Trembling With Fear 2/12/2023
Hello, children of the dark. I’d like to spend just a few moments talking about the “no-no” section of our submission guidelines, and to explain why we’re carrying a content warning for some of today’s drabbles.
There is a constant debate swirling in horror circles about the usefulness of content and trigger warnings on stories. Those against them argue that horror is meant to be confronting; those for them argue that while that’s true, you also need to give people a chance to skip a story that might bring up harm from the past. I’m in the latter camp. I have read stories that have opened up massive wounds for me that I struggled to recover from, and I haven’t personally been subjected to violent trauma, so I can only imagine what it feels like to be in those shoes. By arguing against content warnings, you’re basically saying you don’t care about your readers, which seems to be antithetic to putting your work out there for others to enjoy.
Fear not, horror bros – we’re not going to start demanding trigger warnings on your submissions any time soon (I don’t think!). But we have decided to place a warning on two of our drabbles this week for reasons I go into below. This is mainly because we, as a team, debated whether those pieces were against our submission guidelines, and decided they were borderline but with incredibly strong writing, so we accepted them, explaining our thinking to each writer.
We have submission guidelines with a “none of this” section because we know our audience – just like every publisher out there knows their audience. The average Horror Tree reader does not come here for erotica, graphic sex, rape, racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny or misandry. We personally, as editors and publishers, do not want to read about killing, torture or abuse of kids or pets – and that’s our prerogative, as publishers and editors, to state that preference. That doesn’t mean we don’t agree that horror can be cathartic, confronting, life-changing. What it does mean is, if you submit something to us that’s against our guidelines, we will reject it. There are plenty of horror outlets online these days, and some of them even specialise in the extreme, the splatter, the gore, the violence. You will find a much better home, and better reception, for your work with them.
Now let’s turn to this week’s menu. For our Trembling main course, Martin Fuller gets inside the head of some daters with very particular tastes. This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Robyn O’Sullivan faces violent torment,
- Deborah Sheldon remembers a childhood incident, and
- Ron Capshaw plays around with some monster tropes.
Please note this week’s menu comes with a content warning for the drabbles: Robyn’s piece concerns domestic violence, and Deborah’s piece concerns child harm. As a team, we debated these pieces as we have submission guidelines for a reason, but felt the writing was too strong to ignore, and the treatment of the subject did not glorify the action. If these topics are potentially triggering for you, I suggest skipping to the end of the drabbles for some vampire-based light relief.
Over to you, Stuart.
More progress on the next set of Trembling With Fear physical anthologies, we have a cover figured out. Still a LOT of work to do there. No updates yet on other upcoming changes, sorry folks for the delay!
As always, I hope you had a great weekend.
Like Minds, by Martin Fuller
The bar is a crowded morass of the lost and lonely, filled with the ever hopeful, ever needy. She hates the thought she may be classed with the emotional dross circulating around the room. For the fifth time she glances at the printout photo of her date, reading again his brief message stating time, date, and location of their rendezvous.
Uncertainty gnaws at her, making her unsure about this one. His interests apparently coincide with hers and he looks her type. But bitter personal experience of the dark web has taught her the path to a perfect partner is laid with dangerous traps. Its ‘special’ dating app, whilst admittedly exciting, could produce its own pitfalls.
She spots him quite suddenly, sitting at the bar nursing a drink, seemingly just gazing at the multitude of bottled spirits lining the bar wall. Her instinct forces her to appraise fully her potential date. Behind the whisky and gin bottles is a mirror. He’s checking the place out using the reflection. A careful man. An intelligent man, or a predator looking for his next meal?
‘To Hell with it,’ she thinks, and decides to initiate contact and see where the night might lead. Her hopes of surprising him are shattered as he spins round on the bar chair just as she approaches him.
‘Hi, its Samantha, right?’
She realises he’d already identified her as his date – probably as soon as she entered the bar – but had let her approach in her own way and in her own time. Hyper-alert and sympathetic to her self-sense of security. He was good. Very good.
‘Yes, call me Sam, as in Son of Sam, but not male. I’m one hundred percent feminine.’
She smiles the smile of many kills. All white teeth, bunched cheeks, and creased eyes. She knows how to disarm suspicion.
He returns the smile with one of his own and a practiced look of sincerity.
‘Wow, that’s a great mask he can wear. What’s underneath apart from bone and tissue?’ she wonders.
He buys her a drink. She reciprocates. He’s on bourbon, she’s on vermouth, but they mix together well, forming a deadly killer cocktail.
The conversation starts with small nick-nacks of casual conversation. They avoided politics, religion, and their jobs. No mention of star signs, as they both wish to avoid the word Zodiac. They need not go into their favourite colours as they somehow know blood red is closest to their hearts. Slowly a relationship evolves, growing like a blood stain on a white fur rug and a bond of like-minded people develops. The big questions are now lined up, ready to be asked.
She initiates the ground zero moment.
‘So, Michael, how long have you been… playing with people?’
The question is laid out diplomatically, yet it breaks the barrier standing between them.
‘Eight years fully, but my apprenticeship lasted two years. Fumbling bloody acts with animals then some botched attempts at abductions. It took a little time before I became inspired. Haven’t looked back since. And you?’
‘Four years fully but like you made mistakes at first. I like…poison. Slow poison if possible. It allows a chance to appreciate the..’. Her voice playfully trails off.
Michael finishes her thoughts.
‘The power. The exquisite joy of bringing pain and death. The knowledge of what true control feels like.’
‘Yes. Yes Michael. You think like me. And your playtime is..?’
‘Less subtle. I do enjoy the kidnapping. I’ve developed a much better strategy and now enjoy access to an isolated place uptown. Nice and quiet, a studio where I get to take my time and let my artistic streak take over. Still perfecting my skills, you see. I admit I’m a bit too bloody and I must develop my patience. You, Sam – well, you inspire me to refine my methods.’
There is a tender moment where they look into each other’s eyes. No love, of course, is kindled there. Sociopaths find love hard, but a respect and admiration have taken root.
‘Sam, would you, well if you want to I mean… like to see my latest toy. He’s like a frightened puppy, still coming to terms with his incarceration. Relatively untouched, so if you would like first dibs, well, be my guest.’
Sam smiles that crocodile grin at the appearance of fresh meat. She blesses the blackest site on the web and the true connections it has created for likeminded people. Michael is handsome, and in earnest. How could a girl say no.
‘I’d love to. Can we nip to my place first. I have some special tools I’d like to use if that’s OK?’
‘I’d be honoured’ says Michael, who in truth has decided Sam would be too good a subject not to play with and maybe keep alive for the rest of the month.
Sam, who has already spiked Michael’s drink with an incredibly painful and slow-acting poison, feels she is in heaven at her fantastic performance, but Heaven is one place which neither will ever get to see.
Martin P. Fuller lives in his shoebox house in West Yorkshire. He was in his previous exitances:– a beer salesman, a pall bearer, a car delivery driver, and oh yes… a police officer for over 34 years. He started to write in 2013 after attending a creative writing class and since then has become a writing course junkie. Discovering his dark side, Martin has had a number of stories published in Trembling with Fear and several other anthologies, including Deadcades published by Infernal Clock.
His anger explodes. Violent, punishing words descend on her in layers, suffocating her in folds of panic and dread. And palpable fear.
Bad thoughts swirl in her mind, compounding, entering the blood stream, suffusing her body with clinging, choking fear.
Her eyes focus on his hands. His closed fists. Bare knuckles connect with soft flesh. Face blackens. Lips split. Nose breaks.
Unceasing fear thrives and expands like fire consuming air.
Then the fear, fed by her thoughts and his anger, engulfs her. She takes a knife to every piece of her that his fists did not destroy.
Robyn O’Sullivan lives in a hundred-year-old house amidst the wild beauty of Australia’s Bass coast. Her credits include a novella, short story collections, and dozens of educational books for children. New to the horror genre, Robyn’s work appears in several publications including Guilty Pleasures and Other Dark Delights (the award-winning Midnight Echo 14), and Spawn: Weird Horror Tales About Pregnancy, Birth and Babies. Her short story “A Tale of the Ainu” was produced by Night’s End podcast, and her interviews with award-winning horror author Deb Sheldon are featured in various reviews.
- Website: robynosullivan.com
- Amazon: amazon.com/Robyn-OSullivan
Fifty-Two Years Ago
My dad’s friend, Sam, loud and beefy, was dressed in shorts. His drunk wife lolled poolside. Their tow-headed toddler couldn’t swim.
“I’ll chuck him,” Sam announced, “so he can learn.”
I was treading water, a six-year-old girl with no voice, wearing orange floaties.
Sam hurled the toddler high through the air. I kicked, desperate to make my way over in time. Splash. I put my face into the water of our pool. The toddler sank to the fibreglass bottom. A suspended moment… Adults jumped in, flailing, thrashing. I couldn’t duck-dive because of my floaties. Helpless, I watched the toddler drown.
Deborah Sheldon is a multi-award-winning author, anthology editor, script editor and medical writer from Melbourne, Australia. She writes across the darker spectrum of horror, crime and noir. Published fiction include poems, drabbles, flash, short stories, novelettes, novellas and novels. Deb’s short fiction has appeared in various magazines and “best of” anthologies, been translated, and received numerous award nominations. Her latest titles are The Again-Walkers, Liminal Spaces: Horror Stories, and Man-Beast. Other credits include feature articles, TV scripts and stage plays. Visit Deb at deborahsheldon.wordpress.com
I’m Your Garlic
Doc was deadly, even when he was coughing up his own blood. He was an anachronism; a Southern gentleman in the hard-scrabble mining towns out West.
Doc really wasn’t a doctor. Consumption cut short his medical training.
He had my back. A lynch mob was going to tear me apart to get my prisoner; Doc held them at bay.
And I had Doc’s back, shooting dead that drunken cowboy who lunged at him for cheating at poker.
But I had his back in a bigger way: I cured him. He never would cough up blood again – he’d drink it instead.
Ron Capshaw is a writer based in Florida. His novel The Stage Mother’s Club was released in June by Dark Edge Press.
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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.