Trembling With Fear 10/02/2022
Hello, children of the dark – and I utter this week’s greeting with much enthusiasm, as it’s now officially October and Halloween is coming! This is the month when I go nuts with online shopping, picking up all the spooky accessories that will get me through the coming year. If you’ve seen me on a Zoom screen this year, you might have spotted a little ghosty over my shoulder; that is in fact a candy bag picked up at the local supermarket last October, and he watches over me now, acting as a gargoyle for my writing space. Then there’s the various brooches, pins and necklaces I’ve gathered over the years… I admit I have a problem!
But impending Halloween also means the darkness is swirling in the air, which makes it the perfect time to pick up your writing utensil of choice and get creative. Horror Tree is, of course, a veritable treasure trove of submission opportunities, but don’t forget us here at Trembling With Fear. We have a Halloween special edition coming, and Amanda would love to read your Halloween-themed short stories and drabbles.
Speaking of drabbles… we have an insatiable appetite for the things. I mentioned last week that our short story publishing schedule is getting pretty full, but we are always, always looking for more drabbles. These teeny tiny tidbits can feel daunting – how on earth are you meant to tell a whole story in just 100 words?! – but I’ve found they can be a really great exercise to flex the creative muscles.
Not sure what to write about? I recently ran some workshops walking writers through the art of the drabble, and gave them some image prompts to kickstart their own drabble writing. I’ll drop a few images below (taken from Unsplash, in searches for “Halloween” and “spooky”); see what they inspire in you. And if you are inspired to write a drabble, we’d love to hear from you.
For now, though, I bring you this week’s TWF tasting menu.
Our trembling main course from Robert Pettus is a slice of suburban gothic that quietly builds up to its conclusion. This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Sumiko Saulson wonders what’s beyond the window
- RJ Meldrum has an accident in space, and
- Lisa Taylor has some hot flashes of a different kind.
If these stories inspire you to get writing, you’ll find details on how to submit to us over here on our freshly-updated submission guidelines page.
For now, it’s over to you, Stuart…
Not much to report on this week around. A minor change (improvement?) for those looking to submit their work directly to Trembling With Fear. The Trembling With Fear Submission Page now has the submission form directly on it. Hope that speeds things up for some of you. Have a great weekend!
As always, I hope you had a great weekend.
Hey!, by Robert Pettus
“Hey!” came a jovial voice from behind.
I was in the process of taking the laundry out of the drier; bent over to pull the clothes out from the machine sitting on the ground. I turned to look in the direction of the voice and saw an old man standing in the doorway. He was tall – over six feet – and mostly bald. He was wearing plaid pajama pants, a dirty old tee shirt, and a green windbreaker jacket. He had old, thin glasses that looked like they could snap at any moment. His eyes were wide. He looked, for some reason, happy to see me.
“Uhh…hey,” I responded, quickly turning back to finish pulling my clothes from the drier. When I’d finished, I turned back around. He was gone.
I saw him again a little later that same day. As I was coming back in from my evening run, he was standing outside the door of his apartment.
“Hey!” he again said.
That’s what I think he said, at least; I’m not completely sure because I had my earphones in. Beat on the Brat by Ramones muffled any sound coming from the world outside my thoughts. He looked cheerful, though. He raised his hand up to wave at me as I put my head down and walked by.
As I opened the door to the stairwell, I turned back slightly and looked in my periphery to where he had been standing. He was no longer there, but I could see the door to his apartment closing. He lived in apartment 1B.
In the following weeks, I saw that elderly man patrolling the halls of the complex with awkward regularity. Seemingly every time I was doing laundry, or coming in from a run, or coming back from work, I saw him walking; either pacing the hallways or limping around the parking lot outside. His gait was more of a waddle than a true walk. He clearly preferred his left leg to his right. He would place all of his pressure on his left side, and then, like a compass drawing out a circle, swing his right side around to take the next step. Then, by quickly dragging his left foot along the ground, he would avert his weight from his weaker right side back to his left.
I always assumed he was just getting in his exercise; walking as many steps as he could each day without getting too far from his apartment. Most gyms were closed thanks to the pandemic, anyway; not that he seemed like the gym-going type; he didn’t. He struggled enough just walking out his door.
I also had the hunch that he may have just been lonely, and he walked the hallways and parking lots hoping to find someone he could talk to. This idea was partially confirmed one afternoon when I witnessed an encounter he had with another tenant of the apartment complex and the UPS driver delivering a package to her. I was standing out on my apartment balcony, which overlooked the parking lot, and saw him shuffling over to the front entrance, where she was signing some paperwork.
“Hey!” he said.
The both of them ignored him; ostensibly not even recognizing that he was there. He still looked as happy as ever.
“Hey!” he said again, continuing to stand at conversational length from the woman and the delivery driver. They were going on about some typical topic of small talk; the unseasonably warm weather, I think. Their voices were muffled by their masks; they probably couldn’t even hear most of what the other person was saying.
The old man didn’t care, though. He probably didn’t even care whether any of them could understand each other or not, so long as there was a conversation to participate in. He never became discouraged. He looked as content as ever. Eventually, after the woman had walked back inside and the delivery driver had driven off, he turned and walked back out toward the parking lot, where a car was coming in at a pace much greater than responsible parking-lot speed.
The wind, which had been gusting feverishly, whipped at the back of the old man, lashing his green windbreaker and pushing him out into the parking lot. He didn’t notice, or at least he didn’t seem to mind. He fumbled, caught himself, and then stood staring vacantly, though happily, out into the distance.
The car didn’t slow its pace. It drove right past the old man, only avoiding clipping him by mere centimeters. It continued to its parking space, slamming on the brakes and abruptly stopping the vehicle. The loud music coming from within, which was clearly The Hardest Button to Button by White Stripes, stopped. The door opened a second later and the young man formerly behind the wheel began walking nonchalantly to the front door of the apartment complex.
“Hey!” I screamed down at him from the balcony. He looked up, startled.
“Hey!” I needlessly repeated. “What the hell are you doing? You almost killed him!” I was pointing at the old man, who was still standing in the middle of the parking-lot.
The young man looked to where I was pointing and stared for a couple seconds. He then looked back up to me:
“Uhhh…what?” he said.
“You heard me, you bastard! You could have fucking killed him!”
The man once again looked to where I’d been pointing, staring confusedly. He then looked back to me:
“You’re fuckin’ with me, man!” He said, “That’s not cool!”
He started giggling like a nervous child. He was stoned off his ass. High as balls.
“You’re fuckin’ with me, man!” He repeated as he shuffled to the door. He was gone before I could throw any more vulgarities at him.
The old man was still standing in the middle of the parking lot, completely unaware of what was going on. He eventually turned and looked up to me, waving:
“Hey!” He said.
He then put his head down and walked back inside.
I continued to see the old man fairly often; always either patrolling the bottom floor hallway or circumnavigating the parking lot. He always had only that one word to say. He was always in a good mood.
A few weeks later, as I was once again doing my laundry, I ran into the landlady as I was leaving the laundry room.
“Hey!” she said, “How’s it goin’?”
“Not too bad!” I replied, “Just doing the weekly chores!”
“I hear that!” she said. “Sunday fun day, am I right? Whoever coined that phrase was full of shit!”
“That’s a fact!” I concluded.
I ran into her again as I was heading back down the stairs to retrieve my laundry.
“Hello again!” she said, “We’re bumping into each other a lot today!”
“Yep!” I responded.
I began walking past her toward the laundry room, but before I’d completely walked away, I turned and blurted a question:
“Who lives in apartment 1B?”
“Uhhh…what?” she responded.
“Who lives in apartment 1B; that one right there?” I pointed at the old man’s door.
“Well, first of all,” she began, “I can’t tell you the names of the people who live in each apartment. You’ll have to ask them yourself if you’re curious. But, in the case of that particular apartment, it doesn’t much matter: the place is empty. It’s been empty for about six months now.”
I stared blankly in disbelief.
“What?” I said finally, “…what about the old man that lives there?”
She tapped her foot on the floor a few times, as if to aid to her memory, and then said:
“…Ooooooh! You mean Mr. Wilson! No, he’s not there anymore. He unfortunately passed away about six months ago.”
“…Oh,” I finally responded.
It was all I could manage to say.
I stared ahead, for some time, in a detached daze. Eventually, the landlady smiled, as if to signal her departure. Before she walked away, however, the door to 1B opened.
“Hey!” said Mr. Wilson.
Robert Pettus is an English as a Second Language teacher at the University of Cincinnati. Previously, he taught for four years in a combination of rural Thailand and Moscow, Russia. He was most recently accepted for publication at White Cat Publications, Kaidankai, Short-Story.me, Savage Planet, Tall Tale TV, The Corner Bar, A Thin Line of Anxiety, Schlock, Black Petals, Inscape Literary Journal of Morehead State University, Yellow Mama, Apocalypse-Confidential, Mystery Tribune, Blood Moon Rising, and The Green Shoes Sanctuary. Hey! is one of the stories he recently wrote.
The Ghost in the Window
Meryl began to avoid the kitchen window. There was something musty on it that just wouldn’t come off no matter how hard she scrubbed the grimy pane. She saw it when she crossed the threshold on her way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Caught in the corner of her eye, it seemed to follow her.
It first appeared last fall, right after a crow crashed into the glass and broke its neck. The blood washed away, but a strange shadow remained. Her father had told her it was a bad omen.
He died the next day.
Sumiko Saulson (ze/hir or they/them) is an author of horror, dark fantasy and science fiction. Their novel Happiness and Other Diseases (2022) is available on Mocha Memoirs Press and their book of dark poetry The Rat King (2022) is available on Dooky Zines. Sumiko’s short stories have been published in dozens of anthologies, including Death’s Cafe (2014), Tales from the Lake vol 3 (2016), Colors in Darkness (2017), Clockwork Wonderland (2017), and Tales for the Campfire (2019) to name a few. They won the HWA Scholarship from Hell (2016), BCC Voice “Reframing the Other” contest (2017), Mixy Award (2017), Afrosurrealist Writer Award (2018), HWA Diversity Grant (2020), HWA Richard Laymon Presidents Award (2021), and Ladies of Horror Fiction Readers Choice Award (2021).
One of the biggest concerns on the space station was meteors. If one struck, how long would they have to don their suits and seal the hole? They knew the bigger the meteorite, the shorter the time. It was something they trained endlessly for. The chance of a strike was a billion to one, but the risk was never zero.
As it happened, she was on a spacewalk when the meteor hit, shattering the craft and breaking it into a dozen pieces. Untethered, she drifted away. In the end, it turned out she had all the time in the world.
RJ Meldrum is an author and academic. Born in Scotland, he moved to Ontario, Canada in 2010. He has had stories published by Sirens Call Publications, Horrified Press, Trembling with Fear, Darkhouse Books, Smoking Pen Press and James Ward Kirk Fiction. He is an Affiliate Member of the Horror Writers Association.
Her hot flashes were nearly unbearable, like being cooked from the inside out. She kicked the blankets off, dangled an arm off the edge of the bed, then pulled it back—a slight alarm registering in her brain. Heck, she’d just swept under there this morning! How could a postmenopausal woman still fear the darkness under the bed? Well, she reasoned, the fires of Hell couldn’t be worse than these damned night sweats. She let the back of her hand drop on the cool, tile floor. The coolness lasted but a moment before flames licked up from under the bed.
Lisa Taylor is a freelance writer and academic librarian with wide-ranging interests. Her stories, poems, reviews, and articles have appeared in print and digital anthologies, online journals and databases, and librarian publications. Her book reviews appear regularly in AudioFile Magazine. She makes her home in Florida, the land of flowers, where it’s harder to stop something from growing than to start it.
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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.