Trembling With Fear 2-11-24
Greetings, children of the dark. Keeping it short and sweet this week as I’m entertaining an old friend who’s visiting London for the first time in a decade. We went to see the West End production of The Picture of Dorian Gray last night, staring Sarah Snook (who also happens to be from our home town as well as Succession), and it was bloody sublime. Go see it if you can!
To swiftly move to this week’s trembling menu, we have a super-sensory short story from Ben Jackson that’s followed by the short, sharp speculations of:
- DJ Tyrer, who’s digging,
- S.C. Fisher, who’s in a sticky situation, and
- Tim Kirton, who shouldn’t have got in the boat.
And remember, we’ve got an extra special edition on Wednesday—keep an eye out for this year’s Valentine’s spooktacular!
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.
Ben Jackson is a father, writer, producer, and educator. He produces Alyssa Milano’s podcast Sorry Not Sorry and serves as Visiting Instructor of English at Georgia Southern University. His work can be found in The Boston Globe, Page Turner Magazine, WBUR’s Cognoscenti, and other outlets he successfully conned an editor. He lives in Savannah. Twitter: bjacksonwrites TikTok: benjacksonwrites Insta: DadoftheDecade.
Reminiscent, by Ben Jackson
The smell was everything.
It first seeped in through the vents of the old Jetta, tickling the memory center in Val’s nose before making its way to Jeni behind the wheel. They were headed to the Kancamagus Highway, hoping its mind-bending switchbacks through the White Mountains would help them forget, even for the afternoon, the “For Sale: Bank Auction” sign recently hammered in their front lawn.
It wasn’t working. As each nauseating swerve twisted them from north to south, each woman’s attention was drawn back to their troubles. Jeni’s lost job in a dying town made the few bills left in her wallet feel ephemeral, as if they were lingering after having been spent. The scars left from Val’s expensive surgeries, each one less successful than the last, felt like the pulses of distant heat lighting with each heartbeat. There was no hope in the small sedan.
It was in this lonely silence they approached an unfamiliar highway exit. Old cans littered the grass on the shoulder—pop-tops, thought Val, though she hadn’t seen one since her childhood. A battered Moxie logo shone through a cluster of brittle weeds, bright orange, new and jarring. It appeared to have been tossed there yesterday as if forty years of sun and snow had never touched its shiny surface.
She cracked the window to better see this unexpected anachronism. And all at once, her nose was alive with the past.
“Jeni,” began Val, “Do you smell that?”
“Strawberry-rhubarb pie, with ginger. I’d know that smell anywhere.” As she whispered the words, a vision formed in her mind: her grandfather, bent over the verdant vegetable garden outside their family trailer. His silver-gray slacks and white tee were muddied with sweat and soil, and his navy socks peeked beneath threadbare cuffs.
The garden, like the trailer, was an economic necessity. Three months out of the year, though, it produced a bounty unmatched in any grocery in town. Grampa made those strawberry-rhubarb pies from scratch. Flour and lard in the crust and fresh ginger grated into the compote were the only items not grown in their small but well-tended yard.
She first tasted his pie, with a thick slice of cheddar softening on its crust, the day her mother was locked up for kiting checks. After that, she was Grampa’s ward—and the pie’s. In the years since his death, she tried without success to replicate the recipe when New Hampshire’s short strawberry season rolled around.
“No, it’s fresh blueberry pie,” Val countered, temporarily disrupting Jeni’s reverie. Val made these pies in her family’s Maine trailer with her mother in the years before she came out. When she was still allowed to call it home. They picked the blueberries from the bushes lining the trailer park’s boundaries, Val making a bucket with the hem of her skirt, carefully ensuring each juice-filled berry arrived safely home.
Later, she would scrupulously wash the fruit while her flour-dusted mother sang lonely songs and rolled the crust. The violet aroma of those summer evenings grew more redolent and Val was filled with longing.
“We need to find that pie,” the two of them said, eyes snapped forward, nostrils wide, minds fixated on the perfume of the past before them.
Jeni took the exit at speed. Screeching tires announced their departure from the highway, unnoticed by the world.
“Jeni,” Val gasped, “it’s so real. Where’s it coming from?” Tilting her head back to find scent, she jerked forward until her seatbelt locked. “This way,” she directed, pointing out the passenger side.
Jeni barely heard as she frantically cracked her own window and tested the breeze. She cranked the wheel hard to the right, following her nose.
As they drove, their memory-scents coalesced around them, grabbing threads of retrospection and reeling in each woman as tautly as a hooked Winnipesaukee large-mouthed bass. Jeni kept her face out the window while Val pressed her nostrils to the vents. The car turned seemingly of its own accord onto a dirt road where, as if it had never existed, the smell vanished.
“No,” screamed Jeni, and stepped hard on the brakes. The couple leapt out of the car as it lumbered to a stop in front of a wooden sign:
All around the couple dozens of abandoned vehicles sat rusting, their makes and models spanning decades. Deep into the park sprawled the oldest: a 1950s Ford Fairlane, open windows sprouting milkweed and cat-o’-nine-tails. Behind it, the cars slowly evolved to the present—a Corvette Stingray, a Dodge Dart, and a Chevy Citation slumped on rotten tires along with the more recent arrivals.
Neither Jeni nor Val noticed their odd surroundings. Each woman thrummed with the need to rediscover the lost scent. Panicked, they darted about in front of the sign, sniffing the air, hounds that had lost the fox. Finally, Val’s ever-expanding circles brought her near the entrance of the trailer park.
“Jeni,” she exulted, “I found it. It’s coming from in here.” She ran back, grabbed Jeni’s hand, and the two of them scrambled forward into the old community.
Before them, a ghost town of trailers spread out in a tangled mass of one-way streets. Small, weeded-over avenues curled back onto themselves, trailers cast at untidy angles on a patchwork of irregular lots. All drooped in disrepair, displaying their slow descent from here to gone.
All but one.
“Val, do you see it?”
In the center of the decaying labyrinth shone a pristine trailer, a single open window the only break in its immaculate sides. On its sill, a pair of cooling pies sat golden-brown and perfect in the afternoon sun.
It was surrounded by ring after concentric ring of human statues.
Those closest to the home were desiccated, dried to a deep mahogany in the arid mountain air. In death they leaned to the window, as if yearning for a past that still escaped them. Farther back, the congregation was fresher. One small child still breathed, each ragged hitch twitching the shoulders of his Red Sox windbreaker. All stood fixed, heads cast heavenward, noses thrust toward the double-wide, skeletal hands pressed into bony thighs.
“It’s Grampa’s trailer,” cried Jeni. And it was. Blue paint covered its vinyl sides, and a large vegetable garden surrounded the porch. Squinting, she could almost make out her grandfather kneeling in the back, picking vine-ripened zucchini. As Jeni stared into what once was, the ginger-laced scent of strawberry-rhubarb pie filled the air and she rushed forward, face to the sky. “I’m here, Grampa!”
“No, honey. That’s my old trailer.” Val was sure of it. Rough, cracked siding with rust-streaks where the screws used to be peeled away from the frame. A broken window adorned with a still-shiny “tot finder” sticker marked the room where she spent her childhood nights. On the porch stood her mother, apologies and love in her eyes, and from the kitchen streamed the bouquet of fresh blueberry pie. “Momma, I miss you,” she cried, and ambled forward.
The women took their places in the rings, each locked in her own past. Before long a pair of floured hands, scarlet nails glinting in the sun despite the white dust coating their respective fingers, emerged from the trailer’s window and replaced the now-cool pies with fresh, hot pastries. A gentle mountain breeze stirred whisking rich, heady steam from the new pies away toward a forgotten highway exit.
An old burial mound, they say. The experts here to put legend to the test.
A bright sun shines down; it’s almost a picnic, not work.
They begin to dig. Soon, the tomb chamber is revealed through a narrow space. The archaeologists crawl inside.
They emerge an hour later, silent and dead-eyed, marching to the nearby village.
“Find any treasure?” asks a local, thinking of gold.
What they have found is better – infinitely better – and, to be shared.
They add him to their ranks, march on. Soon all shall be as they, sharing a single soul and mind, eternal, accepted.
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, Occult Detective Magazine, parABnormal, Tales from the Magician?s Skull, and Weirdbook, and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor). You can follow their work on Facebook, on their blog or on the Atlantean Publishing website.
A Sticky Situation
The blade whistled on its downward arc, slicing through air and debilitating darkness. A blaze of steel in the autumn moonlight.
Jack struggled to roll out of range, desperate to avoid the agony of connection. Strong hands restrained him and Jack moaned a plea that went unheard.
With the second jab, the kitchen knife hit its mark. It burrowed into the ripe flesh of his belly – tearing, ripping – and Jack shrieked as his sticky, warm guts splattered the tiles.
He bore the next attack with more dignity. Such is the lot of a Jack-o-lantern: first cut is always the deepest.
The ‘Borrowed’ Boat
They hadn’t noticed the small pool of water in the bottom of their ‘borrowed’ boat as they rowed out to Candela Island to watch the midnight meteor shower.
However, when Katy leant over to kiss Adam, her heavy-soled trainer pushed out the deliberately loosened drain plug and her foot became inextricably wedged under the hull.
Their exaggerated movements trying to free her tipped the dinghy over sideways and it began to submerge.
Katy’s flailing arms and clawing hands inevitably slipped away from Adam’s grip and along with the boat she sank to the bottom of the lake.
He’d warned them.
Tim Kirton is a semi-retired Physical Education and English teacher who writes children’s stories and short fiction. He is passionate about golf, Arsenal, American Dirty Realism and estuaries. He lives in the Peak District and has one son living in Australia. He would love to become a full-time writing machine.
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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.