Trembling With Fear 11-19-23
Hello, children of the dark.
Thanks for your understanding and patience with the short story changes; this gig is mainly walking a tricky tightrope, and it’s always nice when I shout into the void and it seems like it’s been heard!
In case you missed it, here’s a quick recap on the new processes at TWF Towers:
- 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 (and me!) on social media for announcements.
As for everything in the queue, we’re working our way through them. Both Stuart and I have had the real world intrude on our available time quite massively, but we’re doing our best to get things on track.
Personally, I am bloody exhausted—but also excited to see the UK Ghost Story Festival will be back in February! Expect announcements of guests in the next few weeks…
Now to this week’s edition and Cassandra Daucus, a regular drabbler in these pages, has expanded her world to bring us a short story set in the underground world of pesky pixies. Then we come back to street level for three delicious quick bites:
- Nikki Stanier is climbing down,
- Francesco Levato needs stitches, and
- Dawn Colclasure discovers the dangers of reading.
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.
The Changeling, by Cassandra Daucus
“Mama, I’m afraid.”
I eyed the clock on the wall, counting down the seconds until the cavern tour was set to start, and squeezed Carter’s hand. “It’s okay, baby. I’ll be holding your hand the whole time.”
“Just don’t let go,” Brandon interjected, blue eyes sparkling with mirth. “Or when the lights go off the fairies will steal you away and leave a changeling in your place!”
“It’s true, Bud.”
Brandon should know that making fun would only upset Carter. I opened my mouth to tell him so, but then the door from the lobby into the cavern opened, and the line started to move.
“Will the fairies really steal me away?” Carter whispered, once Brandon was a few steps ahead.
“No way,” I whispered back. “But hold tight anyway. Okay?”
He smiled up at me, brown eyes shining. “Okay, Mama.”
We followed the line through the narrow pathway, and gathered in the main room of the cavern. It was impressive, with high ceilings and hidden hollows, and the golden-flicked crystals embedded in the solid walls winked delightfully under the glow of artificial lights.
“It’s so pretty, Mama,” Carter breathed.
“Very pretty,” I agreed.
It was also cold. I clutched Carter’s fingers in one hand and the collar of my jacket in the other, closing it against the chill of the air. The hum of the lamps, which were set up on stands in the center of the cave, bounced around in a strange way that made it seem like the sound was coming from behind me.
The docent stepped out of the shadows and intoned, “Welcome to Gold Glitter Cave.” A bit theatrical for my tastes, but Carter smiled. At least he seemed to get a kick out of it.
Her lecture started with the history of the cavern, how it was first discovered by the Native Americans in the area who used the crystals for decorations and at times used the cave for shelter. She went on to talk about the European family who acquired the land in the seventeenth century and went on to log the nearby forest.
“Daniel Herbert inherited the land, including the cave, when his father died in 1843.” She said. “Apparently, he was the first in the family to consider using the cave as a tourist attraction, and starting in 1845 he would charge visitors three cents for ten minutes in the cave, five cents if they wanted a candle to light their way. And it was in 1847 that the family suffered its first disappearance.”
Several people gasped, including Carter, and I gave his hand a little squeeze.
“Daniel’s daughter Alice, who was only seven years old at the time, went into the cave to gather some crystals, and she never came out. There was a search party, but the cave is entirely self-contained and, as you can see, it has no holes or tunnels, at least not any large enough for a child to crawl through.”
Carter looked up at me. “That’s creepy!” he whispered. I hushed him and turned my attention back to the docent.
“It was an unfortunate accident, they believed–until it happened again, twenty years later, to Daniel’s two-year-old grandson. Five years after that Daniel’s daughter became convinced that her other child, a four-year-old, was switched with a fairy child in the cave; she was known to rage about the strangeness of the girl’s eyes. Sadly, both mother and child finished out their lives in a mental asylum.
“As you can imagine, Gold Glitter Cave didn’t have the best reputation for a while there.” Everybody tittered nervously.
By this point Carter was starting to look really unhappy, and I was cursing the docent in my head and looking for a way to get him out of there. But then from where he was standing on the other side of Carter, Brandon leaned down, and I heard him whisper: “Hey, Bud, this is all just a story, okay? And earlier, when I said the thing about being switched in the dark–that was a story, too. I was just teasing.”
“Just teasing,” Carter echoed. He looked a little bit less afraid, and I figured it was okay for us to stay.
It didn’t take long for the docent to move on from the mysterious disappearances to describing the types of minerals found in the cave, which was a much more tolerable topic as far as I was concerned.
Finally, it was time for the part Carter had been dreading.
“Light from the outside cannot penetrate the cavern,” the docent said. “Now I’ll turn off the light, so you can experience true darkness.”
I held Carter’s hand tight as the room went dark. The first few seconds were fine. People were shuffling around us, a few were whispering, and I shifted from foot to foot, the hardness of the rock pushing back against me. Carter’s hand was warm in mine, and he was quiet which I thought was a good sign. It started to feel like a lot of time was passing, or the seconds were growing longer, so I started to count in my head–one, two…
On three, Carter’s hand pulled out of mine.
I gasped, and it was like the sound stopped at my lips. The darkness changed. It wasn’t just a lack of light, no; without Carter’s touch the space was totally black, and silent, as though everyone in the world decided to hold their breath at once. It was overwhelming, a blanket draped over me blocking not only the light, but also air and sound and even time itself. The shock of it caught me off guard and for a moment I was frozen. Once I could move again, I reached for Carter, and it took me several agonizing seconds to find his fingers in the dark.
The moment I touched him, the lights came back on.
I was breathing heavily, like I’d just run a race, but Carter seemed unfazed. “Mama,” he said, turning to face me. “Why did you–” our eyes met.
His eyes, gold and sparkling bright, gazed up at me quizzically. Then he slipped his hand out of mine and looked away, his thought unfinished.
What on earth was wrong with Carter’s eyes? He’s a changeling, my brain supplied helpfully. They switched places in the dark. A ridiculous idea, which I shoved away and stomped on.
The docent finished her spiel, but I didn’t hear a word of it. During those minutes my mind raced. What could have happened during those seconds of darkness to make Carter’s eyes turn gold? Maybe when they turned the light back on I was temporarily blinded, and because of the bright… no. Well, the cave walls are covered by these glittering gold crystals, maybe they were reflecting in his eyes? Somehow? By the time we started to shuffle out, I still hadn’t come up with any reasoning that made sense.
Brandon was walking ahead of me with Carter, smiling and laughing at whatever he was saying; Brandon didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong. Perhaps whatever I thought I’d seen in Carter’s eyes was an illusion. A reflection of the crystals, or a figment of my imagination, my mind primed by our conversation in the lobby and what the docent had said in her speech.
That explained it. I forced myself to relax and followed my family out into the parking lot. The sun was much brighter than it had been when we arrived, almost blinding. I squinted and dug through my purse for my sunglasses. The shade of the glasses helped but even through their lenses the sky looked strange, almost white, and so dazzling I could have sworn there was more than one sun up there.
“Hey.” Brandon’s arm slipped around my shoulder. “Not so bad, was it?”
“Not too bad,” I replied.
“Ice cream!” Carter shouted to the sky.
“Sounds good, Pal!” Brandon laughed. “I’ll have chocolate!”
Chocolate? Brandon hates chocolate. And Pal? Brandon calls Carter Bud, always. Thoroughly confused, I watched Carter skip towards our car.
“He thinks you got switched with a fairy when they turned out the lights.” Brandon’s voice in my ear was warm with amusement. “How funny is that?”
I raised my gaze to meet his. Through my sunglasses, Brandon’s eyes glimmered silver.
“Pretty funny.” I managed a laugh, then I followed them to the car and buckled in. What choice did I have?
We’re pulling out of the parking lot now, and I’m going to stay hidden behind the sunglasses for as long as I can. Carter’s eyes are gold, Brandon’s are silver, and there’s a brilliant sun in a strange white sky. I wonder if there’s a golden-eyed version of me, driving home with my husband and my son, under the illumination of my pale, yellow sun. I wonder if she’s as terrified as I am.
Ben told me the chimney is wide enough.
My heart clenches.
Damn winter jacket.
I shrug out of it. The walls get closer and closer and closer.
I slide down.
Arms over my head. My knuckles scrape the brick.
Down a bit more.
A deep breath.
Slip down a little more.
I can’t breathe.
My feet flail uselessly, brushing against the brick.
Scream for help.
I inhale but the bricks crunch my ribs against my lungs.
My throat is dry.
My scream is a puff of air.
The sides of the chimney compress my body.
No more air.
Nikki Stanier was born and raised in Massachusetts and now resides in Jersey, Channel Islands. She has an MA in Psychology. She began writing when she was young and has used her knowledge of Psychology to deeply explore the world of horror through human experience, creating twisted tales of flash, short, and long fiction.
I see flashes, angry semicircles of light cutting through the edge of my vision. I know what follows, streamers of blood filling my eyes, darkness falling like a curtain as my retinas detach. They’re trying to escape again, rip through the barrier. I can’t let them back in, let them indulge like they did last time. I’ll never forget the blindness, the feel of groping through viscera—and I know how this must end. I fumble through the sewing kit, thread the needle on my seventh try—then sew it through my eyelids, binding their passage with one final knot.
Francesco Levato is a poet, professor, and writer of speculative fiction. Recent books include SCARLET; Arsenal/Sin Documentos; Endless, Beautiful, Exact; and Elegy for Dead Languages. Recent speculative fiction appears in Fantastic Other, Sci-Fi Shorts, and Tales to Terrify, among others. He holds an MFA in Poetry, a PhD in English Studies, and is an Associate Professor of Literature & Writing Studies at California State University San Marcos.
The Cursed Book
We thought that after burning the book, we were all safe. But there was a problem: Remembering it, and Mavis had read it.
“Guys, Mavis is acting funny,” Marta said, bringing our exploration through the rest of the cave to a halt.
We turned to look at the youngest member of our group. Sure enough, he stood there, twitching and making strange guttural noises.
I shined my flashlight on him. “Mavis, you okay?”
Mavis’ wide eyes shone a brilliant red. Growling, he lunged at Marta, digging his sharp claws into her chest as his sharp fangs tore into her neck.
Dawn Colclasure is a writer in Oregon. She is the author of several books. Her work has appeared in magazines, websites, newspapers and anthologies. She is a freelance writer, book reviewer, newsletter publisher and a columnist for First Chapter Plus Magazine. Her websites are dawnsbooks.com and www.dmcwriter.com She’s on Instagram and Twitter.
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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.