warmth, water, our oxygen-rich atmosphere, that dormant thing that had been no asteroid awoke. When it seemed the worst had already come, that thing rose up out of the southern ocean, standing in its own freshly birthed crater.
Then the real horrors began.
Marc Sorondo lives with his wife and children in New York. He loves to read, and his interests range from fiction to comic books, physics to history, oceanography to cryptozoology, and just about everything in between. He’s a perpetual student and occasional teacher. For more information, go to MarcSorondo.com.
The 10th Circle
I went to hell because I thought – what would be worse than what there already is?
The moral of the story is one should never dare the devil.
Flayed flesh and pulled teeth are the Disney ride version of eternal punishment. They’re Candyland, kid’s play, I swear to God. But then, maybe that’s how I got here in the first place.
The only thing worse than what there already is, is the replay.
They make you watch. Every excruciating moment of your life over, and over, and over.
See, hell’s just a rerun on loop, and you’re the starring fool.
Chelsey Pippin Mizzi
Chelsey Pippin Mizzi is a writer and tarot reader based in Avignon, France. Her first book, The Tarot Spreads Yearbook, is out in April 2023.
Mr. Slater is awesome! It’s been three weeks (I think!) and he looks after me so well. He says the world is still burning out there, but he still goes out everyday to get us supplies. He won’t let me help because I’m “too important.”
So, I spent today cleaning up the bunker. I found his bag with some bleach and cloth, it looks great in here now, but reeks!
He says my special day is coming soon, but my birthday was in June so I dunno what he means, but I’m really excited!
Talk tomorrow x
Finbar is an Irish horror fanatic and author-for-fun who has recently begun writing short stories. In his day job he is a graphic designer and by night is a pallid ghoul hunched over his computer tapping out spooky stories and devouring horror movies.
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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.