Trembling With Fear 4-28-24

Greetings, children of the dark. Hope you’re all enjoying the shorter / longer days (delete as applicable according to your hemisphere). I’ll tell you what: this has been a massive energy-draining week for me for various reasons, and I’m sure glad I’m staring at the weekend. I had wanted to get started on reading your (I’m sure all amazing) short story submissions, but I need a day off already! I’ll get to working through them ASAP, though.

What I do need, though, is MOAR DRABBLES. Our drabble cupboard is looking awfully bare right now. We’ve got some going through the process now, but it’s only a couple of weeks worth. And that means I’m challenging you, dear reader, to get your drabble hats on. I’d love it if next week I can report that I’ve had a ton of drabble subs. Shall we set a goal? I would like to see at least 10 drabbles in the inbox before I write this column for the first issue of May. Can you make that happen? Get ’em ready and head to the submissions page. Remember when you’re using the form (here) to choose TWF from the first dropdown menu, and then choose ‘drabbles’ so it can be routed to the right place. 

Anyways, this week’s TWF menu is kicked off by a nihilistic museum visit with Adrian Fahy. That story is followed by the short, sharp speculations of:

  • Michael Bettendorf’s hunter-gathering,
  • JB Riley’s imaginary friend, and
  • Lynn Kristine Thorsen’s tortured experiments

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!

Hi all! 

Another week of sick children, though finally, they’re both better now! Outside of that a bit more progress on the new layout as well as Shadowed Realms. Really hoping to have some solid details on both of those soon. Also, a couple of quick news bits:

  • We have a new Patreon; thank you so much for joining, the more Patreons we get the closer we are to lowering even more the amount of ads we have to display! WHEW!
  • Belanger Books has a cool new Kickstarter worth checking out! They’ve previously had some neat open calls that we’ve shared so wanted to let the authors and readers who follow us know about it!

Offhand, if you’ve ordered Trembling With Fear Volume 6, we’d appreciate a review! 🙂 

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

Adrian Fahy

I am a writer living in Tipperary, Ireland, and have been inspired by everyone from Dostoevsky to Stephen King. Some of my stories are due to be published in magazines ‘Close2thebone’ and ‘Yellowmama.’ Hope you enjoy my work!

The Museum of Nothingness, by Adrian Fahy

‘The ‘Museum of Nothingness’ was everything its name suggested. After exploring all three floors, Joel found each room empty and deserted. With no usher to guide him, he followed a sign on the third floor. It pointed towards the only feature in the entire place: ‘Nirvana.’

He wandered down the wide corridor, its red walls mantled with stern depictions of mystics and saints. Their eyes seemed to follow him, casting judgment on his moral worth.

He reached a dead end, marked by a wall of immaculate white. In the centre hung a black door, partly open, with paint flaking from its rotting wood.

A sign post declared: ‘You have arrived.’

Was this Nirvana?

Joel had seen the ad in a newspaper the previous day: ‘Experience a fleeting moment of bliss. Free yourself from the burdens of your mind.’ At first he dismissed it as a hoax. But that evening, as he lay on his unmade bed, searching for a reason to get up, he decided it was worth a shot.

He wondered if he ought to have told his dad where he was going, just in case something happened.

No, he probably wouldn’t care. While Joel’s father wasn’t a cruel man, he certainly wasn’t a loving one. Though it had been just the two of them since Joel’s mother passed, they were practically strangers.

The blame for this fell partly on Joel, who made little effort to connect with his aging parent. He dreamed of moving out and would have left years ago if he could afford it. But he couldn’t find steady work and the valium, which he hoped would quench his darker thoughts, only drained his motivation. Yet now, as he stood before the doorway to Nirvana, he couldn’t bring himself to enter. 

Protruding from the door, a rusty knocker ring clamped in its jaws, was a demonic gargoyle. It glared at him, daring him to step inside. His exhausted mind still craved release. But there was something else, like a fire alarm in his brain telling him to run.

Behind him, the double doors flapped open, and a young woman, about his own age, wheeled through the hall.

She sat in a pink cushioned wheelchair, decorated with spiral patterns. From beneath a black beret,  strands of red hair tumbled out, and though her body was tense and rigid, her pleasant smile suggested a carefree manner. She didn’t notice him, so engrossed was she in the paintings. Her nose crinkled as she studied the religious iconography.

Turning suddenly, she caught his gaze, causing him to blush. He cursed himself for gawping. 

“I thought I was the only one crazy enough to do this,” she said, wheeling towards him. “Or are you still on the fence?”

His mouth was dry. After years of isolation, his tongue felt like an untrained muscle.

“I don’t know anyone else who’s gone in there,” he said, pointing behind him. “It might be dangerous.”

The black door creaked, as if to offer reassurance.

“Didn’t you hear about that junkie, the one from town?” she said. “He tried it, and now he’s totally clean.”

This story rang a bell. Joel recalled the strange man who hung around Main Street. He used to harass Joel for change whenever he walked by, but he hadn’t seen him in a while. Maybe he started a new life somewhere else.

“Did he say what it was like?” Joel asked.

The girl’s eyes brightened. “Apparently, it was indescribable, unlike anything he’d ever felt. They say he experienced Esho-funi. It’s a Buddhist word; it means oneness with the world.”

Joel pondered this. “You think it could help with… other things?”

“What kind of things?” she asked, listening with intent.

He hadn’t thought his question through. “Well, you know…sometimes I…” His unsaid words hung in the air.

Don’t go spilling your guts. She’s a stranger; she doesn’t care.

“Never mind,” he said with a weak laugh.

She stared at him for a few moments, then moved closer.

“I don’t know about you,” she said, “but I’ve had my fair share of suffering.” 

She spoke with wounded sincerity. Joel saw that her smile was a thin disguise, betrayed by a grimace of pain whenever she moved her head. 

“You pray that things will get better,” she continued, “but they don’t. It’s just an endless cycle of false hope and disappointment. What if this is a chance to escape that?”

Joel knew there was a sound argument somewhere; he just couldn’t find it. “This Esco-funi thing,” he said, “it could mess with our heads. What if we never get our old selves back?”

She smirked. “Would that be so bad?”

He thought about those endless nights brooding in his room, wishing he had somebody else’s life. “Maybe not.”

The creaking door swung back and forth, beckoning them in. A gust of wind must have blown, though outside it was a calm, clear day.

The girl swallowed hard, but her determined expression never faltered. “What do you say?” she asked.

Her pleading eyes melted his trepidation.

“Alright,” he whispered.

A smile lit up her face, and she took his hand. Her warm touch trickled through him. He wondered how Esho-funi compared to this.

The hinges groaned as he pulled open the door, unleashing a blitz of blinding light.

Shielding her face, she beckoned him ahead. With caution, he released the door, taking solace in its staying ajar. He walked a few steps before her. 

His eyes readjusted, but there wasn’t anything to see. The room, shapeless and white, had no walls,  and seemed to stretch on forever.  He couldn’t tell if he was outside or still indoors. 

There was a violent bang and the unmistakable sound of a lock clicking shut.

Don’t panic. Nothing to worry about.

“So, what happens now?” he asked.

No answer. 

“Hey, the door is locked; how do we leave?”

She sat in silence, facing away from him.

His chest was heaving. 

He grabbed the back of her chair and spun her around.

“How did he get out of here? That guy, the junkie, how did he leave?”

The girl stared through him with wide, unblinking eyes.  

Joel’s entire body was shaking now. “He didn’t leave, did he?”

A tear fell from her face and vanished into obscurity. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to come here alone. I…”

But Joel was gone, racing through the dead plain like a panicked rat. He prayed for a familiar sight;  the sky, a tree, just a pebble would suffice. All he found was empty space. 

No, this can’t be real.

“It shouldn’t be like this,” the girl cried. “We were supposed to fade away! It was meant to be painless.”

Joel barely heard her. He collapsed to his knees, pleading with any god that would listen.

If he could just find his way home, he’d never ask for anything more. He would throw his arms around his father’s neck, and thank him for the gift of his sad, glorious life.

Recipe, Handwritten from Ipsen’s Cupboard

“The key to any good meal is quality ingredients.”

She drapes her fur-lined coat across her lap.

“You’re no stranger to fine things, no? Try the bread. Don’t forget the oil. Both are good separately, but together— magic.”

She eats. Soon the bread is gone. We dine. We speak of travels, what brings her, the daughter of royal blood, to Ipsen’s cottage.

“Respite,” she says. Or was it regret?

She rests, but it isn’t slumber. It’s a waking nightmare— but it must be this way, because ingredients are only part of a recipe. Preparation. Appetite. The hunt. Those matter too.

Michael Bettendorf

Michael Bettendorf (he/him) is a writer from the US Midwest. His short fiction has appeared/is forthcoming at Drabblecast, Sley House Press, and elsewhere. Michael’s debut experimental novel/gamebook “Trve Cvlt” is forthcoming at Tenebrous Press (2024). He works in a high school library in Lincoln, NE – a place he tries to convince the world is too strange to be a flyover state. Find him on BlueSky and Twitter @BeardedBetts and

Rules Are Rules

Gina stuck her lip out. “No one thinks you’re real.”

Big blue eyes shone in the dark. “I’m your imaginary friend – no one else can see me. Rules are rules.”

“They’re dumb rules!”

A sigh. “Maybe. Now go to sleep.” Gina’s closet door creaked shut.

Days later, video of a unicorn prancing about Gina’s room went online.

“See?” Gina waved her phone. “Now everyone knows you’re real.”

“I wish you hadn’t done that.”

“But – “

“No one else can see me.” Big blue eyes glowed red as the screaming started outside Gina’s window. “I told you, rules are rules.”

JB Riley

I live in Chicago and write technical proposals for a major US-based corporation, but have loved reading and writing speculative fiction ever since discovering The Chronicles of Narnia at Age 8. When not trawling the shelves at the local used bookstore, I enjoy travel, hockey, beer and cooking.


His spasms are violent.  The Shihibo observe but are not empathetic.  They document screams, when he bites his tongue, how long his eyes bleed and involuntary purges of his body. 

After each session, they explain what will happen next.  They review their instruments, procedures, the expected pain, all while he stares out a window into the darkness of space.

His mission was voluntary.   

If he lives and the pain can be tolerated, the Shihibo will introduce us to their interstellar technology designed for their physical limitations.  Our hope is this technology can be used to take us to the stars. 

Lynn Kristine Thorsen

I live and write in the West with my mathematician/fiction-writing husband and two large cats. Short fiction has appeared in Quarterly West, Calliope, Kansas Quarterly, Halfway Down the Stairs, Every Day Fiction and micro fiction will soon appear in Shacklebound Books. Degree in Philosophy, lots of travel. I lean toward the dark in hope of the light.

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