Trembling With Fear 1/29/2023
Hello, children of the dark. Tell me: where do you get your writing inspiration from? What is it that brings those little story sparks, the step before you fan the flames of creation? I’m always curious about what gets other creatives going – especially when, as I am now, I’m staring into the deep abyss of a new project and feeling totally overwhelmed about what to tackle first. So many possibilities! What if I choose the wrong one?!
Sometimes inspiration comes from attending an event – I went to a wassail organised by a friend on Sunday, and my folk horror senses were tingling – and sometimes it comes from reading the work of peers. Many of our contributors at TWF are inspiring with how they paint a picture with carefully chosen words, others inspire by outlandish and crazy ideas. If you’re looking for inspiration from the best of the best, last week the Horror Writers Association released the longlist for this year’s Stoker Awards. I’ve always found this list, and others like it, to be a great pointer towards new talent and things I might’ve missed from the more established, too. Check it out here and let us know what you’re going to add to your TBR for inspiration pile!
But now let’s turn to this week’s menu. We head out into the great outdoors for this week’s Trembling main course with Shelby Dollar. This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Mike Rader channels the feline world,
- Rachel L Tilley brings wildness to heartbreak, and
- Carys Crossen seeks a magickal assistant.
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.
The new hosting and layout are going to be pushed back by a couple of weeks so we’re a bit stuck in limbo on updates until that time. I hope that we’ll have a few changes to share before that. However, this week, we won’t be adding anything fun. Apologies!
On the Trembling With Fear side, as mentioned above, we are eagerly looking for your Valentine’s Day short stories and drabbles, and TIME IS RUNNING OUT! Also, we’re starting to catch up on our serials and Unholy Trinities that we’ve had backlogged. A final update, the next set of anthologies will start being prepared after the new layout is complete.
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.
The Song Within Her Throat, by Shelby Dollar
After hiking through groves of aspens and meadows dappled with pops of Indian paintbrush and delicate bluebells, the disappointment of their find hung between them—bloated and ready to burst. Nestled below the mountains, the cloudy-green lake lapped the rocky and barren shore. Clouds of gnats clotted the air and Miranda wrinkled her nose against the stench of sulfur.
“This it?” she said, readjusting the strap of her heavy pack on her aching shoulder.
“Must be a bad algae bloom this year,” he sighed. “Sorry, no swimming babe.”
“Should we just head back to the car?”
“And hike into the night?” he demanded. “No, we’ll just stay here like we planned.”
He planned, she corrected. For their cross-country road trip, this hike was at the bottom of her list. But when Jack got an idea in his head, he had to see it through—no matter the piss-poor planning or arguments—he would get his way. Miranda knew it. Jack knew it.
“Might as well take a look around then,” she said, unbuckling her pack before slinging it off, not bothering to be careful.
Jack opened his mouth to scold but decided against it.
Miranda descended to the shore, hiking boots kicking up tiny pebbles and clouds of dirt. Jack’s pocketknife in hand, she wove between boulders spotty with petaled lichen and clumps of lush moss. She ran her fingers over the porous stone, its smell earthy and damp from a hundred lifetimes of rain. It was tradition for them to carve “J+M” into the ridges of a towering fir or a crumbling rock to brand the world with their love, but the hike had soured her mood. She snatched a pebble and etched an “M” into its velvet surface. The letter looked good alone. Miranda smiled and chucked the stone into the lake before kicking off her boots.
She dipped her feet into the brisk water, water bugs zig-zagging away on the cloudy-green surface. Miranda sighed and shut her eyes against the late afternoon sun as it beat against her cheeks and made her upper lip sweat. She could almost drift away, evaporate from her body and join the puffed clouds drifting across the blue sky.
But the feeling of eyes lingered on the edges of her mind. She scanned the water for ripples, for the slow wake of a fin splitting water, or a stranger looming on the opposite shore—but there was nothing. It was quiet except for the tittering and chirping of black-hat chickadees in the trees.
The croak bellowed through the air, and she jumped.
Just above the water were two amber eyes, the marbled sockets protruding from a small bronze-green head. The frog blinked, its wide and down-turned mouth still.
“Guess I found my admirer,” she said.
Miranda used to think that one day Jack would declare his love for her in a grand romantic and self-deprecating gesture that didn’t involve drunken, late-night arguments or threatening to call the cops. But his song would never match hers.
The frog continued its song of rapid croaks, the rise and fall of its throat mesmerizing as pale skin swelled to a translucent bubble then deflated. In and out, her breathing began to match tempo, the consistent tide of bellows and trills enough to lull her.
Ribback Riibback Ribback
Chest heaving but not wanting to break the song, she kept pace.
Ribback Ribback Commback Commback
“You gonna come back for dinner?” Jack called, his voice snapping her back to the shore.
Her dinner of instant soup, nuts, and jerky was flavorless and salty on her tongue. The sun began to creep below the tree line, signaling more frogs to wake. Their reverberated melody made her heart pound, the octaves and tones worming into her ears like a warm itch she couldn’t scratch. Miranda coughed and rubbed her ear to squelch it.
“Just my allergies,” she said, trying to ignore the dozens of glinting eyes watching them from the glassy lake.
“Told you not to get in the water,” he muttered.
Miranda coughed again and popped an allergy pill, but relief didn’t come.
Wide awake, she lay next to Jack in their claustrophobic cocoon of yellow nylon that stunk of sweat and chemicals. Three bottles of water did nothing to satiate her throat or calm her burning ears, but if she focused on the frogs, the warbling vibratos were almost comforting, reminding her of the low plucks and hums of a loose guitar string.
Riiiibbbbback Riiiibbbbback Riiiibbbbback
She touched the puckered scar on her hip Jack had given her on the second day of their trip, the jagged “J” tender as she recalled his words: So I can find you, no matter what. She hated how those cuts made her feel like his north star, that her body was a beacon for him to find his way back to her.
Miranda unfolded the tiny blade from between the screwdriver and nailfile in Jack’s pocketknife, savoring the weight of it in her palm. She wanted him to disappear.
Riiiibbbbback Riiiibbbbback Payyyyyy baccckkk
He choked out a rumbling snore, but Miranda cut it short. She opened him from ear to ear, dark blood curtaining his throat. Gurgling, he snatched at her—but missed as Miranda stumbled out of the tent on legs that threatened to stretch and bend beneath her.
She listened to the rhythmic crowing of the frogs, the water calling to her bones and pulling her forward as if her skin were embedded with a thousand tiny hooks. Miranda crashed into the water, her skin soaking in the stagnant tang. Frogs leapt and careened, churning the lake that welcomed her without hesitation. She took another step, this time steady and sure. She opened her mouth, unable to contain the burning in her throat any longer and screamed. Slowly, it became another note in the night.
Shelby Dollar lives in Kansas City, Missouri. Her fiction can be found in Apparition Lit, Sliced Up Press and several anthologies from Magnificent Cowlick Media. She is a co-host for the horror podcast, Sideways Boulevard. When she isn’t writing, she travels with her husband and hangs out with Wally, their rescue dog. You can follow her at on twitter at @SCDwriter or visit her website at shelbydollar.wordpress.com.
The Claw’s Tale
Ignore the cat. Just a stray. Thin as a shadow. Leaps onto a windowsill in one bound.
Green eyes change shape. And perspective.
Squeezes beneath the open pane. Clever puss.
See how it hunches, breathing harder, louder, muscles flexing as the spine straightens, the claws belonging now to human hands. Judging the distance, it springs.
One swipe, the claw vicious, the old man by the fire loses his throat. The cat feeds, then retreats, sated, silently padding to the front door on two legs.
Then gone, becoming once again the wild shadow of the night, unnoticed, unimportant, just another stray.
Mike Rader is a pseudonym used by Australian author and poet James Aitchison. As J J 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
Your dress. The waves.
They form a pattern, and I’m mesmerised… as you twirl around, and the skirt spins outwards, and the water laps at your feet.
I can almost imagine you a cyclone. Wild and powerful. Consuming anything in your wake. I can’t look away. My heart’s racing.
I think you might swallow me up; might shatter my body until the very bones themselves lie snapped in twain, scattered throughout the sand.
But then I blink – and the illusion dissipates.
Another day elapsed with emptiness prevailing.
So alone I tried to conjure you from a dream.
Rachel L Tilley
Rachel L. Tilley writes short stories in the fantasy and horror genres. Find her at @rachelltilley on Twitter.
“Familiar” was a misnomer, I always thought. Toads, owls, hedgehogs, rats, magpies, leered at me from the shoulders and round the ankles of coven members. Peculiar, feral beings I had only ever glimpsed by the roadside, down an alley, on powerlines.
When my turn came to choose a magickal assistant, I went to the local animal rescue centre.
Dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, even an iguana. I examined each with hawkish intensity. No recognition, no rapport.
Till the little piebald cat that mewed at me incessantly. I said: ‘I’ll adopt her,’ and she purred like a steam train.
Carys Crossen has been writing stories since she was nine years old and shows no signs of stopping. Her fiction has been published by Lunate, Halfway Down the Stairs, FlashBack Fiction, Honey and Lime Lit and others, and her monograph The Nature of the Beast is available from University of Wales Press. She lives in Manchester UK with her husband, their daughter and their beautiful, contrary cat.
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
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.