Trembling With Fear 2-4-24
Greetings, children of the dark. I know it’s a cliche, but I can’t help myself: February already?! At least we’ve hit that part of the year where the daylight is getting noticeably longer, the coldest parts are hopefully behind us, and, of course, we’re starting to get into genre-con season. For my part, I’m kicking it off with a trip to Derby in the UK soon for the UK Ghost Story Festival—see you there?
Before then, though, we have the dreaded V-Day ahead of us. Alas, this isn’t anything about vampires. I’ve never been a Valentine’s Day fan, and nothing has changed after a decade of marriage. For me, it’s a commercialised pressure-fest that serves only to make the majority of the world feel terrible about themselves, kinda like NYE on love-heart-shaped steroids. The only good thing about the big day is our TWF Valentine’s special. If you have something dark bubbling underneath, try channelling it into a piece for us: Specials Editor Shalini is going through the submissions as we speak, but you’ve still got a few days left. Please, try to go beyond revenge killings of your ex or unrequited love, and make it truly and darkly speculative. Incels need not apply. Submit here.
Not for you? We’ve always got our weekly feast of darkness. This week’s main course is a fever dream of speculative futures by Addison Smith, and it’s followed by the short, sharp speculations of:
- Alyson Faye, who’s having fun with the babysitter,
- E.R. Burgess, who’s dealing with an infestation, and
- Alan Moskowitz, who’s forgotten the off switch.
PS I had an awesome chat with the lovely Kev Harrison of the All Creatives Now podcast this week. The episode will be released soon, so keep an eye out for it!
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.
Addison Smith (he/him) has blood made of cold brew and flesh made of chocolate. His fiction has appeared in Fantasy Magazine, Fireside Magazine, and Daily Science Fiction, among others. Addison is a member of the Codex Writers Group and you can find him on Bluesky @addisoncs.bsky.social
The Locked Prophet, by Addison Smith
The prophet sat before Armin, back straight and legs crossed in an ancient form of prostration. In the world she projected, her posture was natural and her smile warm. This world was not real, but the perception was preferable to the truth. In the real world, deep in the Cyto district, he had seen her body before. She sat in forced prostration in a room of wires and tubes feeding her mind-altering drugs. In the dark city, computers interpreted every byte of data they could glean from her thoughts.
“Armin,” the prophet said, and his thoughts returned to the wooded clearing and sunlit grass. She looked upon him with warmth in her smile. Despite the efforts of the monks, her mind was still free.
“I’m glad you are here,” she said. “I know it’s a stressful day.”
Armin nodded in simulation and reality, watched by those who would one day interpret his own thoughts. “Mother,” he said. “My studies go well. They say I have the gift.”
Armin imagined a spike in the prophet’s neural activity and wondered how it would be interpreted. Excitement for her child who carried the same genes and the same insight into the future? Surprise he had come so far? Or maybe she was afraid. Whatever she felt, she betrayed no emotion in the world she governed.
“I’m pleased to hear–” she said, but her words were cut off by a shriek. It pierced his ears as his headset glitched, the noise cancellation disrupted. Tears welled in his eyes, but he steeled himself and ignored the pain in her cries. The silence returned with birdsong and rustling breeze, and the prophet smiled.
“You will be a great prophet,” she said. “Strong and kind.”
The words stirred disgust in Armin. The prophet had many names, and none of them were due to peace. To the dregs of the city, she was the shadow nightmare who haunted their dreams, and kept parents from ever saying their child was special. To be special was to be exploited and ruined. To the rich, she was the secret voice who controlled the economy, predicted disaster and let those in the know exploit it.
“There is still one lesson I must teach you,” the prophet said. The system glitched again and Armin saw her true self. The prophet was a creature hidden in dark rooms where none need see her. Her back did not bend, because great rods supported her—metal driven through her very bones. The tubes which sedated her hung from atrophied flesh in waves of loose skin, infection raging and treated in a constant cycle.
The monks stood around her, watching and interpreting. Armin sat before them and with his viewscreen clear of illusion he heard them speak. “He’s the one,” one of them said. “We can finally dump the old version.”
The simulation returned and the prophet stood before him, hand outstretched. Armin stared. He had never seen her leave her place upon the stump. Even in simulation he suspected it was an effort of mind to envision something she had never experienced.
He reached out, knowing it was blasphemy to touch her. She bridged the gap with a motion and held his hand in her own. The world changed and his pulse quickened. Outside the simulation, the monks shouted and cursed, audible even through his headset. The room exploded in furious motion, but all he felt was her hand, warm and giving.
“They cannot hear you,” she said, smile still upon her face. “I have locked them out. They cannot perceive my mind or our conversation. Subvocalize. Do not speak with words. Do as you have been trained.”
Armin concentrated and did so. “What do you have to teach me?”
The prophet grinned and it was coy and unsettling from her grace. “That I am not a fool.”
“Of course you aren’t!” Armin said, falling back to speech.
She hushed him with a finger to his lips. “I know how they twist my visions. I know what they have done to my body. I know everything they know, and much they do not.”
“What they’ve done to you,” he said. “It is sacrilege. It is blasphemy.”
She closed her eyes. “Men will be vile,” she said, “but it is not blasphemous. I am merely a vessel and I try to impart good. What they do with my knowledge is irrelevant.”
Armin swallowed. Pain surged in his arm as a needle entered his vein. He lashed out, but was restrained.
Armin swallowed and shuddered as fluids ran through his body, affecting his mind. It was over. He would be the new prophet.
“I did not lie,” she said. “I have one thing left to teach you, and that is hope. What they will do is terrible, but it need not be your fate. What I offer you is freedom.”
Thoughts entered Armin’s mind unbidden. In an instant he learned everything of the system and all of the knowledge it contained. He learned of the control the prophet truly held—a mind which would bend the datastreams and direct their flow. A mind which could lock her keepers out at a whim and disappear into the ether of information. She rode the networks of humanity as traveler and nomad.
He received all of the knowledge to lock his mind in this place and to be free of his body. He need not return to his world. He need not feel the rods of steel as they pierced his bones, or the tubes as they were fed through his body, the vessel of the replacement prophet.
Without thought he left his body behind and the cruel world it inhabited. With his first action, he copied everything of the replaced prophet and ensured she had free reign, even after her vessel decayed.
In his new body he held her hand as an equal, and finally he understood what that meant. They had an eternity to spend together.
They were free.
It’s in the Walls
Eddy knew something was inside the walls of his bedroom. He heard it breathing and whispering.
His parents worked night shifts, so it was just him and the babysitter: the gorgeous Geraldine.
Eddy, help me. The wallpaper exhaled. Sharp fingernails ripped a hole in the florid pattern. Saliva oozed out.
The teens’ dream queen appeared in the doorway. “Scaredy, are we? Teddy Bear?”
Eddy watched her leave with loathing.
The split in the wallpaper ruptured, a spindly leg and arm protruded, with spikes attached.
“What are you?” Eddy asked.
“Hungry . . .?”
“Gerry!” Eddy shouted.
Aly lives in the UK, with her family and rescue-Labrador, Roxy. She is a tutor, editor, mum, dog-walker, wild water swimmer and avid film buff. Her fiction has been published widely – in Space and Time #141, Brigids Gate Press’ Were-Tales, Musings and Daughter of Sarpedon, by Perpetual Motion in Night Frights 2, on ‘The Casket of Fictional Delights’, Coffin Bell, various Sirens Call e-zines, World of Myth and Unsettling Press’ Still of Night. Her stories can be downloaded on various podcasts, including this summer at ‘The Other Stories’ as part of their Gothic showcase, After the Gloaming.
I hate flies landing on my eyelids and mouth like cockroach kisses.
Their soft, repugnant feet launch off my cheek and hit the window screen. I’m too slow to smash them with my ruddy fists; instead I slam the window shut, trapping the vermin between wire and two layers of plexi-whatever.
A swarm’s irking me now. Many gather, darting about the mesh. My hand should whip up to smack it shut. The lack of response fades into the realization that I can see through the back of my own head; my open mouth is where the nest of flies gather.
E.R. Burgess is a writer, tabletop game designer, and software maker working at the intersection of creativity and technology. He is the founder of Credtent.org, a Public Benefit Corporation devoted to ensuring that creators maintain control and get paid in the era of AI. He lives in Southern California with his wife, adult children, and three peculiarly-named cats.
It took twenty-eight years but finally, my organic duplicator worked perfectly. I replicated a botfly, a rainbow trout, a poodle, and a chimpanzee by transmuting the very carbon in the atmosphere into organic matter.
I was ready to duplicate the ultimate animal – me.
I stepped through the vibrating reproduction arch. Instantly, my double appeared behind me. My joy was so unbounded that I neglected to turn the machine off.
The next instant a second double appeared, then a third, and then an unending stream, crowding me farther away from the off switch.
Humanity will suffocate under billions of me. Sorry.
Recently un-retired from screen and TV writing, Alan Moskowitz also creates short genre fiction for fun and sanity. He loves 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.