Trembling With Fear 3-31-24

Greetings, children of the dark. A quick word first up: the next short story submission window opens tomorrow, 1 April. No, this is not an April Fool’s Joke. Send in your darkly speculative fiction that’s less than 1500 words. Yes, the word count matters. No, we won’t consider it anyway if it’s a bit longer or if it doesn’t meet any of our other submissions guidelines, which you’ll find here. Make sure you use the form to submit, and that you choose TWF from the drop-down menu, and then indicate it’s a short story and upload in a .doc or .docx please, otherwise we might not see it or be able to review it. The window closes in TWO WEEKS. 


After last week’s missive about neurodiversity, it’s somewhat ironic that I’ve just taken part in a panel about creating more authentic and affecting depictions of mental illness in horror. Ironic, but wonderful: this is my passion topic. And this one was actually my first ever involvement in StokerCon! Big thanks to the wonderful Lee Murray for inviting me, and to my fellow panellists Angela Yuriko Smith, LE Daniels, and John Palisano for their honesty and insights. (Yes, I’m pinching myself that I was among them as well.) It’ll be part of the online programming for StokerCon, 30 May to 2 June; details here

I say it’s a passion topic of mine for a good reason: it’s both personal and professional. I’ve been very honest, both here and elsewhere, about my own mental health challenges and how working with dark speculative fiction can be like therapy of sorts. That’s the personal side. The professional side? Well, you’re reading it. In this role (a volunteer one, btw), I read a helluva lot of dark stories, good and bad and in between. And far too regularly, I’ll read a submission that uses mental health as a lazy trope. Listen up, writers: that sort of thing will never make it through the TWF filters. The schizophrenic serial killer, the obsessive stalker, the “nut house” (yes, we’ve had subs using that terminology) as a setting for gore and violence, using mental health as a punchline, these are lazy tropes. There is so much more you can do to explore mental health within dark fiction. 

We were asked for examples of stories that do it well, so I thought I’d share my recommendations here to show you what I mean. First up, Scott J Moses’s novella Our Own Unique Affliction uses the immortality of vampires to dig deep into ennui, existential crises, suicidal thoughts, grief, trauma, and more. It was one of my favourite reads last year. Also on grief, trauma and identity, try Cassandra Khaw’s The Salt Grows Heavy or Alison Rumfitt’s Tell Me I’m Worthless, two very different works but both searing. The obvious one for me when it comes to mental illness in dark fiction is Catriona Ward’s Last House on Needless Street—I can’t say any more because that would be spoilerific, but it’s so well-researched, well-informed, and well-executed in its representations. And on the short story side, head towards Sarah Jackson’s stories exploring trauma through hauntings. I took Sarah’s workshop on the topic at the UK Ghost Story Festival and it was so darn good…

Anyways, off my high horse and onto this week’s TWF menu. Our tasty main course comes from Joseph E. Arechavala, who’s having trouble sleeping. That story is followed by the short, sharp speculations of:

  • SG Perahim’s adventures in babysitting, 
  • Lionel Ray Green’s vengeful scarecrow, and 
  • Christina Nordlander’s floral bursts.

To finish, my usual couple of plugs. For the last time: Writing the Occult: The Fae is coming up in MERE DAYS, with a whole globe full of amazing speakers. Never fear if you can’t make the whole day—it IS long—because we’ll record it all, but only for ticket holders. Tickets are £40+bf, which gets you entry to the whole darn day as well as a recording you can come back to in your own time for all time. Tickets here

Also: I’ve roped Stuart into being on a panel at the next British Fantasy Society online event day. The whole day is about “the book journey”—all those things besides the writing!—and I’ll be moderating the panel on marketing with the boss man, Jenn Hanson-dePaula from Mixtus Media, and indie writers and promo machines Beverley Lee and Nicole Eigener (aka Nicoverley). It’s free for BFS members, and just £5 (about US$6.50) for everyone else, plus it will also be recorded if you can’t make any/all of it live. Details are over here.

Finally, last week I spoke a lot about neurodiversity in the SFFH community. After making/politely inviting members of the BFS community to share their own stories, I figured I should probably share my own. So for those interested, here you’ll find my reflection on being an “unpublished author” trying to Do The Thing while trying to understand how they actually tick. “Just make time for it” doesn’t work for some people!

Over to you, Stuart.

Lauren McMenemy

Editor, Trembling With Fear

We have a new site sponsor for the month, so if you’re looking to pick up a new book, I highly suggest The Dark Man, by Referral and Less Pleasant Tales by Chuck McKenzie!

Shadowed Realms is INCHING towards completion! We have a final ebook proof copy and the text for the physical copy that we’re currently reading through. Once everything looks good, we just need to finalize the covers for the print copies and we’re in business! 

I’ve got some light, neat publishing news to share for my own work as well! I have two drabbles coming out in ‘Programmed Hearts: Stories of Robots and AI‘ and three drabbles coming out in ‘Wyrms 2‘. Fun fact on the second one, two of the three have characters who are parts of other WIPs and that you may read more about down the line! 

And now the regular announcements:
  • Don’t forget – Trembling With Fear Volume 6 is out in the world, and if you’ve picked up a copy, we’d love a review! Next year, we may be looking to expand past just the Amazon platform. If we do that, what stores would you like to purchase your books from?
  • 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.
  • For those who are looking to connect with Horror Tree on places that aren’t Twitter, we’re also in BlueSky and Threads. *I* am also now on BlueSky and Threads.
  • If you’d like to extend your support to the site, we’d be thrilled to welcome your contributions through Ko-Fi or Patreon. Your generosity keeps us fueled and fired up to bring you the very best.
Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

Joseph E. Arechavala

Joseph E. Arechavala has been a writer for over 20 years, and graduated from Rutgers University in 2009 with a BA in English. His poems and stories have been published online and in print, and his novel, Darkness Persists is available on Amazon.

Perchance to Dream, by Joseph E. Arechavala

I wake up screaming and flailing my arms. Every time I close my eyes. I try to fight sleep and fail, again and again and again. 

They’re not rats. They’re not animals of any kind. Or ants. Or roaches. Or any kind of insect. They’re unidentifiable… things. Coming to take me apart one tiny piece at a time, unaccountable numbers swarming all over me. Pulling me apart, little piece by little piece, as I writhe in agony, screaming until they climb into my mouth and nose and ears, and begin taking me apart from the inside as I choke on the thousands.

Cass has been gone for a week now, driven off by my unending nightmare. She finished packing a bag in record time and fled our apartment at 3:00 in the morning, yelling, “Get some goddam help or you’ll never see me again!”

I can’t blame her. She’d put up with it for weeks. Comforting me, holding me at first, assuring and then reassuring me it wasn’t real, that I’d be okay. She lost sympathy by degrees, taking to sleeping on the couch, each day more and more ragged like me. Began yelling, “Shut up! Shut the fuck up!” And then the night she’d quickly packed and left.

I began by drinking cup after cup of coffee, fighting to stay awake as long as possible. And failing, of course. Then I switched to booze, hoping getting drunk would help, but that didn’t work either.

I haven’t been to work, haven’t even been out of the apartment for days. They’ve probably fired me, but I’m not answering the phone. In fact, it’s lying on the floor in tiny pieces, the meat tenderizer beside it. I had to stop it. The ringing wouldn’t stop. It wouldn’t stop. I had to stop it. I had to.

Nor have I gotten help. Because, you see, I know it’s not a dream. It’s my future. No one can help me, no one. I’m actually glad Cass left, because I was afraid they’d get her too. Now I know she’s safe. But there’s nothing I can do for myself.

I’m laying in bed, utterly exhausted. Too weak to get up. My body won’t stop shaking. The sheets are soaked from my sweat. Trying to stay awake. I stare at the clock. It changes to 4:17, malevolent red lights staring back against the black, when I hear it. That scuttling, clicking sound, quiet at first, then growing faster and faster and louder and louder. I cover my ears but I can still hear it. The tears begin to flow. I’m not a bad person! I don’t deserve this! I open my eyes to see them pouring into the room under the door. The sound is roaring now, roaring like a tsunami, a gigantic flood consuming me.

“Please! No!” They’re climbing up the side of my bed!

“Help me, please! Someone help me!” 

I hear a scream. It’s me. It’s me!

I’m not asleep. This time it’s real! They’ve come! They’ve come!

Night Watch

She always came after dark. 

The door of the nursery would already be locked. ‘Do not enter’ was scribbled in a whimsical script on the wooden panel. The mother’s face looked pale and tired, the father’s eyes shallow and burning with anxiety. Still, they’d request her to work almost every night. They paid well, but it bothered her that she’d never seen the toddler she was supposed to babysit. ‘Early sleeper, late riser. We’re lucky!’ was their go-to explanation. Tonight, she’d open the door. Just a peep. The lock quickly gave way. 

‘Are you dinner?’ chimed the cutest voice.

S.G. Perahim

Stéphane G. Perahim is a middle-aged French lady who lives in Belgium and teaches English for a living. When she’s not surrounded by her young, charming yet snotty students, she writes detective novels and short stories, plays with rather lifelike and creepy dolls, runs half-marathons or works on improving her nascent skills at capoeira. Find her on Instagram @Nefisaperahim.

A Forgotten Crucifixion

Like a forgotten crucifixion, the scarecrow hung on the wooden cross as the wind howled through the fallow field.

A rusty pitchfork lay on the ground beneath its feet.

A gunshot split the air into a thousand pieces, sending a covey of quail fluttering.

A man soon appeared on the horizon.

Under the straw brim of a farmer’s hat, the scarecrow’s black-button eyes darkened.

Not on my watch, the scarecrow whispered, remembering it was forsaken by man long ago.

Strangely unsettled, the hunter stopped and stared at the unkempt figure on the cross, while the scarecrow stared at the pitchfork.

Lionel Ray Green

Lionel Ray Green is a horror and fantasy writer, an award-winning newspaper journalist, and a U.S. Army Gulf War veteran living in Alabama. His stories have appeared in more than two dozen horror and fantasy anthologies. He ironically loves Bigfoot and hobbits and believes Babe is the greatest movie ever made. Website:

Briar Rose

The first time flowers and leaves show under her skin, she thinks it beautiful, as though she were a flowered manuscript page. Her father the King shows her to dignitaries as a visible blessing.

That summer, the vines burst through. Her wounds bleed only a little. The largest part of her blood has become fertiliser.

She sleeps often, as if her own pollen drugs her. At sleep’s hinterlands, her vines are no longer terrible.

Her betrothed visits her leaf-canopied couch. He picks cuttings of her vines, of her. She sees the pattern of pollen under his skin, and says nothing.

Christina Nordlander

Christina Nordlander was born in 1982 in Sweden, and now lives outside Manchester, UK, with her husband. She has published roughly 25 short stories, most on the horror and dark fantasy spectrum. She also holds a PhD in Classics and Ancient History.

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