Trembling With Fear 3-19-23
Hello, children of the dark. Why, yes, thank you for noticing. We do have a bit of a new look this week. With Stuart teasing so much about the site’s upgrade – I am assured it is close! – we thought it was about time we took some fresh eyes to the old tree-and-wood-based imagery used for Trembling With Fear.
Now, I don’t proclaim to be any sort of designer. In fact – designers, please close your ears to this – I’m a devout user of Canva. But given Horror Tree’s DIY aesthetic, I quite like what we came up with. Something which could cover any aspect of dark speculative fiction: the lone figure in the misty woods, and a rather X-Files typeface. Plus, below, a way to draw much more attention to the writer of our lead short story every week; something putting the writer’s bio front and centre.
It’s a bit of a facelift, at least. But you don’t come here for our good looks, do you?
Let’s look at this week’s menu, where you’ll find Adam Hunter facing something lurking in the deep, dark ocean for our Trembling main course. This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Ryan Benson gets puritanical in belief,
- Ria Hill gets sadistic with the program, and
- Lauren Carter gets to see it all.
And if I had a final quick word, that word would be: drabbles. I know every week I tell you we have an insatiable need, and that’s because we really, really do. We have quite a few awaiting publication, but they’re from a small number of writers and we try to rotate the regulars. If you’ve never submitted to us before – heck, if you’ve never submitted anywhere before – why not try us? I might be partial to vampires, but I promise not to bite.
Over to you, Stuart.
Oh – and before I forget, I’ll be taking part in a 24 hour writing challenge this Friday-Saturday with the London Writers Salon. We’ll be chasing 8am around the world, from Friday 24 March to Saturday 25 March, and writing together on Zoom in 45-minute bursts (with a bit of fun and games in between). Each hour has a different host and a different theme, and I’ll be at the helm for three hours. I’ll be waking up Brisbane, Australia, with tarot queen Chelsey Pippin Mizzi; saying good morning to Tokyo with Canadian fantasy author Crystal Bourque; and then heading to Singapore with (I hope!) some of the Horror Tree team. You can get the details, and register FREE to join us for all 24 – or just a few! – hours. Head over here for the guff.
First off, a HUGE shout-out to Lauren for the new artwork and our small changes to the TWF layout. I really dig the new artwork, and I hope everyone is giving her a standing ovation for the new look!
Last week, I teased that Holley Cornetto and I had something in the works. NEXT Friday, we will be making the announcement. Be prepared to check out something pretty awesome! I think that a lot of you are going to be excited about this one!
At the time of posting, we’re 21 followers on Medium from 100 and would really love to hit the triple digits; please give us a follow! Once we hit that number, I’ll stop harassing you all for a bit 🙂
For those looking to support the site, we’re always open Ko-Fi donations and always have our Patreon going.
As always, I hope you had a great weekend.
Adam Hunter is a writer of science fiction, horror and crime. His most recent work is the award-nominated short horror film “Sanctuary,” which showcases his fascination with paranoia, death and manipulation. All the fun stuff. A graduate of the University Of Toronto and the Vancouver Film School, his pop culture writing can be found at Mental Floss and Taste Of Cinema.
The Frigid Waters, by Adam Hunter
No one would ever know.
That was maybe the worst part. Not the sounds from deep in the dark. Nor the constant hammering of Raymond’s own heart, so violent against the inside of his chest that he expected it to burst out at any moment. No, it was that no one would ever know what had happened to him. That he was going to die out here alone.
If only he and Buck had told someone what their plan had been, maybe someone would have tried to stop them. That very someone could have explained that this wasn’t just a crazy idea — it was dangerous. That it could only lead to suffering and death. At least, that had been the case for everyone who’d attempted this ridiculous feat before them. Why did they think they were so different?
Now all he could do was cling to the moss-covered branch, several yards off the ground, the rain gently falling onto his face and hands as though it was mourning him. He couldn’t close his eyes. He wanted to be prepared for what was coming. He could hardly even breathe, although every breath was sweeter than the last. Even if the taste from that beach was in his mouth, at least it was a taste. It meant he was alive.
Even if Buck wasn’t.
And yet no one would ever know.
It had started when Raymond was studying for midterms, hard enough at work the whole world faded into the background. Buck interrupted him by silently sneaking up behind him and sliding a phone into Raymond’s view, complete with a shit-eating grin. Raymond was annoyed at being interrupted so he went to hand the phone back but Buck insisted that he read the article he’d found.
“I don’t get it,” Raymond said after. “A bunch of kids go into some place called Port Frank and get eaten by sharks just off the beach. So what?”
“First off, you clearly didn’t finish the article.” Buck smiled. “Because if you had, you’d know it says they’re presumed to have been eaten by sharks. And secondly — thirdly? — the same book was found on that beach they were all last seen on.”
“Jesus Christ, do you need me to spell it out for you? The same book. Not the same title. The very same book. It’s a grimoire.”
Something crawled over Raymond. It was as though horror itself had nestled in his skull and the world became much smaller. As though everything around him took one step closer to the grave.
“What are you saying?” he said.
Buck held a book up and smiled. “I’m saying I found the book. And it’s gonna make us go viral.”
At first Raymond answered with an emphatic “No.” Buck’s plan was to recreate the ritual the others had been doing before their demise, film it and post it online as a kind of extreme stunt. That this carried with it a sense of foreboding was without question — why, Raymond wanted to know, would anybody do anything, perform any action, that any other person had done in the time immediately preceding their death?
“What if,” he said, “there really was a causal relation there?”
And yet something about Buck’s enthusiasm, or else a sense of loyalty toward his friend, must have convinced him. Because within a few short hours Raymond found himself standing on the beach he’d earlier sworn he’d go nowhere near.
And no wonder. Even from his vantage point at the edge of the woods bordering the beach, the whole scene had an eerie, sepulchral calm that made his skin crawl. It was something about how the waves seemed to sigh against the shore, how the chilled breeze caressed the sand.
What interested them, however, was the boat. A lonely canoe attached to a post, which was stuck into the sand right at the tide’s edge.
“Well?” Buck said. “Go on, we don’t have all day.”
Raymond refused to admit to his own fear. So he followed Buck to the boat and set the things Buck needed inside. The two of them then managed to unfasten the rope after some effort and Raymond held it steady as Buck got in.
But when he went to follow his friend into the boat, Raymond found himself stopped by a firm hand placed against his chest.
“Hey come on,” Buck said. “What happened to you staying on the shore?”
“And let you go out there alone?”
They both knew what he really meant. The thought of staying out on the beach by himself, watching his friend drift off into the black water, made Raymond’s blood freeze. Buck smiled in as comforting a way as he could.
“You’ll be fine,” Buck said. “From the beach you can get a better angle on me anyway. What’s gonna happen if you’re in the boat? The camera’s gonna be all wobbly, everything’s gonna be out of focus — ”
“And what if something goes wrong?”
“Nothing’s gonna go wrong. It’s just silly superstition — ”
“But what if it does?”
Buck’s expression hardened. “We can always go back.”
Raymond opened his mouth to speak but thought better of it. He didn’t want to have to come here again. But Buck was driven to make this work. That meant coming back a second or even third time, however many it took to get what he wanted. At least this way Raymond could keep an eye on things.
“I guess you’re right,” Raymond said, pressing his foot against the boat and casting Buck out into the dark and gently roiling water.
While his friend paddled out until he turned into a lonely figure in the gloom, Raymond felt overwhelmed by the silence of the next moment. It was as though the beach, the waves, everything had suddenly held in its breath. The ocean was in mourning, its movements with the tide a kind of shiver. The beach itself was cold with death. And all the while there appeared to be shadows underneath the waves, shadows of things eagerly awaiting their arrival, greedily pawing out at Buck’s boat, rocking it, disguised as the tide. Each second crawled by and became minutes, which became several.
When Buck was far enough out, Raymond filmed him performing the ritual. But as that closed, the air grew still and stale and Buck seemed to notice something in the water. He glanced over one side of the boat and then the other, bearing an expression which Raymond had never seen on his friend before.
“What is it?” Raymond called out.
“There’s something — ”
The boat jerked. Buck held on to stop himself from toppling over into the frigid waters, then laughed when he’d righted himself. Raymond didn’t see what was so funny. Why wouldn’t Buck tell him what this something was?
Then the boat rocked again. A kind of whimper came from Buck’s throat and carried across the ocean breeze. He looked like he wanted to speak but was frozen. Raymond’s body grew tense enough he could have snapped in half.
Finally Buck screamed:
“Jesus Christ! There’s something in the water!”
Raymond never had time to react. It was as though a shadow burst forth from the depths and an enormous roar sounded as the foamy waves were forced upwards and Buck’s boat tilted along with it.
It shouldn’t have been possible. Something, some thing breached from down in the water. A bulbous thing which glistened from the dying light of stars and which extended into what may have been tentacles or claws which snatched Buck screaming out of his boat.
The dry, dead tentacles did things to Buck which seemed impossible. They pulled, tore, broke and bent with a methodical precision that seemed devoid of emotion, almost scientific in their application of pain. They were only silhouettes against the stars, but they were as though agony itself. A nightmare torture played out in front of him and for what seemed like hours Raymond stood frozen, unable to scream, unable to move.
At some point he regained control of his body.
He ran. He put everything he had into his legs. His breath. He needed to get as far away as possible.
He didn’t have much time. Hiding would do him no good. It was coming for him. Dragging itself through the woods. The sick, greasy sound of its body echoed among the skeletal remains of the trees.
Louder. Closer. The rain gently fell onto his face and hands as though it was mourning him. He couldn’t close his eyes. He wanted to be prepared for what was coming. He couldn’t even breathe, although every breath was sweeter than the last. Even if the taste from that beach was in his mouth, at least it was a taste. It meant he was alive.
But not for long.
Increase Cotton gazed at the black forest. Fear replaced hope of future abundance in the New World.
Withered crops and livestock shook the community. Worse, half their congregation disappeared. The townsfolk lost faith, forgetting God bestowed them dominion over this land.
Sunset’s dancing shadows forced Increase’s retreat into his one room cabin. Tis but the woods. But what took the townsfolk?
He started the fire and prayed for His grace. Was this a test? Just then, someone knocked on Increase’s door.
Banging answered, now on all his shutters. Who came calling? Angels or beasts? Increase grabbed his musket.
Ryan Benson (he/him) resides outside of Atlanta, GA, USA with his wife and children. Ryan keeps busy writing short fiction stories and his first novel. Trembling With Fear (Horror Tree), Night Terrors Vol. 1 (Scare Street), On Spec Magazine, The Sirens Call Publications, and TERSE Journal have published his work. You can find Ryan on Twitter @RyanWBenson and Instagram at @ryanbensonauthor.
Do you know who I am?
Try to speak. You can’t, can you?
I’ve given you love and fulfillment. Your comfort ends here.
You are mine, and you always have been. I wrote you to life, and with the stroke of a key I can erase you. Do you understand, now, what you are?
If I tell you to suffer, do you think you won’t?
I could ruin you a thousand ways in as many words. I could take you apart piece by bloody piece. There is nothing you can do but endure.
So, where shall we begin?
Ria Hill is a writer, librarian, and definitely not a serial killer living in NYC. When not creating unusual characters and strange situations, they can typically be found at the library, slinging James Patterson books. They love reading, knitting, playing the ukulele (badly), and spending time with their spouse. Someday, when the plague is at an end, they will sing karaoke again. Find them online at riahill.weebly.com and on Twitter @RiaWritten.
Her pupils still moved despite her eyes being on the table next to her rather than in her head.
In all of his years of slicing the weak, he had never seen anything like it. Her neck did not throb, and her heart was in the fridge; her life was definitely gone. Yet, she looked at him with sadness and he felt his own heart beat when it hadn’t before.
He buried her but kept the eyes and put them on display.
She sat there, watching the horror, until he died. She still sits there to this day, alive just.
Lauren is a library assistant by day and writer by night. She is the author of YOUR DARLING DEATH, the story stories: THE SACRIFICES WE MAKE and THE DAMNED WITH THE DEAD and the flash fiction: TEETH WITH ROTTEN SKIN. (She/They) You can find all of their social links here: sleek.bio/writerlcarter
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Lauren is a writer with various hats – journalist, copywriter, content marketer, fiction – and considers herself a storyteller at heart. She writes gothic and folk horror and is currently working on a novel set in the world of the Victorian occult. It’s the supernatural and the occult that really give her goosebumps, and a good ghost story or vampire tale with a rising sense of dread will always pique her interest (and yes, Midnight Mass hit many of her buttons). She also has a developing fascination with folklore, the old ways and our fast-changing relationship with the natural world; this sneaks into her writing, too.
In The Real World, Lauren has more than 20 years’ experience as a professional content creator. She’s established and led global content teams and editorial strategies, including setting up content newsrooms for some of the world’s biggest brands. She was a music editor for a daily newspaper in her native Australia (a good gig and the beach remain her happy places), though she’s been London-based for 16 years and works as an editor, proofreader, marketer, and writing coach. She’s also a mental health advocate; her Substack, How to Be Self(ish), tracked her year of sabbatical and self-care, and she continues to write it irregularly as a mental health companion.
You’ll find Lauren haunting south London, where she lives with her Doctor Who-obsessed husband and their aged black house rabbit. You’ll also likely find her hosting Writers Hour sessions for the London Writers Salon a few times a week.