Trembling With Fear 11/14/21
Please note: We are temporarily closed to short flash stories (unless for one of the Specials) but open to drabbles, unholy trinities and serials. Please also remember to read our guidelines, especially on word counts!
By the end of the year, we will have caught up on all our short story publications for TWF. With that in mind, I feel it safe to reopen at the beginning of December – but please do not send before this!
Another week gone far too quickly. Not much writing was done on my part, most of it was ‘around’ writing in some way and also in creating cover designs for some notebooks I’m putting up on amazon. One of my buys this year was an XP-Pen drawing tablet. It’s proving its value as I’ve used it for a few book covers now and hopefully will pay for itself one day. It is also great fun and a nice change from concentrating on the written word.
I’ve finished reading The Jewish Book of Horror, ed. Josh Schlossberg. I wasn’t sure what to expect but the sheer richness of tradition and history which comes from this culture made it a refreshing experience.
Our first story in Trembling with Fear is Critic by Alejandro Gonzales. This is a story of writerly obsession and thereby a warning to those who read it. A masterclass in how a writer should not behave!
Pristine Porch by Kevin M. Folliard is a perfectly painted picture of a story, so many little details adding nuance, plus a very alliterative last line – cleverly done!
Return Notification by G.A. Miller is a lovely bit of dark humour which touches the effects of lockdown.
Water Babies by Steven Holding is very dark and cleverly engages your sympathy for a character who may not be what you expect.
Enjoy our stories and send in yours!
Today’s first story is ‘Critic’ by Alejandro Gonzales and I’m going to have to give it a 1 star! (You’ll appreciate that after you read the story.)
Had a huge test for my MBA this last week so unfortunately wasn’t able to make much progress outside of that on the site. NEW UPDATES SOON! (I hope…) 😉
Critic by Alejandro Gonzales
After twenty rejections, a publisher with some sense had picked up his short story. Nate believed the email to be a cruel joke initially. Alas, after calling the number listed and verifying the sender’s username with the one listed on the website from which he’d submitted the story, it came up as legitimate. His eyes hadn’t left the screen since, nor his rear end from the chair. He smirked and pulled out his phone.
“Overlook Herald, how may I assist you,” Sheila asked.
“Get me connected to Victor, would ya? Thanks, pumpkin,” he said.
She let out a sigh and put him on hold. He hoped Vic the prick was savoring the last moments of having such a great writer in his employ. He chuckled to himself. God, he was awesome. He flexed and kissed his arm right as the line picked up.
“Uh, hi s-sir. I’m-I have something to tell you, okay,” Nate said.
“Duh-duh-duh-do you? Spit it out, for Christ’s sake,” Victor said.
“You’re an ass-eh. You’re really mean and I’m not working for you anymore. I quit,” he said and hung up.
His heart beat three times too fast for as many minutes afterwards. It had without a doubt been a risky move. In a couple months he’d be laughing his way to the bank when his autobiography hit the shelves. He’d have to pen it first, of course. That shouldn’t be too much of an issue considering he ranked as one of the more prolific writers within a ten mile radius. He returned his attention to the screen, took a bite of his half-finished burger set atop the monitor. Another email from the magazine appeared in his inbox. His finger hovered over the mouse. He licked his lip, clicked and looked away.
Congratulations! Your story is live on our website and will be part of our next anthology, to be released on April 29.
He ran a finger down the screen; it had been so fast. Just an hour-oh. The first email hit his inbox six hours ago. Clicking the link embedded in the second one indeed took him to their website, and from there a page dedicated unto his story. An entire page. He read it once and then again and one time to be assured of its quality. Each comb through highlighted new aspects to love, which his self-criticism had ignored while writing.
Refreshing the screen showed a flood of comments and ratings. Four stars here, five stars there. He frowned; someone had misclicked and given him a one-star review. A deeper look revealed the person may have intended to leave such a pathetic rating. Thirty excruciating minutes later, he added the final touches on an essay of a response, deconstructing every point in the original post and providing comprehensive counterarguments.
He sat stock-still for at least an hour, a time in which he reflected on the one star rating hundreds of times, changed the wording here and there, imagined if it had never been written. Another flood of reviews came in when he next hit the refresh button. This wave consisted entirely of one star ratings and negative comments.
Did a racist, sexist five year old write this? The toilet humor is utterly juvenile and the attempted meta humor falls so flat I heard its boots hit the ground.
He cranked out a response of epic proportions and moved onto the next poster, making sure to take note of personal events listed on his profile. This one would be too easy.
Laughing out loud, I hope you get cancer too and meet your mom in Hell, where you both belong. Learn how to appreciate literature, idiot.
Review after review came in and he responded accordingly. Night turned into day, urine trickled down his leg and the stench of feces choked the air. These minor inconveniences paled in comparison to the desire, the need, to defend the honor of his story and by extension himself. A fingernail chipped then broke off. He drew in a sharp breath of air and rubbed his hand, went right back to work.
To say he wasn’t acutely aware of the blood dripping onto his keyboard and the dryness of his bloodshot eyes would be to lie. He knew all about the sores, the rotting food beside him, his growing inability to understand the concept of time. A minute was as a day had once been and vice versa. These labels meant nothing to his mind, which had transcended reality and entered the next realm, one reserved for writers of the highest caliber.
Another fingernail broke off and more blood spattered the keyboard as a result; it was of no consequence. True artists suffered for their craft and he sure as hell didn’t plan on being outdone by some kid at a keyboard.
I can’t tell if a twelve or fifty year old wrote this…yikes. It’s the sexism for me.
He cracked his neck and slammed his wrist against the table for good measure, reveling in the crunch which followed. His functioning hand pecked at the keyboard.
Old enough to guarantee I’ll literally fucking kill you if I ever see you in real life. I’m gonna take a shit and then make you eat that shit and then eat the shit you ate which was originally my shit and repeat the process until you’re as actually full of shit as you act.
He wiped his pimply, wart infested forehead and stretched his mouth open in the guise of a grin as far as it would go. His teeth started to grind as the one star reviews kept popping up. One of them cracked, but he kept responding. Until the screen froze and a message in red font popped up.
Your account has been permanently suspended for use of offensive language. All stories associated with this profile will be taken off the website.
He stared at the text for a long while, thought of his upcoming bills, his lack of income, and the numerous self-inflicted injuries. His expression softened. He tossed his head back and let forth a noise which wasn’t quite a groan, nor exactly a laugh. Artists suffered for their craft, he knew this already. And if that were so, and this were to be considered a sign from above that he had reached the highest of the highs among artists, then there was only thing left to do.
The greats usually went out with a barrel to the head, but he possessed neither a gun nor functioning hands. He stared at the screen, read the words aloud over and over. He raised his head and brought it down onto the computer. He screamed; he wanted to be an artist, though, he needed it. His only option was to be recognized after death, and such wouldn’t happen if his death didn’t cause undue trauma to the first responders.
He smashed his head into the computer again, then again and one more time. More blood must have been spilt on the keyboard than remained inside him, and the same could be said of his teeth.
“Artists…suffer,” he said.
He smashed his head again and again, into the computer, onto the keyboard, anywhere and everywhere. His vision was blurred by tears, sweat and blood so he didn’t have a great idea as to what he was beating himself against at any given time. He stood up, tripped and hit his head on the floor. He would be home soon, home with his people.
“No more bad reviews,” he muttered to himself.
Black ate up the edges of his vision. And only black. Too late, he realized there was no light at the end of the tunnel, for there was no tunnel to begin. There was nothing and would be nothing. Oh well. Eternal nothingness sounded like a quaint thing for a suffering artist. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to fade from existence.
Alejandro Gonzales is a writer of primarily speculative fiction living in Northern California.
Mrs. Penelope’s porch had been a wasteland of white wicker behind alabaster bars.
Ants marched up polished oak boards toward rivers of spilled iced tea. Shattered glass glistened in afternoon sun.
Mr. Penelope lay slumped, purple knuckles gripping the handle of a sweaty pitcher. His eyes had never been so wide and wild with betrayal.
She sat, straight-backed, in her mother’s antique rocker, lithe fingers knitting up a celebratory scarf.
The porch had been her prison.
Her poison became her pardon.
Now, the porch was paradise, and she had become the white wicker widow, ready to wail for the warden.
Kevin M. Folliard
Kevin M. Folliard is a Chicagoland writer whose fiction has been collected by The Horror Tree, Flame Tree Publishing, The Dread Machine, and more. His recent publications include his novella “Tower of Raven” from Demain Publishing, his 2020 horror anthology The Misery King’s Closet, and his YA fantasy adventure novel Grayson North: Frost-Keeper of the Windy City coming from Dark Owl Publishing December 2021. Kevin currently resides in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL, where he enjoys his day job in academia and active membership in the La Grange and Brookfield Writers Groups. When not writing or working, he’s usually reading Stephen King, playing Tetris, or traveling the U.S.A.
To: All Staff
Re: Back to the office
I want to thank everyone for your superb efforts in making the transition to working remotely so smooth. We’ve sanitized the office, and you’ve all (hopefully) been vaccinated, so we’ll expect everyone back on Monday morning promptly at 8.
See you then,
Reply to: W.E.H., Chairman
I regret to inform you that my return will not be possible, but I shall continue remotely.
Reply to: G.A. Miller
And why is this not possible?
Reply to W.E.H., Chairman
I’m afraid I’m no longer among the living, sir.
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.
The oars slice like knives, each stroke rocking the rowboat. It’s late, and near the lake’s centre it’s unclear where sky ends then surface begins.
Standing, swaying, contemplating the rocks lining his pockets, something else weighs upon his mind.
How many times has he come here accompanied, only to head back to shore alone?
Somewhere, he stopped keeping count; now, he just wants to stop.
Diving down, dark depths seize him as fluid quickly fills his lungs.
He’s glad, for it smothers the screams as tiny arms welcome him with their eager embrace, happy that daddy has finally come home.
- About the Author
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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 can be found at https://stephanieellis.org and on Blue Sky as stephellis.bsky.social.