Trembling With Fear 11-5-23
Hello, children of the dark. I promised an update to you all on our short story submissions situation, so here’s the tl;dr—we are closed to short story submissions for the rest of this year, and will only be open next year in 2-week windows once every quarter.
More detail? Here we go.
At present, we have close to 70 stories working their way through our review process—and we only reopened to submissions two months ago, after having been overwhelmed around this time last year and ending up fully booked for almost an entire year. We really don’t want that to happen again, so we tried being much more selective and hard-lined about what we choose to accept… But it hasn’t been enough.
So after much thought and discussion, we’ve decided to change the way we handle our submissions processes. Pay attention, now: this is important.
>>We will still be open year-round for drabbles, serials, and unholy trinities.
>>Short story submissions will be open in 2-week seasonal windows as follows:
- Winter: 1-15 January
- Spring: 1-15 April
- Summer: 1-15 July
- Fall: 1-15 October
Any short stories submitted to us outside of those windows will be returned unread, with a note to resubmit during the next window. This also makes it doubly important that you mark any submissions to our special editions (Valentines, Summer, Halloween, Christmas) as being for the appropriate edition, otherwise your story won’t be read.
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.
Right. Hard hat off, let’s get to the matter at hand: Hilary Ayshford sees some echoes of the past in this week’s TWF main menu. It’s followed by three delicious quick bites:
- KL Bexon is gripped by grief,
- Cassandra Daucus is perplexed by a new room feature, and
- Nicolette Ward gets her dancing shoes on.
Finally, to those on my side of the pond: remember, remember, the 5th of November. May your bonfire night be bright and merry.
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.
Hilary Ayshford is a former science journalist and editor based in rural Kent in the UK. She writes mainly micro and flash fiction and short stories and has a penchant for the darker side of human nature. Follow on Twitter @hilary553, or visit her website here.
Passing Through, by Hilary Ayshford
“Did you ever…?”
“Yes. In 2004.” David cuts the question off before it can be asked.
“Is it as bad as they…?”
“Do we know who’s driving this year?”
“No, but I’ll look after him. Poor bloke.”
Tom shrugs on his heavy wool coat and waits by the door, clinging to the last moments of warmth and light before he has to step out into the early morning murk.
“It’s nearly time, Tom. Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
Click: 06.34 – the waiting room clock breaks the silence, marking off another minute. David glances up from his place by the window. Three minutes to go. In the cramped staff room behind the ticket office, the kettle starts to steam. He shivers, and not just from the cold draft as Tom makes his way out to wait for the train to pull in.
The small station on the single-track branch line is unlit, the platform deserted. This is an unscheduled stop that happens only once a year, and David is confident nobody on the train will notice the brief halt while Tom takes over as relief driver. There won’t be that many passengers anyway; the end of the line, a sleepy village on the edge of the wide estuary where the train began its journey, is only five miles down the track.
Click: 06.35 – two minutes to go. The train will be emerging from the tunnel now, the driver numb with shock and struggling to pull himself together.
Time has not blurred the memory of that December morning eighteen years ago when David was in the cab of the first train of the day up to London. That was the last time he ever set foot in the driver’s cab. Now the stationmaster, every year he waits here for the train to arrive.
It wasn’t a bright morning, no crunch of ice underfoot and frost glinting on the rails. No, it was cold and dank, with a light mist softening the greyish outlines of the trees and houses that border the track. The train entered the steep-sided cutting, the gloom deepening as the early daylight receded, swallowed by the maw of the tunnel carving a passage through the South Downs.
He never liked driving through the tunnel. Just under a mile long, it was built on a slight bend, so it wasn’t possible to see the other end until the train was more than halfway through. That morning, as he rounded the curve, he saw an orb of bright light approaching quickly and obscuring the pale grey opening of the tunnel mouth. By the time his brain registered that another train was headed straight for him and instructed his frozen limbs to apply the brake, it was too late, and a collision was inevitable. He saw the driver in the oncoming train slumped over the controls. Unable to look away, he braced himself.
But the impact never came. Instead, time seemed to slow down and then stop. A cold, eerie silence enveloped the cab. Immobile with horror, David stared as a procession of figures – men, women and children – filled his cab. Insubstantial as fog, they brushed past him; icy fingers touched his face and hands, parted his hair, stroked his neck. Their gaping mouths, shrieking silently, latched onto him, sucking the warmth from his flesh. Several passed straight through him, a rushing wind of despair and dread that left him empty and hollow.
Just as suddenly as it began, it was over. The train emerged from the tunnel into the misty November morning; the temperature in the cab returned to normal; David could move his frozen limbs again, but he couldn’t stop shaking from the cold that penetrated his bones. Although the train wasn’t scheduled to stop at the next station, he pulled up, jumped out of the cab and was violently sick over the edge of the platform.
Click: 06.37. The train pulls into the station and judders to a halt. The ashen-faced driver stumbles from the cab, and Tom half-leads, half-carries him to a bench. Within thirty seconds the train is on its way again.
The tiny staff room is filled with steam from the kettle, and in the swirling mist David sees a cluster of faces, blurry, indistinct, eyes and mouths wide with terror. He waits for the vapour to dissipate, and once his hands are steady enough, he makes two mugs of tea, adds plenty of sugar and a nip of brandy, and goes to find the driver.
Gripping the photo frame tightly, Bess locked her knees in place, forbidding them from giving in. Traitorous tracks marred her cheeks.
Jonathan did not know if he could comfort her. She was always such an iron fortress, rebuffing forces that risked her ire. He hovered by her shoulder, hand inches from making contact.
“Damn you, Jonathan.” Her words splattered their target. He winced as she hammered his photo back down next to the urn.
His resolve won out. Palm settling, his fingers squeezed her shoulder tenderly. She whirled around, facing him, breath halting. Her eyes searched.
The room was empty.
KL Bexon is a teacher of English and Film Studies and is new to the writing world. She loves stories in all formats, though particularly enjoys gothic and fantasy fiction. She comes from the countryside in the East Midlands, but is surrounded by old mining and industrial areas; this has cultivated an interest in the environment and issues affecting the working class. Visit her website, Twitter, Instagram, or follow her on TikTok @klbexon.
A New Door
Last week, a new door appeared in Liv’s bedroom. I pretended not to see it, told her it wasn’t there. It was easier than admitting there was something I didn’t understand. What with her Mom disappearing, things were already so tough.
A few days later I first heard the voices; Liv was talking in her room. When I went in, she sat alone on her bed, the strange door (which I ignored) shut tight. Her Mother’s perfume hung in the air like a rose garden. This morning Liv is gone, and so is the door. Only a sweet scent remains.
Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, M. R. James, Shirley Jackson, Robert Aickman, and a ton of fan fiction, Cassandra Daucus (she/her) writes soft horror and dark romance. She is intrigued by how the human mind responds to the unknown, and also enjoys a good gross-out. Her story “Teething” appears in Ooze: Little Bursts of Body Horror, and she has stories forthcoming in Mouthfeel Fiction, Kangas Kahn Publishing’s October Screams, and Hungry Shadow Press It Was All A Dream 2 anthology. Cassandra lives outside of Philadelphia with her family and three cats. Her social media links and website can be found here.
The Dance Goes On Forever…
Alice closed her laptop. It was nearly 10pm and she’d been here, at the dance studio, longer than she should have been.
Her class had finished sharp at 8pm but she’d stayed afterwards, going through her notes and sorting her upcoming schedule.
As she packed away her bag, she shivered knowing what was to come. Every night at 10pm, they would appear, two ghostly sisters dancing and laughing like they didn’t have a care in the world. The murderous rage of their shared lover had not killed their joy in each other. They remained, caught in time but together.
Nicolette Ward lives in Manchester with her long-suffering partner and rescue cat – Sigi Kneebiter the Shadow Cat. She is the author of the Handy Little Book of First Lines and has written over 400 original and fanfiction stories. Her favourite type of fiction to write is dark and twisted fiction. She loves writing drabbles but recently has branched out with two 30k dystopian stories that are currently with her beta. She is interested in all types of the gothic and supernatural, and Halloween/Samhain is her favourite festival. She can be found on twitter (it's not X) at twitter.com/shadowsbetween
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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.