Trembling With Fear 4-28-23
Hello, children of the dark. We’re back with this rare fifth instalment of Trembling With Fear in a single month. Gotta love it when the calendar does those weird things. Tomorrow it shall be May – May! Already! (I’m becoming a broken record, I know) – and for those in the Celtic world, tomorrow (1 May) is in fact Beltane, the Gaelic May Day Festival. It’s also the midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, and a time of celebration for many pagans. This is the time for folk horror stories, too, when the land is blooming and getting ready to reveal its fruits. What story seeds does that conjure for you?
And as we’re speaking of conjuring from seeds, my cold, dead heart has been full of joy this last week or so. I know it’s unseemingly to toot our own trumpets, especially in public, but I’ve enjoyed seeing so many people who’ve attended my drabble workshops around the place then go on to submit to us here at TWF towers. I hadn’t realised how many were out there, actually taking my ramblings as a jumping off point, and bearing such dark and delicious fruit. We have one such drabble this week, actually, and there were quite a few in the backlog of submissions we had after the gremlin had a field day in our back office systems. It really does make me happy to know that you’re all out there, creating, drawing life from the world and beyond, and letting that flow through your fingers to make all sorts of menace for these pages. Keep it up, children of the dark. I always want more.
(And, hey, in the spirit of trumpet-tooting, hit me up on the socials if you want to know more about forthcoming workshops and suchlike.)
For now, though, let’s stroll through this week’s menu, which features a real variety of tales for your delectation. Our short story sees Ceferino Ruiz gets to know his neighbour better – or does he? This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Mike Rader has a fungus problem,
- K.L. Bexon channels a hopeless vampire, and
- Kellee Kranendonk undergoes the surgical experience no one wants.
Over to you, Stuart.
Finishing my current MBA class, working on sorting out getting into a course this summer, a ton of meetings, and a Take Your Kid to Work Day has had me slammed. Sorry, nothing fun to say this week!
We’ve added a link to our Shadowed Realms: The 2022 Indie Dark Fiction Anthology under ‘Trembling With Fear’ in our menu above. For those unfamiliar with the 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!
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.
Ceferino Ruiz is an author based in the Midwest. When he’s not scouring the darkest corners of his mind for tales of horror, he enjoys spending time with his two boys and fiancée.
An Evening with Mr. Jenkins, by Ceferino Ruiz
“I’ll be right back, honey,” I hollered up the stairs, “I’m just going to step out for some fresh air.”
Marley peeked her head around the corner of our living room and frowned, knowing exactly what I was doing. “Don’t be too long. I need help unpacking these boxes.”
“I won’t be,” I said as I turned and walked out the front door and onto the wraparound porch of our newly-acquired home. I pulled the pack of Camels from my jacket pocket and stuck one between my lips. Just as I was about to light up, I heard a voice.
“You know those things will kill you, Son.”
I looked up to see a tall, stout gentleman standing on the sidewalk in front of our house.
I smiled slightly. “You sound like my wife.”
“Your wife sounds like an intelligent woman,” the stranger said, raising his eyebrow.
I put the cigarette down and sighed. “That you are right about.” I slid the cigarette back into the pack and walked down the steps to the gentleman. “I’m Matt Parker,” I said, extending my hand.
The man grabbed it, his grasp cold but firm for someone who looked to be well into their eighties. “Pleasure to meet you, Matt. I’m Dan Jenkins. I live in the house next door,” he said as he gestured toward the only other house on the block, a small, dilapidated one-storey with a comically massive porch.
“I thought that place was abandoned,” I said, before realizing how terrible that sounded out loud. “I’m sorry, Mr. Jenkins,” I apologized.
“No worries, Son!” he laughed, “I prefer if people don’t know that I exist!”
His deep laugh resonated across the dark, empty streets and filled the air with an infectious electricity. I had no idea who this man was, but I wanted to know everything about him.
“I guess that makes at least one person who knows your secret,” I replied. “Hope you don’t have to kill me now.”
“I like to believe in the good of people,” he replied with an almost-grim smile, “plus, it’s far too hard to dig a grave at my age.” He winked and walked past me, toward his house. “Stop by any time, Matt. I’m sure we can sit on the porch and swap stories.”
I waved as he walked into his house. “Will do!” I yelled, just as he closed his front door. He was fast for an old guy.
I turned and walked back up the steps of our porch, pausing to look back at Mr. Jenkins’ house. Maybe I will swing by, I thought.
I walked back into the house and locked the front door. Marley was sitting on the couch, legs crossed, rifling through boxes. I eased up behind her and wrapped my arms around her shoulders.
“You better have washed your hands of that nasty cigarette stench!” she warned.
“I didn’t even have one,” I said, hugging her tighter. “The neighbor interrupted me.”
“The neighbor to the right of us?” she asked, confusion in her tone.
“Yes,” I replied, “that is the only neighbor we have.”
She rolled her eyes at my humor. “I thought that place was abandoned.”
“Apparently, it’s not. The guy’s name is Dan Jenkins.”
She looked up at me. “Is that all you know about him?”
I thought for a second. “Yeah. That’s pretty much it. He did tell me to swing by any time, though.” I shrug, “I guess that’s a good thing.”
“Look at you, making friends!” Marley smiled. She always thought I needed more friends for some reason. “Why don’t you go over now?”
“I told you I would unpack boxes tonight,” I replied.
She looked at me, smiled, and rolled her eyes. “We both know this goes much faster if I do it alone anyway. Just tell Dan Jenkins I say hi and will properly introduce myself later.”
I looked at her and smiled. “I can do that.” I kissed her forehead and walked back toward the door.
As I was stepping outside, I looked over and noticed Mr. Jenkins already standing on his front porch. Good timing. I walked over to his house, but stopped and looked down at the porch steps for a second too long.
“They’re not going to collapse and kill you, if that’s what you’re thinking,” he snorted merrily and gestured toward two wooden rocking chairs in the corner. “Come on up and have a seat.”
I placed my weight on the first step and hoped he was right.
“How long have you lived here, Mr. Jenkins?” I asked, well aware of the shakiness in my voice.
He sat down in one of the chairs and groaned. “First off, Mr. Jenkins was my father. Call me Dan.” I could hear the smirk in his voice as I intensely stared down at the hole-riddled steps. “Forty-three years. I’ve lived here forty-three years.”
I clambered up the last step and sat down in the chair beside him. “I can’t even imagine living in one place that long. We were only at our last house for three years.”
“That much moving isn’t good for the soul, Son,” he said, slightly grinning. “A tree is meant to grow where it’s planted. Same goes for the soul.”
“It’s not exactly ideal, but it works for us,” I replied, more defensively than I meant.
“No offense,” he quickly apologized. “I meant nothing by it.”
I buried my face in my hands. “It’s not you,” I replied through my fingers. “I’ve just been more stressed with my wife and I losing our jobs and making such huge life changes.”
“It sounds like you two have a lot on your plate,” he replied, calmly. “Just know this, though: everything gets better. There’s always peace beyond the storm.”
“You’re better than my therapist,” I said, looking up. He was staring at me with genuine interest, a smile creeping up on his lips.
“I don’t know about all that!” He laughed as he threw himself back in his chair. “I just call it how I see it. My wife used to say I was ‘blunt’.”
“Used to?” I asked.
“Charlene passed away 19 years ago.” He stared off into the distance and I saw a single tear run down his cheek. “She was the brightest spot in any room. She never met a stranger and got along with everybody. Angelic. She was simply angelic.”
“I’m so sorry,” I replied, trying to hold back a tear of my own. “How did she die?” I immediately winced as the words came spewing out of my mouth.
“Lung cancer,” he replied, discreetly glancing toward the pack of Camels in my jacket pocket.
“Oh,” I stupidly replied, “Was she a smoker?”
“That’s the ironic part. She never touched a cigarette in her life.” He looked at me with an intensity I could only describe as soul-piercing. “I was the one that smoked.”
“Wow. I’m so sorry, Dan,” I stammered. “Charlene sounds like a wonderful person.”
“The best,” he instantly replied. “I never found anyone who could hold a candle to her.”
“I’m sure she would want you to move on and be happy.” I held his gaze and suddenly, his face softened.
“Move on, huh?” he asked. “You think that’s what Charlene would want, Son?”
“I do. That’s what I would want for Marley if I ever died. I would never want her to be so focused on remembering me that she forgot to be happy.”
“That’s the first thing in almost a decade that has made any sense,” he said, looking me directly in the eye. “That is exactly what Charlene would want me to do. Thank you, Son.”
“You’re welcome.” I replied, not entirely sure of what I had said. “So, what do you plan to do? Fix these steps for starters?” I laughed as I looked over at the rickety, old steps.
“No need,” he replied. “I got my just desserts ten years later. I died of lung cancer as well.”
I quickly look back to an empty, still-rocking chair.
I struggled to catch my breath as I clenched my chest, feeling the pack of cigarettes in my pocket. I reached under my jacket and grabbed them. With an almost-physical relief, I crushed the pack.
Slowly coming to grips with what just happened, I walked carefully down the creaky steps and back to our house. Marley heard me come in the front door and peeked her head out of the living room again. “Back so soon?”
I look up at her, still somewhat traumatized. “You’re not going to believe what just happened to me.”
It began as a ripple beneath the wallpaper. Slowly it grew, branching its filaments across the damp wall. Multiplying merrily in the fetid conditions. Soon its spores dominated the abandoned building on an industrial scale.
The old vagrant sheltering in the basement knew nothing of science. He had cut his leg, bandaged it with a filthy rag. He crumpled into a corner, grateful for peace.
The immortal fungus invaded his wound, breeding dexterously, claiming his lungs, throat, and finally his brain.
Coughing, wheezing, the old man limped out onto the crowded street, a lethal human fungus, to conquer a city.
Mike Rader is a pseudonym used by Australian author and poet James Aitchison. As J J Munro and Mike Rader, Aitchison writes horror and noir crime. As James Lee, he writes Asia’s biggest selling horror series for middle readers — Mr Midnight — which has sold over three million copies. His work can be seen at www.flameoftheforest.com
Golden rays shone, light catching in the folds of the white gardenia scattered in pots and troughs across the ancient courtyard. A pond glittered.
It had been a long period in darkness, and William had waited so long for the sun. From his place behind the thick, black curtain, he peeked through a gap to see the tantalising world beyond his fortress.
The yawning, bleak void was all behind him now. He was finally going to re-join those basking in summer joy.
Grasping the door handle and pulling eagerly, the vampire grinned as he bathed himself in white, hot light.
K.L. Bexon is a teacher of English and Film Studies who particularly enjoy reading and writing gothic fiction. Coming from the countryside in the East Midlands, but surrounded by old mining and industrial areas, K.L. is also interested in the environment and issues affecting the working class.
The drugs had no affect. I lay there, listening, unable to move so much as a baby toe. I hear the voices, the sounds. My eyes are taped shut. I scream, but there’s no sound.
I’m here, I’m awake!
Blood pulses in my ears. At least my heart is still pounding. Beating. Too fast. Will they know if I have a heart attack?
The scalpel slices my skin. Warm blood drips. Fingers probing. Pressure. Tearing. The pain rips through me like a train breaking through a wall.
Stop! Please! For the love . . .
Mercifully my brain shuts off. Pain-free at last.
Kellee Kranendonk has spent a lifetime writing. According to her late grandfather she was born with a pen in one hand and paper in the other. She’s certain that these days he would have claimed she was born clutching a laptop. She’s had over a hundred published stories, poems and non-fiction pieces. Her work has received an honourable mention, she’s been a spotlight author and some of her pieces were to appear in a school book project, though that didn’t pan out. Kellee has been an editor, and has managed online writing groups. She lives in New Brunswick, Canada with her family and a variety of animals. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
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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.