Trembling With Fear 11-12-23
Hello, children of the dark. You know how we’re all told to do big, scary things every now and then? Well, last week I did a big, scary thing I never thought I would do ever again: I started working full time, in an office, in the Big Bad City. Before you get too worried for my sanity, I can confirm it’s a temporary arrangement while one of my freelance clients recruits for a new permanent team leader (and, heck, I needed the money). It has, however, reminded me of a few things:
- Commuting into London is still hell, but actually this one isn’t too bad as the tube ride is relatively quick
- Oxford Circus in the lead-up to Christmas is worse than hell, especially later in the week, and especially when there are tourists around, but at least the lights are pretty
- I actually quite like being in an office around other people?!
- I can do hard shit when I put my mind to it
And speaking of hard shit, a reminder of the Big Scary Decision we made/announced last week: we’ve made changes to our submissions process for short stories only. If you have submitted a short story since we reopened just a couple of months ago, rest assured we have your piece and it’s with the team for review. Please also remember that we all do this in a volunteering capacity, and we have A LOT to get through, so it will take us some time to respond. Patience, please! If you do seek publication elsewhere and your story is accepted before we get a chance to respond, please let us know so we can pull the story from consideration. We don’t take reprints.
A recap of how to submit to TWF:
- Drabbles, serials, and unholy trinities are still open all the damn time, and we still have an insatiable need for them
- Short story submissions will only be open in 2-week seasonal windows, and you can find those details on our submissions page; next one opens on 1 January
- Special editions submissions are still open in their own seasonal windows, and again the details are on the submissions page
Any short stories submitted to us outside of these new seasonal windows will be returned unread; we will NOT be keeping them on file for you. You’ll need to resubmit, if you are still interested in doing so, when we announce that we’re reopen. Make sure you’re following Horror Tree on all the socials!
As I said last week, I’m sorry we have to be such hard-asses about this, but we can only afford to publish one short story every week—and at the current rate of submissions, it will take us years to get through everything we have. I hope you understand why we are making this change. We want to protect your great work while making sure we can keep up with spotlighting the best of you.
Let’s turn away from hard-asses and towards the darkest corners, and this week’s edition has Addison Smith needs to keep quiet amidst the debris. That is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Sarah Elliott needs a defibrillator,
- LN Hunter needs a reboot, and
- RJ Meldrum needs a routine.
Over to you, Stuart.
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.
With Hands Unstilled, by Addison Smith
From the debris of Westfield, the machine collected parts and melded them to its body. Some of the parts were steel and circuit—robots who fell to steel bat and iron rod. Those pieces wove their wires into the creature, fingers and toes flexing as their circuits connected and became a part of something new and monstrous.
Not all parts were metal, however. I closed my eyes and lost myself to the dark and silence in our shelter beneath the rubble of the old rifle shop. Though I heard nothing, I imagined what Sarah heard from below my wardrobe perch, peering out the thin basement window. Bodies lay in the street, unburied in our haste to hide. The machine approached the bodies, recognizing salvage for its purpose.
Shoulders dislocated and arms ripped from bodies like tissue beneath its strength. It pressed arms to its body with its own metal appendages.
In recent weeks, the machines changed, and within them they carried a core of pulsing flesh. They wanted to be human, I thought, or some combination of us and them. Now, the destroyer held the arms to the flesh within. The flesh reached and probed and subsumed until even the human arms stretched their fingers and waved in the street, new tools of the strange creature.
I felt Sarah moving, the change in the air that meant she was near. She tugged gently at my shirt and I looked down to barren eyes. “What is it?” she signed, hands quick in the ray of daylight.
I dropped from the wardrobe into the basement below. I put my arms around her, and horrors filled my nightmares. In my thoughts the machine found us, but I pushed that aside, not wanting to think of the tearing and stillness. Even so, I saw Sarah’s arms upon the machine, used for its own efficient purpose like tentacles writhing in unison.
“It’s a monster,” I signed. My hands were filthy and scratched and conveyed my fear. Tears stung in my eyes, but I didn’t let them fall. Death had come for us like we knew it would.
Sarah jerked her head toward the window, staring into the open day. I wondered what she heard out there, but I knew I couldn’t change anything. It didn’t matter if the creature fled down the street or stood among the rubble of our fortress. It would find us.
“Sarah,” I signed. “We need to run.”
She nodded and it was tired and broken, but still alive. She still held hope, despite all that had happened.
We gathered our weapons from behind the furnace in the corner. Dust fell with every shift of debris, flecking our hair. There were no guns, and I was glad for it. The shop had been ransacked long before we came to be there. Guns made me nervous, and even now I wasn’t eager for their protection. I hefted two long steel bars from the floor. They were heavy, but I could swing one in each hand. Sarah brushed back her hair and retrieved a dull axe. She leaned it against her hip to free her hands.
“Together,” she signed. Her movements were sharp and insistent.
“Of course,” I signed.
She looked into my eyes, seeing the lie in my words. We did what we must to protect each other. I would give anything for her safety. I saw the dread that put in her stomach.
We stepped through the basement and up the stairs, feeling the tactile snap of chipped concrete beneath our feet. Sarah was my ears, and she gave the signal that the way was clear. When we stepped into the light, I knew it was wrong.
The machine stood above us, a dozen arms waving. I screamed for Sarah to run, words coming strange and unheard from my mouth, a cry of anguish as I swung a steel rod at the center of the machine’s mass.
It caught my weapon in metal hands. I stood struggling against its grip, granting Sarah an instant to run, to get away from the foul thing.
Sarah didn’t run. She stood at my side, staring up at the machine. It stretched its human arms, long and bleeding and of every skin tone. With its human arms it signed words I didn’t understand.
“It’s okay,” the machine signed. “We’re going to be okay.”
Sarah stepped up behind me and tugged gently at my shirt. I turned and she signed, that same brokenness in her eyes. “We’re going to be okay.”
Sarah and the machine signed in unison, repeating their words. The things took our bodies and controlled our parts. I let the tears fall and knew that I would not be silenced. When my body was torn and separated, still my hands would speak.
Jumpstart My Heart
Warrior. Surviving pain and grief, rebirth, and transformation. They knew who I was and still they came brandishing bravado. Entitlement and delusion were their armour alongside weapons of ignorance, intolerance, and fear. Fools who came at me when the moon was new, and the sky gifted not even a speck of light. The syncopated sound of necks snapping like knuckles cracking. Cries diminished as my hunger grew. Final words gurgled through slashed throats. The warm liquid did not satiate me, it merely congealed around my atrophied organs with no suggestion of penetrating my heart. I just wanted to feel, again.
Sarah Elliott is a published poet, writer and self-published author (Warrior Wisdom Sun, 2022). She is a regular contributor to the Nottingham spoken word scene and can also be found hosting on London Writers Salon. When Sarah isn?t writing, she is either coaching and mentoring teachers or chucking needles into people for acupuncture treatments! Sarah is currently writing a tarot-inspired collection of flash fiction, short stories and poems. The Substack newsletter titled A Writer’s Life chronicles Sarah’s writing journey, and you can also find her articles and author interviews on The Horror Tree website. More from Sarah on her website, Instagram, or Linktree.
I’ve been suffering blackouts and memory lapses for a few weeks, but things take a turn for the worse when I struggle to stand straight, even speak. ‘M-mum, D-dad, w-what’s happen-ning-ning?’
My face goes limp, and I stumble.
Mum looks at me with sympathy. ‘Don’t worry, dear, it’ll be all right.’
Dad pokes a finger into my shoulder, and as something goes click, he states clearly, ‘Maintenance mode.’
My vision fades, but before I lose consciousness, I hear him mutter, ‘We’ll try one more reboot, but if that doesn’t work, you’re going to have to take her in for repair.’
L.N. Hunter’s comic fantasy novel “The Feather and the Lamp” sits alongside works in anthologies such as “The Monsters Next Door” and “Best of British Science Fiction 2022”, as well as Short Edition’s “Short Circuit” and the “Horrifying Tales of Wonder” podcast. There have also been papers in the IEEE “Transactions on Neural Networks”, which are probably somewhat less relevant and definitely less fun. When not writing, L.N. unwinds in a disorganised home in rural Cambridgeshire, UK, along with two cats and a soulmate. Visit Facebook or LinkTree for more information.
She always checked herself in the hall mirror before leaving the house. She was a proud spinster lady and never let her standards slip, no matter how old she got. She was satisfied with the view in front of her. She checked her handbag; her purse and the list were there.
The store was at the end of the block, so her walk only took moments. She entered. Mr. Grayson, the owner, looked up at her in alarm.
“But, Miss Greely, you can’t be here!”
“Why on earth not? I shop here every day!”
“Why Miss Greely, you died yesterday!”
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.
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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.