Trembling With Fear 11/28/21
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!
I feel as though I’ve been talking a lot this week! From the live Youtube panel with Raul Reads about the What One Wouldn’t Do anthology, to a chat with Alyson Faye about our upcoming appearance at Derby’s UK Ghost Story Festival, to The Writing Sparrow podcast chat with Salina Langer, I haven’t shut up! It’s that other side of today’s writing career where you have to be more visible – but I will say that I enjoyed all, and I’m getting used to it.
I hope you all notice the Indie Bookshelf ‘specials’ appearing recently. One is a special promotion of the (2021) work of all patreons/sponsors/staff as a thank you for keeping the site running. If anyone reading this, fits this category and missed out on the call (Stuart alerted patreons and sponsors), let me know and I’ll add your work to the post. The other is a gathering up of the charity anthologies published in the past two years, to give a number of worthy causes a boost.
Our first story in Trembling with Fear is Settlement One by Hayden Waller an enjoyable sci-fi horror and the consequences for humanity when it attempts to settle other worlds. Can we start again or do we take our old problems and fears with us? We don’t get that many sci-fi/horror mashups and it would be nice to see more. And sci-fi doesn’t have to mean space either!
Rose-Coloured Cream by Claire Fitzpatrick is a tale of guilt and loss and with a gut punch of a last line.
Scurry by Natasha Lewington is one of those awful nightmares which you wake up dreading might be real. In this case it just might be!
The Long Walk by DJ Tyrer is a ghostly and very atmospheric drabble, nicely done.
Enjoy our stories and send in yours!
For all of those who celebrated, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and have been celebrating what has become a time for gluttony and sloth. Now that you’ve recovered, we once again have a great line up of fiction for you to enjoy!
Settlement One by Hayden Waller
It was all smiles when the first shuttle touched down. Dr. Tanya Abramov had been given the honor of first boots. She thrust the pole into the loamy soil and drew down on the halyard, hand over hand, until the company flag was flying at full mast. She turned back towards the shuttle and pumped her fist into the air, and her crew members, pressed against the circular window, returned the gesture.
Back on the generation ship, the mood was pure elation. Bottles of champagne had been dredged up from the deep recesses of the storerooms and corks sailed through the air like little rockets as the grandchildren of those who began the journey celebrated its long awaited conclusion. There were a seemingly endless number of toasts dedicated to the first day of a beautiful new relationship.
The first round of colonists was ferried down to the surface to begin building their new lives on this desert moon, cradled gently in the colossal arms of Kanaloa, the orange and yellow gas giant that filled half the sky both day and night. The mission itself was meant to be a thumb in the eye of the Coalition, proof that it was possible to establish a healthy human settlement without an explicit hierarchy that was based on collectivism and freedom of purpose. On the forty-ninth day after their arrival, the construction team had finished erecting Settlement One on top of the wide mesa near the equatorial canyons. On the fiftieth, the first of the colonists disappeared.
He was a mechanical engineer, no older than twenty-five. The investigative team later concluded that he was woken in the middle of the night by a notification on his work terminal; a leak in an oxygen converter that demanded his immediate attention. It required him to pull himself out of bed and venture outside to repair it. He never reported back in, and was never seen again. At first the whispers said that he had slipped and fallen off the mesa’s steep edge, but when no body was ever recovered, a different sort of whispering began.
A mere two nights later, the second colonist went missing. A teenager this time. Her parents reported that she had been complaining of insomnia, and their best guess as to how she ended up alone was that sometime in the night she had grown frustrated and wandered outside to stare at the rings of Kanaloa and get some fresh air. When she failed to return to her bed, the mood in Settlement One went from somber to tense. A consensus emerged: these had not been accidents. The rumor mill declared there was a killer in their midst. Someone suffering from a severe case of ship madness, stalking the mesa at night as their sanity retreated further and further into the recesses of their diseased mind.
The colonists at Settlement One took a vote. By a narrow margin, they decided to instate a curfew. No one allowed outside their hab past dark. A great many of the colonists were saddened by the development, fearful that this vote was a harbinger, a sign that the free and open society they had wished to build had already begun to fold in on itself.
When the third colonist disappeared, they voted again to begin fielding an armed patrol each night, and when one of the patrolmen disappeared three nights later, they voted to cancel the manned patrols and instead to retrofit some of the mining drones with surveillance equipment and small armaments. One night, Settlement One was awoken by the sound of gunfire as they opened up on a shadow slinking between habs. When the morning came and the investigation team surveyed the aftermath, they discovered the bullet-ridden, half-naked body of an unfaithful lover.
That was the moment that broke them. Everyone had a finger to point.
Some claimed it was the fault of the security team, others blamed the drone programmers. A few even went so far as to admonish the Romeo himself. They began to wonder how the killer could possibly have evaded detection after all this time. After this many disappearances, heads swelled and tempers flared, friends became suspicious of each other, happy marriages were brought to their knees. It was not long until even the faintest semblance of colony unity had fully evaporated and Settlement One began breaking up into smaller and smaller factions. And so it went, the grand experiment failing spectacularly as the black fingers of anxiety slipped under the doors of every hab unit, slithering across the floor and into the minds of the people who slept inside them. That is, until the day they discovered the tapes.
After Dr. Abrimov disappeared, her faction members discovered a security drone locked in a steel box inside her hab. Upon closer inspection they found that a wireless receiver had been welded onto the memory core and that the receiver indicated it had been paired to an external device. Unfortunately the device appeared to be far enough away that the tether had been severed, but on the hard drive they discovered something interesting. A single video file. When they watched the playback, everything changed.
[The footage began with a view of Altamere’s western flatlands as Dr. Abrimov stands at the edge of the mesa, a head mounted camera recording her point of view as she looks out over the arid flatlands below. She turns her head to the left, and the camera focuses on the sun, hanging low in the sky as it prepares to dip below the horizon.]
“Tanya, you dumb bastard…” she muses under her breath.
[She sits; the camera moves down to her legs, dangling over the edge of the cliff, and then up to the horizon again as she finishes watching the sun set behind the horizon in silence. When it has gone down, she grunts as she pushes herself up and turns around. The hab units are little glowing points of light, hundreds of meters away, and she sighs before beginning a monologue.]
“Okay. Where do I start? We-, erm, I -” she struggles as she starts, trying to find the right words. She sighs, recollects, and continues. “I hope that something I do tonight helps put an end to all of this nonsense. I’m tired of watching this colony die before it ever had a chance to live like a baby, strangled in its crib. Our ancestors left Earth dreaming of a new world. A better world. And this is what we give them? This is how we live? Cowering like rabbits in our dens as some big bad wolf hunts us in the darkness? No. I refuse to let it happen like this. One way or another, the terror ends tonight.”
[The camera pans down and we see a revolver in her hand. There is a gentle blush of blue from the ionized rounds sitting inside the cylinder. She turns it over in her hands, inspecting it, before looking back up at the glowing hab units.]
“I hoped I would never need to use this. Not for this reason, anyway.”
[Then silence. The camera pans up to the stars, hovering there for a while, and then we hear another sigh before she begins walking slowly towards Settlement One.]
“I’m prepared to kill tonight, and if I do, I expect no special treatment under the law. I’m also prepared to die, and if I do, I hope this recording will at least help identify our big bad wolf.”
[She hasn’t taken more than a dozen steps before we hear the sound of falling rocks behind her and she stops in her tracks. Her breathing audibly increases as she turns cautiously around, halfway raising the revolver. The camera darts from side to side, scanning the cliff’s edge for the source of the sound. Then there is a flash of movement. The camera zeroes in on the spot, and gradually… terrifyingly… four spindly fingers slither into view and curl over the top of the mesa. Her breathing stops entirely, and a moment later four more fingers appear beside them. The intensity of her breathing increases again, and she raises the gun to chest level. She watches in stunned silence as the creature pulls itself up, digging its hands into the ground as the first of its thin, wiry legs comes into view. She turns around, looking at Settlement One, and when she turns back, a creature is standing before her in full view. A pair of ochre eyes sit like glowing embers in an otherwise featureless face that tilts to the side as it inspects her. She is shaking, her breath coming in ragged bursts.]
“I… I can’t move!” she says, her arms still extended out in front of her, hands locked around the grip of the revolver.
[The creature slinks closer, its slender, silver frame gliding across the ground as if it were made of air. It stops when it is inches from her face, and then reaches out and touches her chest with one of its spindly fingers.]
“It’s… speaking to me!” she struggles, her voice quivering. “I can hear it… in my head. It’s saying… it does not want us here. That… we are unwelcome.”
[There is a surprised gasp from Dr. Abrimov, and then the camera pans down to her chest. The finger is lodged inside her, a circle of blood starting to radiate away from it across the fabric on her torso. The creature makes a strange clicking noise, wraps its arms around her body, and then gallops towards the cliff’s edge with unimaginable speed, leaps off into the night. The video ends.]
Before sunset on the next day, Settlement One had been fully abandoned, and the colonists had returned to the generation ship. Historians are torn as to what became of them. Some say that they traveled to a new system on the outer rim and that their grandchildren were finally able to build the society their grandparents and their grandparents’ grandparents had dreamt of building on Altamere. Others say the natives never let them leave, finding their way up to the generation ship and slaughtering the colonists one by one until none were left alive. These historians say the ship is still in orbit around the gas giant Kanaloa, floating endlessly. An infinite tomb. The truth? It is far from certain. For every ghost world has its ghost stories.
They called me a murderer, a sinner, an oxygen thief. And it didn’t matter how much I pleaded and cried. Self-preservation was not a liberty I deserved.
The procedure took fifteen minutes. Afterwards, the woman gently guided me into a hot bath. I sank under the water as guilt swallowed me whole.
Later, I dried, dressed, and met her in the kitchen. She handed me a small jar of rose-coloured cream and mimed rubbing it on her cheeks. It was warm on my skin and smelled faintly of iron.
The woman smiled.
“Now your baby will be with you forever.”
Claire Fitzpatrick is an award-winning author of non-fiction and speculative fiction. ‘The Body Horror Book,’ which she co-wrote and edited, won the 2017 Rocky Wood Award for Non-Fiction and Criticism. Her debut collection ‘Metamorphosis’ was released by IFWG Publishing Australia in 2019 to positive acclaim. Claire is the 2020 recipient of the Horror Writer’s Association’s Rocky Wood Memorial scholarship fund for her upcoming collaborative non-fiction book ‘A Vindication Of Monsters – essays on Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft’. In her ‘real-life’ she’s a freelance journalist and lives in a house filled with plants. Visit her at www.clairefitzpatrick.net/
I gasp awake from my recurring nightmare; octo-legged terrors clambering through web strewn teeth… eurgh.
Moving to the bathroom, I prep my toothbrush then scrape back and forth. Suddenly, my tongue is glued by a sticky mess hanging between my teeth; I stare disbelievingly into the mirror and witness those same octo-legged nightmare dwellers scurrying through my saliva!
A guttural scream resonates through the webs but the sound shows my new inhabitants a second exit from my mouth… I choke on thousands of legs scurrying down my throat as my consciousness collapses and I slump to the cold bathroom floor.
The Long Walk
Lanes thick with snow and overhung with dead branches, all look the same in the wan moonlight. No signposts show the way. No lights visible beyond empty fields.
Chill cuts to the bone and frost rimes hair and face, numbing the senses, the mind. The memory of intended destination fades with each leaden step, pulling against the cloying snow.
Then, always, there it is, returned to the starting point, the tiny stone church in the shadow of an evergreen yew.
With faltering steps, approach an untended grave. The name almost obliterated by moss, your own.
Resume walking, always to return.
DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Chilling Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree), All The Petty Myths (18th Wall), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), What Dwells Below (Sirens Call), The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories (Hellbound Books), and EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness (Otter Libris), and issues of Sirens Call, Hypnos, Occult Detective Magazine, parABnormal, and Weirdbook, and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).
The Atlantean Publishing website is at https://atlanteanpublishing.
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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 and Reborn, and the novellas, Bottled and Paused. Her novel, The Woodcutter, is due for release via Brigids Gate Press in 2023. 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 is an active member of the HWA and can be found at https://stephanieellis.org, on Twitter at @el_stevie, Instagram stephanieellis7963 and also somewhere on Facebook.