Trembling With Fear 1-7-24
Greetings, children of the dark, and welcome to the first TWF of 2024! No, I can’t believe it either. I’m currently entertaining the family, who’ve come over from Australia for the festive period, so I’m keeping this first one short and jumping straight into it. More from me next week.
The first dark and speculative TWF menu of 2024 kicks off with a gorgeously chilling (and very BIG) short story from Mackensie Baker. Then we’ve got three fabulous tasty morsels for dessert:
- DJ Tyrer twists a fairy tale,
- Chris Clemens battles in space, and
- Cassandra Daucus speaks from the shelf.
Finally – two quick notes.
First, our Winter window for short story submissions is open for just one more week, so get in quick!
And secondly, and relatedly, I have totally been dropping the ball on the TWF inbox (work and life commitments converged to leave me with no breathing space whatsoever), so please bear with me while I catch up over the next couple of weeks. If you haven’t heard back and you submitted or emailed us more than a couple of weeks ago, please drop us a line to help jog our collective memory.
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.
Taking Up Space, by Mackensie Baker
There was never enough space for me.
The first thing I remember feeling was hunger. An emptiness I couldn’t conquer, though I did try. A growing girl, they would call me in my first home. They would say it with a laugh and, sometimes, a second helping. In the second, a similar sentiment—she’ll eat us out of house and home. Sometimes said with a chuckle, sometimes with a nasty look. Never a second helping though. They said I was getting fat.
I was. Tall, and fat. Getting bigger all the time. I started to steal food where I could, and I would hide it until I was alone. I wished that I could stop the hunger, that I could fill the aching black hole inside of me, but it was never enough.
The foster mom in the third home I was sent to called me a changeling thing—I had to look this one up. It was an old word for something inhuman. Something not right.
At night, as my feet dangled off the edge of the mattress, I cried tears that could fill buckets. I banged my skull against the headboard as I curled my legs up against my stomach. It was the only way I could fit most of my body under the blanket.
The fourth home already had too many children, and I was expected to share a room with another. She called me a waste of space. She called me other names, too, and would pinch my fat. The other kids there made it into a kind of game. They would sneak up behind me and squeeze my sides, my arms, then run away again before I could turn around, giggling and making gagging sounds.
At fifteen, I could barely fit through doorways. They assured me I had done growing. I knew better. I weighed myself every day. I marked my height on the inside of the bathroom closet, where no one would see. I was still growing, and worse—I was growing faster.
They started noticing me then, and watched me closely. They complained to someone about me in the end, I suppose. Told them there was something wrong.
There was no fifth home. There was only the laboratory and my room in what they called a hospital. I never saw any other patients. I dreamed of being like Alice, of finding an elixir that said ‘drink me.’ I dreamed of shrinking, getting smaller and smaller until the hunger was gone and everybody loved me.
The doctors tested for everything but hardly spoke to me. As I grew, my skin thickened. The needles got larger, and there were more whispers and glances. They made special furniture for me. A bed I could stretch my legs out in. A chair wide enough to sit on without breaking. It was like a group of Barbie dolls making room for a Raggedy Anne in their Dreamhouse. If those Barbies wore lab coats and stuck Anne with needles as thick as their arms.
Soon enough, this room also became too small for me. They moved me to another facility on site. They had prepared it based on their predictions. That night, I had the experience of trying to sleep in a too-large bed for the first time in my life, the ceiling far above my head. By the end of the month, though, I had outgrown the bed, and could touch the roof without straining up onto my tiptoes.
Then came the reports. From all the homes I’d passed through. Nail clippings as big as boomerangs. Stray hairs as long and thick as ropes. Even the parts of me I had discarded kept growing bigger and bigger.
I was no longer simply an anomaly. I was a danger. I imagined a body big enough to cause earthquakes when I walked, floods when I bathed, flattening cars and houses and creatures beneath me.
The doctors and scientists must have had the same idea. They came to a conclusion. They could not kill me here, for fear that my body could not be broken down. Attempts to destroy the parts of me they had taken had failed.
And so, they made a shuttle. Though, I suppose, this is not quite the right word. They made me a coffin that could be sent off into space, set to continue in a trajectory that would lead me far from their planet. This, they said, would give them the most time, should their worst calculations prove true.
When informed what was to be done, I told them I wouldn’t let them kill me. If I was to be sent to my death, I would at least like to see the stars first. They ignored me and tried to pump me full of chemicals that were meant to kill me painlessly. It hurt, but did not kill me. And so my wish was granted.
The shuttle-coffin was cold, and there was not enough room, never enough room. But I saw the stars. I saw the dark, never-ending expanse that I was heading towards. Was it days before the shuttle-coffin became so cramped I could hardly move? Or hours?
I would not cry. I had no wish to drown in my own salt. I made a different decision, and opened the hatch at the bottom of my metal tomb. My body slid out into the perfect, cold silence. I stretched out my legs in the dark and waited to freeze or to suffocate, and was surprised when I did not.
It’s nice out here, I’ve realized. It’s quiet. Dark. The aching void outside of me matches the one inside. My thick skin keeps me from freezing, and my lungs grew, and changed in the growing. I no longer need to breathe.
I am swimming through galaxies. Bathing in the Milky Way. I want to drink it all down.
Finally enough space for me, and then some.
I will eat and become worlds.
Worlds will become me.
No Fairy Tale
The fairy tales make it sound so romantic: Jab your finger on a cursed needle and wait till your Prince comes to wake you with a kiss.
In reality, the disease, spread by infected bodily fluids, was as often passed on by the kiss as by the needle.
The effect was paralysis, not true sleep, leaving the victims fully aware as their bodies began to decay: Living corpses.
With no cure, no means to awaken them, the end was inevitable: Either assumed dead and buried or burnt… Or, left to rot until death finally took them, their bodies falling apart.
DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Chilling Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree), All The Petty Myths (18th Wall), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), What Dwells Below (Sirens Call), The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories (Hellbound Books), and EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness (Otter Libris), and issues of Sirens Call, Occult Detective Magazine, parABnormal, Tales from the Magician’s Skull, and Weirdbook, and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor). You can follow their work on Facebook, on their blog or on the Atlantean Publishing website.
Reality shimmers into coherence again.
Captain Vega vomits, wipes her mouth. Ship command is already in action. Crew rush to stations, slipping in bile. Screens overflow with analysis. Desperate faces fall.
The unclassified anomalies – flickering, grinding, horrific-mouthed worms – are still attached to the hull. They are eating into the hydroponics section, chewing through layers of entanglement plating. They are coming.
“Resynchronize?” XO asks grimly, but they’ve tried fifty-four times. The ship won’t be shaking loose, it’s clear; not with the worm things embedded so deep.
Vega unholsters her sidearm, trying to keep her hands from trembling.
“All hands to hydroponics.”
Chris Clemens teaches courses about popular/digital culture in Toronto, where he lives with his wonderful family. His flash fiction has appeared in Apex Magazine, Invisible City Lit, Black Hare Press, and elsewhere.
Inspired by Exeter Riddle 26
It was a good day.
I was standing out in the field, enjoying the sun shining warm on my face. Then my murderer sneaked up and whacked me over the head. She ripped off my skin (adding insult to injury), stuck me in a vat for days, and finally pulled me tight and scraped my hair off. Yet another enemy cut me in pieces, folded me up, scratched me with feathers and wrapped me in gold.
Eight hundred years later I’m sitting on a shelf in some goddamned climate-controlled cage.
I hope it was worth it.
I miss the sun.
Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, M. R. James, Shirley Jackson, Robert Aickman, and a ton of fan fiction, Cassandra Daucus (she/her) writes soft horror and dark romance. She is intrigued by how the human mind responds to the unknown, and also enjoys a good gross-out. Her story “Teething” appears in Ooze: Little Bursts of Body Horror, and she has stories forthcoming in Mouthfeel Fiction, Kangas Kahn Publishing’s October Screams, and Hungry Shadow Press It Was All A Dream 2 anthology. Cassandra lives outside of Philadelphia with her family and three cats. Her social media and website can be found here.
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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.