Trembling With Fear 10-8-23
Hello, children of the dark. I wonder, how many of you turn to the dark side of fiction for catharsis? I ask because Tuesday marks World Mental Health Day—a global movement spearheaded by the World Foundation of Mental Health—and I know part of the lure for me is indeed a way to process my own issues and fears. Whether it’s writing or reading, I find that immersing myself into a fictional world can help me to confront those things which I find challenging in the Real World. Is it the same for you?
I ask this not just because of the big day of global awareness, but also because I’ve had a challenging week in terms of mental health. I’ve said in these pages before that I have many, shall we say, diagnoses of the neurological kind. I’m a long-term chronic depression and anxiety patient, and have more recently (finally) been diagnosed with ADHD, sensory processing disorder, and dyspraxia, as well as some ASD traits. And while I’ve been processing and adjusting to those more recent diagnoses, I’ve also been nursing our beloved black rabbit through palliative care. On Tuesday, we lost her. We had the vet send her over the rainbow bridge; she’d had enough, it’d gotten too much for her. And, children of the dark, I really hate not having her around. She was my heart, my soul, my emotional support. She was so important to my mental health as well as much loved and spoiled, and as I write this the day after we lost her, I keep thinking I can hear her shuffling around. It’s heartbreaking. But at the same time, my inner monologue is telling me “ffs, it’s just a pet”. Those damn voices can sense vulnerability, and they intend on making the most of the chinks in the armour. (Note to self: I need to change all my bios to amend references to bun.)
For those who are using mental health in their writing, I implore you to use a sensitivity reader before submitting your stories to publications; you can access these via the HWA, which launched a mental health initiative last year (more on that here). We’re getting an increasing number of submissions to TWF that involve mental illness, and often the matter is not handled sensitively. Mental illness is not a punchline. It can be part of a character’s back story, but it should not be the only reason they are the bad guy. If your story’s twist is “oh hey turns out she was ‘crazy’ and got locked away”, then you are not writing with sensitivity. Do better.
And dear children of the dark, look after yourselves please. This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day is “mental health is a universal human right”—and it really, really is. You have the right to support, the right to talk, and the right to ask for help. So please ask for help. And continue to seek solace in the dark of our pages and the plethora of others around the internet.
You matter, and we love you.
Turning to this week’s TWF menu, and our short story is a stunning meditation on PTSD from Masimba Musodza. This is then followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Stéphane G. Perahim receives an inheritance,
- A.R Carrasco considers the rules of an academic discipline, and
- Corinne Pollard finds it’s definitely not ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
Finally, a repeat of last week’s quick note on the short story submissions. We have been honoured and excited to see the submissions come in thick and fast since we reopened last month, but we are getting multiple subs from individual authors. Given the volume of submissions we’re receiving, we will only be able to accept one story per author for now. Make sure you’re giving us your very best to maximise chances of acceptance!
Over to you, Stuart.
ATTENTION YOUTUBE WATCHERS: I’ve had a few responses to this and am eager to more! Here is what I typed last week: I’m one month away from my current 2-class MBA workload and another two and a half months from being done with the program as long as my math is right. So, one of my focuses will be to grow our YouTube channel. What type of content would you like to see us feature? Please reach out to [email protected]!
Masimba Musodza was born in Zimbabwe, but has lived much of his adult life in the United Kingdom, settling in the North East England town of Middlesbrough. His short fiction, mostly on the speculative fiction genre spectrum, has appeared in periodicals and anthologies around the world and online. He is the author of two novels and a novella in ChiShona, his native language, and a collection of short stories in English. Find him on Facebook or Twitter.
The Noise of Battle, by Masimba Musodza
Near the entrance to the Middlesbrough Town Hall, a newspaper vendor sold The Gazette with the passive expression of someone who did not care too much for the news, or if anyone stopped to buy it.
Emma glanced at the topmost copy. Next to the story about the sentencing of a young man for cruelty to his girlfriend’s dog, attended by a picture of him grinning defiantly with broken teeth like blighted maize, was a small item about Emma Cochrane’s Photographic Exhibition beginning that day. She leaned her head to the side to get a better view, but, just then, her attention was riveted towards the middle-aged man holding up a mobile phone while a teenage girl with waist-length black hair handed out leaflets.
“The war in the Congo has gone on for over 30 years, and kills more than 40000 people a month,” the man was saying. He waved his phone emphatically before adding, “That is the price paid for us to have smart phones, tablets and computers. The impact of war is everywhere….”
As Emma turned to ascend the stone steps into the town hall, she caught, out of the corner of her eye, a familiar flash of green. Across the street, Russell rose like Rip Van Winkle from the heap of dirty bedding at the doorstep of a disused building. He scanned the faces of passers-by. No one even glanced at him. Emma realised how absurd it was to think anyone would.
Russell crossed the road, with quick, darting movements, like an animal that knew the dangers of a road, but could not tell when it was busy and when it wasn’t. Emma began to up her pace, but he was already upon her, blocking her path.
“Emma….” he began
“Not now, Russell,” she said, pushing past him. “I have my exhibition today, remember!”
He reached out to grab her shoulder, but she was already out of reach. She turned to face him, forcing a gentle smile, “I wish you could come in and see it.”
As she ascended the stone steps, she knew he would watch her until she vanished from his view. But he would not follow her in.
Emma’s awareness switched to the present, to the people who stood in small groups, couples or individuals to gaze at pictures of homeless people staring out of a crowd of high street shoppers, of kids gawking at an amputee, and others. Her attention was drawn towards a middle-aged couple staring at a picture of a woman standing in front of a pile of canned food, while newspapers on a stand carry headlines of war. Emma walked up to them.
“Very powerful, images, don’t you think, Trevor?” the woman was saying.
“Have you noticed, Maggie, that we haven’t seen a single picture that was actually taken during the war itself?” the man said.
“Well, the whole exhibition is called the Noise of Battle,” said Maggie. “I think I read it on her website that she focused on the impact of war in places and spaces far removed from the actual war.”
“That’s right, madam,” said Emma, positioning herself to stand in front of them, beneath the picture. “I got the name from a street preacher who was shouting something Jesus said about the signs of the end of the world, that we would hear the noise of battle afar and at hand, meaning that this would be an age where if we were not actually in a war, we would still be affected by it because it would be in the news all the time.”
They are peering at the picture, each lost in their own thoughts. Emma wished they could listen to her instead. That is why she was here. And, it would help them understand why they were here too.
“In this picture,” said Emma, “a woman is looking at a bargain for canned food. The process of canned food was originally conceived for Napoleon’s army. Much of our popular technology, the internet, mobile phones etc. all have their history in warfare…..”
She trailed off, not because they were not even aware of her presence, but because Andy and Tim walked past. Tim, to whom everyone owed this exhibition. And Andy, who still had a life. She watched them leave the main exhibition area, heading towards the toilets. She followed.
Maybe it was a force of habit, but Emma glanced around to make sure no one was looking before she entered the men’s toilets.
Tim stood slightly bow-legged against the urinal, while Andy was washing his hands at the sinks.
“I’m glad you came, Andy,” said Tim, without looking up.
“I’m glad I came, Tim,” said Andy. He was looking at his smug, blond features in the mirror. “But the Noise of Battle, really?
“It’s how she wanted it, man,” said Tim. “She didn’t want to remember the Gulf anymore, but she didn’t want to forget war at all.”
With a grunt, he did his zip, straightened his posture and took the sink next to Andy.
“Emma has a breakdown and destroys all the pictures she took of the Gulf. And she still gets worshipped as Britain’s greatest war photographer!” Andy looks amazed at his own words.
“Your jealousy drove her to it, remember?” Tim reminded him. “She burnt those pictures because they were in your lives even after the war.”
“I wasn’t even there when she did it!” said Andy.
“Time and space, Andy. The Noise of Battle, remember?”
The two men stare at each other. In the silence, the sound of applause in the background could be heard. Andy inclined his head. “Speech time.”
As the two men exited, Andy took a last look. For a moment, he seemed to stare directly at Emma. She could see him in the mirror, but she knew he hadn’t seen her. When she heard the sound of the door close, she emerged from the cubicle.
In the exhibition area, a small crowd was gathering around the podium. Emma did not recognise the scholarly-looking grey-haired man, but that did not surprise her.
“Emma Cochrane’s work covers the social impact of war in places where there is no fighting, no bombing, no taking of prisoners and the committing of atrocities.”
He paused for effect, then continued “This is the world that, after accompanying our soldiers to drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, she returned to and found it as horrifying as any battlefield…”
Oh, well, she told herself. If that was the curator, he at least had grasped what she had tried to convey in her photography. Her work was done here.
She was back on the street, passing the man and woman campaigning against the war in the Congo. Yet, she imagined she could still hear the curator.
“It was in this place, where the noise of battles afar echo, that she met with violence…”
She was walking past Russell. He was not alone. Another man stood with him, with the same scruffiness of a rough sleeper. He looked up, first with mild interest, then shock, then hatred.
“You!” he snarled. “You took that picture of me in Kuwait! I was discharged because of you! You put me on the streets, you cow!”
Emma walked on. He is following, shouting accusations. “Did you win a prize, huh? Was it worth it? My life, for your fucking Pulitzer or whatever the fuck it is?”
Russell moved to restrain him. No one else is even aware of the scene unfolding. No, the scene replaying. The first time, when it had unfolded, they had turned their heads. Then, ran helter-skelter when the first shots had rang out, screams rising to the evening sky.
“Ironically, it was a soldier she had taken a picture of in the Gulf who shot her on the street…” the curator was saying, matter-of-factly.
Even as the now painless memory of the impact of the bullet that smashed through her skull and lodged itself just behind her right eye recurred, even as she fell to the ground, the whole world was fading. Today’s haunting was over.
A wristwatch stuck at 4:56, stale peppermints, shards of broken cup. That’s what she’d left me.
—Is this a joke? Aunt Zadie died four years ago.
—She made it clear. It had to be given to you today.
I left my trivial inheritance pooled on the lawyer’s desk and settled at a coffee shop, pondering Aunt Zadie’s bizarre claims of being a witch.
The bill arrived, weighted by peppermints, and suddenly it all made sense. The shop’s clock ticked to 4:56, my cup crashed down. My heart stopped. I died.
Point made, Auntie. You were a seer, indeed.
Stéphane G. Perahim
Stéphane G. Perahim is a middle-aged French lady who lives in Belgium and teaches English for a living. When she’s not surrounded by her young, charming yet snotty students, she writes detective novels and short stories, plays with rather lifelike and creepy dolls, runs half-marathons or works on improving her nascent skills at capoeira. Find her on Instagram @Nefisaperahim.
Rules of Necrological Method
“Necrology is the newest name for the oldest way of thinking.”
Franzhaim Harrow, Assistant Professor
Department of Necrial Science
North Symbiote University
Rule 1. A Very Short Introduction to Necrology
Rule 2. The Elementary Forms of Life and Death
Rule 3. Political Science and Necrology
Rule 4. Filicide: A Study in Necrology
Rule 5. Who Wanted Death?
Rule 6. The Division of Life in Death
Rule 7. Professional Deathics
Rule 8. On the Physics of Dead Morals
Rule 9. Necrological Historiography: The Prohibition of Death and Its Origins
Rule 10: A Very Short Conclusion to Necrology
– Contributions to Necrial Science
You thought you buried me with secrets upon my broken shell. You thought you sealed my coffin and forgot me. Out of sight, out of mind.
You ripped my love letters, threw them into the fireplace. Ashes cannot whisper my past pleas.
The flames enrage me. You can’t sleep. The wind howls, the floorboards creak, and the doors bang—as I shadow you. Your eyes widen each night as realisation sinks in.
Yes, I am here. Tell them your tears are fake, a widow-show, while your new man suspects nothing. Tell them because I won’t forget my agony or your torment.
Corinne Pollard is a disabled UK horror writer, published with Sirens Call Publications, Black Hare Press, Three Cousins Publishing, Trembling with Fear, The Stygian Lepus, A Coup of Owls Press, and Raven Tale Publishing. Also, Corinne is co-editor for the Yorkshire anthology Aire Reflections with her dark stories and poetry inside. With a degree in English Lit and Creative Writing, Corinne has always enjoyed the world of dark fantasy. Aside from writing, Corinne enjoys metal music, visiting graveyards, and shopping for books to read. Follow her dark world on Twitter, Threads and Instagram.
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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.