Trembling With Fear 12-31-23

Well, children of the dark, that’s another year almost done and dusted. I don’t know about you, but 2023 has been both enlightening and exhausting in equal measure. I’ve learned so much about myself this year… but I’m so damn tired of all of it. Just, y’know… *waves hands* all of that. So as I’m winding down the year and thinking of what the next one holds, I’m manifesting good things for us all. (Except for you—I know what you did.)

I missed out on the Solstice rituals for leaving the darkness behind, so I’m going to do it tonight instead: join me, won’t you, in saying good riddance to bad rubbish, and welcoming all sorts of good stuff into our lives for 2024. And if that good stuff includes more submissions and hoping for more publishing—or maybe even your first publishing credit!—I’m pleased to say our Winter submissions window for short stories opens tomorrow, 1 January, and will last for two weeks only. Anything received in our inbox after 15 January will be returned unread with a suggestion to resubmit it in the next window. Remember, we’re only reading short stories in four separate 2-week windows now as our tiny volunteer team was struggling to keep up with demand. We love your work, but we want to give it the attention it deserves! 

Now, for the last time in 2023, allow me to present the dark and speculative TWF menu. We’re ending this year with a super strong (and super creepy) bit of spec fic from Maura Yzmore. Then we’ve got three fabulous tasty morsels for dessert:

  • Nikki Anderson feels some side-effects of medication, 
  • Samantha Lee Curran finds some comfort in the dark, and 
  • Lauren Kessinger fixates on a bridge.

OK—over to you, Stuart.

Lauren McMenemy

Editor, Trembling With Fear

Can you believe that we’re done with the world already? I hope that you all did a much better job at hitting, exceeding, or at least getting closer to your writing goals than I did! The last half of my MBA took up SO MUCH more of my time than the first half and everything really just fell to the side. Thankfully, that is over with now. I’m still adjusting to this world of having time again but I truly hope that will translate to an improvement to both my writing and expanding ideas for Horror Tree – only time will tell! 
Don’t forget – Trembling With Fear Volume 6 is out in the world, and if you’ve picked up a copy, we’d love a review! Next year, we may be looking to expand past just the Amazon platform. If we do that, what stores would you like to purchase your books from?

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.

For those who are looking to connect with Horror Tree on places that aren’t Twitter, we’re also in BlueSky and Threads. *I* am also now on BlueSky and Threads.

If you’d like to extend your support to the site, we’d be thrilled to welcome your contributions through Ko-Fi or Patreon. Your generosity keeps us fueled and fired up to bring you the very best.

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

Maura Yzmore

Maura Yzmore is a Midwest-based short-fiction author. Her dark speculative flash can be found in The Arcanist, Wyldblood, The Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere. She is a member of the HWA. Maura also writes angsty steamy romance under the pen name Fiona Embers, with a debut novel forthcoming from Evernight Publishing. Find out more on her website or come say hi @MauraYzmore on Twitter, Bluesky, or Instagram.

Jimmy’s Dad is Back, by Maura Yzmore

When Jimmy’s dad came back from the war, he seemed normal at first. Tired and quiet, but normal. I was over at Jimmy’s place, as usual, when his dad arrived in his ‘spaghetti suit’ with cooling tubes all over, and a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Jimmy’s mom threw her arms around her husband’s neck while Jimmy and his sister Lia clutched his sides. Perhaps I only imagined a pained look on Jimmy’s dad’s face, a flinch, as he braced for the impact of his family’s eager bodies against his own. For a split second, I thought this wasn’t the same man who’d left two years ago to fight the intruders. 

In the end, Jimmy’s dad managed a faint smile as he rubbed his daughter’s head, then his son’s, before he hugged them both.  


Time passed, but Jimmy’s dad didn’t seem to get any better. If anything, he looked more sickly pale every day. Jimmy’s mom went to work at the fusion power plant, so Jimmy’s dad didn’t have to get a job right away. It was probably for the best, as I saw on the news that the jobs were still rare, even though half the colony had been destroyed, and many habitats needed repairing. 

“I kinda wish he hadn’t come back,” said Jimmy one day, as we played virtual basketball in his tiny quarters.

“Who? Your dad?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I know it’s an awful thing to say, especially since your dad died…” Jimmy’s avatar looked at me with bright purple eyes, holding a basketball like he was trying to squish it from the sides. “But he’s not who he used to be. Not even close. I have no idea who this guy is who’s lying around in my mom’s room all day. He doesn’t talk. He doesn’t sleep. He’s just…creepy.”

“Maybe he’s sick?”

“Maybe. Still. He freaks me out. I don’t feel good when Lia and I are alone with him. I wish he would just leave. Or at least get a job. Just get out of the house.”

“You know there are no jobs yet,” I said. “Everything’s on pause. I think they’re expecting shipments from Titan and Mars to start rebuilding, so maybe he can try then. And once the schools reopen, you and Lia will go back, and things will start to feel more normal.”

Jimmy looked down at the bright orange basketball. The colors in VR were not like any we’d ever seen in real life. I often wondered if boys on Earth could see such colors with their own eyes.

“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” he said. “Let’s play.” 


“Do you think there’s something wrong with Jimmy’s dad?” I asked Mom.

She looked up from her plate. “I don’t know. Why do you ask?”

“He doesn’t look right. He’s scaring Jimmy.”

Mom looked to the side, as if she thought about what to say. “War is a terrible thing. Especially when it is against an enemy we barely understand. I cannot imagine what Jimmy’s dad endured.” She picked up my hand and squeezed it. “I think Jimmy just needs to be patient, and remember how lucky he is to get his dad back.”

I felt bad for my mom, and for Jimmy and his sister and mom, and just all around bad. I tried to push down the uncomfortable feeling, and focus on being grateful for Jimmy. If he couldn’t be happy that the Xxhur hadn’t killed his dad, then I would be happy for him. I’d be as happy as if Jimmy’s dad were my own. 


It was all over the news.

When Jimmy’s dad snapped. While Jimmy’s mom was at work.

They said his strength was not human. They said he had been changed. His mind, his body. Apparently, the Xxhur could do that. Had done that. Only no one had ever told us. No one had ever told Jimmy or Lia.

They said Jimmy’s dad should’ve never been sent home. That all who’d fought in the war had likely been infected. That this was a way for the Xxhur to survive after we’d wiped them out. 

They showed pictures of Jimmy and Lia sliced to shreds, ribbons of flesh spread all over their tiny quarters. I saw what looked like a leg and I swear there were bite marks, but the image changed too quickly.

I felt a heavy weight in my chest. I should have done something. Jimmy wasn’t a kid who imagined things. He was smart and tough and brave; looked out for his baby sister, always worried about his mom. And yet he was scared. Angry and scared. 

I should have listened closer. I should’ve listened to Jimmy.

They showed a picture of Jimmy’s dad being taken away in cuffs.  He’d been shot with several tranquilizer darts, yet he still stood. His face was gray, eyes wide and insane, but also empty, like they were blind.

“What will happen to him?” I asked Mom.

“If it’s true what they said, about the infection, he’ll be dead within a few hours,” she said.

I lowered my eyes. “I was jealous, you know,” I said. “Of Jimmy. Because his dad was back.”

“I know, honey,” she said and opened her arms. I slid into her hug. “I know. I was a little jealous, too.”

“I miss him,” I whisper. “Dad.”

“I do, too.”

“Do you think Dad will take care of Jimmy and Lia, wherever they are?”

“I don’t know, honey. I hope so.” She stroked my hair, then kissed the side of my head. “But Jimmy’s mom is still here, alive. So, you and I will take care of her.”

I smiled. I could finally do something for Jimmy. 

I hadn’t seen his mom very often, but the last time I had, she’d seemed normal. Tired and quiet, but normal. Although when Jimmy and Lia had given her a hug, she’d flinched, like she’d been in pain, but perhaps I’d only imagined it. 

Award-Winning Pills

All the other pills wore off in two weeks. 

It wasn’t like this. 

Hallucinations, delusions, mood swings. Easy peasy.

I was meant to win an award. To get inside the heads of my patients. Understand them in a way no doctor ever has.

Not have this urge to skin everyone I see. 

Run a sharp blade against soft skin. 

Peel off each layer until I can see a skeleton. 

Watch the blood pour, red on white, on red on white, oh…

Maybe even have a bite. No. 

Just a small lick.

What have I become?

My wife is finally home.

Nikki Anderson

Nikki Anderson 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. Find her on Instagram @nikkistanierhorror or Facebook.

The Dark Isn’t So Lonely

“You know, I’ve always been afraid to be alone.”

She stared into the void, while the familiar sound of nothingness surrounded her.

“It’s been comforting to have you here. The dark doesn’t seem as dark, you know?”

She turned her head to face him, as his head rolled off his shoulders for the third time that week.

Slowly, she stood up and collected it from the floor.

“We’re going to need something stronger if you’re going to be staying with me.”

She fixed his head back in place, then rummaged amongst the bodies for the remaining pieces of her human puzzle.

Samantha Lee Curran

Samantha Lee Curran (she/her) is a queer poet, writer, artist and founding editor of trash to treasure lit living on Dharug and Gundungurra land. Her latest poetry collection exposure to existence was published in 2023 with Alien Buddha Press. Her work can be found in Stereo Stories, Mamamia, Anearkillik, SourCherry Mag, DED Poetry, Soft Star Magazine, Spiritus Mundi Review, and Missive Mag, among others. Samantha was chosen as a Vessels of Love poet for the inaugural City of Sydney poetry event and was an Artist in Residence at Chateau d?Orquevuax in 2023. Find her on Instagram or Twitter.

The Legend of Cody Road Railroad Bridge

In Northern Kentucky, the legend of the Cody Road Railroad Bridge cast a sinister pall. As rains unleashed their fury, the iron gates clanged shut, serving as a dire warning. Decades ago, a woman met her watery demise, drowning amidst the floods, or so the rumor went. 

As the heavens wept and the waters rose, the town held its breath. For when the floods returned, the cries of that soul could be heard once more, piercing the storm’s cacophony. Her voice called out, lamenting a tragedy etched in the annals of the bridge’s history, forever binding the living and the dead.

Lauren Kessinger

Lauren Kessinger is a graduate student at Eastern Kentucky University with a love for writing. As a freelance writer, she’s passionate about crafting horror, comedy, romantic comedy, and H.P. Lovecraft-inspired tales. Despite being a 31-year-old student and soon-to-be mom, she hold steadfast to her dream of sharing stories with the world. Like Frankenstein’s creation in “The Modern Prometheus,” she eagerly awaits her own evening of inspiration to bring new narratives to life.

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