Trembling With Fear 10/09/2022
Hello, children of the dark. How’s October treating you? Here in the UK the world is continuing to go mad around us (who needs a functioning government or economy anyway?!) as the days get shorter and the dark gets deeper, but there is one bright light on the horizon: the London Film Festival has begun. I volunteer with the festival most years – let’s be honest, it’s mainly so I can watch movies while I “work” – and I was excited to see a few dark offerings on the programme this year. Unfortunately, the horror night I was down to work at has decided they don’t need volunteers anymore, but I’m going to try to sneak in anyway… don’t tell anyone, ok?
There is no shortage of new and reinvented horror coming our way this month, especially as the supermarkets stock up on treats with spooky packaging and our social feeds are full of ads for Halloween costumes. And yet, I can’t help but feel sad that alllll the big attention comes upon our dark little hearts just once a year. Don’t the mainstream know that there’s great horror and dark fiction being released all year round? Like these, from this week’s TWF tasting menu.
We head to the water for our main course from Kacey Rayburn, who takes on the mermaid, the selkie, the myth and the legend, in their own way. This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Nancy Pica Renken gets a bit road ragey
- Gully Novaro heads to the land of all you can eat, and
- Michael Stroh tries some zombie diplomacy.
If these stories inspire you to get writing, you’ll find details on how to submit to us over here.
And a quick note if you’re waiting on a response from us about a submission: it’s my bad. I’m running super late because we’ve had an absolute avalanche of short story submissions lately – so many that I’m actually now scheduling publication through the new year. Yes, the future! Those who are waiting: I will get back to you soon, I promise. In the meantime, if you’re thinking of submitting to us you’ll have more immediate luck with drabbles if that helps to channel your creating.
For now, it’s over to you, Stuart…
My plan for the website was to not make too many adjustments until the new layout was launched. Unfortunately, it is looking more and more like that is going to have to wait until next year. So, with that being said, if there are any changes that YOU have been hoping to see, please reach out on our contact page!
What kind of changes is minor enough to look into adding? We’ll probably add a few more ways to subscribe to our newsletter in areas around the site. I’d also be looking to do simple yet streamlined things, such as last week’s announcement that the Trembling With Fear Submission Page now has the submission form directly on it. If there are things that would help you navigate the site easier, please, do reach out!
As always, I hope you had a great weekend.
Devilfish, by Kacey Rayburn
Up from the deep, I scratch the skin of the sea. A cold splash swims through me. I click my jaws and bark at the pale moon, a twist of bone in the sky. I float on my back, rubbing my belly. The hunger is always with me.
Long ago, on Midsummer’s Eve, I was the object of human desire. They danced naked around rings of fire, drumming and chanting. They worshipped me with mead and rose petals. They smoked themselves into burnt offerings and satisfied me with sweetmeats.
But those days are gone. There’s nothing here but the grind of gears and the smell of smog. Skyline and traffic as far as the eye can see. Humans don’t believe in old gods anymore. They hide behind concrete walls and worship silver wires, but I’m very much alive and oh so hungry.
I fin for the crooked shore, my lungs a bright burn in the dark. I collapse on the black sand, sucking for air, my ribs pulling apart. I crane my neck to get a better look. The lighthouse pierces the fog, illuminating the vacant shack next to it. Blessed be the deep salt sea.
The shift comes quickly in a rush of pain: the snap of muscles, the tear of tendons, the crunch of bones.
I flop to the shack and cast off my sealskin, admiring my womanly figure. I lift the moldy floorboard where my human things hide. I turn on the faucet and steep myself in a bath of honeysuckle. I wash away the brine, shaking the seaweed from my hair. I rub the lard on my legs and shave them with a blade of coral. It stings like a jellyfish, but I love the red-hot goosebumps. Then I climb out of the tub and dry myself off. I slink into a black velvet dress and paint my lips lobster-red.
Every era has its great inventions, but the more modern humans become, the further they get from their true nature. Humans used to know the difference between poison and medicine, but they don’t know what hurts or what heals them anymore. They don’t know how to start a fire from scratch or how to catch a fish with their bare hands. And they don’t want to learn. All they want to do is search for love in a black hole of apps.
I thumb away on my cell phone and click on the bright blue app: Land Ho. In a flash, it spits back my top matches.
Self-made man, handsome and wealthy. Loves cartoons and coffee. Seeking sexy sea witch to wear crotchless panties. Will pay extra for tentacles. Reply to Rich Sterling.
Swipe left. Pretentious liar. There’s no such thing as a self-made man.
Lonely man in need of a companion. Seeking a busty sea sprite with red or black hair. Absolutely no blonde hair, too much like mother. Loves spanking, cuddling, politics, and red wine. Reply to Teddy Bear.
Swipe left. Gross. I hate politics and red wine.
Attractive woman seeking merman with shipshape beard and an impressive eel for deep sea diving. Reply to Molly.
Swipe left. A complete waste of time. I don’t have an eel to stick inside her.
Recently widowed, seeking a sea god to rekindle old magic. A night of rapture should do the trick, anything to take away the pain. Reply to Serenity.
Swipe right. Perfect. Ripe for the picking. Deliciously miserable. I can already taste her tears through the screen.
My dearest Serenity, you’re an old soul like me, and I have a cure for your pain. Meet me tonight after the gloaming at Rise & Brine Bar. I’ll be in a black velvet dress with a conch shell around my neck. Yours Truly, Kilda, an old sea god.
I plant the seed in her heart and douse it with water. Shock waves zing through the wet wires. I can already feel her dreaming of me, cobbling me into whatever she needs me to be.
I sing my way to Rise & Brine Bar, humming a sea shanty from long ago. Raindrops spill from the sky just as I reach the front door. Inside, it’s oyster-tight and dimly lit.
In a cramped corner, she sits with a river of hair and an hourglass of hips. Our eyes meet, rockpools splashing blue in the dark. I churn her like a cold river, chills carving down our spines.
“I’m so glad you’re here. You’re beautiful,” she whispers.
“So are you.” I smile, sweeping my fingers over her shoulder. I know what she wants. Knuckle and bone on her blossom, unbroken circles, things that go round. When humans see me, their instincts take over. I’m an instant swipe right. The wish they make in the dead of the night. They believe I can do the impossible. And they’re right.
Humans blather on and on, but I don’t say much to Serenity. The more I talk, the stranger I sound. Besides, there aren’t any words for what’s happening between us. She doesn’t need me to talk. She needs me to take the pain away. I gaze into her like a mirror, her heart-shaped face reflecting all my sharp edges. Jagged jaws. Glass teeth. A fringe of fangs. I’m familiar enough to look human but strange enough to earn her admiration.
She leans into me, sugar on the rocks, begging me to kiss her. I press my lips against hers, a pucker of rum. My heart hammers in my chest. I can already taste her fork-tender flesh and the sweet sap of her blood. Poor little angelfish trapped by a shark. I should feel sorry for her, but I don’t. I grab her clammy hand, and we run to the lighthouse.
We roll around in the black sand, fingers creeping between thighs, dragging through hair. I kiss the hollow of her neck, a nip of teeth and tongue. I rub her plum-perfect nipples into sharp, little steeples. She flicks her eyes at me, an invitation, so I sink my hooks into her and claw away her pain.
It feels good until it doesn’t, such a thin line between hurt and love. With a hiss of salt, she pulls away, eyes wide, hands slick with blood. “You’re a devilfish,” she sputters, her voice a shiver in the night.
“A sea god is what you asked for, and a sea god is what I gave you.” I hiss at her. Humans are such maddening creatures. Even when they get exactly what they want, still they aren’t happy.
I bare my fangs and tear her flesh, petal by petal, like a bloody rose. I crack her open like an oyster. Break my jaws on her collarbone. Drink her sugar-sweet marrow. Paint my lips the color of her soul.
Her body creaks like an old floorboard. Her broken heart rattles. Her eyes roll back in her skull. Then she goes limp and pale in my arms. She’s at peace now. Her pain is gone.
I prance around on my tiptoes, savoring a full belly of sweetmeats. The moon is on a downward dip in the sky. Dawn is coming, so I creep into the shack and hide my human things under the moldy floorboard. The lighthouse winks at me through the window.
In a flash, I cast on my sealskin and flop back into the ocean. Gazing at the silver melt of moon, I comb my long, white whiskers. Humans really should be more careful. When they cast their nets into a black hole of apps, there’s no telling what they’ll catch. Blessed be the deep salt sea. It just might be a devilfish.
Kacey Rayburn grew up in the Appalachian Mountains. Born into a family of granny witches and gravediggers, she enjoys long walks in the cemetery. She has a sweet fang for chai tea and mermaids. Sing Our Bones Eternal is her debut novel. Her short fiction has also appeared in The Theatre Phantasmagoria and Grim & Gilded.
The Power of Prayer
My nails drummed the steering wheel.
Must move. Go. Drive.
Not the old bitty ahead of me.
Take public transportation. Clearly, you have the time!
First, do no harm.
I’m trying. Trying… Trying my patience.
She crept along. Below speed limit.
“Move it. Damn it!”
Raw anger spewed from my mouth, circled the cramped hatchback, and rose to the heavens like incense.
I know the power of prayer.
The car ahead– impacted by an unseen object– veered off the road.
Probably should stop. Should help.
Speeding up, I checked my watch.
Hell, I may even make it on time.
Nancy Pica Renken
Nancy Pica Renken is a short story and flash fiction writer from Colorado who enjoys reading, ‘riting, and running. Her work has appeared in Wyldblood Magazine #8 and a number of anthologies, including 666 Dark Drabbles Anthology by Black Hare Press and Nightshade and Moonlight, a Dark Fae Anthology by United Faedom Publishing. When she is not lost in thought on a magical, open space trail or grooming her brush-junkie cat, she can be found at www.NancyPRenken.com.
Aim for the What?!
Aim for the head! Sure, that worked. Until the parasite hivemind learned our tricks.
It moved its command centers from brains to other undead body parts as needed. Aim for the heart! became Aim for the crotch!, etc. Lives and ammo dwindled. Just when we were gaining ground, battle-hardened zombie-killers ran crying for their mamas.
Only one option remained: diplomacy.
We asked, “Is there a compromise where you stop eating us?”
Milky eyes blinked. Turns out, the hive-queen just wanted a seat at the table. Equal rights, etc. She emerged, many-eyed and grotesque.
We listened. Then blew her head off.
Michael Stroh is a pastor and writer in the Dallas area. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in publications including Shoreline of Infinity, Martian Magazine, SQ Mag, and anthologies by Black Hare Press and Shacklebound Books. He and his wife Libby have three kids. Find him on Twitter @pastor_writer.
The scale says I’m below my ideal weight. I deserve my prize.
The doorbell rings, first note in tonight’s symphony. Pizza, burgers, baby-back ribs, all the things I stopped eating. I’ve been planning this night for so long.
First bite satiates my hunger, that’s not what this is about. Second bite fills me. When the food doesn’t fit, I wash it down with soda.
Belly swollen and in pain, this is how I feel whole. I want to throw up but keep it in.
Bloated and struggling I take the last bite, something breaks inside me with a loud snap.
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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.