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The Dark Sire is a quarterly literary magazine that specializes in printing short fiction, poetry, and art in the subgenres of Gothic, Horror, Fantasy, and Psychological Realism.

TDS Serializations: Revamped

TDS has always championed serialized fiction. From Issue 1, the pages of our magazine-turned-journal housed small parts of longer works that spanned over time. So it’s no surprise that we’d update our serialization platform to match the new aesthetic of the TDS brand. But, how does the new branding affect the serializations and, more importantly, what’s changing? The answer is simple: EVERYTHING.

Monthly Release

In the beginning, TDS was a quarterly magazine, which means that serialized stories were only updated every 3 months. Now, however, our serialized fiction will be released monthly, similar to manga-style magazines. On the 9th of every month, readers can visit the serialization section of The Dark Forest to find new chapters of their favorite titles.

Chapters

Now in chapters (rather than parts), authors will write their stories in digestible chunks that not only engage readers but also give them a reason to return the following month. The chapters will be approximately 500-3,000 words, depending solely on story and individual author style.

On-Going Run

Originally, our serializations were limited to 3-4 parts for a short-run of 3-4 issues. Now, however, we are looking for LONGER works to serialize over an ON-GOING amount of time. This means, readers can expect stories to run for months or even years – and for stories to turn into a series filled with multiple well-developed character and story arcs. When a story turns into a series, subsequent sequels will be called seasons.

That said, TDS Serializations will still publish shorter works with limited chapters. No matter the length, TDS wants to publish high-quality serializations. The difference, then, is that we used to exclusively look for short-run fiction, while now, we publish both short-run and long-run serializations.

Completed and In-Progress

We now feature stories that are either completely written or currently in-progress. Before, stories had to be finished, ready for publication in full (beginning to end), but not anymore. TDS now accepts works in-progress; meaning, the author is working on the series as it’s being published. Again, this idea comes from manga-style magazines where editors work with authors on deadline. By accepting both completed and in-progress stories, TDS provides readers high-quality fiction while also supporting the different creative preferences of writers.


What’s Next?

On May 9th, TDS Serializations will officially open! As a celebration of the new platform, we’re bringing back the 3 original serialized stories that appeared in Issues 1 through 7. Each will begin with a prologue, with subsequent chapters released on the 9th of every month. Be sure to visit and bookmark: darksiremag.wordpress.com/serializations.


The 3 original serializations are as follows:

VAMPYRE PALADIN by Brenda Stephens
Matthias Kade is a vampire paladin, a traveling doctor who uses his expertise to heal victims of vampire bites. He and his assistant find an underground blood ring that ensnares young children. Matthias vows to stop the vampires – but to do so, he must face his own past, fears, and demons, which force him down the same path of the fiends he so despises. (First three chapters of novel appeared in The Dark Sire, Issues 1-4 & 7).

KYUUKETSUKI by S.M. Cook
Shizuka, a member of the Senshin Warriors, is a vampire who seeks the Blood Ruby, a weapon that can control the human race. Her mission is to find the Ruby and return it to the vampire council, who will then lock it away from evil hands. But as she gets closer to finding the Ruby, she falls into the twisted underworld, where she must grapple with her past and the reason behind her transformation. (First three chapters of novel appeared in The Dark Sire, Issues 1-6.)

THE LAST SUMMER by Frances Tate
During a long, hot summer, a Tudor vampire meets Mercy, a girl who can manipulate his visions, see through his deceit, and overpower his mind control. He only has three options before his master’s hell breaks lose. It’s a race against the evil if he and Mercy are to survive. (Full story appeared in The Dark Sire, Issues 4-7.)


More serializations are to come, with new titles added when available. Mark your calendar and reserve the 9th of every month for the all-new

TDS SERIALIZATIONS

darksiremag.wordpress.com/serializations


AUTHORS: Do you have a gothic, horror, fantasy, or psychological realism story you’d like published as a TDS Serialization? We want to read it! If it’s completely written, SUBMIT it now. If it’s not completed yet – or is just the idea for a story, email the EIC (darksiremag@gmail.com) with as much info as possible (i.e., synopsis, outline, any already written chapters).


A DARK and GOTHIC SUMMER: Two Calls for Submissions

We are proud to announce two calls for submissions:
Dark Summer and Gothic Summer. Let’s start with…

DARK SUMMER IS BACK!

For those who don’t know, Dark Summer is the only themed issue of TDS. While most other TDS issues celebrate gothic, horror, fantasy, and psychological realism in all their splendor, Dark Summer specifically celebrates the dark and horrific bumps in the night that allow the monsters and creatures to truly rule the darkness. Think of Dark Summer as Halloweenin July.

Yes, the monsters, creatures, horror, frights, and scares do not stop just because the weather breaks. Oh no – in fact, the heat just makes the nightmares more dangerously delicious. Beaches, lakes, camping, picnics, long drives and so many more summer activities beg to be the backdrop for dark adventures centered around vampires, werewolves, serial killers, ghosts, possessed objects, witchcraft – and that’s just the beginning!

What does Summer look like, feel like, taste like for the creatures of the night? Answer that call by crafting a short story, poem, screenplay, or piece of art that declares summer as the domain of the nightwalkers.

Let’s all celebrate Halloweenin July. And remember: We’re called The DARK Sire for a reason. The scarier the story, the better.

NOTE: We do not accept Cosmic, Weird, or Sci-Fi works.

Selected authors, poets, and artists will be featured in The Dark Forest (blog) from July 6 to August 13, 2022. Each feature comes with FREE promotion of the work and its creative, which includes promotion across the TDS platforms, author interviews, author readings, and more.

To submit for Dark Summer:
darksiremag.com/submissions.html

Deadline: June 11, 2022


And the second call…

GOTHIC SUMMER: A Writing Contest IS ALSO BACK!

But this time, it’s a contest to end the celebration of Halloween in July.

Every year, GOTHIC SUMMER: A Writing Contest is opened for writers, poets, and artists to compete for $25 in prize money and publication in TDS. The winner of the contest is also eligible to join the Horror Writers Association (HWA, horror.org).

This year, we’re doing all that and adding a FREE professional consultation with our EIC, Bre Stephens, a professional editor, publisher, and owner of BSC Publishing Group.

Much like Dark Summer, GOTHIC SUMMER examines what traditional gothic and modern gothic-horror looks like, feels like, tastes like in summertime. Think: lake houses, forests, ocean/beaches, hot summer evenings, graveyards, hauntings, and scares. Gothic literature and art are the heart of TDS, so be sure to pull inspiration from the master himself, Edgar Allan Poe. We want to see your best gothic tales, poems, and artworks come to life through your masterful creation. And yes, ghosts, ghouls, werewolves, and vampires are welcomed as staples of the genre, as are all other creatures of the night.

The winner will be selected August 1, 2022 and featured in The Dark Forest on August 10, 2022. Prize money will be sent via PayPal. All creatives (domestic and international, alike) are eligible to enter. LGBTQ+ and creatives of color are encouraged to submit.

NOTE: This contest is for traditional and modern gothic works only. No other genres will be accepted.

To enter GOTHIC SUMMER:
darksiremag.com/contests.html

Deadline: June 11, 2022


GOOD LUCK, EVERYONE!


The Creative Nook with Lisa Rose

Lisa Rose’s short story Swelling Ashes was featured in The Dark Forest on April 27, 2022. It tells the story of a girl named Ainsley who is abandoned by her caretakers as a ravaging plague encroaches upon them. Alone in a desolate place, she awaits for their return, but what shows up is something far more disturbing.

I loved her story so much that I wanted to talk to her more about the story, her work, and the horror genre in general. I decided to conduct a live interview with Lisa for THE DARK SIRE’s Creative Nook, which aired on DARK SIRE RADIO (Twitter: @darksireradio) on April 28, 2022 at 6pm (EST).

I enjoyed the pleasure of chatting with Lisa.. We not only talked about Swelling Ashes, but we also talked about the horror genre in general, what attracted her to it, and why readers seem to love it so much. This last part is always an interesting discussion, especially with someone like Lisa who’s courted the horror genre since childhood. And of course, Lisa shared her writing process with us and even her background in editing.

As part of the talk, Lisa shared some advice for emerging writers, which included to read everything. Although Lisa loves horror (and the horror films of the 80s), she is well-read in a variety of other genres, from fantasy to non-fiction. According to this very talented writer, the more you read—and the greater variety of reading experience, the more tools you will have in your toolbox.

Before the end of the interview, Lisa read a portion of her story for us, and she told me a little bit about her inspiration behind the fascinating monster portrayed in her story. This was the most beautiful way to complete our discussion.

I absolutely enjoyed talking with Lisa Rose and getting to know more about her work. This is one interview you wouldn’t have wanted to miss!


Did you miss the live interview? No worries! Listen to the full conversation on Dark Sire Radio until May 28, 2022:

https://twitter.com/i/spaces/1LyxBordkoYKN


Lisa Rose is a long-time educator turned emerging author. Her short story “Snow Globe” won Best in Fiction in a SJ Center for Literary Arts writing challenge, and her nonfiction has been published by ScaryMommy. Lisa has an MA in English Literature and works as an academic copy editor. She lurks between the trees in the PNW. You can connect with Lisa Rose on Twitter (@WordsRose) as well as her website (www.writeroseediting.com).


TDS is always seeking talented creatives to uplift and promote. If you craft fiction, poetry, art, or screenplays in the subgenres of gothic, horror, fantasy, or psychological realism, don’t hesitate to SUBMIT to us.


Featured Author: Samir Sirk Morató

You have always been close to your youngest sister. Whether that is through love or duty is questionable, but the closeness itself cannot be denied. As the eldest, it was you who pressed balls of pemmican into her maw during the wintertime, you who let her watch the pouring of lead into blinding bullet crucibles during summer, you who cleaved her favorite hound’s skull in half with an ax when he began slavering and staggering in the spring.

            Your mother made Carolina, but make no mistake: you crafted her. Not the plump, melancholic woman who thrust Carolina’s care upon you so she could tend to the six other children and the farm. Not the sow who rolls over for men’s advances between waves of sorrow and deep pits of torpor. Not the soiled damsel who wallpapered your father’s darker skin on you in the womb, then took it as proof you are a caretaker, or a grown thing in a girl-body.

            Though eleven-year-old Carolina lies in a coffin two feet beneath the brittle soil, you tend to her still. Is that not devotion rivaling love?

            You run short of breath as you lug a water pail across the yard. The sunbeams that stroke your sweaty locks and thinning, trembling hands are almost autumnal in their capacity for coolness, for bloodletting life while they pretend to grant it. It’s strange to feel their sucking warmth in early winter, when death has already homed itself in the landscape. Your lungs seize. You set your pail on the frosty mud.

            When you cough into your handkerchief, no pearly molars come this time. No blood—though there is never blood. Despite what your watching mother fears, despite all the moments she spends searching your handkerchiefs for red splotches, no tuberculosis afflicts you. You feel her gaze as you seize the pail again, as you limp another half of the yard before you must begin your coughing anew.

            It takes grace not to smile at your mother with the handful of teeth you have left. You sense her presence in the window of your crooked, creaking miscarriage of a home. Newborn guilt grants you restraint. After all your shared loss, it is difficult to continue despising the woman before you. She cannot escape the purgatory she knows she inhabits. That is a punishment greater than anything you could inflict. Forgiveness still stays difficult. Fondness, too.

            I am not sick, you want to tell her. I am paying penance for my sin of destroying you. You taught me to do that.

            But the doughy figure in the window won’t understand. She and the youthful ghosts of her that live alongside you in the house fear everything beyond death. They creep about the topics like rats clinging to walls. No practicality guides them. Not the way it guides you. You tip your gaunt chin up in pride, heft the pail up a final time, and stagger to the doorstep.

            Take heart! your posture cries, even as your waning skin and waxing skeleton urges terror into your siblings’ hearts. Persist! you cry to your mother, while your waning strength sets her to crying into dinner’s soup. She flees to her slender bedroom. The children finish eating before they scatter into the pine-board shadows.

            It’s a shame that you cannot tell your family what choice you have shouldered for them. Still, in your heart of hearts, you know this is a choice for you, too. The cure for your devotion would be unthinkable: an exhumation of Carolina’s grave, the burning of her heart and liver, a tonic of organ ashes funneled into your esophagus. The conjoining of your bodies even as you lost your sister forever.

            Settler medicine, your father would say. Whether he would help the doctor pry open your jaws or fistfight the man to prevent that, you don’t know. He has gone too. The sole person to return to you is Carolina.

            Maybe out of duty. Maybe out of love.

            She comes at night.

            She always comes at night, ravenous for care. You hear her nails scraping at the clay seams of your room walls. The three children in your room murmur restlessly in their sleep. Darkness adorns every crevice of your room, of the mattress, of the spider and thatch-cluttered ceiling that strains beneath the roof’s tomb of snow. The scratching at the windowsill belongs to this darkness. You gnaw your chapped lip as surprise strikes you alongside tired dread. She came last night. Why has she come again so soon?

            The scratching at the window latch starts inscribing nightmares in your other siblings’ dreams, so you resolve to stop it. “Come in,” you mutter, despite the exhaustion corroding your bones. You are not sure if you speak aloud or not. Your words sound in the paralytic space of the night where sleepwalkers live.

            The window creaks open in sound alone.

            Carolina’s outline scrambles through the window in a flurry of knees, lacerated palms, and torn shifts. No chill accompanies her. Though her outline is not the fat of her, you recognize it. The gaunt, heart face is hers. The knobbly elbows. The twisted back. The coils of black hair, coarse with corpse grease and lack of combing. This sister shade slinks from the windowsill on all fours and clambers to your bedside. She kneads her claws into your quilt. Presses her torn cheek to a paisley drunkard’s path. Her bead pupils devour you.

            “Lucy,” Carolina trills. “I’m cold. Can I sleep with you?”

            Her voice, too, is hers, if choked by curdled blood. It succeeds in closing your throat. She is gone, but you haven’t lost your little sister to eternity. Not the way you lost your father, or how the others lost Carolina. Her presence nearly empties the well of tears inside you.

            “Yes, Lina,” you say. “Come here.”

            She does not wait for your pat on the bedspread to invite herself in. Carolina wiggles into the snarl of covers headfirst, seeking the warmth of your side. The dirty soles of her feet glint at the ceiling. Her leather boots shoe her corpse, but her hungry outline rid itself of them months ago. It doesn’t need them.

            You drive an arm into your covers, pinning a fold of quilt beneath your side. Carolina whines in disappointment when her face does not meet the velvet curve of your armpit. She kicks her feet, settling close, like a dog. You wait for her chin to prick your breast. No pulse tints her veins.

            “You’re back early,” you say. You swallow every fearful second that you behold your sister in the murk, hoping to store this glittery etching of her deep in the cellar of your memories, a place where it can cure with all of Father’s pemmican and recollections of dressing her as a baby. An untouchable store. If you are to feed her, she must also feed you.

            “I got hungry.” Carolina chews at a sprig of yarn on the quilt. Stale blood stains her mouth. Rings her collar. “How’s Mother?”

            “She’s the same. Still sinking in and out of herself. Still messing with men she shouldn’t. She misses you terribly.”

            “Mm,” Carolina says. “That’s good. I’d be devastated if she didn’t. And nôhtâwiy?”

            “Father’s ceased coming around. Grief over giving you his sickness brought him low. Or… tuberculosis has.”

            “Terrible. I’ve missed him.” She sighs.

            Carolina’s breath is rich. A combination of moldering pine needles, fermented lung blood, and moist particles of throat. It twists your innards in remembrance. You hewed the pine boards for her coffin, after all. Emptied her chamber pot of retched blood when Mother couldn’t bear to.

            Your siblings twitch in their cots around you, unaware, distorted larvae in differing stages of growth with some of your features baked into their faces. White maggots that writhed out of your mother’s body. The half-fond leeches in your care. They don’t deserve to see Carolina; it is imperative they don’t. Their need for care kept you from boarding school. They fill you with pitying hatred.

            Carolina’s broken claws tug at your quilt.

            “I’m hungry,” she says.

            “Not yet.” Desperation cleaves you open. Her impatience has doubled. You feign an older sibling’s annoyance, swatting away her decay-softened hand. “I want to talk more.”

            Carolina grunts.

            Concern tightens its snare about your neck. Rage, too. The girl who read you fragments from Father’s English primer, who talked for hours on end until Mother despaired, is fast vanishing into this shimmery, offal gilded sketch. This beast who cannot entreat or jest—only eat. Fury commands you to grab her by the bonnet, to tear out her hair pins and tamp coins into her eye sockets and hurl her onto the yard, mewling, by her scruff and spine. That hungry gaze will bother you no more.

            Yet whenever you look again, you see the sister who clung to your leg as a toddler, who stole your maple syrup candies as a child, taught you to read several letters, declared you her favorite over Father, shared a handful of his words with you. Your heart caves beneath the weight of these memories. Your anger ebbs.

            Carolina runs her tongue across her shattered palisade of teeth. Her skin clothes her skull as dun muslin, fabric that has long forgotten its orange undertones. One of her hands finds yours above the quilt. Her digits have bloated into imitations of your mother’s, but necrosis has hardened her fingers into withered, purple tips. She is, at once, viscera sap and bone. A wispy nightmare. Another draft whistles through the house.

            “What do you want to talk about?” she says.

            “Mother,” you say.

            Carolina’s not-body settles against you.

            “What of her?”

            Carolina’s outline hasn’t reckoned with the devastation rot has brought upon her corpse, but she has changed. Tendrils of rot have spread her preteen body in a mimicry of maturation. Her thighs and arms have thickened, brimming with cities of little live things forbidden to appear in the outline; her belly hangs pregnant with gasses. Death’s doing. He stole her maidenhood in every way possible.

            Though you fed Carolina yesterday, her gums are already receding again, her widow’s peak sharpening, her sinews creaking in anguish.

            “I fear I’m being too hard on her,” you say, pinning your arm over the quilt more tightly as Carolina tries to tug it free. “She’s been plagued by demons most of her life, and they worsened while she carried me. Something about my birth loosened her grip on their collars. I’ve realized this after watching her grieve. She’s incapable of caring for herself. That is why she almost sent me away.”

            Carolina’s knee prods your calf. She gulps in your heartbeat. Fans her filthy hair across your chest in an attempt to hide her impatient wiggling. You dwarf her. The blood between you ties you together less than proximity.

            “Perhaps my hatred of her is misplaced,” you murmur. “Do you think so?”

            Carolina shrugs.

            “You used to voice many, many theories about the source of Mother’s sickness.” You try again, doubt consuming you. Where has Carolina’s passion gone? “You defended her, Lina, even if I didn’t listen. Surely you have something to say now.”

            “Don’t really,” Carolina says. “Mother got eaten by the imps she birthed alongside all of us. Erred and let us suck her brains and happiness out of her breasts. Hate her or love her, it doesn’t matter: she’s gone. Just a shell. The way you’d be if she had sent you to Carlisle.”

            “It’s naught but a school, Lina.”

            “It’s naught but a coffin.”

            “At least if she’d have sent me there,” you say, nauseated by the knowledge in her voice, “I would have known she thought I needed care.”

            “They would’ve cared for you as death did for me.”

Carolina—tender, sharp, unblinking Carolina—tugs at the quilt once more.

            “Hungry,” she gurgles. “Hungry.”

            Despair braids with your resentment. Carolina’s translucent hands snag at your wrist and your bicep. The others roil in their beds, still more your children than your mother’s, and the unfairness of your constant giving wrings you in half. Pain sits copper-heavy in your mouth. Did your mother intend on making a revenant of you too? All the hatred you fend off in the daylight comes easily in the dark. The promise of agency burns your palms.

            “Nisîmis,” you say, “make me a promise.”

            Carolina’s nails pierce the quilt.

            “About what?”

            Her words hiss free from a blend of collapsed lung and loam, though neither weighs her body constellations. Your sister putrefies cleanly. Saline wets the corner of your eyes. It is unfair that you are both half-made things: conqueror and conquered, monster and child, daughter and mother, undead and unalive. No wretched pioneer parent can fix you.

            “Promise me, Lina,” you say, “that you will feed from Mother next time. So she finally nurses you when it matters.”

            Carolina laughs. It is an echo of you. Mother could never laugh like this. Broken pride clutters your chest until you cannot breathe.

            “Anything for you, nimis.” Desire animates Carolina’s dead gaze. “But it’s not next time now. Lucy. Hungry.”

            If you feel guiltless, if you feel nothing at all, have you really committed a transgression? Have you done anything? You are a brittle collection of fifteen years and paltry pounds of muscle when Carolina yanks at the quilt again. Everything begins sliding away from you.

            This detachment must be victory.

            It is duty, not love, that leads you to unbar your arm from the quilt. Carolina burrows into your armpit, hissing in pleasure. The November night clenches your heart. Jagged teeth find the familiar, bruised circle of skin beneath your arm that they love—your witch mark. But you are no foul witch nursing her familiar. You are an eldest daughter committed to the holy practice of tending to your family. This is dutiful and good and natural.

            Carolina’s fingertips graze your ribs. Your jaw clenches.

            Her fangs slice through your nightshirt. They do not touch you at all. You flinch. Life waterfalls out of you into Carolina’s lapping mouth. No blood. There is never blood. Carolina drinks spiritual marrow. Star clusters lace your vision while you stare at the ceiling, paralyzed, skin sallowing, strength fading, muscles weakening. Carolina croons the way she did as a babe. The frost laden grass outside shudders in its casing.

            Two miles away, past chilled fields, barren brier thickets, falling fences, and crisscrosses of rutted dirt roads, Carolina’s cadaver writhes in its coffin. She kicks at the sagging ceiling in joy, reinforcing the earthen crust of armor above her legs. Fresh blood leaks from her pores. She fattens. Seeps. Your calves spasm at the thought of flesh Lina feeding. You washed that body, dressed her, sewed her in a sheet, encased her in wood, put her away. More than ever, she is of you now.

            Carolina imbibes the invisible lining of your liver. You think of your mother weakening in mind and body as she nursed you. Shameful empathy cuts you.

            “Enough!” You gasp, shoving the crown of Carolina’s moldering head away. Your breath comes in rattles. “No more, Lina! Stop!”

            Carolina withdraws. She sits back on her heels and her tattered pile of dress layers. Wipes her mouth. A strand of spit snaps beneath her wrist. She slides that spittle-glossed hand atop your seizing one. Her visage smiles at you in the murk, bright with borrowed life, her eyes sunken, her skin ashen. The children shiver.

            “Kisâkihitin, Lucy,” your sister says.

            The potential that she means it kills you.

            Carolina’s small figure fills your vision as it clambers out the window, heading for the woods that separate your home and her grave: the mistletoe-lumped hickory trees, the frozen ropes of poison oak, the slender grove of chestnuts wheezing beneath blight. A world of beautiful parasites you both learned of together.

            Lina latches the ghost window behind her to prevent other starved things from creeping towards the rotting, weakening Host of your body. Tomorrow, you think, wheezing, she will sup from Mother.

            Maybe out of duty.

            Maybe out of love.


Samir Sirk Morató is a scientist and an artist. They draw much of their inspiration from their love of horror movies and their experiences in rural landscapes. Some of Samir’s work can be found in The Hellebore Issue #5, Color Bloq’s RED collection, and Somos En Escrito’s 2021 Extra Fiction Contest honorable mentions.

FEATURED EXTRA!

We loved STAND NOT AT YOUR GRAVE so much that we had to interview the talented Samir Sirk Morató to learn more about their inspirations for this story and who has influenced their writing.

TDS: What was your inspiration for writing this piece?

Samir Sirk Morató: “Stand Not At Your Grave” is inspired by Mercy Brown, a teenager whose ritual exhumation was one of the New England vampire panic’s most famous cases. Mercy was a nineteen-year-old who lost her mother and sister to tuberculosis before following in their footsteps, yet due to coincidence, ignorance, and superstition, her town labeled her a vampire. Mercy’s older brother Edgar – the last tuberculosis-afflicted Brown child left – consumed a tonic made of her cremated liver and heart in an effort to break his sister’s purported spell on him. He died two months later.

There’s something terrible and intimate about the concept of consuming a sibling’s organs to survive, especially if you consider the old belief of one’s soul being in their blood, and the vampire’s tendency to pray on their family once reanimated. The questions of what hungry intimacy (or lack thereof) would lead someone to protect their sibling’s remains sparked the creation of this story.

TDS: What was the writing process you used when creating this story?

Samir Sirk Morató: I’m a planner, so I wrote an outline detailing scene breakdowns and emotional beats before going back and filling in details. Then I wrote out any dialogue exchanges and key moments that I could visualize regardless of when they happened in the plot. After I had the rough draft of this story written, I spent time considering its themes and incomplete character interactions, then went back and added in details related to the new development I was thinking of. There was a lot of rinse and repeat here, but it kept me organized, thinking, and excited to finish writing, which is the most I can ask for.

TDS: Who has influenced you as a writer?

Samir Sirk Morató: R.L. Stine, Susan Power, and Dario Argento have all influenced me. I also want to give credit to the scriptwriters of all the schlocky horror movies I consumed as a kid. I would not be the same without having watched Squirm (1976) and The Killer Shrews (1959) at a formative age.


What did you think of Samir Sirk Morató’s story? Let us know in the comments below. And… if you want to learn more about Samir’s writing process and other works, come back to The Dark Forest on April 9 at 11:00 AM (EST) to read a more extensive interview with the author.


As always, if you’d like your gothic, horror, fantasy, or psychological realism work featured, be sure to submit to us: http://darksiremag.com/submissions.html.


American Southern Gothic

There’s no doubt that the origins of Gothic literature came from England, rich in medieval history. Not surprisingly, then, that American Gothic differs from the old world, especially since it grew from the New England tradition, with its own unique twist on the genre.  When the Gothic genre crossed the ocean and appeared on American shores, it was championed by Edgar Allan Poe, whose Gothic tales of horror set the standard for American authors.  It is interesting to note that Poe’s Gothic tales are virtually all set in New England, the oldest part of America (1850s), with the kind of places that paralleled the dark and haunted places in which the English authors set their Gothic tales.  Hardly anyone stops to think that Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher is actually set in Boston.

But then something happened: The Civil War, and a once grand and pastoral part of America was reduced to ruins, destruction heaped upon it by the conquering Northern Armies.  Plantation houses were abandoned; dark forests reclaimed the land. Places once bright and sunny became grotesque and macabre.  It became the perfect milieu for the birth of a literary sub-genre: AMERICAN SOUTHERN GOTHIC.

Unlike its predecessor, American Southern Gothic uses the tropes of the Gothic not only for the sake of suspense, but also to explore the social issues besetting the country.  There is a realism in the American Southern Gothic that makes it unique.  Disturbing rural communities replace the magnificent plantations of an earlier age. Madness, decay and despair are common themes as is the blurred line between victim and villain.  You find these themes developed in the works of William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor and Truman Capote.

The roots of Southern Gothic can be traced back to such authors as Henry Clay Lewis and Mark Twain in portions of their works.  Originally “Southern Gothic” was used as a dismissive way to pan an author’s works.  Many early critics were not fond of the style.  One early critic panned William Faulkner’s novels as being filled with aimless violence and fantastic nightmares.  Obviously, the Nobel Committee did not feel that way when it awarded Faulkner the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.

In Faulkner, the clash between Old South and New South becomes uniquely Gothic as it explores the suppressed sins of slavery, patriarchy, and class strife. And all this takes place in a landscape of swamps, deep woods, and decaying plantations. Add to this the language of Faulkner’s works, which creates a singularly Gothic sense of uncertainty and alienation.

A perfect example of Faulkner’s Southern Gothic genius is A Rose for Emily. Narrated from multiple viewpoints, the story tells of the spinster Emily Grierson, who after her father’s death scandalizes the community when she takes up with the northern carpetbagger Homer Barron. Homer disappears shortly after Emily has purchased arsenic making her the talk of the town.  Decades later, after living a reclusive life, Emily dies, and when the townspeople break open the door to an upstairs room, they discover a man’s “fleshless” corpse on the bed, the remains of him “rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt.” Next to the corpse is a pillow, with “the indentation of a head” and “a long strand of iron-gray hair.” The story’s themes of necrophilia, sin, repression, revenge, and secrecy mark it as Gothic, yet the locale mark it as uniquely Southern Gothic.

American theater of the 1940s and 1950s was infused with a heavy dose of Southern Gothic thanks to the plays of Tennessee Williams. Characters with varying degrees of illness populate his works, and his own sexual orientation (socially unacceptable at the time) found its way into plays such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.   In other plays, Williams created Gothic spaces in which familiar tropes of the Southern Gothic, such as disintegrating southern families, alienation, loneliness, alcoholism, and physical and psychological violence abounded.

Is Southern Gothic here to stay?  You only have to look at your TV guide or movie selection to discover that Southern Gothic has become a staple of the entertainment industry.  Even in music, Southern Gothic has influenced a genre called Dark Country, which is an acoustic-based alternative rock with songs featuring themes of poverty, criminal behavior, religious imagery, death, ghosts, family, lost love, alcohol, murder, the devil and betrayal.

Yes, I would say that American Southern Gothic is here to stay.


When you are satisfied, share your setting with us in the comments below.  We would love to read about the setting of your next Gothic piece. And, if you turn your setting into a full short story, poem, piece of art, screenplay, or novella, don’t forget to submit it to us by visiting darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

A Brief History of Gothic Literature

At THE DARK SIRE we are incredible fans of the Gothic genre.  Our go to author is Edgar Allan Poe.  Who can deny the dark, eerie settings in stories like The Fall of the House of Usher or The Pit and the Pendulum?  His critics at the time accused him of being too heavily influenced by German authors.  But if that were the case, who influenced the German writers?  Now, for me, all of this begs the question: Where did the Gothic genre come from?  Someone had to write the first story, and succeeding authors had to build on that.  So, I did the research (just in case there were other fans of the genre like me out there) and, with the sources of John Mullan, the Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London and the other researchers at the British Library, I discovered:

Gothic fiction began as a sophisticated joke. Horace Walpole first applied the word Gothic in The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story, published in 1764.  When he used the word, it meant something like barbarous, having devolved from a word used in the Middle Ages.  Walpole pretended that the story itself was an antique relic – complete with a preface that claims a translator discovered the tale – and was published in Italian in 1529. According to this origin story, the book was discovered “in the library of an ancient Catholic family in the north of England.” The story itself, “founded on truth,” was written three or four centuries earlier still. Some readers were duly deceived by this fiction and aggrieved when it was revealed to be a modern fake.

The novel itself tells a supernatural tale in which Manfred, the gloomy Prince of Otranto, develops an irresistible passion for the beautiful young woman who was to have married his son and heir. The novel opens memorably with this son being crushed to death by the huge helmet from a statue of a previous Prince of Otranto, and throughout the novel the very fabric of the castle comes to supernatural life until villainy is defeated. Walpole, who made his own house at Strawberry Hill into a mock-Gothic building, had discovered a fictional territory that has been exploited ever since. According to Professor Mullan, Gothic involves the supernatural (or the promise of the supernatural), and it often involves the discovery of mysterious elements of antiquity, and it usually takes its protagonists into strange or frightening old buildings. With this imagery in mind, Walpole was trying to recreate the visual and physicality of the Gothic in real life.

In the 1790s, novelists rediscovered the world that Walpole had imagined. The queen of Gothic novelists at that time was Ann Radcliffe.  Her most famous novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) took its title from the name of a fictional Italian castle where much of the action is set.  Like Walpole, she created a brooding aristocratic villain, Montoni, to threaten her resourceful virgin heroine, Emily, with an unspeakable fate.  All of Radcliffe’s other novels are set in foreign lands, often with lengthy descriptions of sublime scenery.  Udolpho is set amongst the dark and looming Apennine Mountains.  Radcliffe was known to derive her settings from travel books.  While other authors of the time chose Gothic for their subtitle, Radcliffe chose a different word to accompany the title on the front cover: Romance. Around this time, Minerva Press was providing reading material to the eager public who was hungry for this new kind of fiction.

Gothic then soon leaned toward natural, if complicated, explanations.  Gothic truly came alive in the thoughts and anxieties of the characters.  Gothic showcased the fear of the supernatural rather than the supernatural itself.  And some authors, like Matthew Lewis, strove to go to the extreme – experimenting the outrageous of the Gothic tale. In his The Monk (1796), Lewis wrote a plethora of supernatural occurrences, including ghosts, demons, and Satan himself.

A second wave of Gothic novels in the 2nd and 3rd decades of the 19th-Century established new conventions.  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) gave a scientific form to the supernatural formula. Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) featured a Byronic anti-hero who had sold his soul for a prolonged life.  And James Hogg’s elaborately titled The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) is the story of a man pursued by his own double.  A character’s sense of encountering a double of him- or herself, also essential to Frankenstein, was established as a powerful new Gothic motif.  Doubles crop up throughout Gothic fiction, the most famous example being the late 19th-Century Gothic novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

This motif is one of the reasons why Sigmund Freud’s concept of the uncanny (or unheimlich, as it is in German) is often applied to Gothic fiction. In his 1919 paper “The Uncanny,” Freud drew his examples from the Gothic tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann in order to account for the special feeling of disquiet – the sense of the uncanny – that they aroused. He argued that the making strange of what should be familiar is essential to this, and that it is disturbing and fascinating because it recalls us to our original infantile separation from our origin in the womb.

And this brings us to our favorite author Edgar Allan Poe.  He used many of the standard properties of Gothic (medieval settings, castles and ancient houses, aristocratic corruption) but turned these into an exploration of extreme psychological states. He was attracted to the genre because he was fascinated by fear.  In his hands Gothic was becoming horror, a term properly applied to the most famous late-Victorian example of Gothic, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  The opening section of Dracula uses some familiar Gothic properties: the castle whose chambers contain the mystery that the protagonist must solve; the sublime scenery that emphasizes his isolation. Stoker learned from the vampire stories that had appeared earlier in the 19th century (notably Carmilla (1872) by Sheridan Le Fanu, who was his friend and collaborator) and exploited the narrative methods of Wilkie Collins’s sensation fiction.  Dracula is written in the form of journal entries and letters by various characters, caught up in the horror of events. The fear and uncertainty on which Gothic had always relied is enacted in the narration.

Meanwhile, Gothic had become so influential that we can detect its elements in much mainstream Victorian fiction. Both Emily and Charlotte Bronte included intimations of the supernatural within narratives that were otherwise attentive to the realities of time, place and material constraint.  In the opening episode of Wuthering Heights, the narrator, Lockwood, has to stay the night at Heathcliff’s house because of heavy snow. He finds Cathy’s diary, written as a child, and nods off while reading it. There follows a powerfully narrated nightmare in which an icy hand reaches to him through the window, and the voice of Catherine Linton calls to be let in. The vision seems to prefigure what he will later discover about the history of Cathy and Heathcliff. Half in jest, Lockwood tells Heathcliff that Wuthering Heights is haunted; the novel, centered as it is on a house, seems to exploit in a new way the Gothic idea that entering an old building means entering the stories of those who have lived in it before.

Two of Charlotte Brontë’s novels, Jane Eyre and Villette, feature old buildings that appear to be haunted.  As in the Gothic fiction of Ann Radliffe, the apparition seen by Jane Eyre in Thornfield Hall, where she is a governess, and the ghostly nun glimpsed by Lucy Snowe in the attic of the old Pensionnat where she teaches, have rational explanations.  But Charlotte Brontë likes to raise the fears of her protagonists as to the presence of the supernatural, as if they were Gothic heroines.  Gothic still provides the vocabulary of apprehensiveness.  Similarly, Wilkie Collins may have introduced into fiction, as Henry James said, “those most mysterious of mysteries, the mysteries which are at our own doors,” but he liked his reminders of traditional Gothic plots.  In The Woman in White, all events turn out to be humanly contrived, yet the sudden appearance to the night-time walker of the figure of “a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white garments” haunts the reader as it does the narrator.  The Moonstone is a detective story with a scientific explanation, but we never forget the legend that surrounds the diamond of the title, and the curse on those who steal it – a curse that seems to come true.  The final triumph of Gothic is to become, as in these examples, a vital thread within novels that otherwise take pains to convince us of what is probable and rational.

As I pointed out earlier, one really useful term for thinking about Gothic writing is uncanny.  Gothic fiction often strives to reach those uncanny moments in which the reader suddenly recognized somebody who seems unfamiliar and strange or has an identity that the reader already knows but is not quite human. 

Now, this whole concept of the uncanny leads me to examine how American Exceptionalism took the Gothic genre and turned it into something truly unique.  In another blog, I will examine the rise of American Southern Gothic stories.


THE DARK SIRE is always looking for Gothic fiction, art, and screenplays to add to our issues. If you have something that delves into psyche, traverses the dark and twisted, and has the eeriness of Poe, we’re waiting for you to submit to us.

The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize: A Bad Place to Meat

In September, TDS hosted a writing contest that was named after Professor Jon Meyers, The Jon Meyers Dark Humour Prize for Gothic Literature (a.k.a. The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize). Entries were read in October with the winners – selected by Meyers himself – announced on October 31st, just in time for Halloween. The winners were:

Rose Biggin, Mrs. Pepper’s Ghost (1st Place)
Liam Hogan, Practical Alchemy on a Budget (2nd Place)
Steven Lombardi, To Cross a Vampire (3rd Place)
Mary Sloat, A Bad Place to Meat (Honorable Mention)

Now, over the next two days, all four short stories will be released individually to celebrate Contemporary Gothic Literature. And what better time to release them than December, when the cold bite of snow and ice warrants snuggling into a warm blanket in the dark? These four stories may not be Christmas-related, but they definitely fit into the Gothic tradition of storytelling during the Christmas season.

So without further ado, sit back, snuggle down, and grab your cocoa as you nestle into read…

A Bad Place to Meat
by Mary Sloat

            The ham house was ceilinged with hundreds of hooks and its soot-coated walls, even after fifty years, smelled sweet and burnt. But it was not the scent of summer bonfires on the beach or the warmth of a winter hearth, rather it was the reminder of long-dead animals that even now might be creeping back to the place of their cure.

            How could something from so many years ago linger so strongly in the present?

            Of the six outbuildings on my dad’s property, the ham house alone had haunted my dreams since I was a child. Nothing happened to me inside those smoky walls. Instead, I suffered from the certainty that what lay in wait for me inside was the same thing that pursued me into my dreams.

            Today I felt like a child again as I set about doing one of the most adult things of all—preparing Dad’s farm for sale. Could a forty-year-old be an orphan? Now when the beast visited my dreams and the door bulged with the force of its struggle to escape, I would have only my own strength to rely on. My feet would plant on grass slippery with nighttime dew as my arms strained to hold the door closed. Each morning, I would awake to aching limbs and splinters in my hands. If it ever truly did break free, I no longer had a parent to come to my aid, an extra pair of arms to hold the door closed.

            Not everything about the beast turned my legs to jelly. No, there was one feature alone, a pointed reminder that I was made of meat and sinew and easily punctured. Its tusks.

            My fear of sharp objects was a rational worry with an irrational horror that somehow a passing knife might leap from its owner’s hand and plunge into my gut, my heart, my neck, as if I could draw pain like a magnet. I froze at the sight of a gleaming point, so all the implements in my kitchen were dull. When I was gifted a new set, I threw away the paring knife curved like a claw, unwilling to keep something so obviously meant to maim.      

            Dad would have been pleased by the painters’ work, how the outbuildings shone a gleaming white. Even the ham house. Even the small turret set into its roof, formerly blackened by the smoke that spent years escaping through its slender slits.

            I tied a bandanna over my face against the years of accumulated dust and dirt as I swept, washed, and dusted the interiors of all six buildings. Except the ham house.

            I pulled on an old pair of Dad’s leather gloves, so well-used surely his fingerprints had been worn into the tips. Wearing them felt like he was holding my hand again as I sorted and donated hundreds of tools from all of the buildings. But not from the ham house.

            The old red barn was packed with the wholesome scent of hundreds of hay bales, food for the winter so no animal would go hungry. I retied the trellis of yellow climbing roses by the back door, a gorgeous, scented welcome for any prospective buyer. I knew how much smells created associations. When I smelled lilies, I remembered my grandmother’s garden. When I passed a woman on the street wearing fragrant lotion, I was transported back to London. And when the scent of smoked meat caught me unaware, I trembled.

            A sound reached me on the breeze.

            Mew.

            I’d been all over the farm and seen no kittens. Where was it coming from?

            Mew.

            I followed the sound, stopping when it stopped, waiting for another cry to guide me closer. In front of the ham house door, the sound was louder, insistent.

            Meeew.

            I have to get Dad, I thought, then I caught myself and blinked back tears. Whatever was inside, I would have to face it alone.

            The doorknob was cold in my hand. I cracked the door a few inches and the hinges groaned with a warning as the loathsome smell snaked out and I began to shake.

            “It’s okay,” I whispered gently as if to a small child. “You’re okay.” The door opened wider, but my legs were threatening to disobey any order that didn’t include turning and running.  

            Meeeew.

            The window in the corner allowed streaky sunlight to deepen the shadows. Dad had used the building for storage rather than for smoking meat like the former owners. Mildewed lumber was stacked along one wall. Dingy twinkle lights looped across several hooks in a macabre display of cheer. Old boots lined the back wall as if waiting for someone or something to step into them.

            Meeeeew.

            The sound drew me toward the window where a wooden box sat beneath a coating of smoky dust. Were kittens trapped inside? As a child, I had chosen the box for the lock and key that came with it. My dream diaries were long gone and the lock was broken, dangling loose and rusty, except for a shiny chip like it had recently been struck.

            All I had to do was rescue the kittens and get out, but first I needed to make it to the window. Leaving a trail of footprints across the filthy concrete, I scanned the room, squinting at shadows, taking the last few steps at a run.

            “It’s okay,” I whispered, crouching in front of the box. “You’re okay.”

            I lifted the lid.

            Instead of kittens, grey smoke crept through the opening with the noxious smell of something dying but not yet dead.

            The smoke weaved through the room, thickened and thinned with a pulse swirling at my feet and I forgot I had the option to leave. As I stood frozen with dread, the smoke formed into the shape I knew as well as my own. Red eyes glinted above dirty white tusks. Its wide body was covered with sparse hairs and held up by four improbably thin legs.

            I could move now, but it was too late. It stood between me and the door.

            “Greetings,” it said in a scraped raw voice. It had never spoken in my dreams. “Back for more?” The blood rushed to my skin, preparing for the assault it knew was coming. Those tusks were shiny as if newly sharpened and I had nothing with which to defend myself.

            Looking everywhere but at its flashing red eyes, I tried to speak around the lump in my throat, “I don’t know what you mean.” The back of my shirt was drenched with sweat.

            “But you do,” it snarled. It shook the tiny links of a chain around its neck. “I’ve earned every one,” it said in a voice that grew into a roar. The creature seemed to suck the air from the room to expand to twice its size.

            Backing quickly, I bumped into a sawhorse holding my childhood saddle. A memory of wild joy and abandon flickered through my mind. I was galloping in a field, my pony and I perfectly in sync like we were flying.

            The beast bellowed, swinging its giant head and a sharp point sliced my arm. I cried out in shock and in pain.  It had never hurt me before. In my dream, I always woke up right before it reached me. As blood poured from the cut, the beast shrank back to size, sniffed the air with its blunt snout, and growled, “I know what you’re thinking. In your dream, you always make it out.”

            Wrapping the bandanna around my wound, I discovered something surprising. Because I had been cut, I no longer feared being cut. It was the anticipation of experiencing unbearable pain that had twisted my gut. Now that I had, there was really nothing more of which to be afraid. Or so I reasoned.

            I straightened. Better to be gored in the front than in the back. Better to see what was coming than to be hit from behind. Better to avoid any more pain at all if possible.

            It pawed the ground and snorted.

            “Come on,” I shouted, stomping the floor and sending clouds of black grit into the air.

            It came.

            Leaping into the saddle, I kicked the sawhorse to life. In that moment, I believed it would move and it did. The beast was almost upon me when my mount bucked and I heard the sound of wood striking meat followed by a plaintive squeal. Reining in the sawhorse, I discovered the beast had been flung into the air and caught by one of the hundreds of hooks on the ceiling.

            It hung helpless, legs peddling weakly. I dismounted and wiped my bloody hand on my pants. Upon closer inspection, I observed its jutting brow was beaded with sweat. Experimentally, I touched the point of a tusk. It was dull. Interesting. I pressed harder and still it failed to cut me.

            A feeling of exultation swept over me. It could no longer hurt me. Standing nose-to-snout, I watched as its movements slowed, its eyes dimmed.

            Tearing my eyes from the hanging form, I saw bits of blackness coming loose from the walls. Those bits began to move faster until soon a blizzard of black dust was swirling throughout the room. The smoke house soot swarmed the beast’s hanging form as if remembering its former purpose. This was a dangerous place to be meat. In seconds, the soot had stripped the beast’s skin, leaving only fat and muscle.

            From the door, I watched as what remained of the creature quickly darkened, dried, then shriveled into nothing until only its collar hung from the hook.

            The ham house door closed softly behind me on now-silent hinges.

            I was covered in soot. I had never felt so clean.  


Mary Sloat is a writer who feels most alive when writing twisted tales of magic, horror, and death. She has written short stories and is now working on her debut novel.


This concludes the Jon Meyers Gothic Prize award-winning short fiction series. Be sure to visit The Dark Forest‘s front page to re-read these four amazing stories.
We’ll see you at next year’s Gothic Prize!


The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize: To Cross a Vampire

In September, TDS hosted a writing contest that was named after Professor Jon Meyers, The Jon Meyers Dark Humour Prize for Gothic Literature (a.k.a. The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize). Entries were read in October with the winners – selected by Meyers himself – announced on October 31st, just in time for Halloween. The winners were:

Rose Biggin, Mrs. Pepper’s Ghost (1st Place)
Liam Hogan, Practical Alchemy on a Budget (2nd Place)
Steven Lombardi, To Cross a Vampire (3rd Place)
Mary Sloat, A Bad Place to Meat (Honorable Mention)

Now, over the next two days, all four short stories will be released individually to celebrate Contemporary Gothic Literature. And what better time to release them than December, when the cold bite of snow and ice warrants snuggling into a warm blanket in the dark? These four stories may not be Christmas-related, but they definitely fit into the Gothic tradition of storytelling during the Christmas season.

So without further ado, sit back, snuggle down, and grab your cocoa as you nestle into read…

To Cross a Vampire
by Steven Lombardi

Whitely believed in speaking to the point of pain, and that a raw throat had no better remedy than a bottle of red. He feared God and loved humankind and believed God’s greatest gift to man was not life, but freewill. This, he knew, made us opinionated. And if opinions were part of the Great Plan, then Whitely would no sooner hold his tongue than commit heresy.

“Vampires are poetic creatures,” he declared to the people of the pub. “And like many lovers of poetry, they are sticklers for the language.”

“It makes sense enough to me, sir,” said Whitely’s dearest friend Ted, being the only one paying active attention to the words. Ted had developed a callus for Whitely’s lengthy rants, or as Whitely fondly considered, Ted had fortified his mind to radical insights.

“Because vampires, ya see, claim to have great strengths and weaknesses. They’ve the power of ten Grizzlies yet are killed by harmless things. Garlic. Water. Sunlight? These are undamaging things. But it’s been written, and being lovers of poetry, and sticklers for language, they must honor and obey these weaknesses to the letter of the law for the simple reason that they honor and obey the language!”

Ted scratched the hairs peppering his chin rolls and nodded.

“Then by any means and measures, a person should be able to defeat a vampire using their language solely. Because, again, they are so compliant to the rules that had been created, which have been inscribed using language most beautiful and revered. You see?”

“Of course, sir,” said Ted, who didn’t really see, or understand the rules of vampires, other than a stake through the heart made them dead.

“I say, if I had the gumption, I’d march out to Thinberry Castle with only a flask to free my inhibitions and give that vamp a tongue lashing that would leave him skinless!”

This declaration was followed by silence, which was rare. Silence signaled that one had been listened to, which was all Whitely wanted and seldom received, yet this quiet communicated something more. Something uncomfortable. It came accompanied by a man standing near the entrance, whose brooding presence captured the pub’s drunken attention.

He was tall and dark, with various knives and teeth slung along his waist. He had a glare that could make a man drink, and Whitely did precisely that when their eyes met. The man glided into the seat beside Whitely, perfuming the air with sweat, and in his generous sips of red, Whitely could taste the man’s skin.

“Friend! Drink with us and be merry,” Whitely said, not meaning a word of it. “What brings you to these parts?”

“Work.” The man spoke as if it were a curse word, and a person of inferior conversation skills would have just left it at that.

“Ah, work,” Whitely retorted. “It feeds the stomach, but in more ways, it feeds the soul.”

“If I fail, my eternal soul is forfeited.”

Ted’s many neck rolls wobbled in an attempt to swallow a lump.

“So, you’re a banker?” Whitely ventured with a wink.

“Vampire hunter.”

The man maintained a stare that Whitely had seen in goats. Whether the man could blink, if he had eyelids, Whitely could not say.

“That’s a mighty fine service to the community,” Ted offered. “I’m sure you’ve seen the bulletins around town, then. About the Earl’s daughter Penelope….”

“You know the location of Castle Thinberry.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement. And yes, Whitely knew, it was five acres outside his childhood home. A place he swore he’d never return.

“We go there tonight,” the vampire hunter said.

“I can’t think of a more splendid way to spend my evening, but unfortunately I have a prior engagement that I must attend,” said Whitely.

“Really, sir? Where about?”

“You know, Ted. My plans. That thing.”

The vampire hunter produced a dagger that spun atop the table. He stomped on the floorboard, sending its tip tumbling towards Whitely’s manhood. It landed a foot short, but still Whitely crossed his legs.

“I mean to deliver the girl to the Earl. And I mean to do it tonight.”

Whitely considered the man more carefully. His muscles were lean, all capacity without the cosmetics, and his scarred skin told stories of many battles, some deep, others faded. And the way he retrieved the knife, moving in a blur, like something only possible in a dream.

“You kill vampires,” Whitely said. It wasn’t a question, but a realization. “If we accompany you, will you share the riches?”

“I would.”

They shook hands and left the pub.


Whitely had made good on his word. He marched to Thinberry Castle with only a flask to protect him from the night’s creatures. The moon hid behind blankets of cloud, rendering all things dark, though Whitely knew the land enough to navigate it. These hills were his childhood home. In a time before the creatures appeared, he thought he’d never leave.

But they had come in the night, snatching the wayward traveler from the main road, or seducing their victims out of windows. So Whitely and the other survivors fled to the protection of the cities. However, no place was safe, not truly. A city was like a school of fish, where the only defense was the probability of someone else getting taken. Like the Earl’s darling Penelope. Or people Whitely loved, though he’d rather drink than think about that.

The white wolf pelt over Whitely’s shoulders caught the diffused light and multiplied it. Ted huffed the cool hill air, kicking at rocks with his oversized shoes, while the vampire hunter clung to the darkness, as good as gone.

“Did you mean what you said back there at the pub?” Ted asked with his outdoor voice. “About fighting vampires with your words?”

“Yes, indeed.” Whitely spoke with the deepest conviction, for his father once said that convictions shape the world. “As logophiles, vampires are attracted to rhetorical devices, which are dangerously persuasive things. You will see, good friend. I will persuade them to death.”

“Rhetorical devices? Wow. Good thing I’m traveling with the Connoisseur of Conversation and a full-time vampire hunter. Otherwise a chubby little man like me might be in danger.”

Whitely drank to that. Then he drank some more. Then he tried to quiet the mounting doubt. He thought of his father and the headstone he claimed was his father’s grave, though they never found the body, nor did they look. And he wondered, if the world was truly shaped by those who acted with conviction, then why hadn’t his father fled when the bloodsuckers came from him.

“Would be nice to have treasure, sir. And imagine all the stories you could tell when we get back to the pub.”

From the shadows came a voice that was low and sharp, like a slice to the heel.

“Quiet. Vampires have sensitive hearing.”

Ted’s lips popped as his jaw closed.

“I thought you were polar opposites,” the voice continued. “Now I see you’re both big-mouthed idiots.”

“Oh, we’re opposites,” Ted continued against all sense. “See, I’m short and stout while Whitely’s lanky. My hair’s dark, Whitely’s isn’t. And I talk a lot when I’m about to piss meself with fright, while Whitely stays quiet. According to the laws of magnetism, you see, opposites attract while—”

A low growl stole the words from his mouth.

“We go in silence.”

Thinberry Castle stood atop a hill, cast before a blanket of starless gray sky. The stone looked nothing like how Whitely remembered it. It had decayed to the color of soil, or taken the likeness of old blood. Hills once renowned for their beautiful flowerbeds were brown. Nothing stirred, not even the wind, and the silence left a buzzing in Whitely’s ear that grew steadily unbearable. The vampire hunter walked past him, then blended into the night without a trace, making Whitely regret his fashionably forward white shawl, which now glowed in the dark.

“What’s the plan?” Ted whispered.

Whitely drank some more, then he heard a noise that made him choke. It came from the castle’s barn, the braying of a frightened beast. A horse, no doubt belonging to darling Penelope or stolen for her benefit. All the same, it gave him an idea for a plan, which he whispered into Ted’s ear. Whitely dubbed it the super-secret plan, and had Ted recite it back to him using his indoor voice.

Whitely approached the double doors of the castle alone, where the brooding vampire hunter inspected the entry for traps. The vampire hunter cast a gaze at Whitely, as if to say Where’s your friend?

Whitely gestured in response, as if to say Pissing in the woods.

Although in truth, Ted was carrying out Whitely’s daring plan of rescue, which relied on the element of surprise. For that reason, he felt little need to tell the vampire hunter.

The vampire hunter applied sunflower oil to the hinges, then pulled the door open with great care, slow as to silence the patches of rust and corrosion. The door was not a foot open when he breathed a sigh of relief and slipped in. Whitely followed. With his vision gone to darkness and his other senses heightened, Whitely could sense the sour stench of death in the back of his throat. He drank to refresh his palate, hoping it’d soothe his nerves and douse the anger that burned in his heart.

Had his father entered this place? Was he dragged dead or alive across the threshold, or tempted into the dark chambers of the castle? Whitely couldn’t say anything other than that in his father’s final moments, he experienced a lapse in conviction. Not a total loss, not his father, but a mere slip through which vampire teeth snuck in and sank down. Now was Whitely’s time to pay blood for blood.

He moved blindly through the foyer, imagining he’d collide into suits of armor destined to clatter to the floor. The silence rang in his ears and his heartbeat filled his head, surely attracting the vampires’ attention.

Whitely heard an owl’s hooting when they moved beyond the foyer, followed by a horse’s braying. This had been Ted’s signal, which meant the super-secret plan had worked. Penelope had been rescued. But this alone wasn’t enough.

“Vampires!” Whitely screamed. “Yoo-hoo! We’re in your house!”

A spark erupted in a pall of sulfurous air. The fire sticks burned in the vampire hunter’s hand, lighting the shock on his sunken features.

“You’re a familiar,” he said. He produced a knife and aimed for Whitely’s heart.

“I’m familiar with the art of riveting conversation, if that’s what you mean.”

The vampire hunter stiffened, aware of an unseen presence. Whitely sensed it too, an icy chill carried in by no wind. Red eyes appeared in the darkness beyond the reach of the fire’s light. A frosty breath at the back of Whitely’s neck burned his skin. At the door, their only known exit, Whitely saw the man who presumably killed his father, Marcus Thinberry.

The vampire looked nothing like the romantic stories suggested. The flesh was pale, as the poems described, though it was lined with veins that looked like prongs of corroded lightning. Coagulated blood pooled beneath Marcus’s eyes and between his thin blue smile the decayed gums held no teeth but two, rotted through like pickled wood.

“Welcome, weary travelers, to the Chateau de Thinberry.” The vampire bowed. “Some call my home a sprawling estate of death. I see it as a state of pleasure so fit for the Dieux des Ténèbres.” The chittering of cicadas resounded in the room, and Whitely realized it was vampires advancing, the rattling of their bones. They stepped into the light, dozens of thirsty servants of the night, to challenge the vampire hunter and his lone wooden stake.

“Whoa, whoa, wait!” Whitely exclaimed. He took another sip for courage and spoke with conviction: “I always thought hospitality the most flattering feature of a chateau as grand as yours.”

Marcus raised a bony hand that concluded with five pointed edges, sharp enough to peel skin. His minions paused.

“My friend,” said Marcus. “You have trespassed upon my property and, by the laws of the land, your wellbeing is left to our discretion. How else should a master keep his servants safe, happy and sustained if not to dispatch of a threat when given ample opportunity?”

The vampires took another step.

“But colleague, you have been misinformed,” Whitely said. “We are not trespassers, for the wind breaks no laws by entering windows, nor does the stray leaf that flitters into a barn. Your door was open, and being native to these hills, I know this to be as true an invitation as any. Pair that with your earlier words, ‘Welcome, weary travelers,’ and I’d say we’re rightly protected by the customs of a gracious host.”

Whitely winked at the vampire hunter, who now gripped the torch with his teeth and held a cross and stake at the wall of shambling flesh, whose many eyes remained trained on their master, waiting for him to snap his fingers and be done with the charade.

“Sweet darling,” Marcus began. He sucked his tongue, the flesh flapping in his mouth. “Please don’t misconstrue my words or actions, for I am a gracious host of a grand estate whose deeds of hospitality are as numerous as the stars. For I have in my host an army of forty lost souls, who live here under my lease, and whose needs must be met, lest they grow unhappy. And for you, my daring chap, my hillside compatriot, what better gift can I bestow than eternal life? All in exchange for your life’s blood, which you treat so cruelly by infecting it with that dreadful wine.”

Eternal life is a lie,” the vampire hunter said with the torch in his mouth. “All you’ll know is eternal damnation.” He wielded his cross against the horde, beating them back inch by inch, but not without strain. Whitely noted the trembling muscles in vampire hunter’s powerful legs. Every swing was less spirited than the last, and when the hunter gasped for air, Whitely’s own heart rattled.

No, none of that, came the small voice in his mind. Remember, convictions shape the world.

“My love!” Whitely trumpeted. “Surely there are better ways to entertain. In my modest cottage, we served food and drink to our guests, and not, as you’re implying, make food and drink of them. Surely you have various stores of breads, meats and cheeses—”

“Enough,” Marcus said. His slender fingers came together, ready to snap and unleash the full strength of his horde, when the front door opened.

Ted entered, scraping his muddy boots at the entry, always minding his manners, and waving bashfully.

“Hullo, there,” Ted said.

“What… who are you?” Marcus said.

“They call me Ted, sir,” he said, doffing his hat. To Whitely, “I’ve done the super-secret plan.”

“Why’d you return?” Whitely asked. This wasn’t part of the super-secret plan. Ted should be back in town by now, amassing a mob in the event that Whitely’s own conviction should fail. And as Ted answered, the vampires howled within proximity of the cross.

“I wanted to see how this played out,” Ted said.

“That’s simple, my tender plump confidant,” Marcus said. With a snap of his fingers, the cross exploded the vampire hunter’s hand, sending blood and bits of meat around the room for the vampires to lick and chew. “You now fall victim to my gracious hospitality.”

“Not quite!” Whitely said. He threw his arms in the air, made himself look bigger than he actually was. He heard that worked against bears. “As you well know, vampires are harmed by crosses. It renders you defenseless and causes agonizing pain, as has been recorded and followed faithfully by your kind for eons! In fact, the mere mention of a cross makes you feel ill. Your skin grows clammy, though without the warmth of lifeblood, you’re reminded of how cold you truly are, how far from God you’ve drifted, and how the coldness is unbearable.”

“I’ve destroyed your cross,” Marcus said. His voice betrayed confidence and his dead skin turned to gooseflesh. “But for some stakes and knives, you are powerless.”

“False!” Whitely said. “Because although you are unaware, my comrade has freed the Earl’s daughter, placed her on a horse and sent her back to the safety of her father!”

Magnolia white skin paled, and Marcus stooped as if under the weight of a roaring river. The vampire looked at Ted, making calculations and trying to understand if such an unassuming man were capable of such a daring feat.

“It’s true, sirs,” Ted said. “I did a pass around the castle and found the one window that hadn’t been boarded up. So I starts making calls for a cat.” He paused. “Not cat calls, of course, sirs, I’d never. Calls like this: psst, psst, psst. Then Penelope appeared and jumped into my arms. I pulled my hammy, I did! But could the girl talk. In just a breath she told me how Marcus captured her and tried to court her every evening, and how he’d not touch a hair on her head, which I thought a respectable quality. Then zoom, off she went on horseback.”

Marcus contorted backwards, as if taken by an interpretative dance that Whitely lacked the culture to understand. “Your deaths will be agonizing,” he wailed.

“Not so fast,” Whitely yelled. “You see, my courteous host, in this brazen act of defiance, we have rendered ourselves immune to your worse doings, and, in fact, have become very damaging to you! For Ted and I have crossed you!”

Convictions, baby, his mind chattered. Stay strong, for the love of your father.

“It’s the greatest cross of your afterlife. One you can’t explode with your fingers. The simple act of looking at us causes you discomfort. When we come too near, you feel the burn in your skin. So I say, come and get us. I dare you. Take a bite and perish.”

The vampires made no effort to move, mulling over this new information. Brimming with conviction and swimming in liquid confidence, Whitely nearly charged them head on, his own hunger advertised in his eyes. But the castle remained still and silent, except for the handless vampire hunter who sobbed on a blood-soaked Moroccan carpet.

Ted, always a thoughtful chap, offered his chunky forearm for Marcus to bite, and the vampire recoiled.

“Why?” Marcus said. “You took my love from me. My darling Penelope, with blue roses in her eyes.”

“Ya that’s right,” Ted said, driving Marcus further back with his luscious flesh.

Emboldened and surrendering to his primal calls, Whitely rushed at the wall of vampires and watched them scatter into the cracks like roaches.

“What do you reckon we do now?” asked Ted.

Whitely hadn’t thought about an exit strategy. Obviously, the vampires needed killing, and he would love nothing more than to show them the mercy they had shown his father. Though, he would admit, he wasn’t much of a vampire killer. He didn’t like killing bugs, if it could be avoided, and while vampires weren’t much prettier, they were larger and somewhat defensible.

“We let our vampire hunter friend here do the rest,” Whitely decided.

Unfortunately, the vampire hunter seemed too occupied with bleeding out. His stump spurted onto the carpets, which flavored the air in a way that turned the vampires’ eyes to burning coals in the darkness, and some ventured into the light, despite the agony of being crossed.

“This is your fault,” the vampire hunter spat. “I could have dealt with them and left here a whole man. But you…”

Events followed that unfolded too fast, or perhaps Whitely’s mind had slipped for a moment, or perhaps the vampire hunter was something more than he appeared to be. The hand that nursed a bloody stub now held a blade that pressed against the soft space between Whitely’s ribs, aligned with his heart, where a quick puncture would turn Whitely into a fountain. And vampires who, for a time, had an aversion to the two friends were now coming uncomfortably close, wafting in lingering death smells.

“Something’s happened,” Ted observed. He pulled his arm away from Marcus before being bitten.

The knife at Whitely’s chest vanished in a red mist. A second breeze kissed Whitely’s face like frostbite, and then he found the vampire hunter ten feet away with vampires tearing at his flesh. Ted ran to Whitely’s side, and they held each other.

“Esteemed house guests,” Marcus purred. “I must admit, I was deeply concerned for a moment. You nearly had us. But alas, you no longer seem as repulsive as you once were. Dare I say, you actually look mouthwatering.”

“Uh oh,” Ted said. “Seems we were crossed by the vampire hunter.”

“What of it?” Whitely screamed. All sense of conviction failed him.

“Well, sir,” Ted began. He explained it with his fingers. “It seems our cross was met with a double cross. And according to the laws of mathematics, two negatives equal a positive. I’m afraid we’re even Stevens.”

Marcus approached with a steady gait as Whitely’s heart struck his ribs, as he imagined his father’s had. No wonder the old man’s convictions failed him, Whitely’s own fear was seasoning the air and his cries created a flavor that Marcus licked off his lips.

“You know, I’ve been thinking of something, sir,” Ted said.

“Dear friend, I’m glad. It’s never too late to try new tricks!”

“No more talking,” Marcus said. His teeth elongated to his chin, hanging like rusty nails over fresh snow. “Only death.”

“It’s just that you’ve done so much to gain the love of the Earl’s daughter,” Ted said. His words didn’t stop Marcus, but they did slow him. “You risked exposure to the Earl’s army and the attention of vampire hunters around the land.”

“I’d do anything to be with the Earl’s daughter. That includes destroying you and your entire village. Which I intend to do next.”

“But in truth, the Earl’s army is no match for your savagery. And I’m sure you’ve dealt with plenty of vampire hunters,” Ted continued, twisting his cap in his hands. “Though you were never in any physical danger while kidnapping the Earl’s daughter, this undertaking of yours carried a huge risk. It injured you gravely, in fact. The fragility of one’s ego and the torment of rejection. You are a braver man than me, I should say, because by pursuing Penelope’s love, you put your heart at stake.”

Marcus paused.

Whitely cried, “Say it with conviction, man!”

“You put your heart at stake to be with Penelope,” Ted repeated, in a clear, bristling voice. “According to the laws of vampirism, introducing a stake to a vampire’s heart is quite fatal. You should be dead, sir.”

Marcus mulled these words over carefully, then collapsed in a pile of dust, along with the other minions of the night. His sense overwhelmed, Whitely downed the rest of his flask and gave Ted a big, red kiss on the lips.


The Earl’s estate was jeweled and pearled, with lavish furniture and artwork that seemed to sully in the duo’s muddy presence.

The Earl sat upon his chair with his darling Penelope at his side. Her skin was white, though her cheeks blossomed like red amaryllises beneath the blue roses of her eyes. If she gave any indication of recognizing the men, it went unnoticed.

“My liege,” Whitely said. He took a knee. “We are honored to be in your presence.”

With his head nearly touching the floor, Whitely had expected some sort of response, but saw only perplexity in the Earl’s crumpled face. And with three words, the Earl wounded Whitely in a way a vampire couldn’t.

“And you are?”

“Most honorable Earl, we are the heroes who delivered your fair daughter from the grips of her captor, and by way killed the vile vampire known as Marcus Thinberry.”

“Ah.” The Earl punctuated the sound. “And you want…?”

“To be rewarded for our daring?”

The Earl promptly called for his Page, who sprang into the room with her red curls bobbing at her shoulders and scrolls shuffling in her arms. The Earl took one scroll and undid it, reading it aloud.

“The reward goes to whomever should bring me the head of Marcus Thinberry and deliver my daughter to me.”

“That’s right,” Whitely said.

“And my daughter returned to me alone.”

“Well…”

“And I see no head.”

Ted spoke up: “It turned to dust, you see.”

“Then my conditions haven’t been met. Let dust be your reward, for I am a man who lives by the letter of the law, and by what’s written, you have no right to my riches.”

Whitely and Ted retuned to the pub emptyhanded, grumbling about the awful ingrate who denied them their due compensation.

“It goes to show you, dear friend,” Whitely said. “If there’s such a thing that’s worse than a vampire, it’s a stickler for semantics!”

When they recounted their tale, the entire pub clung to Whitely’s every word, which proved to be its own reward. He even used the power of conversation to swindle drinks from the crowd. On a rainy evening, a man dressed in armor approached their table and threw a bag at them. Silvers spilled onto the table which seemed too pure and good to touch. When Whitely asked what this was all about, the man replied, “Vampires. Can the Marquess’s forces employ your services?” Whitely and Ted thought over the prospect for only a short while. Then they answered with conviction.


Steven Lombardi is an award-winning short fiction writer. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Air and Nothingness Press, Ghost Orchid Press, The Common Tongue, 365 Tomorrows, Ab Terra, Theme of Absence and elsewhere. He won The Dark Sire Award for Best Fiction in February 2021. You can find Steven on Twitter (@_sl_) and learn more about his work at: stevenlombardi.nyc.


Be sure to return to read the next short story, A BAD PLACE TO MEAT by Mary Sloat, later this evening. The celebration continues at 7pm (EST).


The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize: Practical Alchemy on a Budget

In September, TDS hosted a writing contest that was named after Professor Jon Meyers, The Jon Meyers Dark Humour Prize for Gothic Literature (a.k.a. The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize). Entries were read in October with the winners – selected by Meyers himself – announced on October 31st, just in time for Halloween. The winners were:

Rose Biggin, Mrs. Pepper’s Ghost (1st Place)
Liam Hogan, Practical Alchemy on a Budget (2nd Place)
Steven Lombardi, To Cross a Vampire (3rd Place)
Mary Sloat, A Bad Place to Meat (Honorable Mention)

Now, over the next two days, all four short stories will be released individually to celebrate Contemporary Gothic Literature. And what better time to release them than December, when the cold bite of snow and ice warrants snuggling into a warm blanket in the dark? These four stories may not be Christmas-related, but they definitely fit into the Gothic tradition of storytelling during the Christmas season.

So without further ado, sit back, snuggle down, and grab your cocoa as you nestle into read…

Practical Alchemy on a Budget
by Liam Hogan

Congratulations on successfully decrypting1 your first alchemical text. In this introductory pamphlet, provided free with your Practical Alchemy for Young Widows of Modest Means2 weekly instalment beginner’s kit, we tackle a thorny problem for all except those with a substantial inheritance.

Alchemy, with its penchant for exotic materials and custom glassware, is alas never going to be a cheap pursuit, even if the knowledge and security it will bring can prove priceless. You will need to become a Grand Mistress3 to even attempt to transmute lead into gold, and so, until that exciting and often explosive day, here are some cost-saving measures you may like to consider.

The rare and expensive Hermetical writings you may be tempted to purchase in your eagerness to embark on the Great Work, were largely scribed by male practitioners towards the senile and embittered ends of their alchemical careers. They are a hodgepodge of over-elaboration and even deliberate obfuscation, such that the excuse for an experiment to fail is often already baked in.

Our home study packs are designed to cut away the frippery, to identify the nuggets of genuine knowledge, and to provide substances with guaranteed potency. You will find following our instructions cheaper and more efficacious than anything available elsewhere.

There are a few things you definitely won’t want to skimp on, whatever their cost. Cloth aprons are far cheaper than leather ones, but after an acid splash or two, you’ll realise you have wasted your money, as well as your skirts and quite possibly your petticoats. The corrosives discussed in lessons two and three will happily eat through most conventional fabrics, and oil of vitriol, if not neutralised, can cause serious burns, and even death4.

Similarly, it is recommended that you conduct your investigations in a well-ventilated space, and not, as you might otherwise be tempted to do, in overlooked and under-utilised attics and cellars. The noxious gases produced in lesson four can overwhelm even the most hardy, and fresh air is the only real defence5.

The creation of panaceas (lessons five, six, and seven) may absorb much of your time and effort, and justly so. But any alchemist worth their cyanide salt should never assume her remedy will work without first conducting trials. Alchemists of old would test particularly effective cures on aged elephants, putting many of these poor beasts of burden out of their lifelong misery, but this is well beyond the means of the average widow. Thankfully, there’s never a shortage of vermin, and rats that are unable to make it back to their lair will reliably indicate a lethal misstep.

Alchemy is a serious endeavour, not to be undertaken lightly. There is great risk, as well as great reward, and you should only proceed if you are certain of your intentions. It will not have escaped you that our introductory advice concentrates as much on the dangers of the chemicals and processes you are about to start experimenting with, as their cost. Necessarily so, for many of these substances are exceedingly toxic, and it behoves you to take careful note of their deleterious effects. This is vital, so that if you are visiting the apothecary or exploring the markets and docks for those harder to source materials, in the company, say, of one of your recently married young female acquaintances, you may diligently warn them of the dangers such powders and potions pose, as well as their alleged benefits. It would be remiss6 of you to fail to do so. Would it not be truly terrible if your enthusiasm was to inspire your distraught and sorely put-upon companion to attempt her own unguided alchemical venture, during which she might absent-mindedly spill a deadly and undetectable concoction into her boorish husband’s nightcap?

If your friend does have the misfortune to become a young widow, just as you are, we offer a generous referral scheme, and are even prepared to waive the usual membership fees, should you and she have inadvertently discovered a new and untraceable peril not previously recorded in our extensive archives. We always feel it is our duty to immediately warn all of our subscribers, so that they and their lady friends might avoid the same tragic consequences, and thus sleep soundly at night7.

Footnotes

1. As you embark on your journey, please remember to encode all research and notes, for reasons we trust will be obvious.

2. It is a sad indictment of today’s society that only widows have both the agency and the independent wealth to pursue this most stimulating of intellectual challenges. Should a widow remarry, she will find her wealth and her passions are legally no longer her own. Thankfully, second marriages are at least an alchemical practitioner’s choice, which is more than many of us had the first time around. Choose wisely.

3. See our Advanced courses.

4. Particularly for those of an elderly or frail constitution.

5. Locked windows, blocked up chimneys, and draft-proofed doors only increase the risk of suffocation.

6. And have possible legal ramifications. 7. If sleep should still prove illusive, and rather than any of the potential cures found in our correspondence, may we humbly suggest camomile?


Liam Hogan is an award-winning short story writer, with stories in Best of British Science Fiction and in Best of British Fantasy (NewCon Press). He’s been published by Analog, Daily Science Fiction, and Flame Tree Press, among others. He helps host Liars’ League London, volunteers at the creative writing charity Ministry of Stories, and lives and avoids work in London. Follow him on Twitter (@LiamJHogan) and learn more about his work at: http://happyendingnotguaranteed.blogspot.co.uk


Be sure to return to read the next short story, TO CROSS A VAMPIRE by Steven Lombardi, tomorrow morning. The celebration continues at 11am (EST).


The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize: Mrs. Pepper’s Ghost

In September, TDS hosted a writing contest that was named after Professor Jon Meyers, The Jon Meyers Dark Humour Prize for Gothic Literature (a.k.a. The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize). Entries were read in October with the winners – selected by Meyers himself – announced on October 31st, just in time for Halloween. The winners were:

Rose Biggin, Mrs. Pepper’s Ghost (1st Place)
Liam Hogan, Practical Alchemy on a Budget (2nd Place)
Steven Lombardi, To Cross a Vampire (3rd Place)
Mary Sloat, A Bad Place to Meat (Honorable Mention)

Now, over the next two days, all four short stories will be released individually to celebrate Contemporary Gothic Literature. And what better time to release them than December, when the cold bite of snow and ice warrants snuggling into a warm blanket in the dark? These four stories may not be Christmas-related, but they definitely fit into the Gothic tradition of storytelling during the Christmas season.

So without further ado, sit back, snuggle down, and grab your cocoa as you nestle into read…

Mrs. Pepper’s Ghost
by Rose Biggin

Of all the theatrical ghosts appearing that season in the seaside town of Trippingly-on-the-Tongue, most were in agreement that the spirit hovering about the wings of the Repertory Theatre was fast becoming the biggest nuisance.

It began by appearing very briefly, always shortly before the interval. The more observant theatre-goers took its hint to rise from their seats and get in early at the queue for ice-creams. At this point the ghost seemed harmless enough, even benign.

The proprietor of the Trippingly Rep did not mind the theatre ghost at first, convincing herself a momentary flicker at the end of the first act brought some character to the place. But very quickly this was exactly the problem.

‘Did you see it?’ she would hear the punters asking each other as they left of the theatre. ‘Best thing of the night, I’d say!’

Its appearances became sporadic, unpredictable: ‘It flashed across the stage exactly at the point the detective revealed the murderer! I almost missed who did it.’

Soon it was on stage for whole scenes at a time: ‘My aunt thought it was part of the plot, a character everyone was ignoring.’

And as the snow fell: ‘Was the back half of the horse more see-through than usual to you?’  

This wouldn’t do. Mrs Pepper had successfully navigated the Trippingly Rep through many a disastrous season. There had been the year of the actors’ strike, when she had played many of the parts herself; there had been the heatwave summer, when nobody had wanted to sit in hot darkness and watch a play.(Discounted ices had come to the rescue there.)There had been box-office flops, last-minute replacements, emergency closures and deadly rivalries with other theatres. These Mrs Pepper was particularly proud of seeing off. She had even, with her vivid and varied programme of entertainment, overtaken the town’s most prestigious theatre, the Trippingly Grand in all its gilt-and-velvet splendour, in popularity. She was certainly not about to lose her Rep to so insubstantial a problem as a ghost.

She could not deny that audiences seemed more interested in the ghost than the plays themselves. To counter this, Mrs Pepper decided to put on a very famous play, a classic they would definitely want to pay attention to, and chose the great tragedy Tarquin of Rome. She spent a lengthy tea-time convincing a local legendary actor to leave retirement and play the main role. Rehearsals went well, the rest of the company honoured to be playing alongside such a celebrity and spurred on to do their best, and expectations were high — until opening night, when the ghost appeared during Act One Scene One, in the guise of the legendary actor’s younger self, the first time they had played the role many years ago. He tried to ignore it, but his distraction was clear. In Act Two Scene Four the ghost appeared as the most famous actor to ever play the part, hovering sinisterly as tonight’s Tarquin struggled through the lines, sometimes even speaking over him. The rhapsody of the ghost’s delivery, evoking a performance from nearly a century ago, made the poor fellow on the stage nearly inaudible. For the rest of the play the ghost continued to reappear as various other Tarquins, and Mrs Pepper’s actor spent the whole night navigating through them.

‘We’ll go the other way,’ said Mrs Pepper, who was not to be deterred. ‘If the ghost is bothering my canonical drama, let’s try a crowd-pleaser. It might be a cultural snob.’ And so posters went up announcing the Rep would that night play one of the most popular pieces in its programme, the outrageous farce The Kicked Bouquet, set in an overstretched florist struggling to provide for multiple weddings and the funeral of a man who was faking his death.

But that did not work either. The play moved through its series of misunderstandings, its plot steadily gaining absurdity and speed — and in the second half the ghost appeared, with its vicar’s collar coming loose, running from door to door and back again, ghostly trousers around its ankles, confusing the audience as to what belonged to this farce and what had barged in from anotherfarce entirely. The curtain call was a mixture of applause and confused muttering, and the actors went home glum.

Drastic measures were now called for. The following day, alone in the theatre (more or less), Mrs Pepper unlocked her desk and consulted the faded letter from the previous proprietor of the Rep, recommending a course of action for exactly this emergency. Then she went down to the darkened props store, following the letter’s directions until she found a corner that had not been touched for many many years, and rummaged around until she found the object she was looking for. She held it out before her and examined it.

‘How curious,’ she said. Then she frowned. ‘And oddly familiar.’

Finally, she sent missives to the stage crew to meet her in the theatre that afternoon.

‘I have an answer to our current problem,’ she announced, standing centrestage. She held up a diagram drawn on the back of an old playbill. ‘Can you make me something like this?’

The crew stood in a semicircle around Mrs Pepper. Beside her was a sheet covering a bulky shape: the object she had found hidden in the props store.

‘Shouldn’t be too difficult,’ said the head carpenter, peering at the diagram. ‘What’s that, a mirror? Easy.’

‘Better than that and even simpler,’ said Mrs Pepper. ‘It is a pane of glass. We shall place it beneath the stage, angled to reflect the action above. Strength of the limelight will ensure it acts as a mirror, and then it shall merely be a matter of keeping watch. ’

She looked around the company as the same doom-laden thought settled upon all of them. There was a long pause, and an anxious shuffling of feet.

‘This is to do with getting rid of the g— getting rid of the presence, miss?’ asked one of the more superstitious stagehands, knotting her fingers together over her pinafore.

‘You have it exactly,’ said Mrs Pepper, smiling. ‘And we can ensure our efforts will be successful. By using this.’ She pulled the cloth away, and the assembled stagehands gasped at the sight of the contraption.

It was made from brass and resembled a blunderbuss, with a greater number of pipes than might be expected on a blunderbuss and several valve-like buttons like those on a trumpet. The end of the barrel widened out like a gramophone, or a metallic flower seeking the sun.

‘I’ll be depending on you all to hold your nerve,’ said Mrs Pepper. ‘This will be a true test of our powers of stagecraft.’

‘Sounds like forbidden stagecraft to me,’ and ‘Dangerous business, that’ — mutters of this kind rippled across the company, but Mrs Pepper overrode their reluctance with the promise of a ghost-free existence.

‘Besides,’ she added. ‘I shall be the one operating the device. The rest of you have nothing to fear. Just help me set it up.’

That evening, during the performance of Tarquin of Rome, Mrs Pepper stood beneath the stage balancing the ungainly gun on her hip. Before her, leaning against the far wall of what would have been the orchestra pit, was a pane of glass. One of the carpenters had detached it earlier from a window he hadn’t been using. The theatre itself was a full house, and Mrs Pepper could feel the warmth and energy of hundreds of restless spectators. Her chest butterflied with anticipation.

Up there on the boards, the legendary actor creeped along holding a lantern out before him, exploring a spooky ruined fortress. This was a famous scene: Tarquin’s big monologue.

The theatre ghost appeared, this time looking exactly like the legendary actor when he played this scene a few nights ago. The audience murmured with recognition. The ghost copied how the actor had moved about the stage, going left when the actor, tonight, went right, and making similar gestures slightly out of time. Suddenly the ghost strode forward with determination, which the actor tonight was too alarmed to do, and so the ghost passed right through him. From the balcony came a few cries of alarm at the sight.

‘All right, that’s quite enough of that,’ said Mrs Pepper, and she turned the contraption on.

For several moments nothing visibly happened, but the brass grew warm beneath her hands. The actor continued to totter through the lines up on the stage, followed closely by the pale image of how he had done it previously. Sharp blue electric light emitted from the contraption’s widened end, getting steadily brighter until it shone fully on the pane of glass and made it glow. Mrs Pepper watched the glass carefully until the image of the ghost was there, perfectly reflected from the stage.

The actor said a particularly famous line, and the ghost raised an arm as if in salute. Mrs Pepper flicked the switch.

The entire theatre was bathed in blue light.

Crackles and sparks shot from the blunderbuss, bounced off the glass and made straight for the ghost, who seemed to explode in a shower of shimmers. The light was blinding; everyone in the theatre covered their eyes.

When Mrs Pepper opened hers, the light in the theatre had returned to normal. And the ghost was there before her, trapped within the pane of glass.


‘Hard to imagine it going much better!’ cried the legendary actor, raising his drink at everyone. ‘Thank goodness we got through the rest of the play without any drama.’

Mrs Pepper nodded her agreement, but couldn’t stop herself frowning a little. She hadn’t failed to notice how politely the audience had applauded after the play, how quietly they had filed out of the theatre. She put it down to their being overwhelmed by the spectacle of it all, but couldn’t deny that she’d hoped for a standing ovation.

‘What did you do with the beasty?’ asked one of the younger actors, wearing his cricket whites from the matinee, for fun.

The famous actor raised his eyebrows, still in his laurel wreath from Tarquin. ‘Good point. Where did it go?’

‘Never you mind,’ said Mrs Pepper. ‘Somewhere it will never bother any of us again.’ And the whole company cheered.

That evening, when the actors had gone home and the final stagehand had locked the doors for the night and departed, Mrs Pepper lit a candle in her otherwise darkened office and approached the curtain that newly hung upon the wall. She tugged on the rope and drew the curtain. There hung the pane of glass, with the ghost still trapped inside it.

‘Thought you’d outsmarted me, hadn’t you?’ Mrs Pepper wagged a finger at it. ‘Thought you could interfere with my plays and face no consequence? Well, let’s see how you like it. You’re going to hang there on my wall and see how my theatre flourishes without your meddling.’

The ghost only looked at her through a wavering eye. It did not look squashed, exactly, but it certainly looked like it would prefer its freedom. Feeling triumphant, Mrs Pepper closed the curtain over it and went home for supper.


The Trippingly Rep continued its ghost-free season, putting on a great range of plays, none of which were interrupted by the appearance of spirits to bother the actors or spoil the effects. The theatre continued to play to full houses and receive positive notices in the Trippingly Post. But gradually it became clear that something, somehow, was ever so slightly wrong.

A night of entertainment at the Rep seemed to be losing its lustre. Audiences were becoming more muted: laughter was polite, tension nonexistent, applause hesitant. Mrs Pepper overheard confusion as people left the theatre, asking each other what exactly had happened, or what a particular moment had signified, or noting that they had almost nodded off.

After The Tragedy of Lancelot and Gwenivere of all things had played to indifference, Mrs Pepper stormed into her office, pulled the rope that opened the curtain and angrily faced the ghost.

‘You’ve been doing something to my theatre,’ she said. ‘I don’t know what, but things are different somehow. Worse.’

‘How can I do anything from in here?’ said the ghost. It held its palms up, a picture of innocent helplessness. Disgusted, Mrs Pepper drew the curtains back over the glass and stalked down to see the actors. They were in costume already for Length by Width by Death, a murder mystery set in a quantity surveyors.

‘All right,’ she said, as she faced the cast in the dressing-room. ‘Tonight I want you to give it all you’ve got. Make the Trip Rep proud.’ But something in the words, in her tone, sounded hollow; she felt her platitudes miss the mark, and the actors only stood there wanly, as if stripped of all energy. Their performance that night was dire. It resembled a tired group of exhausted people, going through the motions of something dull, having long forgotten the reason for doing it. The meagre applause hadn’t even died away when Mrs Pepper drew the curtain and spoke to the ghost again.

‘What are you playing at?’ she snarled, as the ghost looked back at her with blurry, wobbling eyes. ‘Why doesn’t anyone seem to know or care what they’re doing anymore?’

‘It’s just like I said. What can I do for you while I’m in here? It’s no surprise to me your audiences are all lost. Without me, there’s nothing to remind them of what they’re watching or why. So they forget; and the actors, too.’

‘Forget what? What do they need to be reminded of?’

‘Why, anything and everything that has gone before, on your stage or any other.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Theatre,’ said the ghost, ‘is a cultural technology of ritual and repetition above all else. When you watch a play, you don’t just watch: you remember. Now you’ve done this to me, how does anyone have the foggiest idea what they’re looking at? No wonder something feels off. You’ve stripped your stage of its past and its potential, and everyone can feel it.’

Mrs Pepper put her hands on her hips. ‘You’re the ghost of history plays in history now, are you? The spirit of pantomimes yet to come? Don’t give me any of that. You’re nothing but a menace, and now you’ve placed us all under some sort of curse. Well, turn it off. My theatre doesn’t need you. My audiences certainly don’t.’

‘If you say so,’ said the ghost. ‘But might I suggest you’d’ve been better off thinking of me as an opportunity?’

‘You’re just trying to trick me into letting you out,’ said Mrs Pepper, closing the curtain. ‘I’ll take you off the wall and throw you into the Tongue before I do that.’

The ghost spoke through the curtain. ‘I can’t get out,’ it said, its voice muffled by the patterned material. ‘There’s no reversing your little procedure. Now we both have to watch the theatre fail.’

That idea sat heavily with Mrs Pepper, a gnawing feeling that grew ever more dreadful. Performances were increasingly lacklustre. The actors mumbled their words before half-empty stalls. They forgot their lines, and the prompt forgot to prompt, leading to long passages of emptiness. The stagehands got the scene changes wrong and nobody noticed, the furniture or backcloth clashing with scenes that were hardly happening anyway. Stragglers dotted about the nearly empty theatre whistled to themselves distractedly and left without applauding, sometimes long before the end. The final straw came when the posters announcing the plays for the following week, which Mrs Pepper had been very firm about and had told the printers repeatedly, were pasted up completely blank.

Mrs Pepper stormed up the stairs into her office and once again faced the ghost.

‘All right,’ she said, her voice weary with defeat. ‘You win. What do you want me to do?’

‘There’s nothing you can do,’ said the ghost, its tone gleeful. ‘If I may be melodramatic for a moment, it’s too late.’

‘So you say?’ Mrs Pepper looked around desperately.

In the corner of the office stood a bucket, which held an ancient set of carpenter’s tools. She picked up the hammer, swinging it slightly to enjoy the weight at the end of her arm. Her eyes were wide. ‘You’ll do no more mischief from in there. I’ll see to that.’  

‘I wouldn’t if I were you.’ The ghost’s eyes on her were mocking, and it made some rude gestures along the flat plane of its thin existence. ‘You won’t fix anything that way.’

‘That’s what you think,’ said Mrs Pepper, reaching back with her arm to get a full, good, clear swing. ‘Watch this — and let’s see what we remember!’ And she took the hammer to the pane of glass.

A giant cracking sound echoed through the theatre like sharp thunder.

In the dressing-rooms, all the mirrors shattered. The lamps along the walls burst with a sudden flare, the smoked glass cracking as it dropped to the floor. In the carpeted foyer all the windows smashed themselves to bits, and in the auditorium the great chandelier splintered into a thousand crystal droplets that showered onto the seats and forever lodged between the stage boards. Onstage, all the pasteboard windows over the scenery flats were wrenched in half and torn like the flimsiest paper until the pieces floated down gently to the ground, and the wine and whisky glasses on the props drinks trolley popped and exploded, and the stage boards themselves were suddenly veined with cracks. The company looked at each other for an alarmed moment — then as one they all raced off the stage, through the theatre, up the stairs, along the corridor until finally they arrived breathlessly into Mrs Pepper’s office to find her there, standing among a thousand smithereens of glass, still holding the hammer, and laughing.


Rose Biggin is a writer and theatre artist based in London, UK. Her short fiction has been published in anthologies by Jurassic London, Abaddon Books, Mango, NewCon Press and Egaeus Press. She’s the author of Immersive Theatre & Audience Experience (Palgrave) and Shakespearean novel Wild Time (Surface Press). You can find Rose on Twitter (@RoseBiggin) and learn more about her work at https://www.rosebiggin.uk/


Be sure to return to read the next short story, PRACTICAL ALCHEMY ON A BUDGET by Liam Hogan, later this evening. The celebration continues at 7pm (EST).


Reality Meets Fiction: Doppelgängers

by Barry Pirro

Almost everyone has heard the term doppelgänger. It’s a German word that means double-walker or double-goer. Basically, a doppelgänger is someone who looks, acts, and sounds exactly like another person.

The following creepy tale isn’t fiction. It comes from a paranormal investigation I conducted at a home in Larchmont, New York. The family had a number of bizarre experiences after the father brought a haunted organ home, but Michael coming face-to-face with his doppelgänger-mother was by far the strangest: 

Michael burst through the backdoor, snow swirling in after him. He slammed the door shut, threw his book bag on the mudroom floor and pried off his snow-caked sneakers, losing one soggy sock in the process. He pulled off the other drenched sock and threw both on top of his book bag, then threw his wet jacket on top of the pile.

Music was blasting in Michael’s headphones as he headed to the kitchen to grab a snack. School was let out early because of the snow, and with more than a foot predicted by morning, it looked like tomorrow would definitely be a snow day. He riffled through the junk food cabinet and settled on something he considered to be highly nutritious – Strawberry Pop-tarts.

He tore open the two-pack of Pop-Tarts, took a bite, headed out into the living room, making for the staircase. When he was half-way across the room he slowed, took another bite of his Pop-Tart, then stopped and looked at the crucifixes that hung on all four walls of the room. He couldn’t help but wonder what his dad got the family into.

Three months earlier, unexplainable things started happening around the house after the father bought an antique pump-organ he saw while doing a job at a house in Larchmont. The man was an electrician, and a musician on the side. So when he saw the organ, he bought it from the guy, even though it came with a warning. The guy told him that the organ was…

Michael shook the thought away and started walking to the staircase when he slowed and eyed the large wooden crucifix that hung above the front door. To the right of the door hung a string of rosary beads and on the door itself was a picture of Jesus, his eyes lifted to heaven. Michael shook his head and turned up the volume on his headphones. Haunted my ass, he thought as he turned the corner and headed upstairs.

Michael was on the third step when he looked up. He quickly pulled the headphones off of his ears and turned off the music. His mother was standing at the top of the stairs. She was looking down at him, and she didn’t seem very happy. Christ, what did I do wrong now?

“Hey mom! I didn’t know you were home. What’s up?” he asked, making his voice sound just a tad too cheerful. His mother just stood there looking at him. Michael smiled up at her and climbed a few more steps until he was just eight steps down from her.

“We got let out early because of the snow. Kelly should be home soon, too. They let the middle school out a half-hour after the high school. I bet we’ll be off tomorrow. We’re supposed to get a foot of snow!”

His mother only stared at him, nothing more.

“Mom? What’s up?” he said as she continued her accusatory glare. “Oh, sorry I didn’t clean my room this morning. I’ll do it now.” He started to climb the rest of the stairs, but she just stood there on the landing at the top of the stairs looking down at him as if she wanted to confront him about something.

She was holding a dish towel, so he guessed she had just come up from the kitchen for something. But what was her problem? She was literally blocking his way, but she wasn’t saying anything, just holding the towel in one hand, twisting it with the other, and staring at him.

Michael was genuinely getting concerned. Maybe his mom had had a stroke? As his concern grew, he continued to look up at his mother. The corners of her mouth turned up slightly, and she shifted the weight off of one foot and took a step back as if she was about to let him pass. But just as Michael started to climb the stairs again, she slowly took a step forward and twisted the towel tighter.

“Mom? What’s the matter? Did I do something wrong? Talk to me!” he yelled. Then, the corners of her mouth slowly turned upward into a big grin, like she had just been playing some kind of a joke on him. He sighed with relief and smiled back at her. He laughed, “Mom, you really had me fooled there for a minute.” From downstairs, he heard someone walk in from the kitchen and through the living room. “There’s Kelly now,” he said. “Her school bus must have just dropped her off.”     

Suddenly, a voice called to him from the bottom of the stairs: “Michael, who are you talking to, Honey? I could hear your voice from all the way in the basement.”

Michael turned around quickly and stared down the stairs in total disbelief. The skin on his scalp crawled, and he began to shake. His mother was standing at the bottom of the stairs, smiling up at him as she held a roll of paper towels in one hand and a spray bottle of cleaner in the other. Michael’s head jerked back to the top of the stairs.

There was no one there, just a twisted dish towel laying limp on the top step.


Stories of doppelgängers have been around for literally thousands of years, and many theories surround these mysterious doubles.

One theory is that a doppelgänger is a duplicate version of ourselves from an alternate reality, or from another dimension. But in their reality, they are living an entirely different life than the one we live in this reality. When both realities line-up, one of us ‘bleeds over’ into the other’s world and we end up seeing each other. The sightings are usually brief, and the doppelgänger usually vanishes when spotted.  

Another theory is that a doppelgänger is our exact double, a cell-for-cell duplicate living in the same reality. Some think that it’s impossible for two of the same person to live in the same reality, so when the two meet up, one of them must die.


Several famous people have reported seeing their doppelgängers, and many of them died soon after.  Abraham Lincoln saw his double in a mirror. He said that the figure appeared to be around three shades paler than him, and that it hovered several inches above his real body. He saw this same figure once again, and a little over a year later, he was assassinated.

The English poet Percy Shelly saw his doppelgänger numerous times. Once, it even spoke to him. Percy’s friend saw the poet’s double walking on the terrace of his house when he wasn’t at home. Percy’s last sighting of his doppelgänger was when he saw it standing on a beach pointing out to sea. When he approached the figure, it vanished. A few weeks later, Percy Shelly died in a boating accident at sea at the age of twenty-nine.


Seeing a doppelgänger can be a terribly frightening experience. I was recently contacted by a woman named Melanie who was desperate for me to run a paranormal investigation at her house. She and her family had just moved in a month earlier, and she was hoping I would be able to get to the bottom of some mysterious happenings in the house, such as odd sounds in the middle of the night and a feeling of being watched. But those experiences paled in comparison to what she and her daughter witnessed.

One night, Melanie woke up a little after midnight for no particular reason. Looking out of her bedroom door, she could see the front foyer, and the staircase that led to the second floor. Coming down the stairs was her 12-year-old daughter, Sarah.

“Sarah, is everything OK?” Melanie called out to the girl, but she didn’t respond. She just kept walking down the stairs. When Sarah was almost to the bottom step, Melanie quickly got out of bed and walked across the room toward the doorway.

Just as she was about to walk into the foyer, she watched in horror as Sarah turned into a silvery mist. The shimmering fog rose up to the ceiling, then vanished.

Melanie was terrified. She raced upstairs to check on the girl, only to find her fast asleep in her bed. She ran downstairs and woke her husband to tell him what had just happened, but he just wrote it off as a bad dream.

Melanie knew that it was no dream, but she didn’t want to frighten the kids, so she didn’t tell them about it.

Three days later, Sarah woke up at around 2 AM after hearing a sound. The hall light was always left on, so her room was well lit, and as she looked around the room, she saw her father standing about eight feet away from her bed. His back was to her, but she knew it was him because he was wearing a t-shirt that he frequently wore, and that she often poked fun of. It was red with a big picture of a race car on the back.

Sarah watched her father, totally puzzled by what he was doing. He was looking at the framed photos of various family members that hung on her wall. As he looked at each one, he leaned in as if to get a better look, then ran his hand over its surface. Then he moved on to the next photo and did the same thing.

After watching him doing this for a few minutes, Sarah said out loud, “Dad, what are you doing? It’s two in the morning?”

As soon as she said this, her father half turned his face toward her, then turned and bolted out of the room. Sarah was frightened and confused. Why would her father be in her room in the middle of the night? Why was he acting this way, and why did he just run away? She bolted downstairs to her parents’ room, but when she got there she found both of them asleep. Her father wasn’t wearing the shirt she had just seen him in.

Sarah was totally unaware that her mother had seen her doppelgänger walking down the stairs three nights earlier, and yet she too saw a phantom double in the house. How could this be? If the house was haunted, why did the ghost look like family members?


I have a theory about doppelgängers, specifically the type that show up in haunted houses. Spirits need energy to manifest, and they often get it from the living. This is why people often report feeling physically drained after seeing a ghost.

I believe that the doppelgänger Melanie saw used her energy to manifest, and in the process, it unintentionally ‘borrowed’ her memories. This was why it appeared as the image of her daughter. It could have resembled anyone that Melanie knew, but Sarah’s image was probably the strongest in her mind when it pilfered her energy. Likewise, Sarah saw her father because the spirit inadvertently absorbed her memories. When it used her energy to manifest, it took on the appearance of her father.

There are more and more reports of doppelgänger sightings these days. I wonder why. Perhaps the veil between realities is becoming thinner. Or maybe an army of doubles is fleeing their dimension because of some cataclysm that made their world uninhabitable, and now they’re jumping over into ours and replacing us. All I know is that the thought of doppelgängers gives a whole new meaning to the phrase: You look exactly like someone I know! Maybe the person doesn’t really look “exactly” like you or maybe, just maybe, they are “an exact copy” of you, after all. No matter, if anyone asks to introduce you to your look-alike, run – don’t walk! Because if the theories are true and your doppelgänger catches you, you might just disappear into oblivion.


UPDATE: Due to lack of reader interest, this is the final Reality Meets Fiction story by Barry Pirro. Thank you so much for reading!

“Reality Meets Fiction” is a series on non-fiction, real-life stories as experienced through personal accounts and investigations conducted by Barry Pirro, a paranormal investigator known as the Connecticut Ghost Hunter. Barry has over a decade of paranormal investigation experience and shared his stories every 4th Friday of the month from June 2021 to November 2021. To learn more about the Ghost Hunter, visit http://www.connecticutghosthunter.com/.

READERS: Have you ever seen a doppelgänger? If so, tell us about it in the comments. Better yet, write your non-fiction story and send it to us: darksiremag@gmail.com (subject: Doppelgängers). Your story may be picked to appear on our blog as a follow up to Barry’s.

WRITERS: Use Barry’s real-life story to inspire your creativity! Write a story using doppelgängers and then submit it to us for publication consideration at: https://www.darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

As always, thanks for supporting THE DARK SIRE! If you’re not following us, please do. We are on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram under @DarkSireMag. And, of course, you can pick up a digital copy of our issues on the TDS website or paperback copies through AmazonThe Bibliophile Bookstore (Dover, Ohio), and now Poe’s New & Used Bookstore (New Berlin, Pennsylvania).

Take care!

Self-Editing Series: The Different Types of Editing

What is the first thing you need to do once you finish your manuscript? Hint: The answer is not to submit it to all the agents and publishers. Yet.

First, congratulate yourself for reaching “The End.” You should always take the time to celebrate that you accomplished something amazing.

Second, take some time away from your manuscript. You’ve probably worked for weeks or months or even years to finish your work of art. So, it’s time to take a breather. Leave the manuscript untouched for at least a week, maybe even a month.

Once you have distanced yourself from your story, it’s now time to… EDIT. That’s right! Editing is a very important part of the writing process. In fact, a manuscript – though it can be rejected due to subject matter or market value – will be rejected solely due to lack of editing. While writing will never be perfect, it’s important that your craft be presented as best as possible to stand out in the crowd. That’s because authors have a level of professionalism to uphold. This standard is what differentiates an unpublished writer from a published writer.

In today’s publishing market, then, it is more important than ever to send in a polished manuscript. The stronger the manuscript is before it gets to an editor, the better your chances of success.

Types of editing

Editing comes in three forms: developmental, line, and copy editing.

All manuscripts, no matter the length, need all three types of editing throughout the editing process. Even those manuscripts that have been beta read, critiqued, and reviewed multiple times (over and over again!) will still need touch-ups. And it is in your best interest to catch them now – before the publisher sees them.

Let’s break the three types of editing down.

Developmental Editing
The overall editing of the manuscript that examines story, plot, and other story-related elements, such as world building, characterization, and even dialogue.

Developmental edits make sure that your story not only has good pacing, but strong plot, purposeful scenes, relatable characters with powerful arcs, consistent world-building, and so on. If you have beautiful, flowery prose, or strong, succinct lines, that’s wonderful, but if the story itself doesn’t flow, has plot holes, or is a structural nightmare, readers will quickly lose interest in reading and then… will put down the story for another one. Developmental Editing, then, is necessary to make sure that your story is functioning and the powerful pillars of storytelling are in place.

Line Editing
The sentence-level form of editing that examines word choice and sentence structure.

Line edits strives for clarity, so that readers not only understand the author’s intention and character’s emotions but also the story’s tone and mood. Do the sentences make sense to a reader? Did you use the right word for that scene’s mood, or does a different one carry better impact? Or, do you need to make sure that you didn’t use overly long sentences in your fast-paced fight scene? Line Editing is where you can really manipulate the sentence to work hard for the mood, feel, tone, and impact of your manuscript. It’s what makes readers feel the story.

Copy Editing
The nitty-gritty of mechanics that examines grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

This is probably what most people think of when they hear the term “editing.” Copy editing is about checking your story for grammar, spelling, and mechanics (punctuation) issues. For example, you’d check to see if you split an infinitive, used the correct dash (or should it be a hyphen?), and spelled words correctly (color versus colour) according to the English system (American, British, Australian) you chose. Copy Editing, then, is the last phase of editing that fixes the grammar-level issues, spelling errors, and punctuation of your manuscript.

So how do I self-edit my manuscript?

Self-editing takes time and practice because you need to learn how to read your manuscript from a new perspective. When you self-edit, you don’t just read the story from an author’s point-of-view, but, rather, a reader’s point-of-view. Which means: You read it as someone who doesn’t know anything about the story, the world, or the characters. As if you are experiencing it for the first time. And that last sentiment is what makes self-editing difficult – but it can be done!

A few tips:

  • Distance yourself from the manuscript. Give yourself 7-30 days away from the script so you can look at it with fresh eyes and a new perspective.
  • Critique chapter by chapter as if reading for another writer. Forget that this is your work and be as honest as you would be with another writer’s work.
  • Ask questions of the author. Yes, you wrote the story but have a conversation with the author nonetheless. Ask them questions about where the story is going, what isn’t explained yet and why, and what may be hard to understand without background information.
  • Examine word choice. Did you use very, as in very tired? That choice could be stronger, so you’d want to consider exhausted. Look at word choice to select the most impactful words for the mood you’re trying to create.
  • Challenge your sentence structure. Is the sentence you’re reading structured the best way? Is it grammatical, spelled correctly, using correct mechanics? If you need to, study punctuation so you can use it more affectively.

If you are preparing your manuscript for publication, you want to catch as many standout errors as you can. The manuscript doesn’t have to be “perfect,” but it does have to flow easily when read – and make sense with no gaps or holes that confuse the reader. So let’s start learning more about self-editing!

Get ready for our new editing series, where we’ll go deep into self-editing tips and tricks over the next several weeks. Headed by our own editor, Courtney Kelly, the series will walk you through all three levels of editing, complete with examples, explanations, and more. By the end, you’ll have all the skills you need to revise your story into a polished manuscript.

What’s next week’s topic?

Next week we’ll start breaking down some elements of Developmental Editing, starting with the pinnacle of storytelling: Characters! If you have any specific questions about characterization, please let us know in the comments so we can cover it in next week’s post.


Get your manuscript ready!
Editing begins next week.

Reality Meets Fiction: Communicating with Spirits

by Barry Pirro

Don’t you just love spiral staircases? I know I do. You don’t see many in houses these days apart from the narrow, metal ones that are installed as an afterthought when converting a garage or some other such space into a proper room. But the spiral staircase I was climbing down this particular day was a real beauty. It was broad, carpeted in a deep white pile, and it was in a house in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

The young couple who contacted me were experiencing a lot of unusual, disturbing activity — the sound of phantom footsteps in the night, objects moving by themselves, and sighting of the ghostly figure of a man in a blue plaid shirt. They asked for my help in figuring out what was there, and hopefully to get rid of it. Of course, I was more than happy to oblige.

As I continued making my way down the staircase, a feeling of apprehension began to build, as if someone was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. The feeling didn’t frighten me because I’ve felt this kind of thing many times before. I’m never afraid during investigations, but I’m always curious. ‘Knock-Knock. Who’s there?’ I thought. 

I made one last turn of the helix, and as my foot left the last step and set down on the hardwood floor, I knew. Something was in the room with me, and it wasn’t happy to see me. This wasn’t exactly the warm welcome I was hoping for, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

I stopped for a minute and scanned the beautiful finished basement with hardwood floors. A leather couch faced a large stone fireplace, and sliding doors led to a deck overlooking a sunny, spacious backyard. Overall, it was a bright, cheerful space that anyone would love to spend time in. The only problem was, the place was haunted as hell. How did I know? I could feel it.

As I stood there allowing my intuition to take over, the thing in the room crept closer and closer to me. Then, it suddenly rushed at me and gave me a message loud and clear — You are not wanted here.

‘That may be the case,’ I thought back calmly. ‘But whoever you are, there’s something you need to know — I never back down. You don’t frighten me, so don’t even try. I’m here to help you. Why are you here, and what is it that you want?’

Although people’s stories about the ghostly activity in their home is interesting, I don’t really need to hear them. If a house is haunted I’ll feel it right away. What does it feel like? Each experience is different, but more often than not it begins with a feeling of being watched, observed, studied.

Imagine being in a room where there’s a security camera in the corner, and every time you take a step the camera follows your every move. It’s that kind of a feeling; as if I’m being scrutinized by someone I can’t see, but I know that they’re there.

Next comes a flood of emotions that usually have nothing to do with the way the surroundings look. I might walk into a warm, sunny room and suddenly feel sad, depressed, or lonely. Likewise, I can walk into a dark, dingy basement and be flooded with feelings of happiness.

Then, I begin receiving intuitive information. Sometimes the messages come in the form of names or dates, other times I see visual ‘snapshots’ of the past in my mind’s eye. One common thing about these clairvoyant messages is that they are always extremely persistent.

During one investigation, I kept “hearing” a voice say, ‘I’m Elizabeth. Ask them about Elizabeth.’ I pushed the message away, in case it was just my imagination, but it kept coming back and repeating over and over again — ‘I’m Elizabeth. Ask them about Elizabeth.’

Finally, I said to the homeowner, “I don’t know if this means anything to you, but I’m supposed to ask you about Elizabeth.”

“Elizabeth?” the homeowner said with a start, “Why, she’s the woman who lived here before I bought this house. She was very old, and I was told that she died in a nursing home. I never met her, but I’m certain her name was Elizabeth because that name was on all of the documents we signed when we bought the house. How did you know?”

“A little bird told me,” I said with a smile. “A little bird named Elizabeth.”

Most times, intuitive information is very brief. Just a word or two, then it’s gone. But other times it’s extremely detailed, as if I’m watching a movie. Once while taking a tour of an historic home, the group stopped in a bedroom on the second floor. The room was tiny with a small bed pushed into a dark corner. The tour guide was talking about the history of the house, but I was barely listening. I was beginning to receive intuitive information, and it was very strong.

As I stood there looking around the room, waves of happiness washed over me. In my mind’s eye, I could see lots of very young children running through the door and around the room. All of the children were barefoot. The boys wore light colored, loose fitting pants that went to the knee, and shirts with buttons. The girls wore simple, light colored dresses that went down to their ankles. They were running in circles through one door and out the other. Then they would loop back and run in again. There was a man sitting on the bed, and as the children ran by he was pretending to try and catch them. The scene was extremely vivid and filled with laughter and joy.

There had been no mention of children up to this point in the tour, so before we moved on to the next room I casually said to the tour guide, “There were a lot of children in this house, weren’t there?”

“Yes,” she said with a smile. “There were a LOT of children in this house. Eleven! And they were all born in this very room. You wouldn’t think that a house as small as this could hold so many kids, but somehow they made it work. They were a very happy family.”

Not all of the sensations I get are intuitive. Sometimes they’re purely physical. These include feeling pains and other feelings in various parts of my body. The pains usually correspond with what the spirit was feeling during their lifetime, or when they died. Sometimes I’ll feel sharp pains in my head or my chest, or I’ll feel short of breath. Once during an investigation, my legs suddenly became stiff and leaden, as if I had arthritis. It felt as if I could barely walk. I later learned that the person who lived in the home was an invalid, and that she walked with the aid of a walker.

Then there are the ghostly touches; soft caresses on my arms, face, and hands. And if you’ve never been poked by a ghost, I highly recommend it. Poking seems to be their favorite way of letting me know that they are with me. I’ll be walking down a hallway when all of a sudden I’ll feel a very strong jab in my arms, back, or shoulders. It feels exactly like someone is poking me a few times with two or three fingers. I usually only experience this once or twice during an investigation, but in very active houses I’ll get poked several times.

One of the most striking examples of a spirit communication happened during an investigation I conducted at a haunted day spa in Connecticut. The owner contacted me because she and her employees had been witnessing very disturbing paranormal phenomenon at the spa.

One morning two of the workers watched as a large, heavy metal bowl levitated off of a table, then floated down to the floor. Another day, one of the employees caught a glimpse of a man walking into one of the treatment rooms. When she went to investigate, the room was empty. Every morning, the person opening the shop finds objects thrown on the floor in the gift shop area. But the last straw was when the owner and another employee heard the blood curdling scream of a man coming from one of the treatment rooms. Needless to say, they investigated and there was no one there.

After interviewing the owner and staff, I did a walkthrough of the spa. I immediately felt a male presence in one of the treatment rooms. As I tried to communicate with him, the spirit would move to another room. After following him from room to room, trying to get him to tell me what the problem was, I decided to conduct a clearing and send him on his way.

The two women came into the room to ask what I had come up with when all of a sudden, soft music started playing in all of the treatment rooms. The owner was shocked, and totally baffled. The only way to turn the music on in the spa was to login to the computer with a password, login to Spotify, then choose the Meditation Music station. But neither of the women had touched the computer.

As we were talking about this strange occurrence, the music started playing louder, and louder. The ghost was actually turning the volume up on the speaker that sat on the shelf. The music in all of the other rooms remained quiet. He clearly wanted us to know that he was there.

The shop owner and her employee went back to the front of the spa while I conducted the clearing. To clear a space of a spirit, I talk to them and try to make them realise the situation they are in. They are no longer living, they don’t belong here, and there are loved ones waiting for them on the other side.

“It’s time for you to move on,” I said out loud. “You don’t belong here any longer. There is a beautiful place waiting for you filled with light and love. Your friends and family have been waiting for you for a very long time. It’s time for you to go to them.”

Suddenly, an overwhelming sense of sadness and abandon washed over me, and I could hear the spirit’s voice in my head. ‘There’s no one waiting for me,” he said. ‘I have no one. No one is waiting for me.’

The feeling of despair and hopelessness was so powerful that I felt it to my core, and the sadness and loneliness that came over me was so strong that I actually started to cry.

A few minutes later, the women came into the room from the front of the store. I told them that I finished the clearing, but that the spirit was refusing to move on. I didn’t share any of the details about the emotional exchange I had just had.

“I have to tell you,” the owner said. “While you were back here doing the clearing, we both got very sad. We both felt like we wanted to cry.” I was amazed. They had picked up the same feelings and emotions from the spirit that I had.

The most important tool in a paranormal investigator’s toolbox is his intuition. Cameras, recorders, meters, and sensors can give you a clue that a ghost is present, but the real proof comes from direct communication with the spirit.

My advice to anyone wishing to have these kinds of experiences is to stop blocking thoughts and feelings. If you walk into a room and it doesn’t feel quite right, let that feeling sit with you for a while. Silently ask, ‘Is there someone here with me? Can you tell me your name?’ Just don’t be surprised if you get an answer. It’s not just your imagination. Chances are, you just communicated with a spirit, and you’ve just taken the first step toward a new and amazing journey.


UPDATE: Due to lack of reader interest, Reality Meets Fiction will be ending in two months. That means, just two more stories will be published (October and November). If you’d like for the series of paranormal investigation stories to continue, please let us hear your voice in the comments.

“Reality Meets Fiction” is a series on non-fiction, real-life stories as experienced through personal accounts and investigations conducted by Barry Pirro, a paranormal investigator known as the Connecticut Ghost Hunter. Barry has over a decade of paranormal investigation experience and will share his stories every 4th Friday of the month. Don’t forget to catch the last article on November 26th. To learn more about the Ghost Hunter, visit http://www.connecticutghosthunter.com/.

READERS: Have you had or have heard of spirit communication and encounters? If so, tell us about it in the comments. Better yet, write your non-fiction story and send it to us: darksiremag@gmail.com (subject: Spirit Communication). Your story may be picked to appear on our blog as a follow up to Barry’s.

WRITERS: Use Barry’s real-life story to inspire your creativity! Write a story using spirit communication and then submit it to us for publication consideration: https://www.darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

As always, thanks for supporting THE DARK SIRE! If you’re not following us, please do. We are on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram under @DarkSireMag. And, of course, you can pick up a digital copy of our issues on the TDS website or paperback copies through AmazonThe Bibliophile Bookstore (Dover, Ohio), and now Poe’s New & Used Bookstore (New Berlin, Pennsylvania).

Until we meet again, take care!

Finches: A Review

by Kausambi Patra

Rating: 💀💀💀💀

Release Date: October 1, 2021

AM Muffaz started writing this concise novel 15 years ago to process a different trauma. She is facing difficulty in accepting that the beloved country of her childhood has changed into a problematic place that is not easy to question. The author deals with intergenerational trauma and the danger its poses. She wants to celebrate diversity, inclusiveness and cultural understanding. In the Introduction, she notes that Charles Darwin wanted to be a parson. But after his journey, he altered his and peoples’ thinking “to see change as beautiful.” The author aspires for that. The novel ‘Finches’ is strewn with quotes from Ayats and ‘The Origin of Species.’

Restless spirits flit around within the novel seeking something. Grandmother Jah deeply resents her husband Ghani’s second marriage, which is legal in Malaysia. She hates the couple with vehemence even after their unnatural deaths. She goes back to live in their family’s old home, claiming it as her own. She experiences ‘cold spots’ in the house and the unquiet spirits. She beats up her dead husband’s spirit and is spitefully uncivil to his wife’s spirit. During an exorcism, she stops the bomoh from forcing a ghost out of a room and locks the door.

The story follows a nonlinear narrative. It moves from one character to another and comes back again. In Rahim’s chapter, he faces the spirits in the old house. His meetings are terrifying, and he narrowly escapes violent harm.

From time to time, the story moves back to the past. The author paints beautiful images of a warm and cosy family enjoying themselves in their flowering garden with abundant refreshments and supporting each other. The children of the first wife seem to share relationships of trust and nurture with the second wife. But the fractures get exposed at times. The author stresses that the granddaughter and the new wife, Aisya, are the same age. Aisya is very good-looking and delicate, in sharp contrast to the granddaughter Khatijah. She is beautiful even more after her death.

The author has vivid flowing portrayals of the physical surroundings and poetic descriptions of everyday mundane activities and objects within the house. She goes into minute details and piques the interest of the reader –

There, the jars had clouded over, some bloodied red, the others opaque white. Her eyes were drawn towards a particular jar in the middle of the rack, whose curtain of white cleared when it had her focus. Inside, a milky-coloured mass curdled upon itself like a clot of grubs, wriggling limbs, she thought, as it rotated in place. From the centre of this clot, wrinkles unfurled like a flower, until, in the depths of its heart, it flicked open an eye. (Page 63)

The pickle jars were Grandmother Jah’s precious possession. The ‘cold spots’ manifest there and respond to her hatred. All the characters sense the ‘cold spots’ and the restive spirits as they gradually become violent and malicious. But the surviving family members are not scared. Instead, they grope for answers. They remain calm and composed and try to piece together their broken fragments.

Reading Muffaz’s words, one can almost see and touch the spirits and inhabit that house. But it is what they have left behind that the living is forced to deal with. Even when these people were living happily, there was the case of the chickens metamorphosing. This mirrors the undercurrent that erupts at the end. When Fatimah is forced to visit the house, the bougainvillaea claws her car.

The scratches ran as deep as the awful sound they’d made, making five broken lines from the side mirror to the handle, their ragged path edged with fine silvery powder. (Page 90)

The spirits, too, answer her hate. 

Ghani and many of the characters are unable to accept the change around them, which pushes the gradual unfolding of the incidents. The house and its environment has soaked it all and rushes to its revelation in the climactic ending. The concluding chapters are left open for the reader’s interpretation.

I found the novel unsettling and the ghosts terrifying. I was scared for the family members living in that old haunted cottage. The narrative is about people trying to understand their past and surroundings and the resulting frictions. The author strongly feels that unless one adapts and faces reality, they face destruction. This short novel is wrapped in the author’s emotion.

Finches is available from Vernacular Books and comes out October 1, 2021. Purchase a copy wherever books are sold, including on Amazon.


RATING:  💀
Boring, not dark, not interesting. Do not recommend.

RATING: 💀💀
Fair plot, not too dark, fairly interesting. Read at own risk.

RATING: 💀💀💀
Good plot and mild darkness, good reading experience. Encouraged read.

RATING: 💀💀💀💀
Great reading experience with heaps of dark tone. Strong recommend.

RATING: 💀💀💀💀💀
Excellent prose, tons of dark tone. A MUST READ!

Reality Meets Fiction: Voodoo Dolls

What do Barnes and Noble, Walmart, and Target have in common? They all sell Voodoo Dolls! And they’re not the only ones. You can buy Voodoo dolls and kits from hundreds of online vendors, and browsing through the many different types of online Voodoo dolls is quite entertaining. There’s the “Mini Office Voodoo Kit” that you can use to put a curse on your boss or co-workers; the “Happy Couple Voodoo Doll Kit” to cast love spells; the “Passion Masters Sex Voodoo Doll” to ‘attain massive, animal-like sex stamina’; and my favorite–the “Photo Revenge Voodoo Doll” where you send a photo of your ex, wait for the doll to arrive, then go to town sticking pins in the doll that has your ex’s face on it.

Those who use dolls in Voodoo-type rituals swear by them, but do they really work? Apparently so. In Connecticut, a Voodoo doll was used to cause the death of two people.

In 2008, John Brightman of New England Paranormal Research was contacted by a woman named Amanda in Westport who was experiencing paranormal activity in her home, such as objects moving on their own, and doors opening and slamming shut. In addition, a deceased family member was reportedly seen in the home.

During the investigation, Brightman learned that three people who had been living in the house had died several months earlier–Amanda’s mother, Esther, her brother, Roger, and her younger sister, Vivian. After the deaths, Amanda inherited the home. When she arrived to clean the house, she discovered a hand-made altar in Roger’s room. Four candles were on its surface, and in the center was a box about eight inches long and four inches wide. Inside was a stuffed doll, and tacked to it were three photographs. One was a photo of Amanda’s younger sister, and the other was of her mother. The third was of a man Amanda did not recognize. Small pins had been inserted into the doll in various positions, and it was charred in several places. The box also contained herbs, and small bottles containing oils and ointments.

Amanda told the investigator that Roger discovered that his sister Vivian had convinced their mother to cut him out of his inheritance. Apparently, he used the doll to put a curse on his mother and sister, and it worked. Esther died shortly after Roger found out about losing his inheritance, and two months later, his sister Vivian died of a ruptured spleen. But it seems that Roger’s scheme backfired because he died a few months later. So, in the end, three people died as the result of using the Voodoo doll.

In order to understand the use of dolls in ritual magic, it’s important to understand the concept of sympathetic magic whereby a magician believes that he can produce any desired physical effect merely by imitating it. In addition, there is the belief that whatever is done to a material object will also be done to the person that it was once in contact with. This is why dolls used in magic rituals are often constructed or decorated with hair, nail-clippings, or pieces of cloth once owned by a person.

The use of dolls in sympathetic magic goes back thousands of years. The melting or burning of ritualistic dolls was written about in great detail in some ancient Greek texts. In ancient Egypt, enemies of Ramses III used wax images of the Pharaoh in rituals to help bring about his death. Greek dolls, known as Kolossoi, were used for various ritual purposes, such as to restrain a ghost, to ward off an evil entity, or as a way to bind lovers together.

Voodoo dolls are the most familiar type of doll used in casting spells and curses, but there are actually a number of different types of dolls used in ritualistic magic and witchcraft. The oldest examples of dolls stuck with pins and used in ritual magic don’t come from Africa or the Carribean, they originated in Britain where during the middle ages, practitioners of magic called ‘cunning folk’–also known as wizards, wise men or women, or conjurers– would make cloth dolls made to resemble a person in the community who was thought to be a witch. The doll would be stuck with pins to do the witch harm, and to help break any magic spells she may have put on anyone. 

If you ever get a chance to visit England, be sure to visit the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall, England. Among the museum’s many interesting artifacts is a curious figure–a small, crudely formed female clay doll stuck with four pins. This type of ritualistic doll is known as a poppet, and this particular one appears to be blackened in places as if it had been charred by fire.

Poppets are made to represent a person and they’re used to cast spells on that person for good or for evil, or to put a curse on the person. They can be made out of a number of different materials such as carved roots, corn husks, a piece of dried fruit, wax, clay, branches, or cloth. Dolls made out of cloth are often stuffed with herbs or other materials thought to have magical properties. Poppets that have a curse on them would be hidden in a home to make sure it is close to its intended victim.

Now let’s get one thing straight, Voodoo has very little to do with so-called Voodoo dolls. In fact, the name Voodoo isn’t even the actual name of the religion. Vodou (the proper spelling and pronounced VOO-dow or VOE-do) originated in the 17th century French colonial empire among enslaved West Africans. An 1685 law required all slaveholders to Christianize slaves within eight days of their arrival, and this was often Catholicism. Over time, the slaves combined elements of their religious beliefs with Roman Catholicism. Because they were forced to adopt Catholic rituals, slaves gave them double meanings and in the process, many of their African spirits became associated with Christian saints.

Vodou is a fascinating and complex religion, and although dolls are used in Vodou, they are usually used for good, or for protection against evil, similar to the use of religious statues in churches and homes. Dolls are used for a variety of purposes such as love, healing, guidance, fertility, and empowerment.

When West African slaves were brought to the United States, they retained their religious practices of using dolls. One type of doll that they made was called a fetish which was thought to be possessed by spirits connected to the doll’s owner. The fetish would be worn for good luck, or to access magical powers. Fetish dolls are also used to create a bond between the physical and spiritual worlds. They are also known by the names ‘juju’ and ‘grisgris’. The term ‘grisgris’ also refers to charm bags filled with magical powders, roots, herbs, bones, spices, stones, feathers, and so on. So, grisgris bags are actually a type of magic potion–a combination of ingredients designed to produce an intended outcome. The bags are usually worn by a person, but they are sometimes tied to fetish dolls as part of a spell.

Psychologists say that Voodoo dolls work only if you believe in them, and that there is a real psychological benefit to getting your frustrations out on another person by sticking pins in their effigy.  But as we’ve seen, you don’t have to believe in a curse to be affected by it. In fact, you don’t even have to be aware that you’ve been cursed for the curse to take its toll.

If you’re interested in experimenting with Voodoo dolls, I would advise you to keep the Wiccan “Rule of Three” in mind. The rule of three states that whatever energy a person puts out into the world, be it for good or bad, will be returned to that person three-fold. So, using a doll to help heal or to bring joy and happiness to someone should bring you a handsome reward. But be warned–before you go sticking black pins in a doll made to resemble your worst enemy, keep in mind that, in the end, the person you’ll be hurting the most is yourself.


UPDATE: Due to lack of reader interest, Reality Meets Fiction will be ending in two months. That means, just two more stories will be published (October and November). If you’d like for the series of paranormal investigation stories to continue, please let us hear your voice in the comments.

“Reality Meets Fiction” is a series on non-fiction, real-life stories as experienced through personal accounts and investigations conducted by Barry Pirro, a paranormal investigator known as the Connecticut Ghost Hunter. Barry has over a decade of paranormal investigation experience and will share his stories every 4th Friday of the month. Don’t forget to catch his next article on September 24th. To learn more about the Ghost Hunter, visit http://www.connecticutghosthunter.com/.

READERS: Have you used voodoo dolls or have heard stories about them? If so, tell us about it in the comments. Better yet, write your non-fiction story and send it to us: darksiremag@gmail.com (subject: Voodoo Dolls). Your story may be picked to appear on our blog as a follow up to Barry’s.

WRITERS: Use Barry’s real-life story to inspire your creativity! Write a story using voodoo dolls and then submit it to us for publication consideration: https://www.darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

As always, thanks for supporting THE DARK SIRE! If you’re not following us, please do. We are on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram under @DarkSireMag. And, of course, you can pick up a digital copy of our issues on the TDS website or paperback copies through AmazonThe Bibliophile Bookstore (Dover, Ohio), and now Poe’s New & Used Bookstore (New Berlin, Pennsylvania).

Until we meet again, take care!

The Creative Nook with Corey Nyhus

by Zachary Shiffman

A red-skinned demon. A winged abomination with a curved blade. An insect – wide-eyed and dying – ripped from the pages of Kafka. These are images that can only come from the mind of an artist. I wanted to gain a glimpse into that mind, so I invited Corey Nyhus, an artist currently living in New York, into THE DARK SIRE’s Creative Nook on YouTube.

We started by discussing some of the images mentioned above — such as Redboy, the demon who acts as a sort of mascot to Nyhus’ works, as well as the blade-wielding Corvian and Nyhus’ Metamorphosis-inspired piece, “Kafkaesque.” We discussed the tools used to create these characters and pieces and how they relate to Nyhus’ vision, along with the relationship between handwriting and art.

Nyhus and I also talked about the dynamic between himself and his art — how the mind can affect the artistic and vice versa. Then we discussed Nyhus’ recommended readings, including the web comic Kill Six Billion Demons by Tom Parkinson-Morgan and surrealist novel The Vorrh by Brian Catling.

I had a blast interviewing Nyhus. If you like horror and gothic art as much as I do, then you’ll love this interview!

https://youtu.be/cxboVaL3JHM

Submissions Open: The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize

The Jon Meyers Dark Humour Prize for Gothic Literature
(a.k.a. The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize)

This contest specifically centers on traditional Gothic stories that use dark humour. Humour, in this sense, comes from the 18th and 19th centuries when Gothic authors crafted literary works by using aspects of the comedic fool and, in greater extent, the art of wit. It is the latter that will be emphasized in the works submitted for the Jon Meyers Gothic Prize.

The Jon Meyers Dark Humour Prize for Gothic Literature is officially open for submissions throughout September. Winners will be announced in October – just in time for Halloween and The Dark Sire’s 2nd Anniversary celebration.

CASH PRIZES:
1st place – $60
2nd place – $25
3rd place – $15

All three winners will be published in The Dark Forest, TDS’ blog.
1st and 2nd place winners will be eligible for HWA membership (horror.org).

GUIDELINES:
      adult short fiction (500-7k words)
      poetry (1-3 pages)
      short screenplays (5-12 pages)

Works must use dark humour and Gothic storytelling devices/elements and can include monsters, creepy crawlers, werewolves, vampires, supernatural phenomenon, ghosts, and castles. (No witches, sci-fi, or cosmic/weird horror!)

Those who wish to delve deeper into what dark humour in Gothic literature is can read Amanda Drake’s 2011 dissertation for University of Nebraska – Lincoln, which was the inspiration for this contest: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1063&context=englishdiss

TO ENTER:
Send your story in .doc/.docx format as an attachment to:

tdscontests@gmail.com

GOOD LUCK!

Reality Meets Fiction: Psychomanteum and Seeing the Dead in Mirrors

by Barry Pirro

A woman walks into a dark room and sits in a comfortable chair. All around her, the walls are obscured by a black curtain, and in front of her is a mirror set at an angle so she only sees darkness reflected in its surface. The only light comes from a single candle on a table behind her. As she gazes into the mirror, a fog begins to cover its surface. Soon, bright flashes of light are seen dancing around the perimeter of the glass. Suddenly, a figure appears in the mirror. It looks so real that the woman feels as if she can reach out and touch it. The figure is that of the woman’s mother who died several years earlier, and she looks young and alive.

As the woman looks in amazement, the figure of her mother steps out of the mirror and into the room with her. The two embrace and talk, and the woman’s mother tells her that she is fine and that it is beautiful where she is. The vision ends as quickly as it had begun and the woman is left with a sense of peace, happiness, and closure.

The use of mirrors as divination tools has been around for centuries. Scrying is a technique whereby the seer gazes into a mirror, a pool of water, or a crystal ball until images appear. But the real magic of scrying as it relates to seeing dead loved ones lies in something called a psychomanteum: a room designed to induce apparitions through gazing into a mirror. The word comes from the Greek and translates roughly as “theater of the mind”.

A reflective surface is the key to having this type of visual experience. In his book Reunions: Visionary Encounters with Departed Loved Ones, Dr. Raymond Moody tells the story of a woman who saw her deceased husband on the surface of a hotel picture window. He ran right up to her in the window, and the experience was so real that she said that she could actually smell him when he came near her. He smiled at her and said, “Everything is fine here.”

Although visual encounters involving mirrors or other reflective surfaces can occur spontaneously, a true psychomanteum experience needs to be made. Luckily, it’s easier than you might think.

Dr. Moody describes the psychomanteum he made in his home this way:

“A room was set aside for use as an apparition chamber. At one end of the
room, a mirror four feet tall and three and a half feet wide was mounted
on a wall. A comfortable easy-chair was placed about three feet from the
mirror and inclined slightly backward to keep the reflection of the gazer
from being seen in the mirror. In effect, the angle of the chair created a
clear depth view of the mirror, which would reflect only darkness behind
the person who was gazing. The result was a crystal-clear pool of darkness.
This pool of darkness was assured by a black velvet curtain draped all
around the chair from the ceiling (Moody, 1997, p. 82).”

Prior to using a psychomanteum, subjects are asked to look at photographs of the deceased person they wish to communicate with, and to try to recall vivid memories of the time they spent together. They also are encouraged to bring mementos into the room with them such as a piece of clothing or jewelry owned by the person.

The experiences people have in the psychomanteum vary, but most are extremely vivid. The visions they have don’t come across as misty, indistinct images. People report seeing clear, full-body apparitions that look as real as any living person, and some even appear to walk out of the mirror and into the room.

Most people go into the psychomanteum hoping  to make contact with a particular loved one; but interestingly, some end up encountering deceased persons other than the one they were prepared to see. One such example in Dr. Moody’s book comes from a businessman named James who described himself as an ‘interested skeptic.’ He was using the psychomanteum to attempt a visionary reunion with his father who died when James was twelve-years-old. After preparing for the reunion by looking through family photos and pictures of furniture that his father had made, James entered the apparition booth.

After being in the booth for a long time, a man’s image began to form in the mirror and suddenly, the man stepped right out of the mirror and into the apparition room. But it wasn’t James’ father; instead, it was James’ old business partner who had died of a heart attack a few years earlier. Interestingly, the two had been business partners, but they were not very close friends.

The man who stepped out of the mirror looked totally real, and he told James that he was fine where he was. He also gave a message about his daughter who once blamed James for her father’s death. This was all done telepathically, so he did not hear a voice in the booth. When the experience was over, the vision vanished quickly.

Afterward, James said that he felt that he had made peace with his business partner. He insisted that the man he saw in the booth was not an apparition or an hallucination; he said that it was actually his business partner in the room with him.

Visual encounters in the psychomanteum are usually highly emotional experiences. Moody reported that one woman not only saw her deceased grandfather in the apparition booth, but that she also spoke to him and felt his touch. She said, “I was so happy to see him that I began to cry. Through the tears I could still see him in the mirror. Then he seemed to get closer and he must have come out of the mirror because the next thing I knew he was holding me and hugging me. It felt like he said something like, ‘It’s okay, don’t cry’” (Moody, 1997, p. 93).

Another woman was reunited with her deceased grandmother, her aunt, and her great-grandmother in the apparition booth. She said, “I was so overjoyed during this whole meeting. I was so happy. There was no doubt in the world they were there and that I saw them, and it was as real as meeting anyone” (Moody, 1997, p.123).

As we’ve seen, these visual encounters are often so real that people feel as if they can reach out and touch the apparitions, but they are not always able to. One man who used the psychomanteum in an attempt to contact his sister described the experience in this way: “I was sitting in there, and all of a sudden it seemed that these three people stepped right into the room all around me. It looked as if they stepped out of the mirror, but I felt that such a thing couldn’t be, so I was shocked. For a moment I thought it was someone trying to play a joke on me, so I reached up quickly, trying to touch them, and when I did, my hand hit the curtain, but I still saw them. I got a look at all three. My sister, Jill, was there, but two others also, my friend Todd and my grandfather. All of them looked very much alive, just looking at me” (Moody, 1997, p. 135).

Although visual encounters are the most common, some psychomanteum experiences don’t involve vision at all. One man who entered the booth had a purely auditory experience. He said, “After what I guess was no more than five minutes, I began to hear the voice of this friend of mine who was killed in a boating accident. It was just like her speaking to me. I’m not talking here about thoughts or day dreams or imagination. I’ve never heard anything like it. She just talked to me and said it was wonderful where she was. I could hear each word plainly and separately. There was a quality to it, like an echo, I believe, like maybe she was speaking through a tin tube. It was her voice, though, definitely”  (Moody, 1997, p. 144).

Some psychomanteum encounters don’t happen right away. Dr. Moody calls these delayed experiences ‘Take-Out Visions.’ One example of this type of experience comes from a woman who used the apparition booth to make contact with her deceased husband.

While in the booth, the woman saw images of people in the mirror, but they quickly disappeared when she tried to focus on them. After leaving the booth, she went home and had the distinct feeling that someone was with her. A night later, she had a strong sense that her father was in the room with her. The following evening she woke up in the middle of the night and also felt her father’s presence, and she could smell his aftershave lotion. She said, “I looked up, and my father was standing at the door of my bedroom. I had been lying on the bed but I stood up and walked over to him. I was within four steps of him. He looked just like my dad, but not sickly like he had been just before he died. He was a full figure, and he looked more fleshed out than when he died. He looked whole, like everything was wonderful” (Moody, 1997, p. 138). Her father told her that he was fine, and that he didn’t want her to worry.

Some who use the psychomanteum have symbolic visions. These typically occur when a person goes into the booth without the goal of contacting a loved one. In these cases, the apparition booth seems to act as a gateway to the subconscious. One woman reported seeing snakes in the mirror. Some were rising up and hissing at her, but others were smiling and friendly looking. But no matter what type of snake showed itself to her in the mirror, she always felt fearful and she wanted to run away. Afterward, she said that she realized that the snakes represented trust because she has always been afraid that people will appear one way, then turn against her.

Another woman went into the booth just to see what would happen, and she saw a huge peacock with brilliantly colored feathers. The peacock seemed to have a human face. Then she noticed that behind the peacock was what looked to be a sacrificial altar with a person laying on it who appeared to be dead. Suddenly, the woman found herself dancing with Jesus at the last supper! These visions most likely represented the role that religion unconsciously played in this woman’s life.

Are the visual encounters experienced in the psychomanteum proof of life after death, or are they simply projections from our subconscious? As we’ve seen, the people who used the booth claim that the people they saw in the mirror looked as real as any person. They were convinced that they had actually made contact with their deceased loved ones. Dr. Moody himself said, “After conducting a number of mirror-gazing sessions in which apparitions were facilitated, I decided to try to have one myself. The result was a personal encounter that has totally changed my perspective on life” (Moody, 1997, p. 22).

For Moody’s experiment in the psychomanteum, he chose to focus on his maternal grandmother, but instead he made contact with his paternal grandmother. He said, “In no way did she appear “ghostly” or transparent during our reunion. She seemed completely solid in every respect. She appeared no different from any other person… [the experience left me] with an abiding certainty that what we call death is not the end of life” (Moody, p. 27-28).

It may not be a simple question of whether or not people were actually reunited with their loved ones in the psychomanteum. Perhaps mirror gazing puts us in a state of consciousness where we are able to be in two worlds at once, a place where there is no barrier between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

Resources
Moody, R. A., Jr. (1997). Reunions: Visionary encounters with departed loved ones. Ballantine Books. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0449001199

Read more on psychomanteum: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychomanteum


“Reality Meets Fiction” is a series on non-fiction, real-life stories as experienced through personal accounts and investigations conducted by Barry Pirro, a paranormal investigator known as the Connecticut Ghost Hunter. Barry has over a decade of paranormal investigation experience and will share his stories every 4th Friday of the month. Don’t forget to catch his next article on September 24th. To learn more about the Ghost Hunter, visit http://www.connecticutghosthunter.com/.

READERS: What scrying or psychomanteum experiences do you have? If you have experience with either, tell us about it in the comments. Better yet, write your non-fiction story and send it to us: darksiremag@gmail.com (subject: Psychomanteum). Your story may be picked to appear on our blog as a follow up to Barry’s.

WRITERS: Use Barry’s real-life story to inspire your creativity! Write a story on Psychomanteum or scrying and then submit it to us for publication consideration: https://www.darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

As always, thanks for supporting THE DARK SIRE! If you’re not following us, please do. We are on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram under @DarkSireMag. And, of course, you can pick up a digital copy of our issues on the TDS website or paperback copies through AmazonThe Bibliophile Bookstore (Dover, Ohio), and now Poe’s New & Used Bookstore (New Berlin, Pennsylvania).

Until we meet again, take care!

The Creative Nook with Dan Stout

by Zachary Shiffman

Dan Stout is no stranger to THE DARK SIRE. He has served as a judge for THE DARK SIRE Awards for two years now, providing us with his invaluable perspective on submissions. So we were excited to get that same perspective into THE DARK SIRE’s Creative Nook on YouTube, where I sat down with Stout to discuss a range of topics surrounding the April release of his latest novel, Titan Song.

Titan Song is the third installment in Stout’s The Carter Archives, a noir-fantasy series that blends magic with mystery, murder, and disco. In the interview Stout and I discussed the series and his various balancing acts within it. How do you write an overarching narrative while maintaining a standalone quality to each book? How do you blend mystery and fantasy? And how did these two concepts come together in The Carter Archives? Stout delved into his interweaving of disparate ideas into the final (immensely entertaining) product.

Further into the interview, Stout talked about The Carter Archives’ social themes, such as the depiction of the working class and how that compares to other fantasy media. We also discussed his take on magic (“manna”), his perspective on research, his own personal process for writing, and Stout’s other passions.

We ended the interview with a brief discussion of Stout’s future works and how to stay up to date with them via the Campfire, Stout’s monthly newsletter that you can join on his website.

You can watch the whole interview on THE DARK SIRE’s YouTube channel!

https://youtu.be/g5du2Cgz-mo

The Creative Nook with Richard Chizmar

by Zachary Shiffman

Odds are, you’ve heard of Richard Chizmar. The horror giant is the editor of several anthologies, the founder of horror press Cemetery Dance, and the author of multiple works, including the book The Girl on the Porch and the novella Gwendy’s Magic Feather (the sequel to Gwendy’s Button Box, which Chizmar co-authored with Stephen King). What you may not know is that Chizmar is no stranger to THE DARK SIRE literary magazine; he played a role in THE DARK SIRE Creative Awards Ceremony in February 2021, presenting the award for Best Fiction. And so, it was the natural next step for me to invite him into THE DARK SIRE Creative Nook on YouTube for an interview.

Our first topic of discussion was Chizmar’s next book, which will be released on August 17th, 2021: Chasing the Boogeyman, a small-town thriller surrounding a serial killer. In the interview, Chizmar delves into the backstory of the novel—its inspiration, how it developed, and the intriguing quasi-autobiographical elements to it. Chizmar described the book as a sort of “campfire story” that any reader will be able to have a good time with. And if his previous works are any indication, then he’s correct and you should add Chasing the Boogeyman to your TBR list today.

We moved on to talk about horror and writing in general, from Chizmar’s process to the disparate experiences of writing his various projects (including those conjoined with Stephen King). We also delved into his role at Cemetery Dance and how Chizmar balances writing and publishing. Finally, we closed the interview with Chizmar’s advice to emerging writers and anyone attempting to enter the publishing industry.

This interview is chalk full of great information that will entertain readers and writers alike. You’re not going to want to miss a single second of it!

https://youtu.be/YvQbIBsaWU0