Trembling With Fear 7-2-23
Hello, children of the dark. July already, huh? And it feels simultaneously like the year has whizzed by and also that it’s crawling along. So much for all those grand plans for 2023! I better get moving!
It also feels like an age since we closed to short stories, because it really has been. After an absolute deluge of great submissions last summer, we took the rare decision to temporarily close our doors for anything other than drabbles. It wasn’t easy, but it had to be done – otherwise writers would be waiting literal years for their pieces to be published, and that’s not fair on anyone.
We had hoped the submissions window would reopen in early 2023, but we kept pushing it back. Some of you have tried your luck and subbed shorts anyway, and we’ve had to decline with a vague “we’ll reopen at some point, so please resubmit then”. As we sit here this week, we’re still scheduled through beyond the end of this summer – another 10 weeks worth of stories still waiting for publication. Yes, I wasn’t kidding when I said ‘onslaught’; we were getting around 30-40 a week at one point last summer!
That said, we’ll need to reopen at some point, and it’s only fair we give plenty of notice. With that in mind, I will say we’re aiming to re-open to short story subs from the beginning of August. So, get your short stories ready for us! We love anything that’s darkly speculative – not just all-out blood-and-guts horror, remember; try us with your dark space operas and dystopias and all the speculative sub-genres – as long as it’s no longer than 1500 words long. Yes, it’s really a flash fiction market. Make sure you send it in via our submission form, and that you upload it in a Word document, not a PDF or a screenshot please. We accept simultaneous submissions, but do let us know if your subbed piece is accepted elsewhere so we can withdraw it from contention.
But for now, let’s get to the reason you’re all here. It’s time for this week’s offerings on the TWF menu. Our short this week has Dylan James in the North-West Territories during elk season, which is rarely a good idea. This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Victoria Huntley reflects on some marital difficulties,
- Jakob Wild runs from *something*, and
- Sean MacKendrick doesn’t resist at all.
Over to you, Stuart.
Another small hiccup with hosting this last week lead us to get an upgrade that has made the site lightning-fast on the backend, Hopefully, that speed has increased to your reading experience as well! Still reading through stories and working on this year’s TWF, hopefully, news soon. I’ll be honest, I won’t expect a big update next week with it being the 4th and whatnot.
Dylan James is an emerging writer and Ohio University alumnus based out of Columbus, Ohio. He enjoys reading, hiking, and throwing tennis balls to his dog, Bo. Find him on Instagram @dylanthomasjames.
Leather, by Dylan James
Jonesy’s teeth were a kind shade of yellow, but everywhere else the man was a bastard. His beard whizzed halfway down his blood-stained robe. He skinned animals like lightning. His black eyes glowed with hostility—even as he returned his quota of fur pelts back to the outpost. The North-West Territories weren’t a kind place to be for a man, but Jonesy had never been a kind man to begin with. Like the bitter snow he endured, Jonesy was unforgiving.
And this was needed.
In the thick of elk season, Jonesy was promptly sent from the outpost alongside a fresh group of four. Sergeant Hives, off the merit of his Civil War service alone, was chosen to lead this group. With his signature smirk and dashing Union uniform, Hives had seen it all. And he reckoned that leading the group would be nothing more than cakework.
As the group began prowling for elk out in the snowy abyss, however, it immediately became clear to them that they were in for more than they’d bargained for. The elk were hiding. The snow was ceaseless. The men were shivering, pissed. And their rations were beginning to diminish amidst no game.
“Fuckin’ cursed…” Jonesy would mumble under his visible breath.
In desperate need of a morale boost, the group reveled when Sergeant Hives brought out the rum one night. The men indulged at once, drinking and singing and dancing around the campfire.
“We’ll find something boys!” shouted Elliot, the group’s rambling wisecracker and trap expert. “If we’re out here long enough, we’ll get them elk! We’ll get them alright!”
The Thomas brothers both laughed at that. They were the youngest of the group and rightfully the most inexperienced. John took guarded swigs of the rum while his older brother Ambrose drank like a sailor.
“Our time out here certainly won’t be a lally-cooler.” Ambrose slurred his words, rum splashing out of the bottle as he held it and pointed about madly. “You see, Jonesy is just too scary. He’s scaring all of the elk away himself!”
Everybody laughed at that, including Jonesy. The group was taken aback to see Jonesy lightening up a bit, and soon Jonesy lightened up even more when he took a piss away from the festivities. Unbeknownst to him as he gazed up at the trembling stars, the hill he was pissing on was an Iroquois burial mound. And once finished, Jonesy sauntered away like the land he’d pissed on wasn’t sacred at all.
The ground screeched.
Over the next few days, the other men grew concerned about Jonesy. Jonesy started speaking to people who weren’t there, combative with nothing but the cold, cruel air. Sergeant Hives awoke one night to find Jonesy making “twig figures”, figures that Jonesy was propping up in the snowy trees above the group as they slept. Hives confronted Jonesy about his recent interest in twig crafting, but Jonesy said absolutely nothing about it. He only looked at Hives with red eyes—red eyes that struck the fear of God into a man who’d survived Antietam.
There was no game, no fur. No money, no looking forward to a victorious trek back to the outpost. There was actually no trek at all.
The group never made it back.
* * *
When Jonesy came to, he found himself lying face-first in the snow on the verge of suffocating to death. He started coughing up the snow he’d inhaled while unconscious, but that did not get rid of the migraine tunnelling through his head—not at all. He sat up further, his back cracking like a gunshot, and as he scanned his surroundings, it all hit Jonesy at once.
He had no idea where he was.
Jonesy stood up and looked every which way, but nothing looked familiar. All he could see were trees echoing for miles in every direction. Jonesy didn’t know how he’d found himself out in the thick of the forest, and he didn’t know where his group was either. Elliot, the Thomas brothers, Hives—they were nowhere in sight.
Jonesy wiped the snow out of his eyes, noticing the blood on his hands as he did so. He wondered if he had hunted and killed an animal—a really big one—and perhaps there had been some kind of struggle during it all that had knocked him unconscious. Jonesy scanned the land around him for any sign of a struggle but found none. And he realized that he didn’t even have his rifle on him either.
Trudging through the snow, Jonesy’s stomach ached with hunger. He felt like death, lost in some infinite realm of trees and snow. The more he walked, the more his anxiety amounted in unison with the wind. He stuffed his hands down into the pockets of his robe and clenched his jaw, bracing himself against the cold, praying for the first time in a long time. He wondered if he’d straggled out too far. He wondered if he’d made the greatest mistake of his life.
He was lost, and death wasn’t too far away.
And then he spotted it. Out in the distance, swinging back and forth from a craggy tree branch, a rope. A rope that he recognized as being his own—the one he always kept in his hunting bag. He recognized the body hanging by the neck from it too.
It was Sergeant Hives.
Hives’s neck was snapped, his head limply dangling down to his shoulder, and the lower half of his body was entirely gone. From the waist down, all Jonesy could see were meaty intestines leaking out of Hives. An animal had devoured his lower half as he hanged. Jonesy inspected the animal tracks stamped into the bloody snow below Hives—a grizzly bear’s.
Not too far away, Jonesy discovered the Thomas brothers. They were both frozen solid in the river with looks of horror that survived on their lifeless faces. Jonesy started puking, but there was nothing in his stomach to expel.
Desperately searching for camp to retrieve his things, Jonesy stumbled upon Elliot soon enough. Elliot was pierced to a stake with both of his arms missing. His eyes had been gouged out too. All that remained were black holes of dried crimson no longer leaking.
Jonesy collapsed to his knees, tired and sick and disoriented horrendously. He reckoned that he was at least 80 miles away from the outpost—the closest form of civilization. It didn’t matter though. Without rations or his hunting arsenal, he wouldn’t last another day.
As he sat there in the snow, thoughts bursting through his mind, Jonesy knew that he’d been out of it for quite some time. Soon, buried memories began to emerge back to the forefront of his mind, traces of what had just exactly happened out there. The memories burned. Futilely, as the wind howled with a growing, cool rage, Jonesy closed his eyes.
What have I done…
“Your father is in heaven,” I tell my crying children.
“Your father loved you,” I say, as he is lowered into the ground.
But he did not love me. He could only bring himself to be pleasant when I cooked and washed up and hoovered the carpet like a good wife.
When I worked and made money, he curled his lip.
When I became misshapen from bearing his children, he did not hide his disgust.
After the funeral I will hoover the carpet where he lay and think about how I stepped over his gasping face to make the tea.
Victoria Huntley works as a university teacher, and has a PhD in History and an MA in Creative Writing. She is currently turning historical research into different kinds of writing, including ghost stories.
The Parking Garage
Something watches me beyond that pickup truck. My neck prickles, eyes straining to see. The underground darkness of the parking garage holds it close. Meth-head? Opportunist? The eyes are full of promising hunger. Predator and prey.
A deep husk of air wheezes into failing lungs. I run. It follows, twisted claws skittering.
I burst into open space, overhead lights blinking awake. My body clammy from the moist underground. A screeching thousand pounds of metal hit. My head cracks pavement. The car passes over me, squeezing and popping. My eyes lock between the two cars I’d come through. It stares back.
Jakob Wild grew up in the forests of Pennsylvania, within those cloudy memories he often finds inspiration to give lost stories light. He reads sci-fi, fantasy and horror, which often reflects in his own writings. Jakob is currently working on several other writing projects. Find out more here, visit his website, or follow him on Twitter or Instagram.
The piercing fangs sting, and burn, but only for a moment before the numbness takes over. It’s almost pleasurable. I stop struggling. I don’t want to struggle. Not much point, anyway. She’s wrapped me so tightly in those webs of hers, I can’t move an inch.
Now she’s cutting away the sticky silken ropes restraining me. I still can’t find reason to resist, though. She severs my arm and all I can do in my stupefied state is laugh.
My eyes grow heavy and tired. It feels like drifting off to sleep. I wonder if I’ll dream, in the end.
Sean MacKendrick splits his time between Colorado and Texas. When not writing he works as a data engineer.
- About the Author
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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.