Trembling With Fear 7-16-23
Hello, children of the dark. In my race last week to announce our re-opening to short story submissions, I totally missed a milestone: it’s now been a whole year since I took over leading this publication from the inimitable Stephanie Ellis. A whole year! I can’t believe it either.
So in celebration/commiseration, I thought I’d share five things I’ve noticed about you, our wonderful writers and readers, in that time.
- We have some prolific regular subbers! A quick shout-out to those writers who are in our inbox a lot with fresh tales. We appreciate you.
- There’s an ebb and flow to submissions, with peaks in summer and, unsurprisingly, at Halloween. But we’re always open, so you don’t have to wait until specific periods to get your dark tales into our coffers. In fact, if you’re writing earlier in the year, you might have a better chance at acceptance. Just saying.
- There’s also trends in topics. Right now, we’re getting a lot of horror based in real life—things like serial killers and murders, or hitchhiking gone bad, or traumatic events, or terrible people in general. Those are fine, but we are first and foremost a publication for speculative fiction, so we’ll always give precedence to dark tales with a hint of otherworldliness to them.
- If you want to stand out, try writing a dark bit of science fiction or fantasy. The site’s name might have “horror” prominently in its title, but we do cover all sorts of speculative fiction. We don’t get anywhere near enough space dramas or epic fantasy creations!
- Finally, remember we’re a small team of volunteers, and we’re actual humans! When you receive an acknowledgement email, or an acceptance email, that is legitimately coming from me. I’ve typed it out just for you. There’s no automation involved (apart from the tech that sends the submission form to our shared email). So say hi every now and then, please!
What’s the next year got in store? Well, if Stuart keeps me around, we have some big stuff on the horizon. First and foremost, we’re reopening our short story submissions at the beginning of August. They’ve been closed for almost a whole year because of the sheer volume of submissions we had last summer (told you about the peaks and troughs!), so I’m excited to see what you’ve had percolating all that time.
We’re also still open for submissions to our summer special! Get your summer shorts and drabbles in by the end of July via our submissions page, and our lovely specials editor Shalini will review and make her choices for our summer special edition. Successful stories could also make our annual anthologies, so there’s double the chance at publication!
But for now, let’s turn to the one-year-plus-one-week anniversary of my first TWF. It’s time for this week’s offerings on the TWF menu. For this week’s short story, Jason Fischer has some sleep worries. This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Frances Castaneda gets digging,
- Cassandra Daucus gets writing, and
- Adam Eherenberg gets resurrecting.
Over to you, Stuart.
I’m not sure if Lauren reads my additions as I add them after she’s done, to everyone who reads this, I am 110% hoping to keep her around! She’s been a fantastic addition to the team!
So, not much to say yet again. I’m soon to be in between MBA classes. My main goal, as stated last week, is still to be finishing up TWF and our Best Of anthology. No major changes past that quite yet. Still too slammed to think past that and I only have about a month to burn through timewise before classes start up again.
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. Though, no promises on how active we’ll be on either until after this semester.
Restless, by Jason Fischer
“I know how it sounds, but I can honestly say that in nearly four years, I have never seen my wife sleep.” Stephen looked into the eyes of the psychiatrist, trying to gauge his reaction. There was nothing.
“Where’s all of this coming from, Stephen?”
“I’ve been watching her every night now. She just lays in bed with a vacant stare.” He wanted to add, lifelessly, but the words would not come out. “Since then, I can’t sleep or think of anything else.”
“Don’t you think that might be a bit of an overreaction to something that can be proven false?”
“I can’t prove it to be false.” Stephen looked at his hands. He was squeezing them so tightly his fingertips were nearly white. Embarrassed, he hid them slowly by his sides.
“Okay, so let’s start at the beginning. When did you first think you saw her staring like that?”
“It was a little over two weeks ago.” Flexing feeling back into his fingertips, he willed himself to keep talking to the psychiatrist he could ill afford after the birth of his first son. After his wife’s insistence, he agreed to meet with her doctor. Stephen knew he had to get everything out to a man who probably knew more about him than anyone, courtesy of his wife’s weekly sessions.
After a deep sigh, he continued. “I had to relieve myself in the middle of the night. From the bathroom, if you look in the mirror, you can see the bed. In the dim light, I saw Nancy’s eyes were open, staring directly at the wall. The way she looked… was terrifying.” His foot tapped against the hardwood floor. “It was like she was wearing a clear mask. I called to her. She just kept staring at the wall as if she couldn’t hear, but she had to.” Stephen swallowed hard, his throat suddenly dry. “She… frightened me so much. I just hopped back into bed, hiding under the covers like a child.” His eye twitched. “I couldn’t stop thinking that her skin was going to feel like plastic if she brushed against me.” Stephen’s voice raised. “As I laid there, the anxiety got more intense.”
“Stephen, please take a deep breath. Look around. Whatever is going on inside your head right now, try to focus on the here and now. You are safe.”
“Okay. Sorry, I’m not usually like this, really.” Sweat appeared on his forehead. “No matter what I did, I couldn’t get back to sleep. Every few minutes, I glanced at her. I could see her there… staring. I felt like she knew I was looking, but it was like she was in a trance.”
“That’s when it came to me. I’ve never once seen her asleep.” Stephen waved his hand in the psychiatrist’s direction. “Please don’t look at me like that. I know how it sounds, but I swear, I’ve never seen her take as much as a short nap. Not even dozing off for a few minutes in front of a boring television show. I mean, it’s crazy right? We’ve been together this long, and I can’t think of her ever sleeping! I’m not saying she never has, but I know I’ve never seen it.”
Dr. Benetton leaned forward, grabbing his notepad from the table at his side. After scribbling something, he asked, “So all this tension simply because you woke up in the middle of the night and saw her awake? One time?” He gave a forced smile. “The baby is still keeping you guys up during the night, right? How old is he now, four weeks?” He tilted his head to the side as if he was examining Stephen. “I remember those days. Sleep is never sound.” His voice was smooth and calming. “You realize that everything you are describing can be explained as a side effect of sleep deprivation, right? It can make you see things from a distorted perspective.”
Stephen desperately wanted to believe the doctor. It would explain why every time he checked on his son, he too would lie there, never crying, with those infant eyes that stared blankly from inside the crib. Twitching again, he said desperately, “You got to believe me. It’s more than just lack of sleep.”
“Stephen let’s narrow our focus. That night, did you ever just slow down and think that you woke her up and she was waiting for you to turn off the bathroom light to go back to sleep? Or that she thought she heard the baby?”
“Of course! But like I told you, I watched her. She never went back to sleep.”
“Did you ever consider that it was your imagination filling in what you thought you were seeing?”
“Yes! That’s why the next night I went to the bathroom and saw the same look. I watched her for twenty minutes. I swear she knew I was watching her.”
Feeling he was possibly on slippery ground; Stephen kept his voice somewhat calm as he found the courage to say. “I walked up to her and put my finger an inch from her eye.” He looked down at his finger. His breathing picked up and his face felt extremely warm.
“I stood there…and nothing. She never moved.” He chewed on his bottom lip. “It had to be a dream, right?”
“How can it be the same every night?”
“Stephen, recurring dreams are quite common.” He quickly added, “Lack of sleep like that can do funny things to you.”
“How can it feel so real?”
“Because in a sleep-filled haze you are stumbling around, and your mind is getting the better of you.” He scribbled a quick note. “It might be instructive if you don’t think this is a dream to explain what you think is happening with your wife?”
Stephen’s eyes darted to the doctor’s notepad. Squinting, he thought he saw sedation or overnight committal. Processing what he read; the words were on the edge of his tongue. “I don’t really know. I just can’t shake the feeling that something larger than us is going on here.”
Stephen stared at the doctor, looking for some sign he could open up and unburden himself. He desperately wanted to say, I think I’m married to a being that shows its true self when it thinks no one is watching, but he tightened up. He couldn’t shake the overwhelming feeling that if he spoke the words aloud, he would cross a barrier from which he could never return. Terrified, he clung to the doctor’s explanation.
A minute later, the doctor scribbled on a pad and handed him a prescription. “This will help you sleep. Stephen, I’m sorry, but we are out of time, and I simply can’t go over today. I’m going to ask you to please not discuss this with Nancy or anyone else. Go straight home and get a good night’s rest. Even if that means sleeping in another room, I strongly encourage you to do that. I know things are not clear right now, but they will be after some rest.”
“Are you sure that’s all I need? It all… feels so, so real, doc.” The thought of sleeping under sedation near his wife filled him with dread.
“Yes. I’m confident of it.”
After filling the prescription, Stephen returned home. It was silent and dark. Calling out to Nancy, he went to the living room, sat on the couch, and pulled the phone from his pocket. He tapped the app for the baby monitor. His son was silently lying in the crib, his eyes open and unmoving. Quickly, he closed the screen, not wanting to think about the child. Holding the bottle of pills, he knew they weren’t the answer. It was time to speak to his wife directly and get everything out in the open. With trembling fingers, he texted: Where are you? To his right, he heard a ding.
Her phone was on the side table. Looking up the stairway, he called out tentatively, “Nancy?” He picked up her phone. It was unlocked. He scrolled through her texts. The last one was from the doctor. He knows.
Suddenly, there was a loud shuffling from behind him. As he turned, Nancy, standing over him, shoved her hand into his mouth, then down his throat, forcing his head against the cushions. He grabbed at her frantically. She was immovable. Panicked, he gulped, trying to scream, making his eyes water and his chest expand. He pulled at her skin. Her flesh was cold and hard. He could no longer take her lifeless stare. Looking away, the last thing Stephen saw was his son slowly walking down the stairs.
His mother said that rain was like a baptism. Water cleansing the Earth. Noah and the flood.
He would need all that water after what he had done. What he knew he had to do. It was wrong for the right reasons, but still wrong.
He needed a baptism, a big one. Wash away the blood, the guilt, and the sin. This was his final task. He was ready to be truly clean.
He stood in a deep narrow hole, the dirt sides over his head. He looked up at the cloudless sky, and waited for the rain to come.
While they were born in Germany, Frances Castaneda’s family brought them to Texas as soon as possible. They have lived in varying parts of Central Texas all their life. As of now, Frances is a genderless Brown weirdo living in Austin with their husband and two dogs. They are currently in their mid-30s, and working in their favorite job as a data specialist at a lovely nonprofit. They enjoy reading and writing in a variety of genres, but the edgy and scary hold a special place in their heart. They are a longtime horror enthusiast in every form of media, who has been told it borders on mania.
The Book In Me
There’s a book in me, and I want to get it out. A great book, with swordplay and romance and everything.
But it’s not easy to spawn a book.
First I used pencil and paper, then MS Word, even ChatGPT, but that book was stuck fast. Next I tried pulling it out through my mouth, but I choked. Then I tried going in through the other end, but all I got was a mess.
So I’m going to take the direct route. I hope my hands won’t shake too hard, because my spirit is strong and my blade is ready.
Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, M. R. James, Shirley Jackson, Robert Aickman, and a ton of fan fiction, Cassandra Daucus (she/her) writes soft horror and dark romance. She is intrigued by how the human mind responds to the unknown, and also enjoys a good gross-out. Her story “Teething” appears in Ooze: Little Bursts of Body Horror, edited by Ruth Anna Evans, and she has stories forthcoming in Mouthfeel Fiction and Kangas Kahn Publishing’s Halloween anthology. She has also published drabbles in Trembling With Fear and Hungry Shadow Press’s Deadly Drabble Tuesday. Cassandra lives outside of Philadelphia with her family and three cats. She tweets at @CassandraDaucus and her website is residualdreaming.com
Doctors, expert in the most advanced techniques of the medical profession, examined the girl thoroughly, searching for signs of life. Having found none, they declared her officially dead.
She was given the most heartfelt wake and funeral humanly possible. Displayed in a dress carefully chosen by her mother, she was movingly eulogized by her father, and viewed by many who came to pay their last respects.
Then she was buried.
When she miraculously revived, none of her grieving family or other mourners directly above heard her screams, nor did they hear her little fingers desperately clawing at the coffin lid.
Long Island native Adam Ehrenberg has been based in St. Augustine, Florida, since 2004, where he moved to complete his Bachelor’s Degree at Flagler College. He majored in History, with a Minor in Latin American History. He also has a Master’s Degree in Library Studies from Florida State University. While he’s new to writing stories, he loves to read, especially stories with a twist at the end. One of his favorite television series is “Tales of the Unexpected,” which whetted his desire to write speculative fiction stories. He hopes you enjoy his stories, because he is looking forward to writing more.
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Lauren McMenemy wears many hats: Editor-in-Chief at Trembling With Fear for horrortree.com; PR and marketing for the British Fantasy Society; founder of the Society of Ink Slingers; curator of the Writing the Occult virtual events; writers hour host at London Writers Salon. With 25+ years as a professional writer across journalism, marketing, and communications, Lauren also works as a coach and mentor to writers looking to achieve goals, get accountability, or get support with their marketing efforts. She writes gothic and folk horror stories for her own amusement, and is currently working on a novel set in the world of the Victorian occult. You’ll find Lauren haunting south London, where she lives with her Doctor Who-obsessed husband, the ghost of their aged black house rabbit, and the entity that lives in the walls.