Trembling With Fear 11/27/2022
Hello, children of the dark. I hope those of you who mark Thanksgiving (in whatever form) had a fruitful day; I certainly have many American friends who go all-in!
As you read this, I will actually be out of the country for the first time since early June 2019. The husband and I are finally going on a post-covid trip abroad, settling in Rome for a week. And I am so excited. We both desperately need this break, so that’s what I’m thankful for!
Despite growing up surrounded by Italians and attending an all-girls Dominican convent school, I have yet to spend much time in Italy. It was the one place people back home thought I’d head for when I moved to Europe but, beyond the odd day trip and a week in Sicily, I’ve seen very little of the country. On the other hand, my husband has seen pretty much all of it. Rome is his favourite city, and there is much he wants to show me. For me, there was one stipulation for the trip: I had to do a day trip to Pompeii. I HAD to. I was obsessed with the story of that ill-fated city throughout my young years – Pompeii and the Bermuda Triangle, for some reason (of course I would write the dark stuff, huh?) – and I’m so glad we have the time to do it.
Personally, I’m also looking forward to an injection of fresh air, fresh thinking, fresh creativity. The last few years have been really stagnant for me creatively, which is no surprise given all that’s been going on – burnout and lockdown included – so I’m hoping to soak up inspiration in the Eternal City. Come back renewed, reinforced. Ready.
To this week’s Trembling main course, and Matthew Tyrer brings us the creepiest of little boys. This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Cassandra Daucus gets in the motherly spirit
- Josh Clark takes us below the surface, and
- Akshay Patwardhan is taken over by the spirit of running.
If these stories inspire you to get writing, you’ll find details on how to submit to us over here. Remember, we’re currently CLOSED to short story submissions, but are always seeking drabbles – that’s a complete story in exactly 100 words, and a real test of your craft. We’re looking for anything darkly speculative in genres including horror, scifi, fantasy, mythology, folklore. What makes you tremble in the dark? Let us know.
But now, it’s over to you, Stuart.
For everyone living in the United States – I hope you had a filling Thanksgiving and didn’t spend too much on Black Friday which is the messiest of made up holidays (and not really the best time to find deals anymore.)
Quick round up:
– We’re currently making a major push for more author interviewers! If you love to talk to authors, please reach out!
– Still exploring who will be replacing Amanda Headlee for our specials, we have a few potentials that all seem like they would be a good fit!
– Currently exploring alternative social media options in case Twitter bites the dust. Hive, Mastadon, post are all contendors. That being said, You can also follow us at:
As always, I hope you had a great weekend.
Fingers, by Matthew Tyrer
No one there had yet said a word to the boy. In a corner, he sat on a wicker chair, watching his lap. His hair, combed straight, fell around his eyebrows and his hands held each other so that both palms were hidden.
The first to approach him was an older woman who had spent the previous hour repeatedly catching his eye with the odd savouring glance. Throughout the day’s pleasantries, she had not strayed far from one man in particular, only doing so to pick frugally from the buffet or to exchange words with a face she recognised. On approach, she crouched down to his level, staring at him the way women of a certain age often do, her face doused in a clay-like makeup.
‘What have you got in your hand there, little one?’ In response, he tightened his grip. From behind his long needle-like fringe, his eyes seemed very small.
‘Don’t be shy now…’ Her grip was cold and dry, the wrinkled skin sagging against his knuckles. As his hands opened, a darkness could initially be seen cloying to his peach skin, followed by a trail of dried blood.
‘Eww!’ she cried, recoiling; then her eyes returned to him, this time with a greater severity, as if the boy had just violated her innocent preconceptions. ‘Where on Earth did you get that?’
‘It’s mummy’s,’ the boy said.
Her glare tightened. ‘And where is mummy now? Can you point her out for me?’
Playfully, he shook his head.
‘Why not, dear?’
A hesitation came over him. He shuffled slightly in his seat.
‘I know,’ the lady continued. ‘Why don’t we play a game?’ And his eyes lit up. ‘If you take me to where your mummy is, then I’ll give you a special present.’
‘What kind of present?’
‘Well, you’ll have to wait and see, won’t you.’
With the slight shaking of his head, a portion of his fringe was swept away from his right eye, revealing its deep brown shade. He had joined his hands together once again, hiding his palms as before.
‘Okay,’ he agreed, a new brightness in his voice. ‘But only as long as you close your eyes, so it’s a surprise!’
‘I won’t even peep.’ She smiled at him, but once he got up from the chair and turned away from her, it quickly made way for an ashen frown.
Following him, she passed the man she was speaking to previously, and he did a double-take when he saw her with the boy. ‘Sheila, what’s going on?’
‘Phone the police.’
‘Just do it.’
As they made their way through the crowds, the boy was often swallowed by the bodies, only for his tiny figure to reemerge with each new opening. Whenever anybody noticed his presence, they tended to scrutinise him with a certain disdain, their looks searching, if not confused. But otherwise, he scurried among them largely anonymous, grazing against the trails of women’s dresses, and stepping on the tips of men’s shoes.
Poor thing, the woman thought. Where does a young boy find… No, it doesn’t bear to think about. There has to be a reasonable explanation.
She followed him all the way to the front of the building, where an elderly gentleman held the door open for them both, grinning warmly as they passed. The only people outside were smokers, loitering in small groups of no more than five. Stepping fully into the bright gaze of the sun, she decided that the collective murmuring of the crowd inside meant nothing to her and felt a sudden rush of warmth in her chest – I have to be there for him, she thought, no matter what.
Trying hard to be discreet, she stared down at his hands; the thing was now held in his right hand, hidden within the clench of his fist.
‘Where to now then?’ she asked, struggling to hold her tone.
‘You promised you would close your eyes!’
When she obliged, the boy took her by the hand and began to lead her towards his destination. Through the slit of her eyelids, she caught glimpses of street signs, tall green hedges, and cars scurrying through narrow suburban roads; but very soon, the ground turned soft, and she began to hear the distinctive crinkle of fallen leaves and nettles beneath her feet. When she next opened her eyes, they were walking down a muddy path, surrounded by trees and shrubbery. There was a brick wall just beyond the path to their right, decrepit, and violated by several layers of graffiti. Motorway traffic could be heard rushing in the distance.
She tried to look down at the boy, but when his head started to turn as she did so, she quickly shut her eyes again.
‘Are we nearly there?’
‘Nearly,’ he replied merrily, hurrying his step.
When the woman next half-opened her eyes, the shrubbery had grown much denser around her, and the path became more trampled and overgrown. It was silly of me to come alone, she suddenly thought. For all I know, this boy could be taking me anywhere – you can trust nobody these days, not even children. I hope the police are on their way.
‘What’s your mummy doing all the way out here?’
There was a long pause before the boy answered. ‘Well, you’ll have to wait and see – won’t you.’
He’s mimicking me, the little shit. He’s known what he’s been doing all along.
But then, just as her paranoia was beginning to get the better of her, the boy came to a sudden halt. ‘We’re here,’ he said.
As soon as she opened her eyes, she saw her; a woman laying face down in the grass. She was wearing a cream blazer with large shoulder pads, along with blue jeans and black leather slip-ons which exposed her ankles. Though her face was lost behind the many shoots of grass, her blonde hair snaked through the overgrowth, slightly damp and dirtied with streaks of mud.
‘Is that your mummy?’ the woman said, now crouched down to the boy’s height.
He stared beyond her, at the woman in the grass, then nodded slowly.
‘Okay. You just stay here – I’ll be right back.’
As she approached, the woman’s face came slowly into view; its left cheek sunken into the ground, the one visible eye was fixed wide open, lifeless. When her focus turned to the rest of the body, she noticed three large blood stains on the back of the blazer – stab wounds, she decided – as well as more dirt stuck to the cuffs of the sleeves. Strangely, it was the sight of her feet, resting so awkwardly against the ground, which finally turned her stomach and caused a lump to form in the back of her throat.
She thought of the boy sitting in the house all alone, surrounded by that mass of people. How long had he been there? How long had she been here?
When the woman turned around to see if the boy was still there, his hands were open, and he was staring deep into his palms.
Perhaps her mind had chosen to blank it out; perhaps, on some level, she had tried to convince herself that she hadn’t seen what she saw. But now the image was reemerging more clear than ever in her mind’s eye – that awful stub of blood and skin.
With great reluctance, she turned back to the body, honing in on the woman’s hands in particular. The right hand had all five fingers and was normal as could be. The left hand was bruised, covered in dirt and dried blood… and its thumb was missing, having been severed at the knuckle.
Her breathing now heavy and hoarse, she hurried back to the boy’s side, as the sound of police sirens began wailing in the distance.
She did not know what to think or what to feel. Whether to be afraid or mournful. But she knew one thing for sure – she no longer trusted the boy.
And as he stood next there, staring at her, with that severed limb resting in his hands, she saw that he had his mother’s eyes.
‘When am I getting my present?’ he said.
“Mama, I’m cold.”
Half asleep, she lifts the blanket to let him under. He curls up next to her. His size surprises her every time; the last growth spurt hit him hard. His skin is clammy through the thin fabric of his pajamas, hands small and frigid between her warm ones.
“Baby, are you okay?”
“Okay. But maybe I’m sick.” His whisper fills a hollow in her chest.
“Sleep,” she murmurs. “Mama’s here.”
In the morning he’s gone; he always leaves. She gets up, dries her eyes. After work she’ll visit his grave and ask him to visit again soon.
Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, M. R. James, Shirley Jackson, Robert Aickman, and a ton of fan fiction, Cassandra Daucus writes soft horror and dark romance. She lives outside of Philadelphia with her family and three cats. She tweets at @residualdreamin.
The spotlight shone over the carnage.
Paneling and twisted, warped metal jutting every which direction. A mountain range of desolation, waning fancy and luxury vanishing into the snare of a dark abyss. A once proud cruise liner, resembling a hollowed husk, embraced by time and decay’s firm grip.
My diving partner pointed skyward. There was nothing left to see here, we were too late.
Tentacles shot out of the sand, ensnaring us both. Surrounding the length of my body.
Along with the ship, naught but corpses. Longed for but forgotten. A memory the depths alone cherished.
Josh is a writer, bookseller, and graphic designer. His short fiction has been published in Fresh Starts: Tales From the Pikes Peak Writers, Nom Nom from Black Hare Press, and received a Silver Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future Contest.
Johnny rolled the jogger’s body into the dense side-road, covering his blue Nikes. The jogger had been cutting off Johnny for the past six months, and he couldn’t take any more.
After it was done, Johnny went home and slept.
When he awoke, he felt energized. He went for a walk, and then sprinted. He sprinted for hours, noticing that he was wearing new blue shoes. The Jogger’s shoes.
As he ran for weeks, then months, the shoes disintegrated, and so did his feet. Nobody noticed. He ran for seemingly eternity, screaming, as his ankle bones rattled on the asphalt.
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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.