Trembling With Fear 2/26/2023
Hello, children of the dark. You may be wondering how, after all the fanfare, the UK Ghost Story Festival went. So am I – I’ve been so bogged down in deadlines since I returned that I’ve barely had a moment to reflect! I can tell you it was incredibly spooktacular, and I even had the pleasure of meeting some of our regular TWF contributors (hi, Corinne and Nicolette!). Once I get a chance to catch my breath, I’ll do a proper debrief for Stuart and the site. Maybe. Deadlines willing and all that.
But before we get going with this week’s dark offerings, let me mention a fast-moving discussion that’s been doing the rounds in submissions circles this week. It started, as far as I can tell, with Clarkesworld, the lauded SFF magazine, closing to submissions for the first time in forever, citing a deluge of AI-created stories hitting their ranks. This sparked a lot of debate, and raised awareness that this is now A Thing we’ll need to worry about.
We are, however, still formulating how Horror Tree as a site can handle this incredibly intricate and tricky issue. We’re all for embracing new technology, but we exist to showcase natural writing, and especially to give a leg-up to emerging writers who might not find an opening elsewhere. We pride ourselves on that. For the record, TWF does not at this time accept AI-generated work. Sorry, robots. When you are sentient and ready to take over the world, let’s chat further.
For now let’s turn to this week’s menu. For our Trembling main course, Cassandra Vaillancourt stumbles across some war wreckage that isn’t what it seems. This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Miguel Gonçalves records his last moments,
- Patricia Miller tries to stick to the ritual, and
- Alan Moskowitz goes tree climbing.
Over to you, Stuart.
No real news on the server move and new site layout this week. It does exist on the new host in a staging environment on the current layout. More to come on that, hopefully soon! I’ve also got no real updates on re-adding the merch. I ran into a technical issue on linking the storefront to the new site that I just have not yet had time to even attempt to troubleshoot. (On top of the normal craziness, it was my youngest son’s birthday this last week so things have been a bit crazy.) 😉
To echo the above – For the record, I support our future robot overlords, just not their writing at this time. We’ve been super lucky not to have seen a huge influx of this type of “writing” quite yet. I’m sure it is only a matter of time. It probably helps that we’re still temporarily closed to short stories, even if we’re still figuring out how to re-open those sooner than later.
We’ve recently launched some of our articles on Medium, and if you spend some time on the site, please give us a follow! We’re looking to reach 100 followers there. We’re already over half way to our goal!
As always, I hope you had a great weekend.
The War Wreck, by Cassandra Vaillancourt
Chad and Brandon entered the restaurant. They’d just checked into an inn while on a trip motorbiking the Ho Chi Minh Trail from Hanoi into Laos, with a stop at the Plain of Jars. They would end the night with a good meal while going over plans for the next day’s journey.
As famished as they were – they were almost tempted to order everything on the menu – hey decided on a simple three course meal and immediately began to go over their plans for the next day, over the marked map of the trail, looking up original stopping points and staging areas. They’d heard a rumour about a long-abandoned trail that they wanted to look into.
The two travelers were so engrossed in their conversation that they didn’t see a couple of Laotian men approach their table.
“Hello!” “Sabadi!” they greeted.
“We couldn’t help but hear that you are travelling the Ho Chi Minh Trail,” said the one who introduced himself as Mr. Nouhak.
The other, who introduced himself as Mr. Khai, added: “Maybe we can help. We’ve explored the trails for years and discovered new pathways.
Chad and Brandon invited the two to sit with them. The two Laotians pulled out their phones, showing images of their treks and pointing to spots on the map. One image that roused the interest of the travelers was of a rusted, overgrown wreck of a two-engine bomber, a jagged, gaping hole where the nose should’ve been.
“For a small fee we could take you,” offered Mr. Nouhak.
After some deliberation, Chad and Brandon agreed – on condition that they pay tomorrow. The two Laotians agreed and the group continued with drinks, dining and war trivia.
Mr. Khai suddenly blurted out: “You know many of your Special Forces groups vanished seeking the trail? Who knows? Maybe you could solve the mystery!” He began to laugh.
Mr. Nouhak grew serious and – grabbing his friend to carry him out – quickly excused himself.
The two travelers were stunned.
“What do you think he meant by that?” asked Brandon.
“Drunk. He’s just drunk,” answered Chad.
The next morning, Chad and Brandon were greeted by Mr. Nouhak and Mr. Khai outside the inn. They went to their bikes, giving them a quick checkover and packed their gear, then joined their guides. As Chad paid Mr. Nouhak, Brandon noticed machetes sheathed to their guides’ bikes.
“What are those for?” he asked.
Mr. Khai’s reply was fast and curt: “Pigs.”
The foursome rode off. Miles of bomb-cratered wastelands gave way to lush jungles and panoramic views of mist-shrouded mountains. Occasionally the bikers would be greeted with shouts of “Xin Chao!” from passing Vietnamese bikers after seeing their Hanoi license plates. Miles of paved road surrendered to dirt trails. The surrounding jungle grew more dense and more primeval. The trails were broken by a couple of dry creek beds.
The guides finally stopped near a swampy clearing. Chad and Brandon stopped and got off their bikes; they surveyed the marshland.
“Any bombs here?”
“Oh no! Perfectly safe!”
The two friends carefully treaded on the moist land and explored; the two Laotians said they would follow shortly.
The swampland was peppered with rusted, overgrown war wreckage now blending in as part of the eerie landscape, looking less like military hardware and more like prehistoric creatures of a long lost era. Brandon started feeling apprehensive, nervous and didn’t know why. If Chad felt the same way, he didn’t show it.
And then Chad yelled, pointing: “There! There it is!”
The two picked up the pace, finally arriving at their wreck – an ancient, overgrown two-engine bomber.
“Must be a B-17,” mused Chad. “Possibly from the French war.”
“With U.S. Aid!” answered Brandon.
As Brandon got closer, he gingerly touched the wing tip. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel metallic but more organic. Soft. In fact, something seemed off about the bomber, with the way it blended with the jungle growth and marsh.
Brandon stepped back and took in the whole wreck. The propellers looked like they could be claws. The cockpit windows resembled closed eyelids. It almost looked amphibious. Brandon wondered if the word “Lovecraftian” would properly describe this curio.
Chad didn’t appear phased and was filming with his video camera, his face beaming. “Look at her! Isn’t she beautiful?!”
The hole in the craft’s nose looked suspiciously like a gaping maw with sharp, jagged teeth.
“I don’t know…something doesn’t seem right.” Brandon hesitated. “I think we’ve seen enough.”
“Oh come on! This is what we came for and you wanna go back?! What’s wrong with you?!”
“I just have a bad feeling…”
“If we always followed your bad feelings we would’ve never taken this trip.” Chad shoved the video camera into Brandon’s arms. “At least film me as I go inside.”
Brandon reluctantly agreed. After a little struggling, he motioned that he was ready and focused on Chad in front of the hole giving a thumbs up.
Brandon thought he saw the cockpit windows flicker; then he saw a tongue lash out, wrapping around a shocked Chad and pulling him inside. The ‘jaws’ clamped shut and the cockpit windows rolled open to show big bulging eyes.
Brandon screamed and ran.
The ‘wreck’ belched out a growling roar and the propellers, now claws, dug into the swampy soil. The roar was answered by a couple more growls before the creature gave a crawling, slithering pursuit. Brandon struggled in the marsh and saw two other wreck creatures coming his way. Just when he thought he was close to freedom, the two guides rushed towards him with raised machetes.
In Brandon’s mind, he shrieked: “WE’RE THE PIGS???!!!” He turned to evade the attackers and the beasts, tripping and falling to see a pit viper slithering toward him. He rolled and grabbed the snake by the back of the head and tail then threw it at his would be assailants. Their cries brought the wreck-beasts upon them.
Brandon made it to the bikes. Hearing the creatures’ roars getting closer, he hopped on his bike and after a couple of failed attempts to start it, he finally roared away to freedom, the sounds of the beasts filling the jungle as he raced away, breathless.
A month later, a small group of friends were at a bar going over their plans for biking the Ho Chi Minh Trail. A couple of Laotian girls approached them offering to be their guides. They showed them an image of an overgrown bomber wreck. A gaping maw where the nose should’ve been…
Cassandra Vaillancourt is a trans woman and a veteran. This is her first venture in submitting short stories for a publication. She’s entered stories to the VA Veterans Art Show where she won 1st, 2nd and Best of Show ribbons for her work. The War Wreck is inspired by her own artwork.
I record this in my last minutes.
I don’t know how much space is left on the disk that holds my memories.
I am the last of a group that volunteered to investigate the ruins of a library from the late 20th century.
Ah, the possibility to walk through rows of books, to smell the paper, to feel it on our fingertips. It was impossible to pass up.
So much so that we ignored the dangers. What we could release.
But we did, and one by one we suffered. Not before we went mad.
Behold, here it comes.
Miguel Gonçalves was born in Porto, Portugal, in the 80s. He grew up on comics and fantasy books, horror and hair metal bands. He’s been writing, mostly for himself, since a young age and his stories are a mix of horror, thriller, and serial killers, with some of it venturing into the supernatural spectrum of horror. He has four published stories, two in English and two in Portuguese. If you’re in Porto, you’re likely to find him at a Starbucks either reading or scribbling on a notebook. On the web, you can find him almost everywhere, so it’s better to just follow here.
Count to Five
Five tumblers must fall in the right order, at the right time. Turn to the first number. A quiet snick. Spin the dial left three times, land on the second number. Another snick. Count breaths. One. Two. Another tumbler. The fan cuts out. A hiss of air escaping above. The third tumbler falls, echoes. The water laps at your waist. Count to six. Find the fourth tumbler. Left or right? Left? Left! The fourth tumbler is in, but the water has risen to your chest. Only then do you realize there is no fifth tumbler. The water continues to rise.
Patricia Miller is a US Navy veteran on the spectrum who writes SF, fantasy, and horror. Publications include short fiction in A Quaint and Curious Volume of Gothic Tales, 206 Words, Wyngraf, and the Cinnabar Moth Literary Collection e-zine. Upcoming publications include short stories for Zooscape Magazine, Wyngraf, and TouchPoint Press. She a member of SFWA and CODEX. Website: trishmillerwrites.com / Twitter: MillerTrish42
Top of the World
I watched a neighbor kid climb a tree outside my window. He was almost at the top when his mother came charging out of their house.
Her eyes blazing with fear and anger, shouting “climb down now!” He nimbly made his way back down to her. When he returned to earth, I thought she was going to smack him. Instead, she grabbed him, kissing him, grateful he was alive I suppose.
When I was his age, I climbed that same tree. My mother gave me a thumbs up when I got to the top.
Been in this wheelchair ever since.
Alan worked as a successful screen and TV writer for over forty years. Recently retired to Denver he now writes short genre fiction for fun and sanity. He welcomes all feedback.
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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.