Trembling With Fear 8-6-23
Hello, children of the dark. It’s time. Yes, it’s time for your short stories to come back to us. I know it’s been frustrating having submissions closed for SO DAMN LONG, but we were a victim of our own success, and you’re all just too goshdarn talented.
In celebration at the window reopening, I’m keeping it short and sweet this week to remind you of what we’re looking for, and to give a recap on our submission guidelines. All of this – including the form to submit – is over on this page.
- Up to 1500 words – any longer and we won’t read it.
- Make the most of the word count, please; the sweet spot is at least 800 words for our publication.
- It needs to be a complete story in itself; no extracts from longer works please. We can tell (most of the time). “A complete story” means it has a coherent and strong beginning, middle, and end, and a narrative that is well-paced. Descriptive prose is great for scene-setting, but there also needs to be some action and character development with it.
- We might be called “Horror Tree”, but we’re not just looking for horror. In fact, we want your best dark speculative fiction – emphasis on the speculative. Think fairy tales, paranormal entities, scary stuff in space, fantastical beasts, grimdark worlds. Get creative!
- We’re ready to read them NOW.
- Exactly 100 words – no more, no less.
- Also needs to be a complete story in and of itself, with a strong resolution (not just tapering off…)
- We have an insatiable appetite for these, and are always looking for more! (Otherwise we’ll have to start publishing pieces from Stuart and I, and we’ll look super self-indulgent – and you don’t want that, right?)
The intense but important warning
- No erotica, pornography, or graphic sex
- No rape (implied or explicit)
- No homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, misandry, ableism, or racism
- No killing or abuse of kids or pets – don’t cause great harm small sentient things!
- No reprints
- No fanfiction or stories in someone else’s established world – there are copyright issues
Be inspired/spurred on by this week’s efforts!
But for now, let’s turn to the reason you’re here: it’s time for this week’s offerings on the TWF menu. For this week’s short story, Paul Lonardo tells the sad tales of a man who collects haunted houses. This is followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Cassandra Vaillancourt enters the darkness of the cave,
- Tom Ray receives a dreaded postcard, and
- Alan Moskowitz goes off for a date night.
Over to you, Stuart.
We’re still working through our readings for the physical release and best of anthology! Things are going well, more soon!
The Man Who Collected Haunted Houses, by Paul Lonardo
In a remote part of western Pennsylvania, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, is where the most haunted house in the world exists. It has more than a thousand rooms and there is a ghost in every one of them.
The name of the man who built this monstrous and otherworldly domicile is no longer known, but he was a highly regarded home builder. He had constructed the most unusual and unique homes all around the world, including the palace of an Emirati prince that featured a room finished entirely with amethyst, as well as a remarkable house fabricated around a massive boulder for a Japanese tech executive, and a Wyoming archeologist’s dream home that was supported with the fossilized bones of dinosaurs.
The man had an adoring wife who he loved more than anything. They had no children, but they had each other, and that was all that either one of them needed. Then came a winter morning that changed everything.
The man had been away for several months building a summer cottage for an English nobleman in Cornwall, and in anticipation of the arrival of her husband later that day, his wife got up early to prepare his favorite meal, which consisted of lamb chops and mashed potatoes with fresh corn and custard for dessert. She was humming a jaunty tune as she descended the staircase. There were several burnt out bulbs on the chandelier that the man had been meaning to replace, leaving the stairs insufficiently lit. In the pre-dawn darkness, deep shadow distorted her perception, and she misjudged the width of the first tread. She realized her mistake immediately, the possible consequences of which were all unfavorable.
“I’m sorry, my love,” she whispered as she stumbled and fell headlong down the remaining thirteen steps.
When the man arrived home that night, he found his wife’s broken, lifeless body at the bottom of the stairs. Her flowing, pink nightgown was draped evenly over her, like a shroud. He touched her face. Her skin was pale and cold. With tears rolling down his cheeks, her kissed her on the mouth. Her frosty lips temporarily stuck to the warmth of his own, seeming to kiss him back.
The man was so grief-struck, he was inconsolable. He blamed himself for the accident, and because of the profound anguish the man felt for causing her tragic death, her spirit became trapped inside the house, where she was doomed to lurk forever. At night, the man could hear her tormented moans echoing from one end of the house to the other. This persisted for months, until one day the man couldn’t bear his wife’s suffering any further and he was determined to do something to try to alleviate her terminal agony.
He thought about it long and hard, and then it occurred to him. In life, his wife was a friendly and gregarious person. There was nothing she enjoyed more than the company of others, conversing, and interacting with strangers and friends alike.
He knew what he needed to do, and a smile came to his face for the first time since the horrible accident. If his wife were able to share eternity with others like her, she wouldn’t be lonely, and this would alleviate her endless pain. As a builder of one-of-a-kind homes, this would be the most challenging and important construction project he had ever undertaken.
With an overriding sense of purpose and undeterred resolve, the man set out to expand the house to accommodate a thousand spirits. He sought the world’s most renowned paranormal investigators who helped him purchase residences from all around the country that were known to be occupied by spirits. He was surprised by the abundance of haunted houses in existence, and although many of them involved violent and sad histories that predicated hauntings by cursed spirits, the man chose only those which were haunted by amenable ghosts. That way his wife’s spirit could interact with gentle souls, like her own, who were suffering a similar torment.
The man began with the purchase of an Alaskan orphanage that had been damaged in the Great 1964 Earthquake. The man’s wife loved children, and he knew she’d have lots of fun with them. The man often heard the spirits of the children who died there roaming the halls and giggling as they played. He then obtained an old adobe home in Arizona where, in the late 1800s, more than twenty people were killed. His wife would enjoy all that company.
The man bought hundreds of dwellings and portions of hundreds more that were occupied by spirits. The difficult part was transporting them from their original locations and then merging them together, creating a massive prefab ghost house. The man was very wealthy, but he spent every last cent of his fortune on this construction.
His biggest concern was that some of the ghosts trapped inside might escape before arriving at their final destination. He needn’t have worried, because the spirits remained confined between the walls where they had died, as attested by many spooked carpenters who built this abode for the dead.
It slowly came together, one piece at a time, like a giant puzzle. It took all the man’s remaining years to complete, and by the time it was done, he was too tired and broke to add any more rooms to the house. He paused to looked proudly at what he had accomplished. He knew he had succeeded over the years his wife’s tormented wailing slowly diminished, until finally he could hear them no more. It was worth every last dollar and minute of his life.
As tears of joy welled up in his eyes for giving his wife relief from her eternal suffering, he laid down on the bed that he once shared with her, closed his eyes, and died with a peaceful smile on his face.
The following day, the man’s body was found by a carpenter who swore he heard the sorrowful moans of the man, whose tragic life condemned his spirit to the same house where his wife’s spirit resides with thousands of other disembodied souls. However, because of the extensive number of rooms and endless maze of corridors, the man’s spirit is unable to find his beloved wife. Today, a visitor who listens carefully will hear the man’s plaintive cries of loneliness and sorrow as he wanders through the enormous house looking for her.
Michael is at the foot of the cave. It’s not listed on any maps; he loves to think he’s the first to explore it. He turns on his headlamp, grabs his backpack with gear ready, and wanders in.
But he’s disappointed when he discovers signs he’s not the only visitor.
As he probes deeper, he can’t help but feel he’s being observed. And was that whispering?
“Hello?” he calls out. He stumbles and falls; he looks down to see he’s tripped on a human skull.
“Hello dinner!” comes the reply. Sets of hands grab him, pulling him into the darkness.
Hello. My name is Cassandra Vaillancourt. I am a Trans Woman who is making a transition from artist to writer. I work as a humble retail worker. I’m new to The Horror Tree with my first short story “The War Wreck” and the drabble, “Black Gold“. This is my first unholy trinity. My goal is to become more accomplished in the horror genre with hopefully a couple of books published in the future. I am on Facebook and Twitter.
A Plea From Beyond The Threshold
He was gazing at the box on top of their mantelpiece—the one that contained her cremated remains—when he was woken from his reverie by the mail’s arrival.
Retrieving the postcard from the doormat, he scanned the glossy front of it. A mismatched patchwork of cityscapes, meadows, and beach fronts dotted under the calligraphed title Bardo-sub-Edge.
Flipping it over, his bemusement quickly turned to panic. The note said:
I don’t like it here anymore. I want to come home.
The moment the postcard touched the floor was the same moment he heard a faint knocking from inside the box.
I am an aspiring writer that has taken a change from doing a law degree and have moved on to a creative writing degree in my final year with the Open University in the UK. I work full time as a driving instructor and enjoy writing for pleasure in my spare time.
The Online Date Ripper had killed again. Single men and women are advised to avoid internet dating services. The fear of death, however, isn’t enough to stop those desperate for love.
After many frustrating, infuriating encounters, Alex picked Susan on Heart Throbs. It was love at first date.
Looking forward to a life of joy, happy not to have to butcher any more unacceptable candidates, he told Susan she was his “the one.”
She let him know that he wasn’t hers with a knife thrust to his heart. Discouraged but still determined, she continues her own quest for true love.
Recently un-retired from screen and TV writing, now living in Denver, Alan also creates short genre fiction for fun and sanity.
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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.