Trembling With Fear 4-7-24

Greetings, children of the dark. I’m neck deep in fairies as I write this, getting ready for my big Fae Day event which, by the time you read this, will be over. I feel like I’ve been less engaged in this edition of my Writing the Occult events, and I’m not sure why: life, probably, but maybe also I’m just not a fairy person? Who knows. Maybe by the time you’re reading this, I will have been converted and will be looking under rocks and behind bark for evidence. I’m feeling like a bad Celtic-blooded human right now!

But for that reason, we’ll go straight to the good stuff this week.

Well, first I should remind you that our April short story submissions window is open for just one more week! They are coming in thick and fast, and we are going to have to make some tough decisions. We just can’t run more than one short story a week for many, many reasons, and we get dozens and dozens submitted in each window. We used to get dozens every week, which is why we had to move to the windows! Submissions guidelines are here, and you submit by using this form, making sure to choose TWF from the drop-down box underneath the name field. Please, please upload your story in an editable document format, not a PDF and not posted into the form. And our process is not automated, so it might take me a while to acknowledge receipt of your sub. I will get there, I promise. TWF is powered by human volunteers. 

Remember, though, that we are definitely open to drabble submissions every day of the year, so if you’re not successful with your short, maybe go shorter? Give it a try?

Anyways, this week’s TWF menu. Our tasty main course comes from J.L. Royce, who’s gone off for a hike in the Michigan wilderness. That story is followed by the short, sharp speculations of:

  • Brian Maycock’s lazy long weekend, 
  • Noah Wood’s collective creep-out, and 
  • Richard Meldrum’s meeting in a dark alley.

Speaking of the boss man, he’s one of the panelists at Saturday’s 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 featuring Stuart, Jenn Hanson-dePaula from Mixtus Media, and indie writers and promo machines Beverley Lee and Nicole Eigener (aka Nicoverley). Ever wondered how to get your writing *out there*? Join us! It’s free for BFS members, and just £5 for everyone else, plus it will also be recorded if you can’t make any/all of it live. Details are over here.

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!

Spent a LOT of time on Shadowed Realms and site stuff this last week. Nothing quite ready for an update but a lot will be announced soonish!

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

J.L. Royce

J.L. Royce is an author of science fiction, the macabre, and whatever else strikes him. He lives in the northern reaches of the American Midwest, exploring the wilderness without and within. His work appears in Alien Dimensions, Allegory, Cosmic Horror Monthly, Fifth Di, Fireside, Ghostlight, Love Letters to Poe (Visiter Award winner), Lovecraftiana, Mysterion, parABnormal, Sci Phi, Strange Aeon, Utopia, Wyldblood, etc. He is a member of HWA and GLAHW. Some of his anthologized stories may be found at:

Waterfall Half Mi, by J. L. Royce

Herb glanced at his Fitbit: nearly a mile since the sign. “Kind of sketchy.”

“Stop worrying.” Jess was always drawn to the undocumented, the off-grid.

The anonymous Michigan road, potholed gravel, had been difficult even for their AWD. They’d parked at the hand-lettered sign and trudged on, past a farmer’s KEEP OUT

Through the golden autumn forest, they trampled once-flamboyant leaves underfoot. There were no wildflowers, no ferns, no bushes: just maple saplings. 

Herb trailed behind his smarter, fitter, sexier companion. “We’ve already seen a dozen today…”

“Man up,” Jess said, in her best executive style. “This’ll probably be the best.”

Half-mi. That’s the U.P. for you—not strong on math skills.” 


“Just saying, Yoopers aren’t the sharpest knives in—”

They rounded a massive outcropping and stopped short, face to face with a local. 

“Holy wah! You gimme a start.” His clothes were rural in the extreme, his fiery beard unkempt. His cheerful grin revealed a mismatched collection of candy corn teeth.

“Knives?” Red gestured at the buck knife on his belt. “Need the borry?”

Small feral children, difficult to number, swarmed barefoot around his legs. They paused to study the strangers with frank suspicion.

“Say,” Herb asked, “are we on the trail for the waterfall?”

The grin widened. “Saw my sign? Yup, yassir, up the trail you go.” 

“Is it far?” Jess accented each syllable.

He jerked his head over his shoulder. “No Ma’am, not far. Just listen for the rushin’ water and in no time there…you…are!”

The children watched with wide, eager eyes as the interlopers threaded through them.

“Have fun!” The Yooper called. “Mind your step, trail’s a tad slippery…”

Herb glanced back. The big man nodded with a satisfied smile.

“See ya!” A child tugged at his sleeve; another set up a keening wail. Red herded them away.

“What about that?” Herb said. “Those ankle-biters…”

“They can’t help living in a disadvantaged setting.”

“Think they charge admission?”

“Doubtful. This waterfall doesn’t come up on Google—yet.”

Jess loved to document new destinations.

The trail grew rugged as they entered an emergent ravine, with rocks and roots challenging their footing. Jess stopped without warning, and Herb collided gently. He put an arm around her and nuzzled her ear. 



“I think I hear water!” She squirmed away. “If you’d just stop breathing so loud…”

The liquid sound could have been rainfall, were it not a clear sky; perhaps a stream tripping over rocks; but…

Jess strode off, Herb stumbling to catch up. The ravine deepened, the trees lining the slopes dense enough to hide the bottom, where a stream might lie. The sound ebbed and flowed, growing stronger as they advanced.

“Look at all this,” he said. The trees grew gray and wasted, though underfoot the roots remained abundant and tangled. But Jess forged ahead with sure steps.

He stared down. “I don’t get it—there are more roots than trees…”

The trail veered from the chasm and ascended a soft hillock. 

“It must be over this rise!” Jess exclaimed. 

A squirrel darted onto the trail ahead and paused to study the intruders with bright eyes, gnawing a seed cone. 

“Hey, cutie!” Herb cooed. Though its orange bottle-brush tail twitched at attention, it held its ground, chittering a challenge.

“Photo op…” He fumbled out his mobile.

Jess rushed on to climb the final rise. The squirrel started and scurried off through the twisted roots just as a sinuous, dun-colored shape reared and snatched at the fleeing creature.

Herb gasped as the squirrel made it to one of the moss-covered boulders strewn about the forest and bounded from it into the safety of a tree cleft.

“Snake!” he shouted, “Jess, there’s—”

He was cut short by a scream from ahead. Herb rushed along, only to trip and fall, entangled in the web of roots. Shaking his head to clear it, he pushed himself up. His stinging hands throbbed… or was it the earth?

The roots quivered beneath him, then stirred.

Herb scrambled to his knees, only to discover his ankles entangled. He tore himself free of the vegetation and leaped up.

All around, the roots awakened. Taking his cue from the squirrel, Herb hopped from one stone to the next, avoiding contact with the writhing web. He topped the rise, the rim of a glacial kettle cupping a seasonal pond. From its rippling surface, thick with algae, came the sound, a facsimile of falling water. Jess dangled above the algae-streaked pond, suspended by a cluster of waving roots.

Herb tensed, preparing to leap out and pull the screaming woman to safety, when a hideous head, carbuncular and dripping greenish-brown ichor, broke the surface. 

Its mouth gaped large, its gurgling voice the thunder of falling waters. Its breath assailed Herb with the rank odor of corruption. But worse still was the scene beyond.

A clutch of locals had gathered safely out of reach on a rock overhang. The adults chanted in a primitive tongue, a verse guttural yet compelling. Red stood among them, his children hopping excitedly. 

“Help us!” Herb cried. 

Some of the onlookers held phones aloft, recording, while others raised long-neck beers in mock salute. 

Roots caught his legs, encircled his thighs, tightened about his waist. Jess dangled upside-down another moment; then the tentacles released her, and she plummeted headfirst into the creature’s fleshy maw. The gurgling ceased as the jaws snapped shut on her thighs. The bloated lips worked, urging her flailing legs in, then swelling around her hips. With a rush of water, the head sank beneath the surface, to cheers from the audience.

Herb grasped at roots, struggling to stay upright, as he was borne into the air. The crowd chanted as Herb pleaded for mercy. The pond stirred, and its denizen reappeared. Unbalanced, Herb swung head-down above the snout, as the jaws opened with an exhalation of decay. 

He stared at the inverted world, thrashing his arms, desperate for anyone’s attention. At last Herb connected with one of the children and gesticulated wildly, pleading for help.

She waved: Bye-bye.

Long Weekend of the Living Dead

Saturday night. There are dead people outside my window, their jaws hanging off, singing out of tune. I don’t dare go out and complain.

Sunday morning. The dead have left an awful mess: teeth, tongues. A hand. All rotten. 

Sunday night. The dead are here again, dancing, making out, pressing my buzzer. I don’t answer, and force the ear plugs in deeper. 

Monday morning. The Zombie Helpline is ringing out and suggesting I download the app. I try. Fail. 

Monday afternoon. The dead are having a barbecue and drinking beer. I turn the tv up, make another cup of tea.

Brian Maycock

Brian Maycock’s short stories have appeared most recently on the NoSleep Podcast and Creepy Pod. He divides his time between Glasgow and North Cornwall.


We hadn’t reconvened since the first of us disbanded the group. 

Today we met without his command. 

Dusk cast warm yellows over the pitted concrete under the overpass. We said nothing as we arrived. Each of us laid tools onto the tarp at our feet. The first of us was the last to arrive.

“What is this?” he said. “I told you it’s over.” His words didn’t move us like before. He wasn’t part of us anymore.

We encircled him and brandished our shining gratitude.

“Thank you,” we said. And we began to carve. “Thank you for bringing us together.”

Noah Wood

Noah Wood is a writer, poet, and office drone translating the horror of his dead-end job into terror on the page. As a trained historian and avid traveler, his work explores what makes each time and place so unique while honing in on what unites us all: fear. He resides wherever the government has him auditing that year.


The two men had been following him for a few streets, but he pretended not to notice. He turned down an alley; they followed. They caught up to him in the deserted, dark street. He turned and laughed.

“I wouldn’t laugh,” said the shorter man. “You should be scared for your life.”

“You’ve chosen the wrong word. You can only fear for your life if you are alive.”

He opened his mouth to expose elongated incisors. There was no reaction from the two men. 

“I misspoke. We already know what you are.”

They opened their jackets to reveal wooden stakes.

RJ Meldrum

RJ Meldrum is an author and academic. Born in Scotland, he moved to Ontario, Canada in 2010. He has had stories published by Sirens Call Publications, Horrified Press, Trembling with Fear, Darkhouse Books, Smoking Pen Press and James Ward Kirk Fiction. He is an Affiliate Member of the Horror Writers Association.

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