Trembling With Fear 10/04/20
As I write this, it’s grey and miserable and rainy, the stereotypical British day. Restrictions have again tightened and my kids at uni are feeling the impact. My youngest’s uni is experiencing a covid outbreak whilst my son is restricted by Cardiff’s local lockdown and he can no longer attend my sister-in-law’s wedding. The only way I can forget these depressing conditions is, as always, through books and so I have continued to read as much as possible. I’m almost through Lee Murray’s Grotesque Monster Stories and loving it. It’s a breath of fresh air with its mix of stories of maori culture, historical sci-fi – to me reminiscent of a Dr Who episode (Lee, you should send it to the BBC!) and body horror. There is so much more room for horror stories featuring different cultures and other time periods. Take the paths less trodden! Alongside this, I’m dipping into Tim Waggoner’s Writing in the Dark but I’ve also got Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism calling me. I desperately just want to put everything on hold and read it – but I’ll write this editorial first!
The first story this week, Esplanade by Sourya Chowdhury, appealed with its theme of helplessness as exemplified by the holding out of hands. Initially this simple gesture is seen as sinister, something to run away from. The main character is truly helpless as those who could help leave them to their fate. The realisation as to the meaning of the outstretched hands is an emotive one and – I’ve just noticed – a perfect reflection of our current situation. We are human and we all need the touch of a hand. Whether this is good or bad, you’ll have to read and find out but its simplicity adds to the punch at the end.
Anticipation by RJ Meldrum is a little bit of human tragedy. Seeing someone so lost in this manner is really sad. Very simple, very understated and all the more powerful for that.
Hall of Mirrors by Mike Rader brings us the creepy carnival setting. I would never want to be the one who locks up anywhere.
Premiere by G.A. Miller mixes our current covid situation with a movie setting. Weaving in society’s current preoccupations is a good source to mine for stories.
Whiskers by Tabatha Wood is an enjoyable and darkly humorous tale. It really turned the idea of the dreaded cat lady on its head.
Enjoy the stories and poems and send us yours!
Things are still a bit crazy with work and keeping the kids learning remotely and life in general. That being said, I’ve been able to fit a little more writing back into my life which has been quite liberating. It isn’t much but getting words down on paper is a mental health check I really needed.
Also, folks, I’ve started working on getting our gameplan together for doing a test run of how the podcast would go through with our team. I wouldn’t hold my breath on hearing it go live anytime soon but things are slowly progressing!
Coming soon: We have 2 site sponsors for October so far. THANK YOU! (If you’re thinking about helping the site out in any way from financially to writing to marketing, do reach out!)
Side note: Our first “Wandering Tales” article has gone live. This is a new feature that will explore monsters, mythology, and folklore that are prime to be examined for reading pleasure and inspiration for all of our writing! These articles are meant for both authors and readers alike so are worth checking out! 🙂
Esplanade by Sourya Chowdhury
I do not remember what I was doing at Esplanade so late that night. Had I been drinking alone at one of those shady singing bars that line Bentinck Street where the deafening music dulls your senses even more than the alcohol? Or was I strolling about like a tramp in the cool, dark confines of the Maidan as I was often wont to do these days? I don’t remember, it seems such a long time ago, or was it yesterday? I can’t…
But the memory of what followed is uncomfortably vivid. The white clock tower at the corner of SN Banerjee Road told me it was 1 a.m. Cars zoomed past as I crossed the road towards the Tipu Sultan mosque hoping to catch a cab. It was slightly darker here; one of the street lights had stopped working. I stood in the great pool of darkness it produced thinking of my next move, both in terms of finding transportation as well as finding something to clutch on to in the drowning, disintegrating particles of my life.
Past one marriage and two jobs, past the point where I stopped caring for anyone or anything (something I had never really done according to my exes), it seemed I had nothing to look forward to and nothing made much sense in the benumbing drabness of my everyday existence. A drunk staggered past me, nearly knocking me over. He looked like he was really sick and needed help. I took a step away reflexively. There was an unnerving stillness in the air. I realised what was missing, the howling dogs, famous rulers of these parts after the office-goers and pub-hoppers vacated the area, were missing. It was as if the streets were holding their breath, waiting for something to happen. At this juncture I heard the low murmurs of what seemed like a chant. It sounded like I was at a temple, the unsettling tune was reminiscent of the pujas I was forced to attend in my childhood and dreaded. There was something sinister about organised piety, about the paraphernalia of worship to my impressionable, young self.
And then I saw them, a procession. I could not see their faces as all of them wore hooded overalls of a darkish, indeterminate colour. But there were both men and women in the group; this much I could make out from their singsong voices that persisted with the mantra-like chant as they neared me.
I tried to make out the words but they seemed to belong to some unearthly realm, nothing human, nothing ordinary. Was I scared, or amused? In a few seconds the first of the group had closed in on me, his hood turned towards me, his hand sticking out, a dark, scabbed, skin-and-bones structure.
I could now make out his words. “Please hold my hand…,” it said. The procession had turned towards me now, all of them uttering the same lines in various languages, various registers, their voices full of helplessness; yet for me, it suddenly spoke of untold terrors and unforeseen dangers. The drunk, who had fallen unconscious, had woken up. Within a moment all his drunkenness had evaporated. He had begun running, “Get away, get away from me,” he shouted as he made a swift getaway towards Curzon Park.
The figures had almost made a semi-circle around me now. What happens if I do hold their hands, I wondered, even amid the rising panic. The withered limbs held a vicious magnetism in them and the chant was almost hypnotic as it grew louder. I had to get away, I felt, and started running after the drunk. I crossed the road towards the famous confectioners at the corner, not looking out for the cars that continued zipping about, their inhabitants not bothering to take in the curious happenings that were taking place at the center of the city.
The chanters had not increased their speed, but were slowly crossing the road towards where I was, their voices clear in the still, night air. As I continued running, I realised there wasn’t a single policeman on duty. Still scouring the streets at full tilt, my footsteps took me, unwittingly, towards the massive cricket stadium looming in the distant horizon. Near one of the roundabouts I encountered my first taxi of the night. The driver had parked beside the pavement and was smoking. God sent, I thought, as the atheist in me shuddered. But before I could call out to him, the man took in the entire scene with one little glance and within moments the taxi had zoomed away towards Park Street. It seemed as if the driver had seen all this before.
The marchers were closing in on me, slow but relentless; on the other hand, I was struggling to catch my breath. I decided to take a gamble and ran towards the dark, grassy patches that are known as the lungs of the city; either they will follow me here, in which case I am doomed, or else lose me in the darkness and go on with their weird procession. I crossed, and suddenly, even in that crazy situation, I felt the beauty of the night city with all my senses, the empty roads, lit up beautifully, the trees lining my path, the statues and the great stadium in the distance all came together to overpower my senses; it was as if I could look outward for the first time, in a long, long time.
That’s when I slipped. I had not reckoned for the overzealous Public Works Department that had dug a trench in the middle of the sidewalk and had not bothered to put up any signs. As I hurtled towards the dark bottom, the last thought on my mind was, strangely, not of terror, not of death, but of escape, escape from the scabbed hand of helplessness.
The chanting was alien yet familiar, haven’t I heard this before? As my eyes slowly focused in the semi-darkness, I could feel it all around me, uncomfortably close. One look around me confirmed my suspicions.
I was in the centre of that unreal parade. I had, somehow, become a part of the hooded, shrouded figures as we moved zombie-like down J.L Nehru Road. The momentary sense of escape, that had gratified my sensory organs a while ago, deserted me. Panic set in once again. I tried one last-ditch attempt to run away, break free. It was impossible, my legs refused, they had gained autonomy. The only movement they allowed was the slow, rhythmic shuffle that the hooded figures around me performed.
In rising panic, I realised that I was dressed in the same overalls. I tried to find my voice, shout as loudly as my enervated body allowed me to. The only cries of helplessness that escaped my throat sounded mantra-like, so foreign, yet so familiar. I knew where I had heard it before. But, as my final, independent thoughts drained away, all my fears suddenly metamorphosed into a gush of pure empathy for the creatures around me. It was the final, independent emotion I felt before all control was wrested away.
My body stuck out a hand from the hood, yes, it wasn’t the hand that I knew, shrivelled and withered; it was the spectre of the limb that I used to own in what seemed like a previous life, just as I felt like the ghost of an entity I used to be aeons ago.
By now, I had expected this. I had also realised that that was the only movement my hands will allow me from now. All around me there was this sense of overpowering, overbearing, inexorable helplessness, of despair and ennui as I had never known before.
A voice inside my head told me that all I needed to escape, to set things back to normal, was the touch of a hand. I saw my saviour in the distance, a middle-aged, lungi-clad man, probably a porter or a labourer, woken up from his outdoor slumber by the marchers.
“Will you hold my hand?” my voice said reflexively, without consulting my brain. The other members of our group had joined me, hands sticking out, their life dependent on the man.
Yet, he could not read the vulnerability in our gesture. Seized by the inevitable terror engendered by this unearthly gathering, he tore off into one of the by lanes that open on to New Market. On we went in our hopeless search in the desolate stretches of this urban heartland, terrorised, terrorising.
Sourya Chowdhury is a media professional currently working at All India Radio in Kolkata, India. He has previously been a sports journalist with the dailies The Statesman and Hindustan Times and holds an M.A and M.Phil in English Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata.
It was a monthly occurrence. The security personnel knew to phone the hospital, rather than the police. Two nurses headed out to return her to the ward.
The abandoned train station lay empty. The tracks had been ripped up years ago.
She stood on the silent platform, with her suitcase beside her. Her face, full of anticipation, looked down the line, as if a train was about to arrive.
They escorted her back to the ambulance. One of the nurses spoke.
“I wonder where she thinks she’s heading?”
“No idea, but sometimes I wish we could just let her go.”
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.
Hall of mirrors
When you’re caretaker at an amusement park, you have to lock up in the dead of night. Alone. How I hated the hall of mirrors, seeing myself twenty times over in the shadows.
But tonight she was there. White, shimmering, in every mirror. “Darling, aren’t you pleased to see me?” she called.
“Never seen you before, lady,” I said.
Her images stepped from the mirrors, holding knives. Twenty of her. Flew upon me. Shrieking, scratching, ripping, shredding my flesh.
My dying word, “Why?”
Her reply, in a whisper, “Darling, didn’t anyone tell you that you look just like my husband?”
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
I was thrilled to find out the theater was opening and I could finally go see a movie!
I wasn’t crazy about having to wear a cloth mask for two hours, fogging my eyeglasses, or that the concession was closed which meant no snacks or popcorn, but hey… it’s a movie!
A return to normalcy, right?
Seating was restricted, but I found one right in the center, so I’d get the full surround sound, and that was cool.
I got to my seat just as the lights dimmed, so I didn’t realize everyone else in the theater was already dead…
G.A. Miller is a new voice in the chorus of horror authors, drawing his ideas from everyday, commonplace events that take unforeseen turns down dark corridors.
It was a scratch from a stray that started it.
The red line festered and grew. The itching was almost unbearable. I covered it with an Elastoplast.
I tried to ignore the patches of fur which sprouted on my arms. I plucked errant whiskers from my cheeks. Licked my hands to clean my face.
My boyfriend balked at my gift of a dead mouse. He dumped me the same day.
My limbs shrank short, a tail grew long. My words became plaintive yowls.
My mother had tried to warn me. We all end up as Cat Ladies in the end.
Tabatha Wood lives in New Zealand and writes weird, dark horror fiction and uplifting poetry. A former English teacher and library manager, her first books were guides for professional educators. She now teaches from home and writes in her spare time, usually under the influence of strong coffee.
You can read more of her stories, articles and blog posts at https://tabathawood.com.
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Stephanie Ellis writes dark speculative prose and poetry and has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her longer work includes the folk horror novels, The Five Turns of the Wheel, Reborn, and The Woodcutter, and the novellas, Bottled and Paused (all via Brigids Gate Press). Her dark poetry has been published in her collections Lilith Rising (co-authored with Shane Douglas Keene), Foundlings (co-authored with Cindy O’Quinn) and Metallurgy, as well as the HWA Poetry Showcase Volumes VI, VII, VIII, and IX and Black Spot Books Under Her Skin. She can be found supporting indie authors at HorrorTree.com via the weekly Indie Bookshelf Releases. She is an active member of the HWA and can be found at https://stephanieellis.org and on Blue Sky as stephellis.bsky.social.