Trembling With Fear 1-28-24
Greetings, children of the dark. I’ll be honest with you here: it’s 10pm on a Friday night and I am f***ing exhausted, but am only just getting a chance to curate this week’s TWF for you. This has been one entirely draining month, and I wonder if you’re both as baffled and as glad that the end of January is upon is. I’m sure there’s a story in there about time being an energy vampire and the tides messing with our sense of chronology. If you write it, please submit it to us—the details for our various TWF-related opportunities are over on this page.
The next of those internal submission opportunities will be for our Valentine’s special. Subs are already making themselves known to our inbox, but special editions editor Shalini would love to see what your dark and speculative brains can make of this annual celebration of lurve. Do send them—both short stories and drabbles—our way.
Remember, though, that we are currently closed to short stories for our regular weekly edition of TWF, but we always have an insatiable need for more drabbles. Get your nightmares into 100 words exactly and show us what you’ve got.
Take inspiration from this week’s trembling menu. Our main course is fuelled by fungi, and comes to us from Indonesia and Rinanda Hidayat. Then we’ve got three fabulous tasty morsels for dessert:
- Gary Gregory plays with dark form,
- AW Voelkel takes things one step too far, and
- Christina Nordlander persists.
Over to you, Stuart.
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.
Rinanda Hidayat is a young aspiring writer from Indonesia, who loves writing short fiction. He has only been published a couple of times before but is ever eager to share his stories all over the world.
Growing Shroom, by Rinanda Hidayat
I woke up, my mouth sewn sealed, and my body hung upside down, wrapped up in ropes, like a human cocoon. A flicker of fire floated above me, too dim to see past the surrounding dark, but bright enough to see what was in front: a man, suffering the same fate, except his eyes were closed, still ignorant of the horror that awaited us.
The walls around us smelt of rotting wood, and through them I could hear the faint gawking of crows; perhaps they were warning us, perhaps they were celebrating. I tried swinging my body, but it moved not an inch; the rope had locked me tight, down to my very bones. All I could do was wait while drowning in absolute dread of what fresh hell I had stumbled upon.
The door answered me, it creaked open with a shriek, footsteps of slops and moist followed, getting louder and louder as it got closer, then out of the darkness, a figure appeared, hunched and robed. I couldn’t see their full face–only wrinkles of age and a smile–but it was enough to tell me what kind of monster I encountered: a witch.
The witch grabbed the man’s cheek and slapped it; he didn’t wake up. She slapped it again, and still his eyes remained closed. The witch cackled like a mad goose and whispered under her foul breath, “Finally.”
She then turned to me and grabbed my face, and I wriggled like a helpless worm; her hands were dead cold, yet I could feel each of her fingers pulsating as if they had a life of their own; it felt like being held by a beating heart. She clutched my face harder and harder; I could feel the rope getting tighter and my breath getting shorter and shorter, but then she released me and returned to the darkness.
Just as relief came to me, the witch returned carrying a wooden stake with its tip dipped in glistening red color. She grabbed the man’s neck and stabbed it, but the man stayed asleep, and there was not a drop of blood trickling from his neck.
The witch turned to me. I swung my head back and forth, hoping somehow it would knock her out, but I couldn’t even move. I tried to scream, but it echoed back to my own sewn mouth. This was it, I thought, this was the end of me, but then the witch snapped her finger, and I felt a drowsy spell hitting me, and before I knew it, I fell into a slumber.
I woke up sometimes, somewhere, still surrounded by darkness and the stench of rotting woods, still hanging upside down, still with a man in front of me; nothing has changed. I began to doubt whether the witch was even real.
But as I stared at the man, my doubt was cleared; in the man’s neck was a red dot, a scar left by the wooden stake. I continued to gaze at the man and saw a strange shape growing on his left arm: a thin white body with a spotted rounded cap, a mushroom.
From the peerless dark, the witch emerged, still robed and hunched. She plucked the mushroom from the man’s arm and ate it; she then shrieked with absolute joy, jumping and twirling here and there, like an innocent little child. She turned and terror began to flood me, it’s my turn now, but yet again, I was spared; she snapped her fingers and returned to the dark.
I woke up and the witch was singing: a lullaby of childhood serenaded with screech and shrill, yet somehow it still felt innocent. It was the closest thing to peace I had. It helped that the witch was out of sight in the darkness, accompanying her song with the stirring of pots and the banging of ladles.
Just as I was about to get lost in the rhythm, the witch stopped and emerged from the dark carrying a small bowl. She once again approached the man, and that was when I saw the man’s left arm; it was riddled with red-spotted mushrooms, each with their own size, their own roundess, their own slithering stems of different thickness and length; it was like a living forest blossoming on a skin, and yet still not even a drop of blood, yet still the man lay asleep. I wondered whether he was ever alive.
The witch plucked some of the mushrooms, put them in her bowl, and returned to darkness, where she continued to sing and to brew, but after just a few seconds, she returned to snap her finger and send me to dream.
I woke up from a muffled scream; the man had woken up and half his body was covered in mushrooms. Surrounded by the dark, and the white spots of the mushroom shimmered like stars in a sea of red, its stems slithered inside the man’s body, crawling through his veins, pulsating with his blood. The mushrooms had shriveled up his skin, and it was leaking a strange transparent liquid that was neither sweat nor tears.
There were mushrooms growing out of the holes of his sewn mouth–somehow they had infected his inside–I dare not even imagine just how much pain he suffered. I was glad he had no voice to tell me.
But the worst part was his eyes; they begged me for help, but I couldn’t do anything; I couldn’t even look at them. He wriggled, and swung back and forth, trying his best to get my attention, and all I did was pray for the witch to appear and snap me back to sleep. My prayer was answered.
The man had become a host. His body was engulfed by a thick cluster of mushrooms; they were so dense that they became a lump of entity, shaped like a white-spotted heart, throbbing now and then. His mouth that was once sealed was now torn agape, bursting with red caps, and slobbering with that strange liquid. His face was unrecognizable; there was no trace of man left, only a husk displaying nothing but torment, and yet he still blinked.
The witch appeared bearing a knife. She approached the man and cut him loose; he slopped to the ground and wriggled like a worm. The witch grabbed him and dragged him into the darkness; as he descended, he gave me a look, one of hate.
The witch returned and walked towards me. I once again squirmed in futility; my time had run out, I thought, it’s my turn now. The witch walked closer and closer; I could feel the endless darkness around me expanding into beyond infinite. I could feel my heart beat faster than my ear could hear, and before I knew it, the witch was in front; she readied her knife and cut me free.
I dropped to the ground, the ropes clutching my body came loose, I could move again! I could run! I could run! But before I did, I gave the witch a glance, asking her with no voice, “Why?”
And as if she could hear my thought, she answered:
“I’m sick of mushrooms.”
Blue Murder Banshee
Burrowing worm of depression devours
Light like collapsing sun
Under its own weight the darkening hours
Encounter a man too young
Maker of me one day monster be
Under umbrage lock and key
Resilient alienation ever thrives
Demon alcohol damn a man alive
Existing hovel habitat mind
Resolution runs red and red blackout blind
Blood splattered down a cavernous stairwell
Appalling prophecy in a dream
Nightmare visitor came to foretell
Skull trauma with soul shattering scream
Head on fire, her colors return to blue
Echo in the well all becoming true
End of life – your skeleton unravels from its sinew
Gary Gregory is an unpublished writer of dark poetry and fiction trying to smash his way through with any hatchet or blunt instrument to leave a bloody mark on the pages for those who would care to read such things.
He grew old while she grew young. Sipping at the potion she gave him. A little more tea. A little more cake. He took up a cane. She danced beside him. His face wrinkled. Her face smoothed. Aren’t you hungry? Don’t you want more? Bald head. Luscious locks. Bent back. Straight shoulders.
One day, she’d give it back. Yet she loved the clarity of her hearing and the silence in her bones.
Youth is addictive.
Beside his grave the mourners whispered she looked thirty. Insulting! Men could be found. Potions could be made.
A poisonous trophy wife of a widow!
I am a writer, an avid reader and a nontraditional university student (which means I’m much older than my classmates.) My instagram page is @aw_voelkel.
The Punishment of Loki
I have stopped closing my eyes when it comes. The thin, smooth eyelid skin does nothing to stop the venom. If I keep them open, it only damages my eyes.
One drop lands on my forehead, over my left eye.
I can only tip my head a few degrees back before the stanchion and my own muscles resist, but sometimes a drop runs around my eyebrow ridge, burning along my jawbone. It’s hard to remember the technique when the panic comes. If I improve it, I may work up to several minutes without pain.
The next drop lands.
Christina Nordlander was born 1982 in Sweden, and lives in Manchester, UK, with her husband. She has published over 25 stories and other pieces, most of them on the speculative fiction spectrum, many of them in Trembling with Fear. Her most recent publication is ?The Cuckoo?s Brood? in Tangle & Fen (Crone Girls Press, 2023). Find more on Patreon or Facebook.
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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.