Trembling With Fear 9-03-23
Hello, children of the dark. Tell me, dear ones: do you have any stories hiding behind your couch? Maybe an idea that’s been burning a hole in your brain but you’re yet to put pen to paper? Or maybe there’s that thing you were *sure* would be accepted to that anthology but you were ghosted… If you have a story lurking in the shadows, please consider submitting it to us here at TWF. You can do that here, or just email us via [email protected].
You see, I fear I may have scared you all off last week with my diatribe about how we’re really searching for dark speculative fiction and not evil humans in the real world. Please don’t let that put you off trying! One thing I love about this publication is how open we are, as well as how we’re often a jumping-off point for writers who are nervous about submitting elsewhere, or those who are at the beginning of their journeys. But I say this a lot, and I need to add this afterwards: we also welcome stories from those writers who are well-established, and those who are anywhere in between. We have an insatiable need for submissions, so I can’t say this enough!
Here’s a random tangent, but trust me, it makes sense in my head: when I was growing up in Australia in the ‘80s, there was a character in a TV commercial called the Gobbledock. This purple hairy thing only wanted one thing, and that thing was potato chips (crisps for the Brits). It would run around calling out “chippy chippy chippy” as it searched for the gold. And lately, I kinda feel like the editorial Gobbledock, constantly calling out for “stories stories stories”. I’m a broken record and I even annoy myself. But it must be done.
It’s the end of the northern hemisphere summer, and real life is calling. Maybe we should all spend some time this month indulging our dark sides. Get your fingers on those keyboards, and write!
But for now, let’s turn to this week’s TWF menu. Our short story offering this week comes from someone we’ve published in drabble form before, but this is her first short story: welcome to the longer form, S.G. Perahim! This is then followed by three delicious quick bites:
- Ceferino Ruiz is trapped under water,
- DJ Tyrer channels old Hollywood adventures and heads for Egypt, and
- Cassandra Vaillancourt finds things are not well at the mine.
Over to you, Stuart.
It was a time of crazy busy-ness. The cover is moving forward, however, no real updates outside of that. Sorry, more to come!
Stéphane G. Perahim
Stéphane G. Perahim is a middle-aged French lady who lives in Belgium and teaches English for a living. When she’s not surrounded by her young, charming yet snotty students, she writes detective novels and short stories, plays with rather lifelike and creepy dolls, runs half-marathons or works on improving her nascent skills at capoeira. Find her on Instagram @Nefisaperahim.
Stolen, by S.G. Perahim
I got caught. Fair enough.
The security guard snorted when I surrendered the goods. A glittery pen and a bunny-shaped eraser. But I don’t shoplift for a living, I do it for the thrill. No high stakes. Nothing in this dingy place was worth much, anyways, except those scraggly dolls showcased behind the counter.
But one hundred pounds apiece—heresy!
They looked like they’d been left in the sun too long, their leathery heads crackled and dusty, popping out of lacy dresses and colourful dungarees. Dulled glassy eyes following me around.
“Why does this ‘knick-knacks’ shop even have a doorman?” I couldn’t help wondering, while feeling his massive frame escorting me towards the back of the store, like a moving wall closing behind me. We reached the office, and the pressing question of the doorman’s legitimacy went straight onto the back burner of my brain. There was a lot to take in.
A battered desk, encumbered shelves, bizarre junk scattered on the creaky floorboards. More dolls. Undressed. Their blackened leathery bodies looking as if they’d been charred and tortured. Frilly frocks and puerile dungarees didn’t seem such a bad idea to justify the price, after all.
In my hurry to stay away from the doorman, I bumped into an oblong item wrapped on the ground in a burlap sack secured with a lavish amount of sisal rope, laced mummy-style. The stench arising from it made me gag.
Perched on a bar stool accommodated behind the desk, the shop owner – a tiny, crinkled lady – beamed. No teeth in sight. Blackened gums.
“Perfect, I was low on stock.”
I opened my mouth. That much, I remember. I did it with the unequivocal ambition to clear my name and maybe devise an agreement with this old hag that wouldn’t include cops, handcuffs and a holiday in a cell. But she banged her hands on the desk, then clasped them together and a screech erupted from her wrinkled lips.
Then everything went dark.
When I woke up, I was paralysed, terrified, and utterly uncomfortable. I could feel the rough fabric of the burlap bag scratching my exposed skin and the ropes were tightened in all the wrong places. My midriff was soaking wet. I could feel, taste, hear and smell everything. I just couldn’t move or talk, or … breathe. Or just barely.
I think I was still breathing, at least at the beginning, and my heart was beating so slow I could maybe register for a world record. I would have laughed at the thought if it had not been so sad to have it at such a dire moment. I couldn’t cry either. So, I waited.
A dull routine started. Every day, she’d come and undo the cap of my ‘mummy wrap’. She’d crouch next to me and screech. I’d faint and wake up.
I got used to the floor once the last dampness from my bodily functions had dried up. I don’t think I’ll evacuate my bowels ever again. I also got accustomed to the cold, because I quickly reached room temperature. I became OK with my decay, too, and the smell of it, and the manner I could sense and sometimes hear my whole body dry up.
But I never got used to her tiny bony fingers travelling on my face and her foul mouth reaching my ear. I never got comfortable with the way her unfathomable wail was draining the life and soul out of me, leaving me every time a bit closer to the finish line, but never quite there. Never quite there…
Even still, I rapidly started to anticipate her arrival. It was a relief to have some living company, even for a minute. All I could hear most hours were a random twitch or a faint sigh coming from a neighbouring mummy wrap. That’s how I learned that if I tried hard enough, I could do things with my desiccating body. I quickly stopped trying to scream or move; there might be other ways out. Or so I hoped.
Occasionally, I’d receive a treat: the odd spider visiting my hair. The highlight of my day! Did I even attempt to lure, tame and educate one through the sole power of my thoughts? Out of sheer boredom? Absolutely. More than once, actually. To no avail.
One day, the doorman came and removed the links from my now oversized mummy wrap. He sewed my lips with a fishing line. He muttered something about getting me a commercial smile, while his huge hand—almost double the size of my now-shrunk head—was conducting its steady needlework. He’s not talkative. I’ll never be again.
I was then garbed into an orange dungaree with a rainbow unicorn lovingly hand stitched on the chest. I wondered if it was the doorman’s craftsmanship. Full of mysteries, this man… It was ridiculous but it felt like an upgrade after the gruff sisal bag.
The doorman sat me up on the desk. My hips creaked and the pain shot through what was left of my nerves like a lightning bolt. And suddenly I could see my body. That’s when I noticed how tiny I had become. I was not a lanky mummy, like the one you can see in museums. My bones had shrunk too. How odd. You don’t pay attention to that kind of detail when you spend most of your day trying to give yourself a heart attack so you can finally die. At that point, I would have loved being able to close my eyes, but I couldn’t, and was forced to stare at my revolting blackened feet popping out of a bright orange garment.
That’s when she entered the room.
I hadn’t paid heed to it before, either, but she looked much better now. Her smirk had teeth and her skin didn’t fold in on itself as it used to. She seemed… lively. I didn’t feel too pleased about that.
Her prickly fingers seized me for what I hoped was the last time. This was the end. Finally. She was going to suck the soul out of me once and for all and put my dried and dead body for sale behind the counter. RIP me!
And from my counter vantage point, I just saw a kid nick a notebook.
I’m glaring at him from the doll shelf. It’s a forlorn warning.
I stare down at my body, bloated and rotting in the murky waters of aquatic hell.
Above, people walk by, close enough to hear. If only I could yell to them.
I can only watch as the hours turn to days, the days to years.
Slowly, my flesh erodes from my bones, leaving nothing behind but a ghostly skeleton with a half-dollar-sized hole in its skull.
If only someone would look for me, realize I’m missing, I could move on. They won’t. My only company is my haunted thoughts and the hammer they wielded rusting away beside 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.
Through catacombs deep beneath burning desert sands they move until they reach Amunset’s forbidden tomb.
Careful steps and diligent observation see them avoid every trap left by the cursed pharaoh millennia before; now they stand before his gilded sarcophagus. The replica of his face, lined with lapis lazuli, watches with a frozen sardonic smile as they pick their way between his treasures.
One member of the band of thieves pauses beside a recess in which hangs a single golden cord. Whether driven by greed or curiosity, he reaches out and tugs.
Cursed by the simplest trap of all.
DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Chilling Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree), All The Petty Myths (18th Wall), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), What Dwells Below (Sirens Call), The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories (Hellbound Books), and EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness (Otter Libris), and issues of Sirens Call, Occult Detective Magazine, parABnormal, Tales from the Magician’s Skull, and Weirdbook, and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor). You can follow their work on Facebook, on their blog or on the Atlantean Publishing website.
The prospectors staked claim to the old Wolf’s Hallows pit.
Mining went smoothly at first, but the miners became unnerved by the constant howling of the wolves. They sounded closer by the day.
It wasn’t long before the events took place. Equipment got destroyed. Men vanished after mysterious blood-curdling screams tore through camp. A security team was quickly engaged to guard all.
But the howlings got closer, and the attacks started. Large humanoid wolf-like creatures stalked camp. The security’s arsenal was no match against these creatures as they laid waste to what lay before them.
No survivors were ever found.
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 Facebookand Twitter.
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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.