Trembling With Fear 4-2-23
Hello, children of the dark. Insert obligatory “how is it April already” and/or “daylight savings sucks/is the best” reference in here. I hope those who have recently moved clocks forward are starting to settle into the lighter nights, and those who have or are moving them back (I think Aussies and Kiwis did it last night?) haven’t had too much chaos. Take this as a reminder to check the time before you need to head to work lest you turn up an hour early (or late!).
You might be able to tell from that weird opening paragraph that my brain is mush. Is it because I’m still recovering from taking part in the London Writers Salon’s 24-hour writing marathon last weekend? (And thanks to those readers who joined in! I saw you! And to our own Stuart for helping me host an hour of it – he dealt with our manic energy rather well.) Or is it just my ongoing sleep and health troubles? I won’t bore you with the details, but if you’re exhausted, burned out, not sure how you’ll keep functioning, you have my empathy this week and all weeks.
I’ve been doing some essential admin behind the scenes on TWF, and we still have a lot of short stories awaiting publication so I’m sorry we can’t yet re-open to those subs yet unless Stuart finds a magic pot somewhere. We are always open to drabbles though, and have an insatiable appetite for them. I know I’m a bit of a broken record on this, but if you’re nervous about submitting to publications then our drabble call-outs are a good way to test the waters. I promise we’re kind and will give you honest and constructive feedback on your work.
Speaking of submissions, did you see the amazing new anthology that Stuart and Holley Cornetto are putting together? If you had an awesome dark story published in a semi-pro or token paying market in 2022 then submit it to Horror Tree‘s new indie dark fiction anthology! Because why should the “best of” anthology fun be confined to the pros? Get the details here.
As for this week’s menu, we’re embracing the creature feature. Alli Drust’s gorgeous short story tracks a developing relationship with a creepy crawler. This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Christina Nordlander contemplates the march of time,
- Nic Dracas blows it all up, and
- Cassandra Vaillancourt discovers black gold.
Before you go, I wouldn’t be doing my friend duty if I didn’t point you in the direction of Matthew Ducharme’s new regular series for the ‘Tree about writing fantasy. His second episode, which you can read here, delves into the concept of magic.
Over to you, Stuart.
We’re currently actively seeking new drabbles for Trembling With Fear as we’re getting a bit low. I’m still trying to figure out if we can open up our short stories again but it, like everything else budget related, is being held up by our website redesign. Hopefully, news there soon.
Just as a reminder, we’re taking submissions to a new Horror Tree anthology titled Shadowed Realms: The 2022 Indie Dark Fiction Anthology. In it, we’re looking for the best 1,000-9,000 word dark fiction published in semipro and token-paying markets in 2022! This reprint anthology will be paying 1 cent per word, and we’re very excited to start taking a look at your work!
At the time of writing this post, we’re under 5 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 🙂
As always, I hope you had a great weekend.
Alli says: I am a lifelong writer, and about to receive my MA in Creative Writing from the University of London. Writing in any capacity is my passion, but spooky, uncanny, and scary stories hold a special place in my heart.
Creature, by Alli Drust
I open the window and let him crawl inside. It’s the only entrance he will use, even if he has to immediately take the stairs down to the lounge on all fours. He smells of leaves and mulch, and other parts of the world I’ve left behind. He used to scare me, but not anymore. How could he, when there are so many other things for me to fear?
Like the sky. A colossal eye, peering down at me all hours of the day and night, unblinking and unrelenting. The only source of relief is a roof over my head, solid and unbroken by skylights or leaks. I don’t understand how everyone else can bear it, being watched like that. I’d take his teeth and claws, translucent yellow with dirt caught in the cracks, over the outdoors any day.
I left out a plate of crackers for him tonight. There were some slices of cheese, too, but I ate those a few hours ago. He wouldn’t have liked them anyway. I try a new food each time I order from the grocery, but I’ve never seen him eat. I’m not offended. I’ll get it right one of these days.
I know he’s capable of eating. Once he came with a dark smudge on his cheek, a streak right towards the edge of his mouth. Maybe it’s a private thing for him, something he can only do alone.
If I’m right then his resistance is impressive. He must be hungry, judging by the way his bones protrude through his skin. I can count every rib, every vertebra, and yet his energy never falters. He maintains the same steady, deliberate speed in all his actions. The length of his limbs suggests he was built for speed, but if he is capable of it, I have never seen him indulge.
I’m not sure how I know he’s coming tonight. A feeling, replacing the constant sensation of being observed. I feel safer in my cocoon of a house tonight, like the roof is solid, the space between the atoms of each shingle reduced. I only ever get that feeling on nights when he comes. If I’m expecting a grocery delivery, or one of the few friends who still come to chat through the door, I experience the opposite. As if the ceiling might split open like a cracked melon and let in the sunlight, the clouds, the blue. The thought of being seen makes me want to vomit. And yet I still must drag myself to the front door. Still steal the groceries off the porch. Still throw out bulging black garbage bags when they can’t hold any more.
“I missed you,” I say once he’s settled in my recliner. He tilts his head in my direction, almost like he’s looking at me. I know he’s not, though. He has no eyes. He is incapable of watching. I can’t say the same. I have perfect vision, and though I’ve considered doing away with my eyes, every time I raise a sharp object to jab them out, prepare to douse them with scalding liquid that will render them useless, I’m reminded that I am first and foremost a coward. I fear the pain. I fear death. I fear being unable to take care of myself. So, my eyes stay in my skull, and I remain complicit in the horror of witnessing.
His eyeless presence is my only relief. It’s been almost a week since his last visit, and I’ve felt my stress ratcheting up and up over the intervening days. I broke down and called Meg to tell her how worried I was that he wouldn’t come back. I’m sure she thinks I made him up, or that he’s some kind of animal. She told me to stop being weird and get a boyfriend. As if I want that. As if I could want that. Boyfriends, girlfriends, friends, even, belong to the outside world.
I didn’t bother trying to explain it to her again. She doesn’t understand the appeal of a wild thing, so strange that there isn’t even a name for what he is. I want what he has, to be unknowable, even as I strive to understand him.
All Meg cares about is why. Why am I fascinated by what she thinks is an animal? Why am I so afraid all the time? Must there be a why?
I learned a long time ago that it is asking too much to be allowed to live as I choose, as I need, unchallenged. No one is capable of that degree of acceptance.
No one, except for him.
I lean closer to him in the darkness, leaning on the arm of the couch. I could reach out and touch him, finally discover the texture of that naked, creased skin. It would prove he was real, that he is truly here with me once again, but I resist, unwilling to startle him. To lose him. I seek another form of reassurance.
“Did you miss me?”
Nothing happens. I want to kick myself. I’ve gone too far, I’ve ruined it. But then he unfolds one long forelimb. I can’t call it an arm because I’ve seen him use it to walk as well as grasp. It’s long and thin, with too many joints. He taps once on the coffee table with a curved talon. Yes.
I smile. He bares his teeth, opening his maw that’s torn at the edges to show me teeth all the way to the back of his throat. Each one is sharper and more serrated than the last. It surprised me, the first time I saw them, but I know now he is the only thing in the world that would never hurt me. I am safe.
We sit in silence. I close my eyes and listen to the sharp rasp of his breath, coupled with my near silent inhalation. I never thought I could be this happy with anyone, anything. It’s like he can turn the galactic eye of the universe away, masking my existence in the shadow of his own. With him around, I am unperceivable.
When he gets up to go, I follow him to the door. It makes me shake, being that close to the outside, but it’s worth it to get those few extra seconds together. I don’t want him to go, but it’s unfair to try to hold him here. I’ve tried asking, begging, pleading with him to stay but he always finds a way out. If I won’t let him out the door then he’ll open a window, or contort his lanky body into impossible shapes to fit through the chimney flue. Just like I can’t bear the outside, he can’t stand to stay indoors. We are opposites, drawn together despite our differences. Doomed to be parted, but impossible to permanently separate. I hope.
He stops at the edge of the porch as I watch from the doorstep. The sight of the street makes me feel weak and lightheaded. I make myself smile again, telling him it’s okay, I’ll be fine on my own. This should be his cue to depart, to shamble across the lawn and disappear into Mrs. Stoker’s rose garden. But tonight, he hesitates. His face opens in a mockery of my smile, allowing a thin string of saliva to escape down his chin.
And then he extends a hand that isn’t a hand.
I awoke in the inn’s top floor bedroom. The curtains were drawn aside, turning the darkness sepia. In the corner stood a tall figure, wrapped in black, its face a white blank. I watched for it to make a move.
I must have returned to sleep, all my fear burnt out. When I woke again, the room was filled with dirty sunlight. In the corner stood a dark-wood longcase clock with a white face.
We imagine Death as a black-shrouded column, skull-face showing, the inexorable steps, the slicing of a blade.
The clock I was looking at was still Death.
Christina Nordlander was born 1982 in Sweden, and lives outside Birmingham, UK, with her husband. She has published over 20 stories and other pieces, most of them on the speculative fiction spectrum. She also dabbles in visual art and game development. Her most recent publication is “In the Dark” in Home Sweet Horror (Black Ink Fiction). She holds a PhD in Classics and Ancient History from the University of Manchester. Visit her on Patreon or Facebook.
I Had A Blast
Broken glass litters the pavement. Sharp confetti amongst the remains of the building. It should never have come down that fast – I didn’t expect it to erupt so much debris as far as it did.
Through the dust and choking smoke, I can see shards of tile. Columns of marble. Wood splinters. Cracked cement. Rubble. Brick.
Maybe I should have put up tape to keep people back? Like the police do?
I should at least have informed the tenants.
Because then there wouldn’t be this much blood either.
But it does look pretty.
Like red wine jus on a plate.
Nic Dracas writes horror and dark fiction and has had a variety of short stories published in print and anthologies with markets such as The Horror Zine (anthologies and Best Of anthologies), Sanitarium Magazine and Flametree Press’s newsletter. You can find Nic lurking in the Writers Hour of the London Writers Salon or on Twitter @NicDracas where she posts a lot of stuff about writing, Aliens and Star Trek.
It was sacred land and should not be disturbed – but the oil execs paid no heed and set up an oil rig. There were fortunes to be made.
The Roughnecks set to work immediately, but the rig was plagued with problems from the beginning.
The Roughnecks threatened to quit, but the promises of bonuses kept them tied.
The rig trembled with a ghostly moan. A gigantic geyser of black gold shot up to the sky, spreading out like a monstrous cloak covering and consuming the rig and the workers. Then it returned back down the hole till nothing was left.
Cassandra Vaillancourt is a trans woman and a veteran. She’s entered stories to the VA Veterans Art Show where she won 1st, 2nd and Best of Show ribbons for her work. Her short story “The War Wreck”, published in Trembling With Fear last month, was her first venture into submitting short stories for publication.
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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.