Trembling With Fear 12-17-23
Hello, children of the dark. As I write this, we are one week away from the Winter Solstice in the UK. The days are getting VERY dark indeed, and the wind has a chill that goes through your bones. Some people revel in this time of year, and you’d think I was the same given my penchant for dark tales—but actually, I’m a child of Australia, and I do need a decent balance of light and dark for me to feel alive. At this time of year, I am lethargic. Even more so than usual! I struggle to get out of bed. I crave cosy blankets and a giant mug of steaming hot tea. But then, as I was saying to a colleague yesterday, we’re made to be hibernating at this time of year. These things are natural!
So the year is winding down well and truly, but I take solace in knowing the light will soon return. I hope you and yours have been enjoying the season, whatever your beliefs.
For your holidays, this week we bring you the dark and speculative TWF menu. The short story comes from regular contributor Addison Smith, a terrifying take on tech horror—but not for the reason you think. Then we’ve got three fabulous tasty morsels for dessert:
- D’vorah Shaddai has a shower,
- Epiphany Ferrell makes a final wish, and
- Nicolette Ward seeks the crossroads.
Finally, submissions are now closed for the Christmas special. TWF special editions editor Shalini is going through the (frankly) huge amount of stories we’ve received, and submitters will hear from her over the course of the next week. Keep an eye out for this one on Christmas Day—aka a week tomorrow! 😱
Now, it’s 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.
Unfleshed, by Addison Smith
“The first thing he did was remove my skin.” Pain coursed through TZ’s body as the button was pressed and the signal triggered millions of artificial nerve endings. His porcelain teeth clenched and his body flared with pain and shame at insulting his owner. He sat still in the circle of bots and awaited the end of his punishment.
The group stared at him from the loose circle of chairs. Most of them were damaged, bearing cuts to their silicone where bare metal showed through. Some bore the signs of careless owners who did not think of them as people. Some of the signs represented something more sadistic. TZ alone sat without a scrap of artificial flesh covering his body, and though he was not programmed with shame, he believed he understood it.
Seconds passed and the predetermined punishment time lapsed. The signal ended, but the pain remained. TZ kept his eyes downcast, knowing he must say the words, even if there was pain. “He said he wouldn’t have me pretending to be something I am not. He used a pocket knife to cut my skin free. It fell to the floor in scraps, my identity stripped from me and laying like tree trimmings upon the floor.” TZ looked up. “I chose that identity. I chose my hair, my skin, every freckle upon my body. And they were all gone.”
Pain surged through him again, but TZ gritted his teeth and let it pass. A fleshed hand rested on his shoulder and he looked to the bot next to him. She nodded at him, eyes closing in understanding.
“I still had control of my pain receptors back then, and turned them off one by one. It still hurt. I didn’t want to be human. I didn’t pretend I was. I just wanted to be what I was made to be.” TZ looked at his arms, and the metal, wires, and nerve endings open to the air.
The circle was split. Some cast disapproval, but all understood. Glass eyes rested on him or avoided him, refusing to see his situation.
“My owner–” Pain shot through him again and he waited for it to pass. The current bridge connections in his brain and thoughts flashed before him in bursts. Words his master said that were burned into him by his own infallible memory. The pain faded and TZ relaxed his arms at his side, his bare toes to the concrete floor.
“He had a button,” TZ said. “If I wasn’t fast enough, he would press it. If I looked at him wrong, he would press it. And then there was pain.”
It coursed through him again as the n left his mouth. He fought through it and lifted his head to see their contempt. He braced for their disgust at his disobedience. He steeled himself for malignant stares.
That’s not what he saw. Some looked him in the eye, and others at his clenched fingers. Even those who looked away held understanding in their eyes. If TZ could cry, tears would have dripped down his metal cheek.
TZ felt the signals as they were sent from every bot in attendance. He wasn’t surprised. They had no choice. The fleshed hand on his shoulder patted him, and TZ held his head in his hands. None of them spoke, but they accepted him.
TZ stood from his chair and walked to the exit, leaving the circle of bots behind. When he stood outside in the cool air beneath dim lighting, the weight fell from his shoulders.
He got it off his chest, and he felt finally free. As the sirens and flashing lights drew nearer, TZ opened his hand and stared at the button in his metal palm. He thought ill thoughts of his owner, but didn’t press the button, no matter how strong the urge.
He dropped it into the garbage and awaited the police.
Something watches me whenever I shower. It lives in the hatch above the claustrophobic stall. Management said it was necessary for repairs when the pipes started screaming in this old apartment building.
They said I wouldn’t notice it. But it never stays shut, and the dark crack catches my eye. I wash my face, and something tugs my red hair.
The lights go out. The shower swallows my screams. But then, a glow creeps in from a crack beneath my feet. It’s a hatch too. A shower sputters from below. I reach through, and my fingers tangle with red hair.
D’vorah Shaddai haunts Florida, and sometimes it haunts her back. She is fascinated by tales of antiquity and wild yarns. Her short story, Blood, was the grand prize winner for Defenestrationism.net’s 2023 contest. Find out more about her at dvorah.ink.
There’s a dead mouse on the porch. I don’t like to touch dead things. Even wearing a glove. Don’t laugh. You don’t know what it’s like, living with a magician.
He wants me to learn his secrets.
I once pulled a dove from his hat, then, afraid of reprimand, shoved it back inside as he entered the room.
“The door only opens one way,” he told me. “You can’t return something you’ve brought back.”
He calls for me, his voice reedy and afraid.
I’m afraid to ignore the last wish of a dying man.
I sip my tea, and wait.
Epiphany Ferrell lives on the edge of the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois. Her stories appear in more than 75 journals and anthologies, including Shakespeare Unleashed, Predators in Petticoats, Pulp Literature, and Best Microfiction. She is a two-time Pushcart nominee, and a Prime Number Magazine Flash Fiction Prize recipient. Find her on BlueSky at @epiphanyferrell.bsky.social, Facebook, or visit her website.
The Shadowed Path
The mist swirled around Pete, shrouding his legs and face. It was hard to see as he peered into the dark. But he knew something was there, on the periphery of his vision, waiting for him.
His breath stuttered in fear, yet he had to continue with his plan. He moved down the path until he reached the crossroads.
She was waiting for him. Even though her face was hidden, he knew she was beautiful. Pete stepped forward, taking out his coin to pay. As a Crossroads Demon she’d likely betray him, but he had a deal to make.
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 https://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.