Trembling With Fear 5-21-23
Hello, children of the dark. How are the lighter days treating you? Every year, I get confused by how light it is in London Town right about now. It’s usually so dark and murky by the time I’m finishing up work for the day, but now it’s as bright as anything. I find myself accidentally working longer and longer hours, tricked by the sun. I’m sure it’s a capitalist plot to turn us all into worker drones.
This wouldn’t be so bad if I was at least earning the big bucks. Alas, as a freelancer in this market, those days are well and truly over. I am, however, using my time to build up something pretty exciting, if I do say so myself. Something new for the indie genre writing community. And something else for those who write in the occult realms, too. Big things afoot.
But anyway, you’re not here for my incoherent, broken-bone-influenced rambling. Let’s get onto this week’s trembling offerings, quick smart!
In our short story, C.M. Sumrall invites us to dinner for reminiscing – and revenge. This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Justin Hamelin deals with a haunted house,
- Ceferino Ruiz deals with grief, and
- Mike Rader deals with a college prank.
And a few reminders before I let you go:
- We love a drabble. Please send them to us!
- We also love three drabbles, connected by some form of thread. We call these Unholy Trinities, and our specials editor Shalini Bethala would love to see some more in the inbox.
- Ditto serials. Have you got a longer story that could logically be serialised into four parts? Check out our submissions page for details, then send ‘em in to Shalini.
- Finally, we still have submissions open for Shadowed Realms, the new Horror Tree anthology covering the non-pro markets. Details over here.
Over to you, Stuart.
Hello, dear readers!
As we sail through the whirlpool of time, my current class is proving to be quite the adventure – an exhilarating ride of learning that’s keeping me on my toes! Also, it is really taking up ALL of my time as it is a lot more work than the other courses that I’ve taken so far. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, we’re orchestrating our server’s grand migration to its new digital residence. Rest assured, we’re on track to have a move date finally decided upon by this time next week!
On another equally exciting front, our yearly anthology, a veritable treasure trove of gripping narratives, is steadily nearing completion. Soon, it’ll be ready to leap off the press and into your eager hands. I think. I hope.
Now, here’s a gentle nudge for all you brilliant authors out there! Don’t forget to submit your best work to our ‘Shadowed Realms: The 2022 Indie Dark Fiction Anthology’. The deadline is creeping up as we approach the end of the month. For newcomers, this anthology aims to showcase the crème de la crème of dark fiction, ranging from 1,000 to 9,000 words, published in semi-pro and token-paying markets in 2022. Yes. This is a REPRINT anthology and is a wonderful opportunity to earn 1 cent per word for your reprinted work. We can’t wait to delve into your dark, compelling tales!
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.
I hope that you all had an enjoyable weekend, and an enjoyable read of dark fiction savor during your downtime!
After graduating from UT Austin, CM attended a Jersey grad school with only vague academic aspirations. There, she got cancer, decided academia wasn’t for her, and graduated with a couple of unusable degrees, in that order. She’s been wandering and writing since.
My Dinner With Drea, by C.M. Sumrall
“I’ve so looked forward to seeing you again.”
“Missed you too, bitch.”
I hadn’t seen her in years, but Drea looked the same as ever with her stunning high cheekbones and eyes that pierced mine like drawn knives. She still wore her raven hair caught in a tangle and earrings in the shape of strange owls.
Too bad the smell was even worse these days. When she embraced me, I gagged over her shoulder at the hovering waiter. He smiled. He got it.
Drea was awkward as hell, but she hadn’t been a bad roommate. She’d known her place as my tag-along, and she was good at making me look better. When I’d met her at my client’s art show, I hadn’t expected her to invite me out. She’d chosen this restaurant, a bohemian dive with bad Halloween décor and no online presence to speak of. Even the low background music was bizarre. What did they call that—Gregorian chants?
I’d agreed to go because I figured awful food and lame company would be worth a laugh on the group chat later. She’d always been excellent fodder. I was starting to regret that decision though. The place had no menus and promised to be pricey. I would pay, of course. There was no way she had any money.
“How’s it going? You seeing anyone?”
She shook her head and opened her mouth to speak.
“Don’t tell me,” I cut her off. “Still on your celibate kick? We could never get you out. I always knew you’d look sick in something that showed your boobs.”
No she wouldn’t. She didn’t have any.
Drea closed her mouth and smiled, bashfully looking down. The waiter poured our wine. It was a rich ruby red. When I sniffed it, funk overwhelmed the nose. Old world style. Nasty. I bet it cost a buck.
“What’s with this place?”
“What do you mean?” Drea sipped. “Excellent—properly aged, practically no tannins. Please, have some—it’s on me.”
“Bullshit. I’ll pay.” I took a sip myself and nearly gagged.
The waiter placed a plate between us. Its contents might’ve been scraped off the underside of a fallen tree and gently singed with a blowtorch.
“Hey, I didn’t order—”
“I ordered it. Again, it’s my treat. Try one. I promise, they’re mind blowing.” She picked up a mushroom with her fingers and popped it. “Mmm ….”
Time had given her a little confidence, apparently. How dare she try and be slick in front of me.
“No, hey, I’m climbing up in my firm. Let me treat the starving artist. You still an artist?” I took one of the little fungi. I shoved it between my teeth and chewed fast like I ate trash every day. Ugh, it was worse than the wine. I took a big swig to drown out the taste.
“I’d never call myself that. Please, taking care of others is part of my faith.” She lifted those annoying, clever eyes. For once, they met mine. I didn’t like what I saw there. It made me uneasy. It didn’t help that the half-light was distorting Drea’s face the same way a flashlight could turn a rock into a skull. Had she always been so thin?
“Oh, gone the religious route. Gotcha. What are you? Christian? Jewish? Wiccan? Ha, I’d believe that one. You always did like crystals. I have an amethyst somewhere.”
“No, nothing so new as that.”
“Yeah, right. It’s all magic, sky-daddy-mommy stuff,” I rolled my eyes but grinned like it was a shared joke. She’d act like it was—she always did take the weak road. The thought eased my nerves, and I tried to relax.
“This place reminds me of a hole in the wall I went to in Italy,” I began, leaning back in my chair. “If they think you’re a tourist, they give you this giant carafe of house blend—basically the spit bucket. You have to ask for the good stuff.”
I waved my hand in the air without looking. The waiter must have been hovering just behind me because he coalesced at my side in a second. Good service. “I want the whole bottle. I’ll pay.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible.”
“No, it’s totally possible,” I told her, triumphant. She still hadn’t figured out how to assert herself, little mouse. Let her see how a cat did it. “I bet you this is whatever they have turning into vinegar in the back. I—”
“It’s my restaurant, Ella. We opened that bottle just for you.”
“Your restaurant? Bullshit.”
But the waiter was nodding and backing away. His posture was deferential towards Drea, almost reverent. Triumph turned into disgust into rage. Who did she think she was making me eat her weirdo hipster crap? That would explain why no one else was here. No one in their right mind would eat at a place run by Drea. She always smelled like old meat. Jesus, I was going to get food poisoning.
But it was always better to be polite to a girl’s face. Didn’t want her storming off before I’d dug up some details to share. “Oh, wow, so cool. Is this a soft open?”
“It’s been open before. Not in while though.”
Gross. Bet it was closed because no one washed their hands.
The server returned from whatever corner he’d backed into. He placed a soup bowl before me. It was empty.
“Another app coming?”
“Please, be patient a minute more,” he replied. “The courses have been arranged just for you. It will be served hot in just a moment.”
He smiled, and I realized suddenly that he looked a lot like Drea. His face was even thinner than hers. You could see his bones through skin pock-marked from old sores that hadn’t healed right. Leaning over me like this, he smelled even worse than her—like month-old rot. Boy, we’d have had a field day with this dork back in college.
“Okaaay.” I turned back to Drea. They were both kind of creepy, but she was the worse of the two. The way her dark eyes had become black pits above hollow cheeks was upsetting my stomach. “This a family thing?”
“Yes, it’s been in my family … a long time.”
“Really? Your family always so into candles? Surprised you get away with it.”
“We serve a limited clientele. They’re too loyal to mind a slight fire hazard.” She lifted her glass again and watched me. Her smile challenged me to drink more. “I’ve always wanted you to come here. Ever since I first met you.”
The wine was starting to taste better. It blended surprisingly well with the mushrooms. Maybe the real food wouldn’t be that bad when it came.
I looked down at my empty bowl. The dish itself was more attractive than any food Drea would serve, I was sure. The design was a rabbit’s eye with little hairs all around it. It was actually quite lovely. Soothing. I was about to ask Drea where she’d picked up the set when the crimson, almond-shaped eye rolled to look at me. Slowly, it blinked.
“Drea, I don’t feel so good.” I looked up. Her face had thinned even more, the hairline drawn upwards. This lighting really was bad—she looked almost a hundred with those wrinkles digging all the way through her skin. When she smiled, the seam of her mouth kept going back and back and back.
“It will pass,” she said. Her voice was husky with what could almost be desire. Back in school, she’d been fixated on me and followed me around all the time. It’d been hilarious. It didn’t seem so funny now, though. “Don’t you want more to drink?”
I opened my mouth to say, “No, I hate it,” but the server was already at my side again, pouring more wine. There was that elusive bottle. It wasn’t even glass, but some weird brown stone carved with funny symbols. I suddenly felt painfully thirsty. Rather than turning the drink down, I rasped gratefully, “Thanks.”
As I lifted the glass to my lips, I didn’t see her nod at the server. Dimly, unable to focus on anything anymore, I felt a hand force my chin up. Cold metal touched then pressed into my throat. It didn’t hurt, but it was an odd thing for him to do, wasn’t it? With practiced skill, the waiter maneuvered my neck over the bowl. Wine blended with blood over the blinking eye.
Even as the flickering light of the stupid, dramatic candles on the walls faded, and though I could no longer hear the low chanting that came from within the walls, I sensed it when Drea moved closer to me. The scent of old sacrifices filled my nostrils as the crone who had once worn the guise of a girl leaned in to whisper, “Now who’s the loser?”
My house is haunted. Rooms go cold. Stairs creak. Voices where mouths are not. The shuffling of footsteps at all hours of the night. How long can I live like this? This is all wrong.
A medium visits. She knows something is off right away. Sage is burnt. It’s a brief reprieve but the sleepless nights return.
Next, a priest. He is well-versed in these matters. Father Cuevas has seen things. He feels it immediately. He speaks with authority but also compassion.
“Your house is haunted.”
It hits me like a ton of bricks. It finally clicks.
I’m the ghost.
Justin Hamelin is an author and journalist of all things strange. He currently resides in McHenry, Illinois with his fiancé and two sons.
Drugged and stripped, the student was dumped in the sewers by his peers. A prank, was all.
He woke, in perpetual night, delirious, in a bewildering world of drains and sewers and pipes, absorbing their stench with every breath.
He killed rats, peeling off their skins with his teeth, gorging on their warm flesh.
In time he grew claws, fur matted his bare skin, his brain adapted, and he spoke in squeaks.
One day an open drain cover beckoned.
He squirmed through, deep memories driving him to the college where girls slept peacefully. How he hungered for his own kind.
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
“You will always be with me,” she whispered as she set the small, oaken statue by my bed.
She held my hand as I took my last breath, and then my first.
I watched from the bedside as she cried over me.
Her tears spilled down my sunken, lifeless cheeks, staining the dark grey pillowcase beneath me.
When she had no more tears to cry, she turned and looked at me, her eyes red and puffy.
A faint smile formed across her lips as she picked me up.
She held me close and whispered, “You will always be with me.”
Ceferino (or Cef) is an author based in the Midwest U.S. Heavily inspired by authors such as Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and Shel Silverstein, he spends much of his time writing horror fiction and poetry. His stories range from the fantastical to the macabre and everything in between. When he’s not lost in the dark corners of his mind, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two boys.
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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.