Trembling With Fear 8-20-23
Hello, children of the dark. It’s great to see short story submissions back in our inbox—yes, in case you missed the news, we’ve re-opened to shorts!—but the team’s noticed a developing trend we’d like to nip in the bud, right here and right now.
It concerns the type of “darkness” we’re looking for in our stories. Despite the name of the site, we at Horror Tree and Trembling With Fear don’t just concern ourselves with horror; we are fans of anything darkly speculative. When we say “dark”, we mean it’s not light and fluffy, nor full of hope and optimism. That could mean monsters or it could mean fairytales or it could be dystopia or it could be anything, really.
But it’s the next bit that I really want to focus on: the “speculative” bit. Because this is where the trend is developing.
Speculative stories, says Masterclass, have “elements that are based on conjecture and do not exist in the real world”. They’re sometimes called “what-if” stories. They “change the laws of what’s real or possible as we know them in our current society, and then speculate on the outcome.”
Now, because our site has “horror” in its name, we get a lot of horror stories. That’s understandable. But the bulk of those stories lately have been based in the real world, dealing with real horrors. Serial killers are not speculative; they are very, scarily real. So are plain-old abusers, murderers, tormentors. Humans are evil, for sure. And that’s not particularly interesting to us at TWF.
If you take that tormentor and make it a supernatural being, that’s something we like. It doesn’t have to be a high fantasy, dark version of the Hobbit. It just has to be something a little bit unreal. A haunting. A creature. A nightmare. Use the darkest recesses of your imagination.
With that in mind, we’re going to get strict on real-world horror subs now we’ve reopened. If you’re going to try us with a real-world horror tale, it better be bloody spectacular. That’s all I’m saying. We get that the world is shit; get catharsis by imagining something new!
Whatever your poison, you can find the guidelines and details on how to submit over here.
But for now, it’s time for this week’s offerings on the TWF menu. Len Klapdor’s short story shows how dangerous it is to follow strangers. (And Len has been super patient as we worked through our big backlog of stories from last year – this is the last of the oldies; it’s all shiny new subs from here!) This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Cassandra Daucus channels Austen,
- Vincent West faces omens, and
- Catherine Berry seeks silent solace.
Over to you, Stuart.
We’re done with formatting and everything else for physical releases! Just waiting on cover edits and this year’s Trembling With Fear is finally going to be good to go. So excited for this to FINALLY be getting out into the wild. Also, we’re working toward finishing the first round of Shadowed Realms. Hopefully, the first round will be done by this coming weekend, though time will tell.
Len Klapdor is an autistic, queer writer from the sprawling Ruhr region of Germany. She writes speculative fiction from solarpunk to horror and is generally drawn to those questions that have no easy answers. Her short stories are published in Etherea Magazine and Flourish Fiction, her novel-length work is represented by Lauren Bieker at FinePrint Literary Agency. Find her on social media @len_klapdor, or at asperwitch.neocities.org.
Backlash, by Len Klapdor
The blow came unexpected. He awoke from the sound of his black denim pants being dragged across the floor. Not the sensation, though. His body had lost sensation. He had lost control over his body. Panic erupted inside him. This hunt didn’t go as planned. It started ideally. Maybe that ought to have made him suspicious.
She was the perfect victim. He found her in the inner city, during the first heat wave of the summer, coming from an autistic women’s self-help group meeting. She caught his eye because she wore trousers and a long-sleeved shirt even though it was hot outside. He often lurked around the building of the Joint Welfare Association since he moved to this city because it hosted several of those groups. Not just autistic women, but borderliners, trauma survivors, drug addicts. He knew he could find his best prey here. He pretended to be one of the trauma survivors and approached her in the hall at a health brochure display – just a short, polite conversation. She could barely look up at him, talked in a voice brimming with insecurity, and laughed nervously even though he hadn’t made a joke. She was perfect. An anxiety-ridden woman whose social skills couldn’t handle deeper relationships. Nobody would miss her, and her life was probably miserable anyway.
Following her to her home address was easy as pie. He stalked her for a few weeks to get to know all her routines. She left the house every morning for about two to four hours, sometimes to attend the self-help group, or for grocery shopping, often followed by a long walk through the forest near her house. She always took her camera and binoculars with her on those walks, and from what he could see, she was a bird watcher. The walls in the living room were plastered with bird photos, and he started to wonder how many of those she took herself. She was always back by afternoon, then she cleaned the house (every day) and did some yoga in her bedroom. Never more than twenty minutes, though. Not enough to build up significant muscle tissue, barely enough to not feel lazy, he figured. Afterwards, she would disappear into the cellar for one or two hours. This puzzled him at first, until he noticed that she always took her camera with her and realized that she must’ve had her own darkroom down there to develop her photos.
She would shower in the early evening, and he was pretty sure he heard her masturbate once or twice. This waste of sexual energy enraged him, maybe even more than a lover would have. But he would show her.
In the evenings, she ate a microwave-dinner in front of the TV watching “The Big Bang Theory”. While spying on her through a living-room window of her one-storied house, he witnessed how she spoke the actors’ lines between bites. After dinner, she would start working on her laptop while Netflix endlessly re-ran the show for her. He hadn’t found out what her job was, but judging from her lifestyle, it was remote, earned her enough to be comfortable, but not enough for a security system. She would fall asleep in front of the TV, then wake up around 2am and slouch over into the bedroom. She never had guests, and never talked to anyone on the phone. She might communicate with people in chat apps she used on her laptop, but without hacking her network, he had no way of knowing. He didn’t feel the effort was necessary, though. If her friends were all online, chances were they didn’t live in the vicinity.
He decided to attack after she’d fallen asleep again. It would be easy to sneak up to her and give her a tranquilizer injection that would make her defenseless. Excitement ran up and down his body. She would be his, all night.
The house was dark and silent when he cracked the back door’s lock and entered. Carefully stepping on the linoleum floors of her spotless kitchen, he made his way through the hall towards the low breathing sound that came from the bedroom, not really a snore, more an audible wheeze. He’d entered the room and just seen the open window when the blow came, and everything went black.
The dragging stopped in the hallway, and he heard her fumbling with keys. She must’ve given him the injection meant for her. He couldn’t move enough to see what she was doing.
She threw him down a dark flight of stairs next. He heard something crack and was sure that he broke a bone, but the tranquilizer didn’t let him feel pain. He was forced to lie on the ground, his extremities sprawling to all sides, facing the stairs. Each breath came harder. The cellar door sounded heavy when it fell shut. Fluorescent lamps twitched to live with a low bi-bi-bim sound.
His prey stopped at the end of the stairs and stared at him, putting both arms up against the edge of the ceiling. She wore a tank top and tight leggings he’d never seen her wear before, and she was more muscular than he had expected. Her arms were puffy with muscles, more than his own, only he didn’t see it when they met in person. No. She hid her outline behind wide clothes. He’d thought she was just insecure about her body, like every woman. Her eyes were devoid of emotion as she gazed down on him. Her face was so still. There was nothing of the insecurity he’d sensed in her before.
She pushed away from the ceiling in a sudden move, stepped down and walked around him. He strained to follow her with his eyes…and gasped. Almost the entire side of the wall was plastered with photos of him. Photos of him lurking around the Welfare Association’s building. Photos of him leaving his home, taken last winter. He knew because he was wearing the coat he bought himself for Christmas last year, when he had just moved here. Photos of him hiding near the bus station where she waited for the bus every morning. How had she taken these without him noticing?
But there was more. He saw a long row of portraits of men, unknown to him, and many of them were crossed out in red. There was a map, not just of the USA, but of all of the Americas. Pins in different colors marked certain places, some were connected by thin woollen strings. Dozens of pins. His mistake started to dawn on him.
The sound of a 1000° Celsius-hot flame roaring to life made him look at her again. Her eyes were focused on something he couldn’t see, but then she turned around, and he recognized the hand-sized cutting torch she was holding. He knew he had only one chance.
“You’re just like me!” he gasped under strain, hoping something about the sameness between them would make her have mercy on him. She looked almost surprised at his words, but after a second, her features placated themselves into the same cold stillness.
She stepped nearer to regard him closely for a second, then produced sunglasses from a pocket and put them on. “No.” Her voice was unagitated. “I’m not a rapist.” She went to one knee next to him, and he watched helplessly as she grabbed his numb arm and spread it in position.
“…how ardently I admire and love you.”
The young man waited, apprehensive, in the silence that followed. Her temperament could be… unpredictable.
The black mass writhed on the floor of the gazebo, glimmering in the moonlight in the manner unique to her. Her hum, usually a soothing background noise, crescendoed as she extended one of her appendages towards his temple. He readied himself for her response.
In the last moments before he fell into darkness, her words burned through his brain, and broke his heart.
“…the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”
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 Dark Blooms, 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. Her website is residualdreaming.com, and social media can be found via linktr.ee/residualdreaming
Today, the news printed an obituary with my name.
It caught my eye as my father read with breakfast, instinct drawing me to familiar letters printed in fresh ink.
“Dad?” I dared to touch the page. “Did you see this?”
“Huh,” he said, unconcerned. “Small world.”
Small world; even smaller town–too small for me to never notice this before.
“Were we related?”
“Doubtful.” He scoffed like I was being ridiculous.
My eyes wouldn’t leave the page. There wasn’t much written. It was just a name–my name–and one simple phrase, setting off a ticking clock.
If only you had more time.
Vincent West is an emerging trans author with a keen interest in fantasy, horror, and romance. A writer since childhood, Vincent lives in Ontario, Canada, with his partner and pets. He can be found on Twitter as @VWestWrites.
She couldn’t escape. It was a wall of sound always following; relentlessly running over her. The man wouldn’t. Stop. Talking! Even in the bathroom his words slithered under the door, intruding on her. Sleep was her only, limited, reprieve; his endless monologue picking up when she woke. It was exhausting.
As she cooked dinner he complained about being unappreciated. Ignored. Mistreated. The skillet whistled through the air, catching his head with a meaty thock! He sprawled across the table, moaning, as it came down again with a splash of red. Dropping it, she poured a drink, basking in the silence
Catherine Berry loves whimsy, potatoes, and adventures with her dogs. Her work has been published in the Trembling With Fear anthologies, The Trench Coat Chronicles, & The Little Book of Cursed Dolls. More of her work can be found at caterinaberyl.blogspot.com.
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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.