Trembling With Fear 4-14-24

Greetings, children of the dark. First things first: short story subs will CLOSE tonight. Anything submitted after today will not be read, and will not be kept on file until the next window at the beginning of July. Please take note of our submission windows, which you’ll find in the deadlines section of the submissions page, here

Why do we do it this way? Quite frankly, because there were way too many submissions! Not long after I took over this column, it became clear that if we didn’t close to submissions every now and then, we’d have writers waiting literal years for their story to be published. I love that you’re all so keen and ready to submit to us, and that we get so many great stories, but it just became unmanageable. The windows help us to keep on top of things. We still have people waiting several months to be published, but months is better than years. 

If you can’t wait for the quarterly window, fear not! There are plenty of other opportunities. Your story might fit one of the many open calls we list on this here site—the very reason for our being!—or maybe you’d like to write for a special themed edition or submit a story for serialisation. We also have our short sharp speculations, aka the drabbles, of which we publish three every single week! Maybe try your hand at some teeny tiny stories, or stringing three of those together on a theme to tell a longer story as an unholy trinity

See: lots and lots of opportunities out there. The spec-fic beast is hungry and never, ever satisfied…

Anyways, this week’s TWF menu. Our tasty main course comes from David Bradley, who’s dealing with a weird mouth thing. That story is followed by the short, sharp speculations of:

  • Cassandra Daucus’s dirty secret 
  • Patrick Winters’s hidden meanie, and
  • DJ Tyrer’s existential angst

PS, the fae stuff went really bloody well, thanks for asking! Keep an eye out for the next one—Writing the Occult: Connection to Land will take place on 15 June, just before the solstice.

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!

Oof. It has been a week. My youngest has been sick all week and my oldest has had Jr. High prep + standardized tests + soccer. Not to mention, work has a huge pile of projects on my plate at the moment. I was able to push ahead slightly on Shadowed Realms. However, it’s not quite there yet. I’m hoping that this coming weekend, I’ll be able to get it finished up so we can finally let it loose upon the world! 

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

David Bradley

David Bradley lives in Manhattan, working for the federal government during the day, and has a BA in Literary Studies from SUNY Purchase and an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. In 2019, David participated in the Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal, and in October 2023 was shortlisted in Uncharted Magazine’s novel excerpt contest, judged by Sequoia Nagamatsu.

The Film, by David Bradley

A fleshy film grew over my teeth one day. It was a pulsing, translucent extension of my gums, criss crossed with nerves and veins. If I applied the slightest pressure, it felt like chewing broken glass.

Solid food became a thing of the past. I’d avidly consumed chicken tenders with ketchup since boyhood. At least once a week I DoorDashed them from Applebee’s. I wept knowing how much pain the chicken’s breading would put me through, now. 

Worse, I could only drink liquids within an extremely specific temperature range. A chilled Arnold Palmer had me moaning on the floor, and hot coffee made me yowl like a dog. And sure, many drinks taste fine at room temp, but even a hint of cold or heat caused pain. 

Doctors and dentists examined my mouth. Even experts in rare, oral deformities had never seen my condition before. I eventually paid for surgery to remove the film. 

It was successful for all of a month. Once the stitches came out, the film swelled back in place, more sensitive than ever. 

“We can try again,” said the surgeon. “We’ll leave the stitches in or insert a permanent retainer. That might hold the tissue back.”

I dumped the rest of my savings into a second surgery. The stitches remained in.

They held the film back for two months. 

This time, the film cut itself as it strained past the stitches. Each nick left me curled in bed, agonized for hours. Even after it regrew, the stitches provided a constant source of irritation. Between that, the failed surgeries, and my dejectedness, I struggled to even get out bed in the morning. 

A third surgery was out of the question. I had no money left and no one to borrow from. My parents were dead. My extended family knew me about as well as a stranger. My friends all worked minimum wage jobs, like me.

All this is to say, I’m tired and staring in my bathroom mirror, lips pulled back, waiting until the sight of the film disgusts me enough that I finally bite down and tear through it. 

I’ll put myself through hell tonight for single, mediocre tomorrow. I need chicken tenders and an icy Arnold Palmer. I need coffee hot enough to blister my mouth. I need to not think about pain, failure, and the pointless search long-term solutions. More than anything, I need to trick myself into believing I can be happy just for a day. I’ll survive if I can just have that.

When I stretch my mouth too wide my jaw pushes out and my teeth strain against the film. I seek this pain. If I can’t make friends with it, I won’t be able to bite down.

Veins and nerve endings flare. Before long, a constant pain hums in my mouth, more burning than sharp. My eyes water, but I’m not really crying, yet.

I prod the film with my finger. If my nail touches the film, the pain will be acute enough to buckle my knees. The pad of my finger isn’t as bad.

Tears leak, not in floods but trickles. I whimper, and in the mirror my throat muscles tense and relax, glistening with saliva. It almost feels good, like I’m creeping toward the edge of catharsis. I keep straining my jaw and pressing with the pad of my finger, never quite finding pure agony. I’m getting used to being in pain.

I don’t have to do this. It’s stupid, immature. I should at least stop and buy a painkiller.

But I’m too far along. If I have to start over, I won’t go through with it. It’ll be too taxing.

I’ve been crying, whimpering, and moaning for a while. My jaw aches from being wrenched open, and the film’s pulsations have grown more intense and rhythmic. The flesh is inflamed and red. I prod a little longer, but the pain has plateaued, and I can’t think of any other way to warm myself up.

I have to bite.

I grip the ledge of the bathroom counter. My lips ache from being curled back, and my saliva has left them pink and irritated. Three times I try to roar. Three times the roar becomes a pained moan until finally I draw a wet, choked breath and let out an actual yell.

Chicken tenders. Arnold Palmer. Hot coffee. 

I bite down, hard. You could compare the pain to a slap, a cannonball, the tsar bomb, but no simile encapsulates agony so massive. The sound I make is closer to a wounded dog than a human. My knees give. Blood thicker than oil floods my mouth.

But I bite down, again, grinding my teeth, shredding flesh, vein, and nerve. Pain spears my head, down my neck, into my chest. Another bite, and it chews through my stomach and testicles.

“Chicken tenders!” I scream. “Arnold Palmer! Coffee!”

My vision tunnels. I collapse on my side for God knows how long, bleeding, drooling, and leaking snot. Threads and chunks still cling to my teeth and gums. 

Soon, the film will regrow, and I may despise myself for doing this. But I must convince myself that that future me is a different person. Who I am right now lives only in this moment. Tomorrow, my teeth will break nothing but well-fried breading, and ketchup will snuff the taste of blood. By the end of the night, I will pass out, bloated, laughing, and aching for more.

Three Days in the Dirt

You buried him on Sunday morning, invocations on silent lips, pressing skin and bones and spores together in the grave. Tuesday night there’s a thump in the cellar. You stand barefoot on packed dirt, shivering, repulsed by the scent of sour rot. Through cloudy breath you see massive smooth tendrils creeping from the corner, gray and gleaming. They weave up the walls, hang from the rafters. You step forward, breathless, unable to stop. Leaden arms thrust from the floor and grasp the growth, pulling his ravaged body behind them. Black eyes gleam in the dim. It worked: he’s alive (mostly).

Cassandra Daucus

Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, M. R. James, Shirley Jackson, Robert Aickman, and a ton of fan fiction, Cassandra Daucus (she/her) writes a spectrum of horror. She is intrigued by how the human mind responds to the unknown, and also enjoys a good gross-out. She has stories published and forthcoming in several literary magazines and anthologies. Cassandra lives outside of Philadelphia with her family and three cats. Her social media and website can be found at

The Mean Lady

The Mean Lady won’t stop yelling at me.

Mommy and Daddy still don’t see her, no matter how much she’s around or how loud she gets.

They think I’m imagining her, but I’m not. Her skin is gray and saggy. Her eyes are milky white, and her clothes are shabby. And whenever she gets too close, I can smell dirt and dead flowers. 

She keeps saying I’m bad. That I need to be punished—just like the little girl who used to live here, and the one before that.

She says I’ll be joining them soon.

Mommy… Daddy… Please, help…

Patrick Winters

Patrick Winters is a graduate of Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL, where he earned a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. His work has now been featured throughout several magazines and anthologies. A full list of his previous publications may be found at his author’s site. Follow him on Instagram @weirdwinters93 or Twitter @WeirdWinters.


One single obsession all his life: The truth. A complete understanding of the world and his place in it, the route to power, everything in his grasp.

For decades, he searched, poring over old tomes, clambering through mouldering ruins.

In pre-human civilisations, he thought he’d found it. Surely, such alien and powerful minds should know?

But, as he studied their lore, the truth again slipped beyond his grasp.

The more he knew, the less certain he became.

Until, one day, communing with an entity far beyond his mortal mind, he learnt it: Everything was a lie. He didn’t even exist.

DJ Tyrer

DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Chilling Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree), All The Petty Myths (18th Wall), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), What Dwells Below (Sirens Call), The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories (Hellbound Books), and EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness (Otter Libris), and issues of Sirens Call, Occult Detective Magazine, parABnormal, Tales from the Magician’s Skull, and Weirdbook, and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor). You can follow their work on Facebook, on their blog or on the Atlantean Publishing website.

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