Trembling With Fear 9-10-23

Hello, children of the dark. Isn’t it mad that an entire summer can go by with not much happening, and then a mere two week period brings alllll the excitement? Summer has finally arrived in the UK, a week after the season’s official end. (I know it’s over – I saw evidence of the local strawjack harvest parade last weekend!) As this week’s edition goes live, my other half is up in the north of England doing a half-marathon for his sins. As next week’s edition goes live, I’ll be finishing up at the British Fantasy Society’s FantasyCon (do make sure you let me know if you’ll be there too so I can say hi!). And then… well, life calms down again. Hopefully the weather will be cooler. It’ll almost be Halloween month. The stores will be full of spooky-themed clothes I can buy to wear year-round (anyone else do that?). And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get time to write. Think it’ll happen? Yeah, me neither.

I hope you’re getting plenty of time to write. And if you’re looking for something to flex those creative muscles, do consider popping out a drabble or two, please. Our cupboards are looking a bit bare, and we’d hate to have to skip a week of TWF! (It’d either be that or a stack of my own, and that’s just way too self-indulgent for anyone.)

But for now, let’s turn to this week’s TWF menu. We get out the ouija board for this week’s short story from a writer who’s new to these pages. (Hello, Sue du Feu!) This is then followed by three delicious quick bites:

  • Christina Nordlander can’t find a way out,
  • John K Peck haunts with a twist, and 
  • Pauline Barmby finishes her probationary period.

Over to you, Stuart.

(PS sorry for all the bracketed asides this week! Not sure what’s got into me.)

Lauren McMenemy

Editor, Trembling With Fear

Trembling With Fear: Year 6 update: We’re down to just the cover art, specs are in, I’m hoping by the time you read this I have a copy or final copy in my hands and a proof copy of the anthology ordered as I’m writing this in advance, fingers crossed!

Shadowed Realms update: Next year, we clearly need to budget more reading time to be built in. (Also, I won’t be in an MBA program so I’ll be reading quicker.) Progress is being made, slowly but surely.

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.

If you’d like to extend your support to the site, we’d be thrilled to welcome your contributions through Ko-Fi or Patreon. Your generosity keeps us fueled and fired up to bring you the very best.

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

Sue du Feu

When not managing a gite deep in the French countryside, Sue du Feu is a member of the London Writers Salon, and writes short stories, flash fiction, plays, TV pilots, film scripts, memoir and a monthly newsletter that can be found at A short film, Togo, can be viewed at

The Parlour Game, by Sue du Feu

We’d been to the pub, course we had, and it was a good night. When we got home David opened some French wine that impressed Sam and Dolly and I went back onto G &Ts. They were staying the night, so it didn’t matter.

I don’t know who suggested it, but the Ouija board was a fad then. It amused us when we’d had a drink. We set it up, tore up bits of paper, and wrote the letters and numbers out, while a fresh round of drinks was placed on the table and we started. We tended to ask closed questions that only require ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to start with. The first spirit went so fast that Dolly’s finger came off the glass and she ended up with a fit of the giggles which led to hiccups and Sam telling her if she wasn’t going to play properly she’d have to sit it out. Just like a bloody teacher!

We started again. It seemed to take an age until the glass picked up speed. We established that she was a female, dead for a long time. Dolly asked her what her name was but she said we wouldn’t understand it, so we could name her. Dolly called her ‘Patricia’. She seemed to like that. 

I was knackered and wanted to go to bed so I suggested stopping it there, but the others refused. We all had our fingers on the glass and suddenly it moved jerkily and quickly towards letters. ’S-h-e-m-u-s-t-b-e-h-e-r-e’ it spelled. 

“Who?” asked David. 

The glass moved towards me, scattering the K,L and M onto the floor. I stared at it for a second and then looked around, 

‘Stop messing around. Who did that?” I took my finger off the glass as though it had suddenly grown fangs. They all protested innocence and looked just as confused as I did. 

“What shall we do,” whispered Dolly, as though she thought ‘Patricia’ deaf. 

Feeling stupid talking to a glass, I said 

“I’m really sorry Patricia, I’m tired. Could we talk to you another night?” 

It began to move slowly but deliberately to ‘no’ and then continued to the letters. I was uneasy. Sam told me to find the letters she knocked onto the floor. I scrambled about under the table and so took my finger off the glass. It stopped. K, L and M back in place, my finger back, it started up again. 

“She wants to tell us a story,” said Sam after Patricia had galloped round the table. The others were totally hooked, cajoling me with “Come on Lucy, we’ve never got this far before, it’s fun.” 

I felt it was anything but fun. We eventually established that ‘Patricia’ was Egyptian in the time of Akhenaton. A minor noble, she said. We were nonplussed and Dolly was in awe. 

“Wow!” she whispered. 

This was beginning to freak me out. By now I was drinking tea and urging the others to do the same, but the boys were on the third bottle of Beaujolais and Dolly was demanding more gin. I stood up and the glass moved to letters quickly and David looked up at me. 

“What did she say?” I asked.

“Lucy come,” David said. 

Why does she want me? Reluctantly I sat down and placed my index finger alongside the others. Sam asked “How old were you when you died?”

“Eighteen, not natural, I was stoned to death,” Sam read. 

We gasped in horror and Dolly started to cry. Sam put his arm round her.

“Enough,” I said. “It’s beyond a joke now.”

But David asked “Why were you stoned to death?”

“David!” I shouted at him, disgusted by his encouragement. 

“Lucy sit,” ordered ‘Patricia’, determined that I remain part of the group.

“I need a wee,” I said. This was supposed to be a parlour game, so why did it feel so sinister and why did ‘Patricia’ insist I was there? Even as I thought to sneak off to bed, I knew I was too scared even to do that. David came looking for me.

“The glass won’t move.”

“Good!” I was relieved. “She’s gone then?”

“No, it’s making little fidgety movements, waiting for you.”

“Oh for God’s sake David! Let’s stop it now.”

“How can you say that? It’s a fascinating experiment.”

“Not for me and you’re all fuckwits for messing with it.”

Reluctantly I followed him into the living room. Sam was bobbing about like a released Jack-in-the-box.

“Come on Luce, get your finger over here. She won’t move until you do.”

As soon as I sat down and placed my finger, the glass set off at speed. It spelled out

“Killed because of adultery with my father.”

We were dumbfounded and no one spoke. The glass started again.

“I would like you to see me”

“No, definitely not!” I yelled.

“We must,” said Sam

“No we bloody mustn’t. This nonsense stops here. I won’t take part anymore.”

We were still connected with the glass. It shot round the table spelling out 

‘Lucy need not see me.’

“What the fuck does that mean?” I said. “I can go now?”

Sam said “Patricia, if Lucy stands in that corner can you show yourself to us and not her?”

With just Sam’s hand on the glass, it went straight to ‘yes’. 

I stood quaking in the corner of the room, terrified she was going to appear behind me. I closed my eyes, but that spooked me, so I opened them to see three white faces staring at me, not behind me. The eyes belonging to those faces had expressions I couldn’t read. I shuddered as though someone had walked over my grave and that broke the mood.

“This is stupid so I’m going to bed.” No-one spoke as I left the room.

Surprisingly I slept all night and woke with only the slightest hangover. I was making tea in the kitchen when Sam staggered in.

“Tea?” I asked.

“Black coffee,” he croaked. 

As I reached for the percolator, I wouldn’t let it drop.

“Did you really see something?”

“Yes,” was all he said. I would ask Dolly later.

All that day I baulked when I saw that corner of the room and didn’t want to walk past it. Never again will I play that stupid game. I quizzed the others when they got up, but they were strangely evasive, so I tried again when we went to the pub for lunch. Sitting in the sunny garden, I said: 

“So, you’re deffo sure you saw her, are you?” 

“Yes,” they all said. 

“How can you be sure you all saw the same thing? You were all pissed.”

“We did see the same thing,” said David firmly.

“And she appeared behind me?” I wasn’t letting go now.

“For God’s sake! Yes, now stop asking, please.” Dolly was almost in tears. I dropped it and fed my chips to the landlady’s dog.

Later that evening, I said to David, 

“I don’t like going past that corner into the other room. I feel she might still be there.”

“Not this again, she is not still there.”

“I want to live somewhere else.”

“What if I tell you she was never in that corner behind you?” He sounded weary.

“You said she was. You all said she was.”

“That’s what we agreed to say.”

“Why would you do that? It wasn’t fucking funny, arsehole!”

“I thought it best, Lucy. “

“I don’t care anymore,” I shouted and flounced off to bed. 

The next day, after a night of tossing and turning, I rang Dolly.

“Why did you do that? You’re supposed to be my friend. It wasn’t fair and it’s not like you, Dolly.” 

There was silence.

“Dolly, are you listening to me?”


“Well, bloody say something then. I was the butt of the joke and it spooked me.”

“We were spooked too, Lucy “.

“No you fucking weren’t. I knew it was fake from …”

She stopped me. 

“No it wasn’t.”

“What? “

“It wasn’t fake but we didn’t want to tell you. “

“That doesn’t make sense. You’re still taking the piss.”

“I’m not, okay, listen. She didn’t appear behind you – you were her.”

“What do you mean?”.

“We watched you as you got taller, your hair became darker and your skin was more olive. Your cheekbones were higher and your eyes beautiful. You were younger. You were Patricia.”

I moved towards the hall mirror and I was shocked to see those changes taking place as Dolly described them. I was taller, thinner, darker, more beautiful. I looked at my changed skin tone and was trying to understand it all when the first stone hit my head, followed by cheers and more stones. In agony I fell onto the hard and stinking ground where my pooling blood was rapidly swallowed up by the dirt. The last thing I saw was my father joining the stone-throwers and it was his stone that killed me.

Floor Plan

The first weeks, Fay’s heart had raced when she entered the supermarket, and if her parents offered to go, she’d accept. Even now, she ducked down and couldn’t be out soon enough. The market was built to an identical plan to the one in Birmingham: ninety miles behind her now, with her ex.

She picked up onions, milk. Her throat swelled around her dry breath; her hand clutched the pocket where she’d kept her phone. It was always Leo calling, checking on her.

Outside, the sun’s angle was wrong. Unaccustomed leafage hid the sky.

Sunlight glinted on a familiar car.

Christina Nordlander

Christina Nordlander was born 1982 in Sweden, and lives outside Birmingham, UK, with her husband. She has published over 20 stories and other pieces, most of them on the speculative fiction spectrum. She also dabbles in visual art and game development. Her most recent publication is “In the Dark” in Home Sweet Horror (Black Ink Fiction). She holds a PhD in Classics and Ancient History from the University of Manchester. Visit her on Patreon or Facebook.

Anomalies of Saginaw House

She stares at the open book, looking in disbelief at the photo from over a century ago. It is of a woman—a woman who somehow has her face, though it’s framed by looping curled hair and a stiff Victorian collar. 

The caption below reads: 

One of the house’s most malevolent spirits, Vera M., also known as the Spider. She has appeared to visitors on numerous occasions, and while her dress matches the era of visitation, her face remains unchanged. 

She tries to throw the book aside, but it remains firmly in place, held tight by her four other hands.

John K. Peck

John K. Peck has appeared in a diverse range of journals and anthologies including Interzone, Pyre, Cold Signal, Salon, The Toast, VOLT, SAND, and Dark Stars (Shacklebound Books). He is also a frequent contributor to McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and has appeared in several McSweeney’s anthologies. Twitter: @johnkpeck

Probationary Period

Melissa held still while the laser scanned her face. “Research for a new line of hats,” they’d said. She signed the form with the other new-job paperwork. 

Her co-workers were friendly enough, if nervous around the mannequins. Retail staff turnover meant she rarely encountered any of them more than once. 

At the end of Melissa’s probationary period, the manager summoned her. In the tiny, cluttered office, darkness descended. Metal claws clamped onto Melissa’s head. 

Light returned. Melissa’s body was lifted and her limbs arranged. Her own face, rendered in white plastic, stared back in reflection from the shop window’s inside.

Pauline Barmby

Pauline Barmby (she/her) is an astrophysicist who reads, writes, runs, knits, and believes that you can’t have too many favorite galaxies. She lives in London, Canada, and hopes to someday visit her namesake main belt asteroid, minor planet 281067. Her fiction has appeared in Martian, Nature: Futures and Utopia Science Fiction and in multiple anthologies; find out more at her website,

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