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Reality Meets Fiction: The New England Vampire Panic

by Barry Pirro

A century after the 1693 Salem witch trials, citizens of Rhode Island began hearing whispers and rumors of something that frightened them even more than witchcraft. They began to suspect that there were blood sucking vampires in their midst. Even more disturbing, they thought that the vampires were members of their own families, and that they had to be stopped at any cost. But like Stoker’s Van Helsing, these would-be vampire slayers were determined to hunt down each and every one to make sure they stayed where they belonged–in their graves. 

In June of 1784, The Connecticut Courant and Weekly Intelligencer published a letter to the editor from a Willington, Connecticut town councilman. In it, he cautioned readers against being influenced by a local doctor who was encouraging families to dig up and burn their relatives’ bodies. The letter said that several children’s bodies had been exhumed at this doctor’s request, and that families were told that the burning of the bodies would stop consumption, now known as tuberculosis, from spreading throughout the family. 

Today, the claims in the letter may sound far-fetched. Even laughable – but they were true. In the late 18th century, people actually were digging up their dead family members’ bodies and burning them because they thought that they were vampires. 

Where did this gruesome practice of exhuming and desecrating dead bodies originate? Many immigrants came to America from Europe, and with them came their traditions, folklore, and superstitions. Throughout Europe, exhuming the bodies of those thought to be vampires was not uncommon. Some corpses were beheaded. Others had their feet bound with thorns to keep them in their graves. If a body was badly decomposed, the skull would be placed facing backwards, and the rest of the bones were carefully rearranged to prevent the vampire from rising. Further methods used to keep the undead down included placing a sickle over the skeleton’s neck, putting a stone in the skull’s mouth, or pinning the skeleton to the ground with a stake. 


The first recorded case of New England vampirism was that of Rachel Harris Burton from Manchester, Vermont. In 1790, Rachel died of tuberculosis less than a year after marrying Captain Isaac Burton. A year later, the Captain married Rachel’s stepsister, Hulda, and soon after she began exhibiting symptoms similar to Rachel’s. 

Around this time, rumors of vampirism had begun spreading across New England, so family and friends began to suspect that Rachel had risen from the grave as a vampire and was making Hulda sick by sucking her blood. The Captain agreed and decided that something must be done about it. So, on a frigid day in February of 1793, three years after Rachel’s death, over 500 Manchester residents gathered at the cemetery to watch as the liver, heart and lungs were removed from Rachel’s exhumed, rotting corpse, placed on a blacksmith’s forge, and set on fire. 

Sadly, Hulga died seven months later. Because the ‘cure’ didn’t work, the townspeople figured that Rachel hadn’t been a vampire after all. Their conclusion? Witchcraft must have been responsible for Hulda’s sickness and death. 


One of the most famous cases of the New England vampire panic occurred in 1799 in Exeter, Rhode Island. One night, a farmer named Stuckley Tillinghast had a disturbing dream in which half of his apple orchard died. A few days later, his daughter Sarah came home complaining that she wasn’t feeling well. She took to bed, and, within a few weeks, died of tuberculosis. 

Several weeks later, the family was still grieving Sarah’s death when her brother James came down to breakfast one morning looking pale and sickly. He complained of feeling very weak, and that it felt as if there was a heavy weight on his chest. Then he said something chilling: Sarah came to him in the middle of the night and sat on his bed. He said that she didn’t speak, but that her pale form sat on the edge of the bed and stared at him all night long. Weeks later, James was dead. 

Shortly after James’ death, two more Tillinghast children died after saying that Sarah had visited them in the night. The family began to suspect that Sarah’s nocturnal visits meant that she was a vampire, and that she was returning from the grave to draw life from the remaining family members. 

A few months later, three more of the Tillinghast children died, then Honour Tillinghast, mother of the deceased children, became ill. She told her husband that all of her dead children kept coming to her in the night, and that she could hear their voices telling her to come with them. 

For Stuckley Tillinghast, this was the last straw. Early one morning he and his farmhand, Caleb, went out to the cemetery where his daughter Sarah was buried. They took with them a long hunting knife, a bottle of lamp oil, and two shovels. As the sun was rising, the two men dug up Sarah’s casket and turned back the creaking lid. 

Even though she had been dead over 18 months, Sarah looked as if she was just asleep. Seeing his daughter’s face looking flushed as if with blood, Stuckley took his hunting knife and thrust it deep into his daughter’s chest. He would later claim that as soon as the knife blade cut into her body, the wound gushed blood. Digging through flesh, muscle and bone, he cut out her heart and lay it on a nearby stone. There, he doused it with lamp oil and set it on fire. He and Caleb watched until the heart was reduced to ashes, then the two of them reburied Sarah. 

In the end, Stuckley Tillinghast’s dream had come true in a symbolic sense. Half of his ‘orchard’ (seven of his fourteen children) had died. After burning Sarah’s heart, Honour Tillinghast recovered from her illness, there were no more deaths in the family, and there were no further reports of Sarah appearing at night. To the Tillinghasts, the vampire curse had finally ended thanks to Stuckley’s intervention; and because the entire town knew how he had saved his family from further deaths, the belief in vampires was strengthened and the word spread near and far.


For the record, although the exhumation of bodies and the burning of hearts and other vital organs were often clandestine, lantern-lit affairs, some were quite public and even had an air of festivity. In 1830, one “vampire heart” was set on fire in front of a large crowd in the Woodstock, Vermont, town green; and in Manchester, up to a thousand people turned up to witness the burning of the heart, liver and lungs of a suspected vampire.    

Mary Brown of Exeter of Rhode Island has the distinction of being known as the last American vampire. George Brown must have felt as if his family was cursed. In 1883, tuberculosis claimed the life of his wife Mary. Six months later, his 20-year old daughter, Mary-Olive, succumbed to the same disease. Then in 1890 George’s only son, Edwin, contracted tuberculosis as well. George watched helplessly as his son struggled to breath, and constantly coughed up blood. While Edwin grew weaker and weaker, his 19-year-old sister Mercy died. 

George Brown was at his wits end. He had to do something to save his son Edwin, the only remaining member of his family. Since medical science failed to help Edwin, residents of Exeter began to suspect that vampires were the real culprit. They thought that either Edwin’s mother or one of his sisters must be one of the undead, and that they were leaving their grave at night to suck the life out of poor Edwin. 

On March 17, 1892, George Brown reluctantly agreed to allow his relatives and neighbors to exhume the bodies of his loved ones interred at the Chestnut Hill Cemetery in an effort to stop the disease. George said that he did not believe in vampires, but he was willing to try anything. 

That morning, a small crowd gathered in the graveyard behind the town’s Baptist Church, and the bodies of Mary Brown and Mary-Olive Brown were exhumed. They opened their caskets, but the only thing they found inside were bones–no surprise, since both had been dead and buried for nearly ten years. 

Next, they turned their attention to the casket of Mercy Brown who had been buried just eight weeks earlier. When the lid was lifted off of her coffin, the townspeople gasped in horror. Mercy was lying on her side, and her face was flushed as if she was still alive. Someone quickly took a long knife and thrust it into Mercy’s chest, then cut out her heart and lungs. Mysteriously, there was still blood in her heart and veins.

While he was unable to explain why Mercy was lying on her side in her coffin, Dr. Harold Metcalf, who had raised objections about the exhumations from the very start, said that the preserved state of the body was simply due to the short amount of time Mercy had been dead, and that the cold weather had preserved her body. 

The people of Exeter ignored the doctor’s explanations. They built a fire on a pile of rocks in the churchyard, then took Mercy’s heart and lungs and cremated them. But their job wasn’t done just yet. The group went to Edwin’s house with the ashes of his dead sister’s heart. They mixed the ashes with water, then fed them to him. Disgusting? Yes! But it was thought that this was the only way to prevent Edwin from dying. Sadly, and not unsurprisingly, the “cure” didn’t work, and he died two months later. 

Looking at the timeline of events, it’s baffling how anyone could have suspected that Mercy was responsible for her family’s illness, vampire or no vampire. Her mother and sister had died nearly 10 years earlier than she had, and her brother had become ill two years before she died. But cases of mass hysteria grow out of fear and superstition, and those caught up in the hysteria rarely stop to think whether or not any of it makes sense. 


In 1990, a group of boys playing near a hillside gravel mine in Griswold, Connecticut, found something that they thought was really cool–a skull that was in a grave with other bones. One of the boys ran home and showed his parents. The police were called, and it soon became clear that the bones were more than a century old. Archaeologists were called in to excavate the site, and they discovered that the bones were part of a large family burial plot from the colonial-era. 

A stone crypt was unearthed, and when the slab that covered the coffin was removed, archaeologists were shocked by what they discovered. Some time in the distant past, the bones of the individual buried there had been completely rearranged, and the skeleton had been beheaded. The beheading and other injuries to the bones were thought to have occurred roughly five years after death. The conclusion of all who examined the man’s remains was that he was suspected of being a vampire, and that his heart was removed to prevent him from rising out of his grave. 

The New England Vampire panic died out in the late 1800s after science finally discovered the cause of tuberculosis. But it illustrates what lengths people will go to protect themselves and their families. It’s only a matter of time before some new mass hysteria panic rears its ugly head. Whatever form it may take, historians will surely shake their heads and wonder, “What in the world were they thinking?”


“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 August 27th. To learn more about the Ghost Hunter, visit http://www.connecticutghosthunter.com/.

READERS: What real-life vampire stories do you have? If you have experience with vampirism tell us about it in the comments. Better yet, write your non-fiction story and send it to us: darksiremag@gmail.com (subject: Vampirism Story). 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 VAMPIRES (as predators!) 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 Amazon and The Bibliophile Bookstore (Dover, Ohio).

Until we meet again, take care!

Psychological Realism and the Art of Knowing

I have saved talking about one of THE DARK SIRE’s favorite genres, Psychological Realism, for last, partly because I consider it one of the most difficult genres in which to write.  The genre focuses on the mental processes of the characters, which includes their inner thoughts, feelings, motives and behavior.  In other words, to write in this genre, you have to know people, really know people – and delve deep into characterization. 

Unlike the genres of Fantasy, Horror, or the Gothic, this genre literally deals with how people react to everyday life.  Now, their reactions are predicated on the psychological make up of who they are, which is why a good Psychological Realism writer has to be a student of human nature.  The writer needs to show not only what the characters do but also explain why they are taking those actions.  When you examine Crime and Punishment by the god-father of the genre, Fydor Dostoevsky, you meet characters who are engaged in distasteful and illegal acts motivated by their desperate financial situations.  Dostoevsky uses their motivations to examine the conditions of poverty. 

American writers took a slightly different tack with this genre.  They began to examine the question of the duality of a man’s nature.  Melville has a superlative chapter in Moby Dick on this topic:  Is Ahab, Ahab?  It was a question that even the Native Americans of the Northwest explored with their masks and totems.  Are we really who we think we are or is our external persona merely the mask for our real inner personality?  Other American authors continued with this theme.  The works of Henry James, Arthur Miller and Edith Warton look at the inner workings of their characters and the duality of their motivations.

Therefore the thing that makes Psychological Realism novels different is that their plot revolves around the emotional aspect of the story. The PR novel is internal. It deals with the perceptions of your characters. Is the character disturbed in some way? How does the character perceive reality? Does their emotions get in the way of their perception or does it dictate their perception?

When writing a PR story, you have to create strong characters who have strong emotional issues. Remember, most of the action is going to take place in your characters’ heads. The emphasis in this kind of story is not so much on action as it is on turmoil. You will have to create your suspense in unpredictable ways. This leads to major plot twists. Is one of your characters an unreliable narrator and if so, why? Why does your villain do what he or she or it does? Why does your protagonist respond in the way he, she, or it does? To write a good PR story, you have to be a student of human nature. You have to understand peoples’ flaws and how those flaws make them react.

Here are some things to consider to create a strong PS story:

Characterization. When writing a PR story, you have to create strong characters who have strong emotional issues. Remember, most of the action is going to take place in your characters’ heads. The emphasis in this kind of story is not so much on action as it is on turmoil. You will have to create your suspense in unpredictable ways. This leads to major plot twists. Is one of your characters an unreliable narrator and if so, why? Why does your villain do what he or she or it does? Why does your protagonist respond in the way he, she, or it does? To write a good PR story, you have to be a student of human nature. You have to understand peoples’ flaws and how those flaws make them react.

To understand your character, think of their family structure, who their parents are, what they and their family do for a living. How old are they? What schooling have they had? What struggles have they braved? What relationships have they experience? Married, divorced, kids? Do they like or hate their daily life? What do they do to relax? Simply put: Get to know what your character’s favorite things are, what they like and dislike, and what their deepest, darkest secrets are. Build a character that could live and breathe in the real world – even if their world is fantasy. Meaning: The character, be they hero or villain, should be 3-dimensional and alive, someone readers can relate to and connect with. To do this, you, as the author, need to know every bit about the characters you create.

Inner dialogue. If the character’s thought are to be revealed, inner dialogue is key. Yes, your character can convey their thoughts aloud, but, more often than not, he or she will express them though inner thought – which is called “inner dialogue.” This type of dialogue is written in italics to differentiate the story (action, description) from dialogue. When a reader reads inner dialogue, they need to understand the character’s thoughts. An example of this is:

Sheila runs and never looks back, tears lining her cheeks. Why am I running? I should be standing my ground! Shoving the backs of her hands into her eyes as if to command the rivers to cease, she plants her feet and halts. Her body lunges forward before it whips back, knees tight, core engaged. Enough! I’m not running anymore. It stops here, right here. If not now, then when? She gulps in a lung-full of crisp air and wipes the remnants of wetness from her cheeks. With a shallow sigh, she pauses for a brief moment, only to turn around and walk back the way she came.

Character focused. As the above states, think of your story as being character focused. The story is the character’s motivations, the character’s emotions, the character’s wants and desires. What drives the character? How is the story going to advance on the character’s goals? What will they encounter based on their drive, emotional pull, and flaws? Instead of being story-driven, with a lot of action, your PR story will be character-driven, which is why PR is classed as literary fiction rather than genre fiction. Keep in mind what your character wants, what they’re going through, what they are struggling with emotionally and psychologically. And make the story wrapped securely around the complexity of their human nature.

Explanation and motivation. Your character has to have motivation and a reason for why they are doing what they are… and your reader needs to understand that reasoning. That means you have to explain the reason, answering the magical question of “why.” Though you can explain the reason through other storytelling devices, the most natural way of doing so is through inner dialogue. For example:

“Why are you being so difficult, Sarah?!”

Rubbing her fingers together, Sarah gazed out over her glasses with half-open eyes. Like you don’t know. Last time we met, you demanded I give in to your whim, do what you say or else. And now that you’re not in charge, you expect me to be kind, benevolent, caring. Well, today’s the day you learn humility, Madeleine.

“Company policy is all. You understand. Surely you’d follow protocol if you were in my position.”

Just remember: You should not explain everything all at once. Instead, sprinkle in the explanation throughout the story so that your characterization builds from beginning to end. The reader will continue to learn about your characters and their complexities, making the read all the more sweeter.

Complexity. And speaking of complexities, because the PR story is built on characterization, not action, you should be thinking of your story in layers, like an onion. Once you peel back the surface or superficial aspects of the story – what starts the story, the inciting action, you need to slowly peel back the other layers of the story through exploration of the deeper character traits, motivations, and setbacks. Once the reader knows about the desires of a character, they need to slowly get to know the reasons behind those desires; this is where and why complexities are born, a must in PR. Nothing should be “as is seems” or predictable, and your character can’t be one-dimensional in that they have no depth of character. Thus, the story must then weave together to create complex situations, struggles, near misses, and triumphs. In this way, story then takes center stage to put your characterization to work.

Planning. Psychological Realism requires planning. Though some may be successful at writing a PS story in pantser or planter style, many writers will find planning more suitable for this subgenre due to its required complexities. Creating outlines of chapters, linking plots through notecards, and completing character charts are all ways to help design a complex story that interweaves story, character, and plot beautifully. Use the tools that best help you create the necessary planning you need for your story. You can manually create the tools (documents, notecards, outlines) or use storytelling apps and software (Google: storytelling tools for creative writing).


Since PR is more difficult than other subgenres, I’ve put together some prompts to help you build your skills – and confidence!

Prompt 1: Pick a character flaw and give it to a character (be sure to name the character!). Then create an every day scene; maybe a first date, a conversation with a boss, or a fight with a neighbor. Think of the location, too, say at the library, at the office, or in the park. Now, write the scene focusing on the flaw in two different ways: predictable and unpredictable. What’s the difference between the two scenes? What made the character act unpredictably? How did the flaw help create depth? How much did you need to know the character in order to create the scene? How much deeper do you need to go in order to bring in more complexity?

Prompt 2: Outline the above scene. What are the main points of plot, subpoints? How does plot inform the story? What connections do you see within the scene, between character? Now, create a whole new scene, outlining it first – before writing it. Find ways to connect the scene, story, and characters to create a compelling scene. Once you have an outline you’re happy with, dripping with complexity, write the scene using the outline as your guide.

Prompt 3: Create a character profile by using either the Gotham or Marcel Proust Character Questionnaire. Type your answers in a document or write your answers in a notebook. Ponder the questions before you decide on the final answer. Then, when finished, write a paragraph describing your character. What is the person like?

Prompt 4: Using the character profile, write the plot of a scene that would use the character’s motivations and emotions to progress the story. What does your character want/need? How will they get it? What will stop them? Then, write notes on how you will explain the reasons behind the character’s choices. Now, write the scene, using your notes and planned storytelling devices.


It may be difficult, be I know you can write psychological realism stories! If you’d like some feedback or help in practicing the above, leave a comment for me. I’d be glad to help.

And, if you have a story, poem, or screenplay in this genre, please consider submitting it to THE DARK SIRE.   We would love to read your work, which includes artwork that holds the essence of the psychological and emotional. To submit, visit darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

The Art of Writing Gothic

There is a real art to writing a Gothic story.  A Gothic story is far more complex than horror or fantasy, which I have commented on in earlier blogs.  It takes more creative detail to really bring this genre alive to your reader.  You are not just trying to scare your reader; you are not just trying to immerse your reader in a unique world; you are trying to do both and then some.

Think of the great Gothic writers, especially those that THE DARK SIRE holds up as the ones to be emulated: Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley.  Consider what THEY did.  Their stories consist of moody landscapes, supernatural experiences, and an atmosphere filled with dread.  Poe was a master at creating a gloomy and decaying setting (think Fall of the House of Usher).  Mary Shelley created the ultimate in supernatural beings.  Her Frankenstein monster went beyond nature as it was known then, or now, for that matter.  Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca was set in, for its time, a modern setting, yet her Manderley is as Gothic a setting as you could find this side of Dracula’s castle.

Therefore, when you are planning your Gothic story, you have to consider a gloomy setting; supernatural (strange) beings; curses/prophecies, which include omens, portents and visions; intense emotions; someone in distress; and heroes (the one who solves the mystery or survives the doom).  When you think about it, Gothic, as a genre, merges many elements of Horror.  And because of this, you have to be careful not to fall into horror cliché (e.g., starting a Gothic story with “It was a dark and stormy night…”, or trying to shock readers into being scared). Instead, think about the true meaning of Gothic literature, which has always been about the psychological and mindset of the characters. A good example of this would be Poe’s Tell Tale Heart, Fall of the House of Usher, and The Raven – even Hop Frog. Poe used emotion, psychology, and mood to create his creepy and eerie stories and poems.

Your first step should be to create an eerie atmosphere.  Castle; mansion; old, seemingly haunted house; abandoned theme park… some place that is eerie but not necessarily “spooky”.  There is a fine line between eerie (gloomy, doom) and spooky (scary, shocking).  Someplace too spooky and you have a Horror setting, which you don’t want. That’s why an old graveyard or abandoned building is very Gothic; they are eerie and a little intimidating, giving you chills, but they are making your run in fear. Fear is horror, not Gothic.  Thus, the setting is important because your characters will be forced to react to it. And they can react to it in numerous ways.  They can react to its history.  They can react to its current condition.  They can react to a foreseeable condition.  The mood (e.g., eeriness, creepiness, chilling) of the environment will then dictate how your characters react. 

Your characters are as important as your setting.  Gothic fiction frequently features specific types of characters reacting to the situations in which they have been placed.  You have your hero or anti-hero; hopefully someone that your readers will like.  Then you have your villain.  Think of your villain as the Pied Piper of your story.  He/she/or it is the creature that leads your hero/heroine down their particular dark path.  You can also have a person or thing that needs “saving” (in this case, meaning helped or aided).  Your hero may need to save themselves or their loved one; maybe, they have to save a ghost, a cat, the condemned – their own sanity. And, the saving doesn’t always have to be appreciated.  Maybe the one in distress did not want to be saved.  The action between the hero and the person being saved is the catalyst that allows your reader to feel the pity, sadness, fear and joy of your story.

As a writer of Gothic fiction, you must maintain an atmosphere of gloom, suspense and even terror throughout your story.  This is why writing a good Gothic story is an art.  You have to be a literary juggler within the conventions that define the Gothic.  There is a certain sentimentality in the narration.  Characters are overcome by anger, surprise, and panic, having to cope with raw nerves.   

With that said, be sure not to use the standard clichés of the Gothic.  You will have to think of new ways to describe the howling wind; the blowing rain; doors grating on rusty hinges; sighs, moans, and other eerie sounds.  Gothic is defined by a dark atmosphere that stimulates a reader’s anxiety over the danger in which you have placed your characters, so think of some unique ways – your own ways – to bring that dread to life.


Want to have some fun?  Try this:  Create a Gothic setting (1 paragraph).
Choose a location. It can be a house, castle, whatever. Then, think about what that location looks like, feels like, taking the feel of the location into high consideration. Create the atmosphere into which you will introduce your characters.  Now, brainstorm that feeling by using some adjectives – a list of words is just fine (black, chilly, cold, broken, wet, sweltering). Remember: You are trying to create something mysterious and claustrophobic.  Fill the setting with gloom, mystery and doom.
Choose a time period. What time is it during the story, or what year is it?  Is this a modern location – or not?  Your setting is not just a “backdrop” in which your characters will act.  The setting is a character in and of itself; it influences the characters, actions and thoughts of the story.  Use time as an element to help create the mood of your setting. Now, brainstorm what time of day or year it would be in your story – and add notes as to why and how it would help make the story work. For instance, 12 noon would feel different than, say, 12 midnight; likewise, April 22, 1892 would feel different than October 31, 2001. Adding how time can be used in the story will help you shape the world and mood that your characters reside.
Write a paragraph about your setting. Now that you have brainstormed, collect your thoughts and write one cohesive paragraph about your setting. Where are you? What do your characters see, feel? When are we? What does the time/year look like in this setting. Your paragraph should be concise and flowing, with wonderful imagery so that the reader can imagine it on their own, like viewing a picture. Remember: No cliches. Be original, unique, and yourself.


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.

Do you want more blogs on Gothic writing?
Let us know: darksiremag@gmail.com.

The Creative Nook with Villimey Mist

by Zachary Shiffman

Vampires prowl the night in the Nocturnal series by Villimey Mist; fearsome and glitter-free, just how Bram Stoker envisioned and how we at THE DARK SIRE enjoy them. When I read the first book of the series, Nocturnal Blood, I fell into its world of deadly sharp teeth and complex character dynamics, and I wanted to speak to its author as soon as possible. Enter: The Creative Nook on YouTube with myself and author Villimey Mist!

We began by talking of Mist’s series and her ambitions for it. Mist admitted that it didn’t begin as a series. Nocturnal Blood was supposed to be a standalone novel, but sometimes stories and the worlds within them don’t die easily. There are currently three installments of the Nocturnal series: Nocturnal Blood, Nocturnal Farm, and Nocturnal Salvation, with more to come. We also discussed the intentional absence of romance in the Nocturnal series and how that relates to Dracula, the patriarch of vampiric and gothic texts, as well as the series’ portrayal of mental illness through its protagonist, Leia Walker.

We moved on to discuss Mist’s writing process (which includes a lot of notebooks), as well as her other projects, one of which includes the short story, “The Banquet,” with proceeds from the sale of which go to supporting survivors of sexual assault.

If you have any interest in vampires and gothic literature, which – if you’re a reader of THE DARK SIRE – is likely to be the case, this interview with Villimey Mist is a must-watch!

https://youtu.be/uxiLJw6G5io

World Building and the Art of Fantasy

All of us have our favorite fantasy novels, both High Fantasy and Low Fantasy.  Here at THE DARK SIRE, our favorite, go-to High Fantasy author is J.R.R. Tolkien for his body of work which includes The Lord of the Ring series, the Simarillion, and the Hobbit (just to name a few).  Low Fantasy would definitely include the Harry Potter series, Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern series.  As diverse as all these books are, they have two things in common: 1. Great characterization and 2. Unique worlds in which those characters live.

Characterization deserves a blog all its own and it will get one in the near future.  But, today, I want to delve into the concept of World Building, the chief cornerstone of both High and Low Fantasy.  It’s what makes the genre work.  Without it, your story will crash on the rocks of the readers’ disbelief. 

Simply put, World Building is creating a locale where your story takes place.  A locale that your readers MUST believe in if they are going to believe in your characters. The challenge with World Building is recognizing that your world must function by a specific set of rules.  It is your task, as the author, to establish those rules and map out how your characters will follow them.  The secret is in the details.  Everything – person, animal, or creature – you write about must follow those rules down to the last letter.  This is key in giving your characters a landscape in which to develop. 

Your characters cannot exist in a vacuum.  They have to move, eat, sleep, and perform all the functions that their kind of character must perform to live.  They must have some place real to live.  Not real in our every day existence, but real to them.  And since your story’s world may be different than your readers’ world, it is your job to make the reader understand how your characters can function in a realm that the reader could not.

Think about questions that could guide your world building:

What are the conflicts in your created world?  Does it only rain once every six months?  Are there other species of humanoids and do they require a special environment to survive and if so, can different kinds of humanoids survive in each other’s environments? How do your characters communicate?  Are there different languages?  What do your characters need to do to understand one another?  What is the landscape in which your characters live?  Do different characters need different landscapes? 

Then, set up the boundaries.  Who is in charge?  Do they use magic like in Harry Potter?  And if so, who gets to use the magic, and can others see it?  What is the tone of the atmosphere?  Is this a dark and stormy place or bright and sunny; or is it a landscape covered in ice? 

Define the culture.  What do your characters believe in?  Is there a religion?  Are there several religions? What are the sacred customs?  What is the history of your characters’ interactions? Is there war, peace, tension between peoples? What is the culture’s folklore and mythology?

Don’t forget to use all five of your senses when creating your world.  You need to make your reader feel as if they are right there standing next to your characters – experiencing everything, feeling what they feel, smelling what they smell.  They need to viscerally inhabit your world no matter how fantastical it is.  Your world needs to feel real and functional to someone who could literally not function in it.

Remember, this is a fantasy world created by you, the author.  You need to know how it all functions and be able to pass that knowledge on to the reader without being didactic. Most importantly, you will have to guide the reader seamlessly through your world without breaking the tone or pace of the story. Any note of straying from the story, just to explain an aspect of your world (exposition) will distract the reader – and that’s game over for your story.


Here are a couple of exercises to help you along the creative way:

  1.  Interview your main character.  Ask them questions.  Get to know how they will react to the environment/problem that you have created for them.
  2. Map out your world. What does everything look like? What is where in this new world?
  3. Write a paragraph on each type of being used in your story. List the attributes of the peoples in each group: appearance, language, fighting abilities, magical abilities, spiritual abilities, clothing, food, shelters/lodgings.
  4. Describe the places in your world either to a friend or in a journal. What’s the scenery, weather, animals like? Be detailed in your descriptions so that a person can imagine it in their own thoughts.
  5. How will your story end?  Write the final page.  What are you going to have to do in this created universe of yours to get your main character to that point? Who or what will your character have to face? Are these obstacles part of the world building? Describe them in detail.
  6. Now that you know how your story will end, how will it begin?  What incident starts your main character on his/her/its path of self-discovery? What will your main character reveal on page one that will make your reader want to turn to page two? And most importantly, how will you convey your world building without heavy-loading exposition? For help on this one, read the first few pages of Tolkien’s The Hobit.

We would love to see what you can do.
Show us your world building in the comments!


We’re always looking for good, high-quality fantasy short stories, novellas, poems, art, and screenplays. If you have a piece ready for publication, please submit it. 

Associate Literary Agent: Bre Stephens

Congratulations to our EIC Bre Stephens, who is now an Associate Literary Agent with The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency! It’s not every day that our EIC steps out of the shadows, so today we’re celebrating her new role and further accomplishments in the publishing industry.

“I am pleased to announce that I have officially joined The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency as an Associate Literary Agent,” Bre posted on her Twitter account. “I am open to #query and look forward to #reading #author works in #mg #ya #adultfiction #nonfiction. My favorite subgenres are, but not limited to: #horror #fantasy #gothic #psychologicalrealism (sorry, no romance or scifi).”

Bre’s full wishlist is on both her agenting page AND her newly updated professional website: brendaleestephens.com.

You can follow her on Twitter (@brelstephens) and Facebook (@brestephens2019). And don’t forget to bookmark her website for event appearances. She already has at least 5 events coming up, beginning July 13. In fact, TDS has an author’s event that she’ll be attending on July 31, from 11am-1pm, at Bibliophile Books in downtown Dover, Ohio. (Details on her professional website!)

We’re so proud of this remarkable woman. She’s a great advocate for all our creatives, and there’s no doubt she’ll bring that same passion to her new clients. Good luck, Bre!

May and June New Release Books

Anticipation – there is an electric joy that surrounds that emotion, like a child waiting for morning on Christmas Eve.  For those of us who have favorite authors, that joy can turn into angst/anger/annoyance as we toe-tappingly await the new release of the next book or the next installment of a series that has captured our imaginations.  For some of us at THE DARK SIRE, our love and anticipation for our favorite authors simply cannot be subsided unless we know what’s coming next – and when.

Therefore, in order to keep our Gothic, Horror, Fantasy, and Psychological Realism readers abreast of what’s happening in their favorite genre, we thought we would look into the publishers’ crystal ball and see what they had scheduled for May and June.

GOTHIC

Gothic never looked so good in June!

Early June saw the release of The Shape of Darkness (Penguin Random House, June 2021) by Laura Purcell, whom some tout as the queen of modern Gothic Fiction. As the age of the photograph dawns in Victorian Bath, silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to keep her business afloat. Still recovering from a serious illness herself, making enough money to support her elderly mother and her orphaned nephew Cedric has never been easy, but then one of her clients is murdered shortly after sitting for Agnes, and then another, and another. Desperately seeking an answer, Agnes approaches Pearl, a child spirit medium lodging in Bath with her older half-sister and her ailing father, hoping that if Pearl can make contact with those who died, they might reveal who killed them. But Agnes and Pearl quickly discover that instead they may have opened the door to something that they can never put back.

Another period piece is The Ghost Finders (JournalStone, June 2021) by Adam McOmber. Henry Coxton, a fledgling occult detective, has taken up recent stewardship of a ghost finding firm, investigating gaslit mysteries in the damp cobblestone streets of Edwardian London. Along with his friends and associates—Violet Asquith, a telekinetic with a mysterious past, and Christopher X, a monster of dubious origins—Henry must work against the clock to solve the agency’s most terrifying case, one that threatens to destroy all he holds dear and perhaps even the very fabric of reality itself.

To lead the independently published authors is W.J. Cintron’s Ill Shadows (June 2021). Foxtail Valley is a confined territory where all technology is prohibited. It is home to the forbidden Black Sands beach. Rumor has it, no one ever comes out alive. No one… but them. Jeremy has lived in the Outland for most of his life. Mason is the brother of a convicted criminal, and Natalie is the mayor’s daughter. Bri just wanted to join the fun. Now, they are locked up in dorm arrest after breaking into the forbidden beach, winning the title of the ILL SHADOWS, the only survivors of Black Sands Shore. A reputation like that sure comes with its advantages, but when they see the girl they accidentally killed that night – alive and breathing, the circumstances turn for the worst.

Gothic is our first love! So we hope you enjoy the above titles. You never know, you may just find a classic gem among these new books. Summer doesn’t last long. Read as many as you can before the fall shadows call for something even more sinister – if that’s at all possible.


HORROR

Anyone who thought horror was reserved for Fall should read this list of new releases for the summer. Watch out summertime, something wicked this way comes!

Top of our list is Hailey Piper’s new book, Queen of Teeth (Strangehouse Press, June pre-orders for Hardcover and other releases in August and September). We were totally enthralled by her earlier book, The Worm and His Kings, which well deserved its 5-skull review and Must Read status.  Her new book promises to explore new turns in horror.  In it, the heroine goes from finding teeth between her thighs to becoming hunted by one of the most powerful corporations in America.  In addition to the vaginal teeth, her condition further generates horns and tentacles and possession by a creature with a mind of its own. 

Fans of Riley Sager can look forward to Survive the Night (Penguin Random House, June 2021). A must read summer book that has been touted by the likes of The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, The New York Post, Good Housekeeping, Thrillist, and BookRiot, just to name a few.  In it, Charlie (female) finds a ride home to Ohio on the campus ride board and accepts a lift from Josh.  As they travel an empty, twisting highway in the dead of night, Charlie begins to think that she is sharing the car with a serial killer who has been preying on her college campus.  For Charlie, there is nowhere to run and no way to call for help. 

Jen Karner’s Cinders of Yesterday (City Owl Press, June 2021) is the first book in the Legacy of Shadows series and features paranormal hunter Dani Black, who is out to revenge the murder of her partner in a paranormal hunt gone wrong.  While searching for a unique weapon capable of killing the Spectre that killed her partner, Dani encounters Emilie, who is on a quest of her own to reclaim her life and the magic that protects her from the same Spectre that Dani is hunting.

For those of you interested in story collections, you’re going to want to consider Unfortunates (Unnerving, June 2021) by Leo X. Robertson.  The stories are eclectic in nature: a sadistic blogger documents the murders of Hollywood celebrities; a journalist infiltrates a sex club for the physically impaired, finding he has more in common with them than he first assumed; a soon to be dad gets seduced by a water spirit; and a primary school teacher meets his most difficult class, yet —  a class of undead children.  In these stories, ordinary people must confront their deepest fears, ones that they have created for themselves.

For those who like translations of international writers, The Queen of the Cicadas (Flame Tree Press, June 2021) by Violet Castro, translated from the Spanish La Reina De Las Chicharras, is just for you. Set in 2018, the heroine Belinda Alvarez returns to Texas for the wedding of her best friend and must confront the urban legend, La Reina de Las Chicharras, who has also returned to the site in order to avenge a murder from the 1950s. 

Representing independently published authors is Nei Borgert’s The Morning Before Darkness (June 2021), a tale for those of you who love vampire novels. A young man during the English Civil War has spent centuries laying low and feeding off others. But as civilization develops, it becomes increasingly difficult for vampires to exist unnoticed. Seeking his place in the new world, he is soon overwhelmed with a haunting sensation—a call from a force more powerful than himself.  Summoned by the same haunting sensation, other vampires are drawn to the summoning: a former slave from Brazil; a samurai and yakuza enforcer from Japan; and an influential ex-Nazi.  Caught up in a mission that will take them to the ends of the world, humanity’s ultimate predators join together to solve a bloody and terrifying mystery—one that could lead to the enslavement or tragic end of human civilization.

Another independently published author Len Handeland with the novel The Darkest Gift (April 2021).  It is a dynamic, enthralling tale of love, jealousy, and rage wrapped up in the supernatural.  A self-loathing gay man meets an elegant yet incredibly mysterious gentleman who leads him down a nightmarish path involving paranormal experiences, vampirism and possible reincarnation.  Is this love or something much darker? The Kindle Edition will be released in late June.

Yet another independently published representative, Aron Beauregard‘s In The Hands of Heathens (May 2021) made its debut. A group of college students set out to the remote jungles of Madagascar to study a nocturnal endangered species. But things do not go quite as planned. After being saturated with supernatural folklore, an unexpected act of violence forces them to abandon their study and face an attack of chaos and terror. It promises to be a wonderful tale of trauma, paranoia, and horror.

Last but not least for the horror releases is Eddie GenerousThe Walking Son (The Seventh Terrace, May 2021). When a worksite accident leads to a dead hitchhiker with a pocket full of strange coins, the hero is drawn into the grip of a traveling curse born of old, deep wounds. The clock it ticking as the hero embarks on a road trip to uncover the history of the hitchhiker and reverse his terrifying metamorphosis before time runs out.

For fans of horror, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Traditional publishers as well as the Independents have their fingers stirring the pot that keeps all of us enthralled.  We anticipate what they are about to set on our reading platter.  Sometimes, the choices are almost too many – but we try our best to read as many as possible.


FANTASY

For those of you into witches, magic, and all things phantasmagorical, June promises to be a great month.

Look for The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin (Sourcebooks Fire, June 2021). The world is on the brink of destruction and only one witch wields the power to save it. Only, by doing so, it will cost her everything she holds dear. The book was released on June 1st and has already made THE NEW YORK TIMES best sellers list for YA titles.

Million Dollar Demon (Ace, June 2021) by Kim Harrison is #15 in the Hollows series. It’s a vampire story, featuring the new master vampire Constance of Cincinnati who wants Rachel Morgan out. No matter where Rachel goes, Constance is there causing city-wide chaos. Ever since Rachel found a way to save vampire souls, the old-school vampires want her gone.

For fans of Mercedes Lackey, you will love the first book in her new Valdemar series BEYOND (DAW, June 2021 with paperback in March 2022). Within the Eastern Empire, Duke Kordas Valdemar rules a tiny rural Duchy. Anticipating the day when the Empires militant leaders will cast their avarice eyes their way, Kordas’ father sets out to gather magicians in hopes of finding a way to protect their people. Naturally, things don’t go as planned.

For those of you interested in more modern Fantasy, check out Carrie Vaughn‘s Questland (Tor Books, June 2021). Literature professor Dr. Addie Cox is living a sheltered life in her ivory tower when Harris Lang, the famously eccentric billionaire tech genius, offers her an unusual job. He wants her to guide a mercenary strike team sent to infiltrate his island retreat off the northwest coast of the United States where Lang has built INSULA MIRABILIS, an isolated resort where tourists will one day pay big bucks for a convincing, high-tech-powered fantasy-world experience, complete with dragons, unicorns, and, yes, magic. Unfortunately, Addie is wrestling demons of her own—and not the fantastical kind. Now, she must navigate the deadly traps of Insula Mirabilis as well as her own past trauma.

With so much to choose from, readers are bound to find something they enjoy in the above list of fantastical finds.


PSYCHOLOGICAL REALISM

As the more literary genre represented, the following is sure to please the palate of any discerning reader who wants more character development while also going for one hell of a ride.

Animal (Avid Reader Press/Simon and Schuster, June 2021) by Lisa Taddeo tells the story of Joan, who has spent a lifetime enduring the cruelties of men. But when one of them commits a shocking act of violence in front of her, she flees New York City in search of Alice, the only person alive who can help her make sense of her past. In the sweltering hills above Los Angeles, Joan unravels the horrific event she witnessed as a child–that has haunted her every waking moment–while forging the power to finally strike back, evolving from prey into predator. Animal is a depiction of female rage at its rawest, and a visceral exploration of the fallout from a male-dominated society.

If you like your psychological realism to be of the white-knuckle type, check out Bath Haus (Penguin Random House, June 2021) by P.J. Vernon. Oliver Park, a recovering addict, finally has everything he ever wanted: sobriety and a loving, wealthy partner. Despite their difference in age and disparate backgrounds, they’ve made a perfect life together. With everything to lose, Oliver shouldn’t be visiting a gay bathhouse. But he does. Inside, everything goes terribly wrong, and Oliver barely escapes with his life. He races home in full-blown terror as the hand-shaped bruise grows dark on his neck. The truth will destroy everything he and his partner have together, so Oliver does the thing he used to do so well: He lies. Bath Haus is a scintillating thriller with an emotional punch.

Who They Was (Harper Collins, June 2021 with paperback in April 2021) by Gabriel Krauze. This is a visceral autobiographical novel about a young man straddling two cultures: the university where he is studying English Literature and the disregarded world of London gang warfare. The unforgettable narrator of this compelling, thought-provoking debut book goes by two names in his two worlds. At the university he attends, he’s Gabriel, a seemingly ordinary, partying student learning about morality at a distance. But in his life outside the classroom, he’s Snoopz, a hard-living member of London’s gangs, well-acquainted with drugs, guns, stabbings, and robbery. Navigating these sides of himself, he is forced to come to terms with who he really is and the life he’s chosen for himself. In a distinct, lyrical urban slang all his own, author Gabriel Krauze brings to vivid life the underworld of his city and the destructive impact of toxic masculinity. 

As you can tell, we like a darker literary bent in psychological realism. And the more modern version does just that. There are some definite powerhouses here, ones that will make you think about the world around you.


TO OUR READERS: Do you have a favorite author that you would like THE DARK SIRE to keep track of? Or did we miss a title that came out in May/June that should have been listed? Let us know in the comments. We love to uplift amazing writers. In fact, if you drop the name of an author for us to include, we will add them to our future new release lists – which are now a MONTHLY staple of The Dark Forest. Check back at the end of July for our July/August releases.

And don’t forget to PRE-ORDER TDS’ DARK SUMMER Issue 8, set to release on July 31. More details available at darksiremag.com/issue8.html.

Reality Meets Fiction: Premature Burials

by Barry Pirro

In his short story The Premature Burial, Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “There are certain themes of which the interest is all-absorbing, but which are too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction. To be buried alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality.”

In Poe’s day, fear of being buried alive was very real. During epidemics of plague, cholera, and smallpox, stories of people being buried alive found their way into local newspapers with increasing frequency, and public panic ensued.

A French newspaper of the time told of a young woman who was thought to have died from cholera, and she was buried the following afternoon. When the sexton started shoveling dirt into the grave, he heard a noise in the coffin, so he quickly sent for the medical officer. Upon unscrewing the coffin lid, the onlookers were horrified to discover that the now dead woman had been alive when sealed in her coffin. A terrified expression was frozen on her face, and there were deep scratches on the inside of the coffin lid from attempting to claw her way out.

In another story, a young woman died after a short illness, and the doctor who was present certified her death. He recommended that she be buried immediately due to the intense August heat, so she was laid to rest in a mausoleum just six hours after her death. Several months later, the woman’s husband decided to remarry, so the mother of his late wife decided to have her daughter’s remains removed to her native town. When the vault was opened, a horrible sight presented itself. The woman’s corpse lay in the middle of the vault. Her hair was disheveled, and the cloth that had lined the coffin was in shreds, having been torn apart by the poor woman as she fought her way out of her coffin.

The British Medical Journal ran an article about a case of premature burial that resulted in a court case. A woman from Naples, Italy, was buried after all of the proper steps were taken to assure that she was dead. Several days later the mausoleum in which the woman had been placed was opened for the reception of another body. Her body was discovered lying outside of her coffin. The clothes she wore were torn to pieces, and the woman had broken several bones as she attempted to extricate herself from the living tomb. A trial was held, and the doctor who signed the death certificate and the mayor who had authorised the interment were both found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

One of the earliest and most well documented cases of premature burial is that of Alice Bluden of Basingstoke, England. One day in 1674, Alice made herself a drink of poppy water–a type of tea made from poppy seed pods that contains morphine and codeine. Taken in small quantities, the tea acts as a sedative, but Alice must have ingested a substantial amount of poppy water that day because soon after drinking it she sank into a coma so deep that she appeared to be dead. She was examined by a doctor, but he failed to detect any breath or a pulse, so she was pronounced dead.

Alice’s husband, who was away on business at the time, asked for the funeral to be postponed until his return, but, in those days, freezers weren’t available for body storage. In addition, Alice was a large woman and obese bodies decay at a faster rate than lean ones. At the behest of the doctor, Alice’s family agreed that it would be best to bury her without delay.

Because the burial was so rushed, there was no time for a custom-built coffin, so Alice’s large frame was put into a casket that was so small that poles had to be used to force her arms and legs down so that the lid could be securely nailed shut. But Alice’s coffin wouldn’t remain closed for very long.

Two days after her burial, children playing in the graveyard heard mysterious moans and cries coming from underground. They reported this to the headmaster of their school, but he didn’t believe them. The following day the headmaster decided to check out the children’s story himself. He visited Alice’s gravesite and he too heard the strange sounds coming from underground, so he quickly had the body exhumed.

When the coffin was opened, there lay poor Alice, alive but bruised and bloody from trying to escape her coffin. She was so weak from the ordeal that she collapsed and died yet again. Unfortunately, no one thought to call a doctor to check if she was actually dead, so for a second time, Alice’s body was forced into her tiny coffin and she was reburied.

This time, the family hired a guard to watch over the grave to listen for any suspicious noises coming from underground that might suggest that Alice was alive. But sometime during the night, it began to rain and the guard headed over to the local pub to stay warm. Little did he know that amidst the claps of thunder and the rush of falling rain was another sound–muffled, blood curdling screams coming from Alice’s grave.

The next morning the family discovered that the guard had left his post, so they had the grave dug up just to be sure that Alice was indeed dead. To their horror, when the coffin was opened they discovered that Alice had revived sometime during the night. In her frenzied state, she had forced her hands from her sides and clawed at the inside of the coffin. Witnesses said that her hands were bloody and torn to shreds from attempting to escape. But this time, Alice was truly dead. She most likely suffered a heart attack brought on by the terror of being buried alive not once, but twice.

In Victorian times, fear of premature burial was so strong that a society was formed to prevent such a thing from happening. It was aptly called The Society for the Prevention of People Being Buried Alive, and over time people devised a number of methods to make sure the person thought to be dead was actually dead. Some of these methods were… well, let’s say they were a little off-putting to say the least.

Paris physician Antoine Louis had the idea of blowing tobacco smoke into the rear ends of the dead to awaken them if they weren’t quite dead yet. Why? No one is quite sure, but it does give the expression “blowing smoke up your ass” an entirely new meaning, doesn’t it?

Other methods assumed that pain would sort the living from the dead. One involved pouring scalding hot water on the corpse’s arms. If they blistered, the body was considered to be alive. A French clergyman came up with the novel idea of thrusting a hot poker up the rear end of the newly dead. In 1854, another Frenchman invented the “pince mamelon” (nipple-pincher), a particularly strong pair of giant tweezers designed to shock the supposed-dead back to life by squeezing the nipples very hard.

But there was a much simpler way to make sure that someone was actually dead. Don’t bury them right away. The term “wake” comes from the practice of waiting three days before burying a body to make sure that it doesn’t wake up. In Victorian times, wakes were held in the parlors of people’s homes. By the 20th century, funeral services were moved to funeral homes and the home parlor took on a new name, the living room, because it was no longer used to display the dead.

Some thought that three days wasn’t enough time to guarantee that a person was actually dead, so the Germans came up with their own solution–Leichenhäusers or corpse houses, chambers designed to hold the recently dead until their bodies began to rot. The first Leichenhäuser held up to eight bodies at a time, and it was kept constantly warm with pipes that fed the room with steam to hasten the decomposition of the bodies.

Between 1795 and 1828, Leichenhäusers were built all over Europe. Heaps of flowers were placed around the building to mask the stench of decay, and professional “death-watchers” placed mirrors and feathers in front of the corpses’ faces to check for any hint of breath. The bodies were periodically stuck with pins to check for a physical reaction, and they were attached to a system of strings and bells so that any movement would be immediately detected.

After a while people actually began paying admission for the privilege of wandering amongst the bodies. In Paris, viewing the dead became so trendy that a special morgue was built as a public exhibition space. Behind glass on slanted marble tables were the naked bodies of unidentified victims of crimes, drownings, and suicides. Although the intent was to have the public view the bodies in the hope that some might be identified, the Paris Morgue instead became a wildly popular tourist attraction with thousands visiting each day.

Fear of being entombed alive eventually led to the invention of a number of patented devices known as “coffin alarms.” Some included battery-powered alarms, spring-loaded rods that would raise flags to the surface of graves, ducts to feed fresh air into the coffins, and even ladders so the not-quite-dead-yet could climb out on their own.

Poe was well aware of such accounts of people being buried alive, and he played on the public’s fear by incorporating the theme into five of his short stories: Bernice (1835), The Fall of the House of Usher (1839), The Black Cat (1843), The Premature Burial (1844), and The Cask of Amontillado (1846).

With all of the marvels of modern medicine, you would think that the possibility of being buried alive would be a thing of the past. Not so! In 1994, an 86-year-old woman was declared dead, and the examining doctor had her body sent to the morgue. Ninety minutes later, an attendant noticed that the body bag the woman was sealed in was moving. She was quickly moved to the hospital emergency room where she recovered, but she died a week later.

In 2007, a 33-year-old Venezuelan man woke up during his own autopsy when the medical-examiner began cutting into his face with a scalpel. When the grieving man’s wife arrived at the morgue to identify his body, she was shocked to find him alive and waiting for her in the corridor.

In 2014, doctors examined 91-year-old Janine Kolkiewicz and declared her dead. Eleven hours later she awoke in the hospital mortuary with a craving for tea and pancakes. That same year, 79-year-old Walter Williams from Mississippi was declared dead by a hospice nurse. The next day, he woke up at the funeral home. When asked about the experience, he said that he thought that he had just fallen into a deep sleep.

Talk about a close call! A 24-year-old man from Johannesburg, South Africa, was declared dead after an auto accident. He spent two full days inside a cold metal box in the mortuary before workers finally heard his cries and rescued him.

Poe tells us that the terror of being buried alive is “too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction”. But fiction is the place where the subject of premature burial should stay, because the reality of waking from the sleep of death entombed in a cold, dark, damp, silent box six feet underground is far too terrifying to imagine.


“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 July 23rd. To learn more about the Ghost Hunter, visit http://www.connecticutghosthunter.com/.

READERS: If you have experienced or have heard a real story of being buried alive, tell us about it in the comments. Better yet, write your non-fiction story and send it to us: darksiremag@gmail.com (subject: Non-fiction Buried Alive Story). 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 premature burial 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 Amazon and The Bibliophile Bookstore (Dover, Ohio).

Until we meet again, take care!

Making Vampires Scary Again

Vampires are no longer scary.  In last week’s blog, I traced the path that has led us down this unforgivable (to a horror fanatic) chain of tales to the situation now where a vampire is merely another angst-ridden young adult feeling marginalized by the society around them.  The Cullens (Twilight Saga) are almost the kind of people you would like to have dinner with (as long as you are not the main course).  You feel sorry for Gary Oldman’s Dracula because he is doing everything for LOVE.  Vampires seem to be only dangerous to other vampires.  The Originals was nothing more than a vampire version of Dynasty.

What would it take to make vampires scary, again?  Well, first of all, they would have to lose the “good-guy” image.  From ancient Mesopotamia 6000 years ago, until relatively recently, vampires were monsters.  They were the top of the food chain and humans were their prey.  We need to make vampires monsters again.

Granted, this poses a problem.  It’s going to call for a new mindset, or, rather, a mindset that returns to values held by previous generations.  It calls for a delineation between good and evil, a realization that some things are black and white with no shades of gray.  Evil in any form cannot be explained away.  You need to FEAR evil.  Vampires were once the epitome of evil.  They killed without remorse then desecrated the dead by having imbibed the blood of their victims.  They were a power that the average person could not overcome.  You needed specialized knowledge and specialized weapons to stop the vampire dead in its tracks.  (Pun intended.)

But above all, vampires need to recapture the unpleasant emotions linked to danger: pain and extreme harm.  The people in the stories need to be running away from the vampire and not running to it.  Some of those people will have to die and die horribly in order to get the point across of just how evil a vampire is.  And that will make your vampire hunters all the more heroic, because with a totally evil vampire comes a true definition of heroism (another concept we are short on, in this day and age.)

The hero is as much a folkloric character as is the vampire; in a sense, you can’t have one without the other.  He or she is the person who steps in the gap to fight a battle that they have no chance of winning in order to protect people that they sometimes don’t even know.  They recognize that it is their duty, their calling, their fate, if you will, to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.  I am not talking about some screaming virgin tossed into a volcano to appease an angry god, or a young maiden tied to a stake to be eaten by a dragon or scooped up by the likes of King Kong.  I am talking about someone who walks towards the danger knowing that they might not be walking back. 

A scary vampire story is metaphor for good vs. evil.  Once upon a time, we believed in Evil.  Various religions even gave it a name.  We even celebrate a holiday (Halloween) which began as festival to keep evil at bay.  Now, it’s just a night for children to get candy and dress up.  We have forgotten that people were scared in real life and wanted relief from the horrors of world events.  Horror, then, is an escape from reality.  But what scares us now? 

To make a vampire scary again, an author needs to discover what scares us today, and embody that in the vampire character.  The author needs to make the reader sitting at a table at their favorite coffee shop look over their shoulder and wonder about the person sitting behind them.  Is it safe to leave your table?  Is it safe to walk to your car?  Do you need to look into the backseat before you get in, even though you know it’s empty (or supposed to be)?

With all the social issues of the 21st-Century, it would be easy to play on real-life horror to embody a vampire’s evil nature.  Vampires have, after all, been used as metaphor for drug addiction and substance abuse, physical trauma, the outsider, immigration laws and policies, and so much more. Why not use the vampire to reflect our present-day issues, like human trafficking, opioid addiction, the pandemic, governmental greed, immigration, racism, women empowerment, the dysfunctional family unit, religion or lack of religion, and tolerance? Any one of these topics is a sensitive topic in today’s society, and thus important to us – global humans. By embodying the vampire with the evil traits of these devastating issues, we can reflect society, use vampire as metaphor, and fill the vampire with dread once again, the evil necessary to make vampires scary again.

For anyone interested in writing scary vampire stories, focus on the thought that vampires need to recapture the feeling of dread. Dread: to anticipate with great apprehension or fear.  When you really dread something, you get weak at the knees and there is a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.  You do not want to confront or have anything to do with what is making you feel that way.  At its very essence, dread makes you want to flee, and as quickly as possible.  Your characters are going to have to dread the presence of the vampire.  Even the people hunting it are going to have to overcome their basic primal fears of being eaten alive just to go up against one. And the most dreadful fact of all is that some won’t survive.

So, what is going to be the new evil?  Here in The Dark Forest, we would love to know.  What do you think needs to happen for vampires to regain their horror and fear factor?  Do you have a favorite vampire character that still gives you chills or goosebumps?  Share your thoughts in the comments below to let your voice be heard. We’re listening!


A challenge to writers, poets, and artists: THE DARK SIRE is looking for vampire tales that bring back the scary vampire. Submit your evilest vampire short stories, novellas, poems, art, and screenplays for inclusion in Issue 9 – our 2nd year anniversary issue! Simply visit darksiremag.com/submissions.html. Together, we can strike fear in our readers, one page at a time.

When Did Vampires Become Cool?

The other night I was watching one of my favorite TV shows, LEGACIES.  There was one particularly touching scene that got to me.  It was a proverbial “Aaawww” moment.  MG, a good-natured vampire, wipes the memory of his one true, human friend in order to keep him safe.  It was a true act of ultimate friendship because MG desperately wants a friend.  And in the middle of this sweet scene, I began to wonder: Why isn’t he tearing this kid’s throat out?  He’s a vampire, for goodness sake.  He needs the blood and with the kid dead, his secret is safe.  And then I realized, none of the witches, vampires, werewolves and assortment of “other worldly” characters in this story are particularly threatening to non-other worldly creatures.  But monsters, beware!

When did it become okay to be a vampire?  When did it become okay to give up your humanity, die, and accept the role of blood-sucking, night-dweller who supposedly preys on the living?  I’m old-school.  When you watch the re-runs of horror movies on Svengoollie or whatever your Saturday night monster fest show is called, you have to understand, I saw these at a first run theater as a kid.  The Hammer productions starring Christopher Lee (Dracula) and Peter Cushing (Van Helsing) were the perfect duo to justify your cuddling with your girlfriend in the back seat at the drive-in.  (Google: Hammer films.) 

Dracula was the bad guy.  Van Helsing always killed him before the closing credits ran.  Then, in the next movie, some servant of the dark lord would always resurrect him, and the chase was on again.  Then you had Count Yorga, and he was guaranteed to have your girlfriend screaming to get into your arms.  The hero would go in to stake the Count and, suddenly, the Count was behind him and the tables were turned.  Count Yorga never had to be resurrected because he always won.

Ah, the good old days.  For decades, Dracula by Bram Stoker dominated the genre.  In fact, it was the genre.  It was published in 1897 and virtually dominated the vampire market until 1954.  There were authors who tried their hand at vampire literature, but they are merely footnotes in literary history.  None were able to capture the imagination like the original Count.

In 1954, Richard Matheson published I Am Legend, which took the vampire into the post-apocalyptic age and crossed into the science fiction genre.  But that said, vampires were still the bad guys.  The novel was successfully adapted into several films: The Last Man On Earth starring Vincent Price (1964), The Omega Man starring Charleton Heston (1971), and I AM Legend starring Will Smith (2007). 

Some people credit Steven King’s Salem’s Lot (1975) for ushering in the modern wave of vampires.  However, his vampires were still evil and needed destroyed.  It wasn’t until the following year that the vampire rose from the ashes anew.  Anne Rice took the literary community by storm with Interview With The Vampire (1976).  She gave us a wondrously villainous vampire in the character of Lestat, and the vampire with scruples, morals, and, dare I say, a heart with Louis (played by Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, respectively, in the 1994 movie.)  Then, in 1978, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro published her first Count of Saint-Germain novel.  In it, she combined historical fiction, romance, and horror all centering around a cultured, well-traveled, articulate, elegant, and mysterious vampire.  Between Rice and Yarbro, the transition to break away from the traditional vampire clichés and create a totally new vampire character was underway.

The split could be seen in the next couple of movies and TV shows. I remembered the 1983 movie The Hunger, based on the book of the same title by Whitley Strieber, starring Catherine Deneuve (Mariam), David Bowie (John), and Susan Sarandon (Sarah).  Although John and Mariam were both vampires, it was John who becomes the monster when he kills a child in hopes that her young blood would stop the degenerative process that his ancient body was undergoing.  Not much after John’s death, Mariam turns her sights toward seducing Sarah. Though innocent compared to John, Mariam still wasn’t a good guy, per se, though love was a theme throughout the movie. And let’s not forget Forever Knight, the 1992 TV series about an 800-year-old vampire, Nick Knight, who lived as a detective and lamented his immortality.  In fact, Knight was trying to break the curse of being a vampire through blood letting and transfusions.  Though he couldn’t allow himself to forget he was a monster, he tried to correct the wrongs of his life but aiding humans and protecting them from other monsters (human and otherworldly).  Of course that leads us to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997), where loving a vampire, though a faux pas, was realized.  The relationship between Buffy and Angel showed a new side to the lamenting, emotional, witty vampire – one that had a loving heart and whom was not as scary as he first seemed. 

The vampire was surely on a path of change, and that change led us to the next transition. Once you felt sorry for Pitt’s Louis, felt intrigued by Saint-Germain, felt vindicated by Knight, and felt empathy for Buffy, the flood gates opened for the romantic and thus Stephenie Myer to pen The Twilight Saga (2005).  If Rice’s and Yarbro’s work gave us the groundwork for good guy vampires versus bad guy vampires – all fighting for dominance, then Meyer’s grabbed a page from Buffy and ran with it to create the all-new romantic vampire being that dripped with teenage angst.  Old vampires passed for young teenagers, lived among humans, and even had romantic relationships with them.  Now, vampires were sexy creatures that humans wanted to be with, not fear, and the humans weren’t very remorseful or shy about their love. 

Fear of the monstrous vampire had been waning before Meyer, but her work was the final straw for irradicating the vampire fiend.  At present, vampires are known for their beautiful/handsome appearance, their human emotions, their strength – both physically and psychologically, and their romantic relationships with humans.  They are your friend, your family, your lover.  They aren’t feared or scary; they are the cool people that everyone wants to be like.  For some of the younger generation today, “it’s hard to be afraid of a vampire who sparkles” because “vampires are dangerous.”  And that’s the problem.

Contemporary vampires are mostly portrayed as romantic, anti-heroes caught in the tragic web of their existence.  And when you look at vampires in this light, there is no other way to view vampires than as watered-down fabrications of what they once were.  Though evolution and progression are good things in general, it hurt the vampire genre a great deal, with the oversaturation of vampire romance fiction an indication that a new transition is way overdue.  So, what will the new vampire look like, feel like, behave like?  Only time will tell.  But I, for one, hope for a return of the fiendish monster who scares viewers at every turn.


What do you think?  Are you ready for another evolution?  Should vampires be scary again?  Or is the romantic vampire still wanted?  Share your ideas in the comments.  And as always, you can read non-romance vampire stories in THE DARK SIRE by purchasing an issue in the TDS Store. Better yet – submit your vampire stories! We’d love to read your work.

Creative Nook with Samuel Marzioli

by Zachary Shiffman

As his blog declares, Samuel Marzioli is a “writer of dark fantasy and horror.” Considering the type of works we publish and massively enjoy at THE DARK SIRE, I knew right away I had to get a better look at this author from the West Coast. That led to my reading of Hollow Skulls and Other Stories, Marzioli’s anthology published by Journalstone, and it only took a couple of stories from that collection for me to know that we needed to invite Marzioli into the Creative Nook for an interview.

Marzioli and I spoke first of his anthology: its origin, its compilation, finding a home for it in Journalstone, and its ultimate publication in January 2021. Then we discussed the Filipino influence present in one of its stories, Multo, which concerns a man reflecting on his childhood encounters with a multo (Tagalog, meaning ghost). It is a story that will linger with you after you finish it, because of its careful and engrossing prose which casts an ominous, yet somewhat nostalgic, tone over the characters. Multos, among other figures and creatures of Filipino folklore, are topics of interest to Marzioli, and he hopes to write more on them in the future.

We went on to discuss Marzioli’s writing style and how he balances the good with the bad, the light with the dark, and the horrific with the hopeful. Marzioli also offered advice for writers frozen in their creative tracks, as well as a book recommendation to take with you after the interview.

Overall, it was an intriguing conversation, one that we at THE DARK SIRE sincerely thank Samuel Marzioli for engaging in and encourage you, our readers, to watch it in full on the Dark Sire’s YouTube channel!

https://youtu.be/bL-kGX_WPLk

Dark Chances Contest: Winners Announced

by Bre Stephens

The Dark Sire and Second Chances Lit teamed up to bring the writing community a fun-filled writing contest that held horror close to the chest. The theme was “second chances” in all its interpretations. There were many entries for this swag contest, but only three writers could win.

Among my personal favorites, Juno Dufour’s O, Fortunato struck a gothic cord with a truly unique interpretation of the “second chances” theme; Allison Miehl’s Let Sleeping Dogs Lie pitched an emotional curveball; Marie Kelly’s Bury Me in My Dreams hit a home run in psychological horror and mental health awareness; Connor Pope’s Hand in Hand, Dear Sister conjured chills in all the right places through amazing word choice and description; Matthew Hisbent’s Hearts of Darkness tore into the flesh – literally – to escape with a second chance; and Liam Hogan’s Sirens had a twist not expected.

Though all the stories had a fresh take on the theme and were masterfully written, only three authors could rise to the top. And without further ado, I’d like to congratulate the WINNERS of the Dark Chances Contest:

1st Place
Mario Aliberto III
Rescue Me

The water rushed into her mouth, cold, filling her up. Above, sunshine broke upon the ocean’s surface. The man splashed through, blotting out the light. Handsome, strong, swimming towards her. Reaching.

She fell deeper, but in the ocean, it was not called falling. Diving, yes, the man would call it that. But to lure a man it had to look like falling.

His eyes saying, I will save you.

A strong swimmer. When he grabbed her wrist, she grabbed his back. Then she released the breath she was holding, air bubbling up from her neck gills, before falling—diving—deeper.

Bio: Mario Aliberto III lives in Tampa Bay with his wife and daughters, and yet the dog still runs the house. Twitter: @marioaliberto3.


2nd Place
Jenni Meade
Hang Him High

It has rained for days, drops falling on me from the sky, from branches heavy with rot, from his bloated fingertips. My clothes are as ragged as the hope that led me to replace his noose with a chain. Thunder rumbles; prayers rise. 

I kiss his bare ankle. All I need is one strike. The wind howls in fury at my obstinance. 

The crack rends the night—the tree—his limb sunders, the dead of tree and dead of man falling at my feet. 

Neither of us breathes.

“Wake up,” I whisper. 

His hand convulses, cold and pale and alive, alive, alive—

Bio:   When Jenni Meade isn’t writing, she’s either running a construction company, making pork dumplings, or chasing a feral child. When Jenni Meade is writing, she is the feral child. She can be found on Twitter (@jmeadeski) or online at jennimeade.com.


3rd Place
James Hancock
The Chamber

Had I a tongue, I might beg for mercy.  But I know my fate; there would be no second chance.  My room stinks of blood and sweat, and had I eyes to see, the dancing candlelight would show the shadowy form of my keeper.  He who scrubs the rack clean as I fumble in the darkness.  My waist chained tight, forcing me to stand, and pain stabbing with every shallow breath.  I paw with broken fingers, feeling the cold metal walls of my upright coffin.  Eagerly, he approaches and the door before me slams shut.  I succumb to the maiden.

Bio: James writes stories which are a little bizarre, often dark, and somewhat twisted. He lives in England with his wife and two daughters and their many pets. Follow him on Twiiter: @JimHank13.


CONGRATULATIONS to these amazing writers! I enjoyed your work tremendously. Aliberto grabbed and pulled me under the water; Meade left me wanting more, more more; and Hancock delivered a powerful THUD! that echoed in my mind when the chamber closed. Powerful imagery, great description, and a ride filled with adrenaline – that is what these authors delivered. And I was here for it all!


Are you ready to submit to THE DARK SIRE? We’re always looking for short stories, poetry, art, and now screenplays in the subgenres of gothic, horror, fantasy, and psychological realism. To submit, visit: darksiremag.com.

Writing Short Fiction Horror

So you’ve just put down THE DARK SIRE Issue 7, and you were enthralled by David Gibbs’ story Devil’s Acre or Kolby Diaz’s Rattling or one of the trilogy poems by S. M. Cook, and now you are inspired to write a horror story of your own.  Good for you.  TDS is behind you 100%.  It is our fervent hope that our stories not only entertain you but that they will also inspire you to try your creative hand.

But where do you begin?  Horror is a unique genre.  It is one that inspires intense feelings of fear, shock, or disgust.  But not everyone is afraid of the same thing, or shocked by the same thing, or feels disgust by the same thing.  In other words, it is not a genre that appeals to everyone.  However, that said, there are primal fears that are fundamental to the human animal, as a whole.  As a writer, you have to search yourself to discover what basic fears you and your contemporaries have and use those phobias as the basis for your horror story.

Take Edgar Allen Poe, for example.  Written over a century ago, his stories retain their power to haunt us because he played on the fundamental fear of people not being what they seem.  Shirley Jackson, in The Haunting of Hill House, builds on Poe’s fear about people not being what they seem by adding a house that seems to have a malevolent intent for those lured inside it.  In Pet Sematary, Stephen King capitalizes on the simple concept of a place where buried things come back to life… sort of.  In Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury rides the carousel of peoples’ fear of losing the natural order of their lives.

Written in different centuries by authors who were incredibly different from each other, these stories all have several things in common that make them great horror stories:  They all have innocent characters with whom the readers can identify while operating on the premise that bad things happen to good people.  Each story preys on what the author feels to be their readers’ common phobias.  There is something sinister about each fear, and those authors take full advantage of that.

Steps to writing a good horror short story:

1.  When writing horror, first start with setting, taking specific care to create a solid, believable location. Ernest Hemingway once said that if an author can get his readers to believe in the place in which the story occurs, they will then believe everything that happens in that location.  This is completely true with horror.  Location, location, location. Sell the location to your readers and they will shiver at whatever terror you unveil, be it psychological fear, gross-out horror, or bone-chilling dread. Establishing the location at the beginning is key, of course, but does not mean just stating the location (e.g., New York City; Hyde Park, 1969; a dark basement). More importantly, use descriptive language to paint a picture for the mind’s eye of the reader. Just enough information will let the reader create a vivid image of the location on their own. Guide your reader through well-crafted suggestions (i.e., smell of flowers, a chill of wet dirt pressing down… could all indicate being buried alive when crafted correctly). Location can be sprinkled in throughout the story with location markers such as these that enhance the story’s premise. Location, then, becomes an integral part of the story and thus works with the unfolding of the narrative. When your readers feel like they are inside the setting and experience the location for themselves, they will feel the terror first-hand.

2.  Make your protagonist’s stakes high.  Will your story be one of life or death for the hero?  For the hero’s loved one?  For the hero’s town?  The higher the stakes, the more evil the villain needs to be; keep the two forces balanced so you don’t have a weak or over-inflated villain.  A good horror story is all about the characters: the hero trying to achieve a goal and the villain trying to thwart the hero’s plan. And remember, the villain doesn’t need to be a person, but can be weather, insanity, animal, self, disease, or monster. So how does the villain conflict with the hero and why is there conflict to begin with? How will the conflict create tension in the story? And finally, how will the protagonist overcome the antagonist while the stakes remain at their fullest intensity?

3.  Avoid cliché.  As the author, you need to balance reality with whatever is going bump in the night in your story.  The hardest thing you will probably come across is coming up with a new angle for your horror story and avoiding trite rehashing of stories that have already been told.  Old stories can be told with new twists.  It’s your job as an author to create them.  With editors reading hundreds of submissions per month, they see a plethora of stories that use the same cliches repeatedly, to the extent of boredom. How many times must editor’s read a character falling when running away or a character being knocked unconscious only to wake up tied and oblivious to their new location? These are cliches that writers should avoid. Instead, think outside the box and ask yourself what you can do to change things up. How can your character react differently? How can they turn the tables? How else can you switch the scene? What other scenarios, actions, dialogue or settings can be created to turn the normal, boring, overused cliché on its ear? The answer is easier said than done: Do the opposite.  By doing the opposite of what is expected, you break the cliché and thus write “in the new.” If you can do that, you’ll get the right kind of attention from readers – and editors.

4.  Point of view.  Who is telling the story?  Choosing the right point of view for your story allows the reader to get into the mindset of what you are trying to achieve.  If you want your reader to be an observer and shocked by the things that are happening, you might choose the third person omniscient point of view.  As a writer, the third person omniscient point of view allows you to enter the minds of all your characters to reveal what they are thinking, their motivations, their hopes and fears… of both your heroes and your villains. Don’t want your narrator to know all? Simply use third person limited, which means that the narrator only knows what has already been experienced – not all.  Or, you could tell the story through the eyes of just one of your characters, through the first person point of view.  If you use first person, you can only reveal what that particular character is thinking and feeling – a personal account.  For instance, a story told through the eyes of the victim can only express the victim’s hopes and fears triggered by what the villain is doing, though it could be totally opposite to the villain’s real intentions, which would have to be revealed through some kind of communication.  First persona and third person limited point of view are limited in nature because they can only reveal what the narrator has experienced or is experiencing; yet, the third person omniscient is unlimited due to the narrator knowing all. Though the omniscient point of view allows the author to express what ALL the characters are experiencing and whether or not they are aware of how everyone else in the story is reacting, it’s not always the best to choose. So which point of view should you use? Think of the characters you’ve created and the story you want to tell. Then consider what the reader needs to know. A story that is written in first person will be a close account story, personal, and great for a bird’s eye view of the main character’s thoughts, feelings, moods, and action. If a more distanced approach is needed, then try third person. The best advice, however, is to try them all to see which one feels better when read aloud.

5. To Twist or not to twist.  The trick with a plot twist is to avoid the cliché. You know, the person you thought was dead isn’t; the monster isn’t a monster at all; the victim is really the killer.  All of these were great plot twists WHEN THEY WERE FIRST USED.  But now they have been used ad nauseum.  To recreate the old into something new, you must think outside the box – again. What isn’t expected that can happen? What hasn’t been done a million times? A correctly written plot twist, especially at the end, is awe-inspiring and hits your reader in the chest. It’s what keeps the story fresh in the reader’s mind long after they have finished the story. But then again, maybe your story doesn’t need a twist.  Maybe your story flows well to an expected and anticipated feel-good conclusion.  Readers love when they know more than the characters and see the hero’s plans falling into place. A twist isn’t always needed to fulfill a reader’s thirst because we all cheer when the hero overcomes all the insurmountable odds the villain has placed in his or her path and succeeds in fulfilling the quest nonetheless.  Whichever you choose, be sure to end with an impact on the reader. There’s nothing worse then a weak ending that will disappoint the reader’s expectation. Remember: The best stories are the ones that leave a lasting impression.

6. Storytelling technique.  A horror story is still just that… a story.  Never forget that.  The drama, the horror, the darkness are all part of the story, so don’t let them overpower your characters’ wants and needs.  Your readers should feel empathy for your characters to give them a reason to continue the reading journey.  It is your job, then, to balance the drama and the horror with realism, suspense, and belief to guarantee that your readers remain engaged and entertained to the very end. This means that story takes precedence. Don’t get caught up in so much exposition that the story stalls – or worse yet, stops. Instead, keep the story in mind at all times and KEEP IT MOVING.

So now all you have to do is write… right?  Believe me when I say that it’s easier said than done.  But if there is a story in you, let it come out.  Don’t be afraid to sit at the keyboard and type away or pick up that old fashioned pen or pencil and scratch away until your fingers get sore.  No one (especially those of us here as THE DARK SIRE) ever said that writing was easy.  It isn’t.  It’s work.  But it can be very rewarding work.  Every author puts their heart and soul into the things they write.  That might sound like a cliché, but it’s true and more than just metaphor.  Your heart beats at around 72 beats per minute.  It might take you hours, days, or even weeks to write a good story and get it ready to send out to a magazine.  How many times has your heart beaten during that process?  Those aren’t just words on a page.  They are the embodiment of your heart beats.  We know – because we’ve been there ourselves.  So get to work, and write your hearts out!


Practicing the six tips above will help you master short fiction horror writing. Here are a couple of application prompts to get you thinking outside the box.

Prompt 1:  A secondary character is running away from the villain.  Brainstorm at least three ways that the character gets away without the stereotypical run and fall and scream method.

Prompt 2:  Write 2-3 paragraphs in a haunted house, where someone is haunted without using a ghost/spirit/or some kind of otherworldly being.

Prompt 3:  Brainstorm 3 ways to invoke terror/horror in someone who is confronted with a common, everyday object. 

Prompt 4:  Using dialog only, convey one person’s horror of something to another person.  Make the second person as terrorized as the first.

Prompt 5:  Write 2-3 paragraphs of a scene with the main character in first person point of view. Then, rewrite the exact same scene in third person limited point of view. Now, rewrite the scene again but in third person omniscient. Read each aloud to see the difference in feeling, mood, and tone.  Which point of view is best for your next story?

Let’s build a supportive writing community.
Share your brainstorming and paragraph work in a comment.


When you have a horror short story ready for publication, we want to read it!
Read our submission guidelines and then submit your work via our website.

Reality Meets Fiction: A Demon in Upstate New York

by Barry Pirro

Of all the paranormal cases I’ve been involved with, the following is one of the most disturbing; not only because of the bizarre and frightening nature of the activity reported, but because I discovered that this was not a haunting–this was a demonic infestation. 

Demonic infestation often begins with the typical innocuous haunted house stuff, such as the sounds of mysterious footsteps and disembodied voices, the sighting of ethereal figures, and the movement of small objects. But unlike a haunting, the activity doesn’t end there. It quickly escalates and transitions into physical and mental attacks; bizarre and grotesque hallucinations; the smell of rotting flesh; cuts, bruises and burn marks on the skin; horrific nightmares and sleep paralysis; severe illness; and suicidal thoughts. And, once a demon enters your life, it is very, very difficult to get rid of.


When Claire and her sister Linda moved into their charming two bedroom apartment in Upstate, New York, it seemed like the perfect place. The apartment complex was quiet and meticulously cared for, and the property had a sweeping lawn that overlooked a small river. But a few months later, out of the blue, all hell broke loose in the sisters’ apartment. 

It started when Claire woke up one night with a feeling that something just wasn’t right. She looked over at her window and was gripped with fear as she saw thick red blood dripping from the shades. Claire stared in amazement at the horrifying sight, then watched it slowly fade away. The vision left her terrified and confused, and she spent the rest of the night trying to figure what she had just experienced. Coincidentally, Linda woke up one night to see her sister Claire slumped over in a chair in the corner of the room. Claire’s lifeless body was riddled with gunshot wounds which soaked her nightgown with blood that ran into puddles on the floor. Linda was terrified because the vision was so real, but after a while it dissipated, then vanished.

Later on that week, Claire and Linda were regularly woken out of their sleep where they would see strange, grotesque objects floating in the room, including knives and axes covered in blood. They would never witness these things together but, in the morning, they would compare notes and were shocked to discover that both were having the exact same experiences. 

A few weeks later the demon finally decided to show itself. It first appeared as a hooded figure dressed entirely in black. The demon came to them in their dreams, and when they woke it would be standing next to their bed, close enough for them to touch it. In another appearance, it showed itself as a monstrous looking creature with a large trunk that seemed to be a conglomeration of a number of different types of animals. And yet another time, it showed itself as a ghoulish looking little creature with rows and rows of fangs in its mouth. The demon kept shifting its appearance, sometimes even taking the shape of a huge spider-like shadow that would crawl up the wall and slowly melt into it. 

The scenes of horror, and the visitations by the hooded man and the grotesque animal creatures, continued nightly for over a year, wearing down the sisters and affecting their health. The demon’s activity increased to the point where it began to enter their bodies when they were sleeping. Both sisters would wake to a feeling of being held down in a state of paralysis; they would have to fight the demon to get out of its hold before they could open their eyes.

The women called in a Catholic priest to bless the apartment, but it didn’t do any good. In fact, the activity increased. Attempts to use holy water and prayers seemed to make the demon retaliate, as it would litter their dreams with images of unspeakable sexual acts between animals and demonic looking creatures.


The reason that a simple blessing didn’t work is that getting rid of a demon requires a priest conducting the rite of exorcism multiple times, and it can take over a year for it to be successful. Knowing this, I contacted the Archdiocese of New York to find out if an exorcist could intervene, but their only advice was to have the women contact a local priest. Since that had already been tried, I decided to contact a demonologist. Although this person was not a priest, he had a reputation of being able to help people who were afflicted with demonic infestation, so the sisters agreed to work with him.

The demonologist came to the house and tried to banish the demon with prayer. During a reading from the bible, the demon actually showed itself to all who were present by flying above them, then disappearing into the wall. In the end, the demonologist’s prayers and rituals didn’t work and the sisters moved from their home, hoping that the demon wouldn’t follow them–but it did. 

Today, six years later, the women are still plagued by the demonic entity that entered their lives for no apparent reason. They hope that someday the church will grant them permission to be exorcised of the demon.

Although religious leaders warn that playing with Ouija boards, attending seances, conjuring spirits, or even getting an innocent Tarot card reading is enough to cause a demon to enter your life, we don’t really know why demonic infestation happens. I’ve conducted three demonic investigations in my life, and in all three cases none of the people involved have admitted to being involved in activities that might account for the demonic presence that entered their lives. In his book, Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans Possession, Father Malichai Martin warns, “Possession is not—nor was it ever—some tale of dark fancy featuring ogres and happy endings. Possession is real; and real prices are paid.” Unlike fiction, real life stories are by their very nature open-ended, and life isn’t always fair. Every day, people develop catastrophic illnesses or get into accidents that change their lives forever. In the case of those afflicted with demonic infestation, some are freed from their plight and go on to live perfectly normal, happy lives, while others fight for years to be freed of their living nightmare. For Clair and Linda, the nightmare continues.


“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 June 25th. To learn more about the Ghost Hunter, visit http://www.connecticutghosthunter.com/.

READERS: If you have personally had a real-life encounter with demonic infestations, tell us about it in the comments. Better yet, write your non-fiction story and send it to us: darksiremag@gmail.com (subject: Non-fiction Demonic Infestation Story). 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 Demonic Infestation and then submit it to us online 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 Amazon and The Bibliophile Bookstore (Dover, Ohio).

Until we meet again, take care!

The Door: A Review

Rating: 💀💀💀

Alfred Hitchcock, the unequalled master of suspense, defined suspense this way:  You have five people playing cards on a train and suddenly a bomb goes off under their table – that’s surprise.  But you have the same five people playing cards and the audience knows that there is a bomb under their table and the audience can see the timer counting down – that’s suspense.

In The Door, Boris Bacic has constructed a masterful story in the best Hitchcockian tradition.  His preamble sets up Hitchcock’s ticking bomb for his readers.  There is something evil behind the door of the apartment.  In fact, there is another world back there.  We are swept along as a young woman is trapped behind the closed door and then attacked.  The readers know that.  Nathan, the new occupant of the apartment, does not. 

Nathan lives in a rat trap apartment with a do-nothing landlord who won’t even fix a broken toilet.  Looking for a new place to live, he comes across an apartment that is too good to be true.  The place is stunning and it’s well within his economic reach.  Nathan immediately jumps at the chance to rent it.

While the rental agent is checking on his credit, Nathan notices a door and tries to open it.  It won’t budge.  When the agent comes back, Nathan asks what’s behind it.  The agent doesn’t know because that door has never been opened.

We follow Nathan’s angst as he waits to find out if he has been approved and we follow his continuing battles with his landlord.  Then comes the great news.  He has been approved.  Nathan moves in as quickly as he can.

Despite the grandeur of the apartment, things don’t go right from the very beginning.  Nathan has nightmares.  He thinks he hears scratching coming from somewhere.  He tries to open the so-called storage door, but it resists his every effort.  He even hires a door-opening specialist who also can’t make a dent. 

While the door is the focal point of the story, Mr. Bacic peoples his apartment house with an assortment of characters that pleasantly flesh out his novel.  He even brings in Nathan’s close friend, Sam, making Nathan a sympathetic character.  You can’t help but like him and the people around him.  As things grow darker with the door, Nathan discovers that several of his newly made friends know more about the evil than they were willing to tell him when they first met.  When the door opens of its own accord, Nathan sets out to explore what’s behind it.  His exploration leads him down an even darker path.  But despite his own fears, he goes. 

Nathan is a heroic character.  He overcomes his personal fears to attempt to overcome and rid the world of the evil that exists behind the door.  It costs him dearly.  But that is exactly what defines a hero in the classic sense, and Mr. Bacic has created such a sympathetic protagonist. 

Had this book been presented to me as an audio file, I would have no problem giving The Door 4 or 4 ½ skulls.  It is a great story.  It contains all the darkness and horror that readers of THE DARK SIRE enjoy.  But… it wasn’t presented as an audio book.  It was presented as a print book and as such has numerous problems.  When you ask a reader to buy what you have written, you have effectively raised the bar.  You are no longer an amateur but are entering the ranks of the professional writer and as such, you have an obligation to make your book as professional as possible.  Unfortunately, that’s where The Door falls short.  It is not professional.  It is not ready for publication.  The story is ready, but the mechanics of it – unfortunately – are not.

Maybe the trouble is due to language barriers, as the author is not a native English speaker. Though I applaud his efforts and encourage him to continue writing, studying the English language a bit more would serve him well. At the moment, the author doesn’t seem to know basic conversation punctuation.  He also has trouble with when to use had and has.  And there are several places where he has chosen the wrong word, indicating that English is a definitely struggle. 

This book needs to be professionally edited for an American audience so that grammar and mechanics do not distract from the quality of the writing.  The story is too good and the characters too real for anything less.  In short, this book needs a professional presentation that mirrors its actual high-quality of the story itself.

Bottom line: If you are the kind of reader who is more interested in the story than in the presentation, by all means, buy this book – you will enjoy it tremendously.  However, if you are the type of reader who gets distracted by mistakes or insists on a professional presentation, you will quickly be disappointed and should buy with caution.

The Door is available on Amazon.com in paperback, hard cover, and ebook formats.

UPDATE: The version presented in the paperback versus ebook formats seem to use different formatting and spacing. The ebook formatting is much more reader friendly, as the paperback has spacing issues that make it hard to read.


RATINGS: TDS rates all books based on the dark content and how well the reading experience lends itself. Of course, author craft, storytelling, and mechanics are considered, as well. For this purpose, we use skulls (💀💀💀💀). And explanation of the skull system follows.

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!

Issue 7: Spring is in the Air

THE DARK SIRE Issue 7 is hot off the press with cutting-edge stories and poems in gothic, horror, fantasy, and psychological realism. They run the gamut of subgenres from Edgar Allen Poe-like period pieces to modern-day nail-biters. And let’s not forget our artists; their eerie and sometimes provocative renderings will guarantee a second look.

David Gibbs’ DEVIL’S ACRE leads the fiction of this new issue. This story provides a touch of the paranormal and questions reality to keep the reader guessing. Mr. Gibbs’ is a former winner of Fiction Magazine’s Story of the Year award, with work appearing in dozens of magazines.

Christopher Hall’s THE TIDE could easily have come from the pen of Edgar Allen Poe. The tale of horror has a touch of gothic nuances while endeavoring to discern the true nature of what’s evil.

RATTLING by Kolby Diaz is a wonderful flash horror story in which the hunter learns how his prey must feel. Mr. Diaz is a published author with stories in the magazines Thriller, Grotesque, and Sanitarium.

HENRY JEKYLL, PM by Sean Fallon takes us back to the mid-1880s and provides a new twist on the Jekyll/Hyde story that would have made Robert Louis Stevenson proud. Mr. Fallon is a UK ex-patriot living in Australia where he is currently working on his first novel.

THE APARTMENT ON WINTERVIEW AVENUE by Amy Elise Lyon rounds out our fiction offerings with an eerie taste of psychological realism. What’s real – what’s not? And do memories make it more so? The story leads the reader down a twisted path to the subconscious.

If you like psychological realism, you will love TDS‘s first poetic offering of Issue 7. MIRROR by Reagan Volk is a poem that explores the difference between thoughts and nightmares… and turning into the person you fear the most. Ms. Volk is a sophomore in high school whose work seems to flow from her pen without resistance.

In case you’d be interested in more gothic poetry, SATIS HOUSE by Joanie Elian explores the concept of a sentient house that seeks justice. Originally from the UK, Ms. Elian now lives just outside of Tel Aviv, close to her five children and seven grandchildren.

To continue the gothic tone, SCORCHED BY THE RAIN, BURIED BY THE FLAMES, and SIRED BY THE DARK by S. M. Cook is a trilogy of poems that tells a continuous story of the damned and depraved. Ms. Cook is a reader favorite and the award-winning author of KYUUKETSUKI, a serialization that ran from Issue 1 through Issue 6.

Issue 7 doesn’t stop there! In fact, it also contains two vampire-based serializations.

THE LAST SUMMER by Frances Tate finishes the tale of a Tutor vampire who discovers the glamour of vampirism isn’t the fix-all he’d hoped it would be. From the UK, Ms. Tate’s work has been published in the magazine for the last year.

In VAMPYRE PALADIN by Brenda Stephens, readers come to the end of Chapter 3 to witness the doctor’s confrontations with his own past fears and demons. Ms. Stephens’ work has been an addition over the last 7 issues.

And that’s still not all! The works of Shaun Power and Jennifer Macintyre are guaranteed to make you look twice and fire up your imagination.

On the cover of Issue 7 (above) is Jennifer Macintyre’s SOLITUDE, a 26″x16″ oil painting on canvas. Ms. Macintyre is a self-taught artist whose early years in Scotland influenced her interest in dramatic landscapes and the contrast of light and dark.

As always, Shaun Power’s artwork graces the pages of this issue, with three new works presented. Mr. Power hails from the UK and uses pastels as his chosen medium.

TDS Issue 7 is packed full of content for any discerning reader who loves the gothic, the surreal, and the macabre. You’re not going to want to miss it!

* * *

Get your copy of Issue 7 today!
Digital copies are available on the TDS website.
For paperbacks, contact The Bibliophile – your new home for all things TDS!


And remember: We always like to hear from our readers. So be sure to let us know your favorite stories, poems, artwork, and serializations. Simply email us at: darksiremag@gmail.com.

Enjoy Issue 7!

The Dark Sire presents The Jon Meyers Dark Humour Prize for Gothic Literature

New Philadelphia, OH— Tuesday, May 4, 2021 — The Dark Sire Literary Magazine (TDS) has been in search of ways to further uplift writers, poets, and artists. More than just a publish-and-done process, the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Bre Stephens, wishes to do what most magazines do not: go “beyond the page.” This motto has transformed the magazine into a beacon of opportunity for creatives, and thus Stephens continually searches for ways to uplift creatives beyond the black-and-white page.

The next step in going “beyond the page” is creating an opportunity for creative writers, poets, and screenwriters to join a professional writers association by way of winning a major writing contest. Any horror writer who wins a $25 cash prize and publication from a writing contest is eligible to join the Horror Writers Association (HWA; horror.org). Although TDS already runs a small all-encompassing free contest, Stephens wanted to introduce a much bigger contest that would center on one particular genre. The first of four writing contests to be introduced is the Gothic.

After deciding on the Gothic genre, Stephens then searched for the right candidate to be the face of the contest, and by being the face would give the contest its name. “I wanted someone with the respect of his community and preferably an educator with a literary background. The ideal candidate would be able to contribute to the judging of the contest, as well, so a creative writer and/or screenwriter was a must.” According to Stephens, it was not difficult to find the right person with the right heart. “Jon Meyers embodies everything that this contest stands for: equality, inclusion, advancement of literature, the uplifting of creatives, the progression of careers. He is an educator who has the respect and loyalty of his students and colleagues and thus understands the true meaning of selfless giving and leading by example. It was icing on the cake that Jon also had a keen literary sense.” In fact, Jon Meyers not only is a screenwriter but also a US Moderator at Into the Script, UK’s foremost online screenwriting advice/writing craft hub. In addition, he is a screenwriting panelist for LitCon in New York, where he has been named the 2022 Literary Fiction Genre Manager.

The new writing contest will take Jon Meyers name, officially called The Jon Meyers Dark Humour Prize for Gothic Literature (The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize, for short). Meyers was humbled by his selection as the face of the contest. “What an honor it is to be asked to judge at an annual literary contest named after me. I’m actually amazed we were able to work out an agreement in one day. Bre Stephens handled the entire process smoothly and professionally. It’s an interesting choice to have me judge. Gothic Lit isn’t known for its comedy, but I guess I am. I’m fairly well-known for my upbeat positive energy, not normally traits ascribed to Gothic Lit. Must be all the black I wear.” The humour Meyers touches on 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 will officially open for submissions in September, running the whole month, with the winners announced in October – just in time for Halloween and The Dark Sire’s 2nd Anniversary celebration. Winners will be awarded a cash prize (1st place – $60, 2nd place – $25, and 3rd place $15) and publication by TDS; the top winners will be eligible for HWA membership, a step in advancing their professional writing careers. In-depth submission guidelines will be announced in August. However, writers can begin crafting their gothic tales now. The contest will accept adult short fiction (500-7k words), poetry (1-3 pages), and short scripts (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; witches, sci-fi, cosmic, or weird elements will not be considered at this time. 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, the brainchild for this contest: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1063&context=englishdiss

To stay informed about The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize, follow @DarkSireMag on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, as well as save the TDS contests page. More information coming in August.

Reality Meets Fiction: Shadow People

by Barry Pirro

There is a paranormal phenomenon known as shadow people, and the sightings people have of them are often terrifying. Shadow people are humanoid figures that witnesses describe as looking ‘blacker than black’ or ‘totally devoid of light’. Unlike a real shadow, shadow people look solid.

While some appear to be bulky and muscular, others have been described as being incredibly thin. The creepiest sightings are those of inky black, paper-thin figures that bend around objects as they navigate their way through rooms. In all cases they are solid black, and they are often accompanied by a feeling of negativity or even evil.

The following story comes from a woman who contacted me about a shadow person she saw when she was a young girl.


            Like most people, I don’t remember many details about my early years. I don’t remember how I learned to tie my shoes, or when I first learned that blue and red paint mixed together makes purple. I don’t remember a lot of things about my childhood, but there is one thing I vividly remember. The night of my seventh birthday. What’s more, I’ve thought about it every night for the past thirty-one years.

All the kids in my class had come over for my birthday party that day, and by bedtime I was really wiped out. Sleep came quickly, and I slept soundly until around 2 AM when I awoke suddenly. At first I thought that a bad dream might have woken me up, but that wasn’t it. Something just wasn’t right. It felt like someone was in the room with me, and that they were standing there in the dark just staring at me.

My room was dim, but it wasn’t totally dark. I looked to see if my mom or dad had come in for some reason, but the only things I could see were the shadows of discarded clothes on the floor, and the pile of presents that sat on my chair. The room was deadly quiet, but the feeling that something was watching me grew by the second, and mixed with it was another feeling; whatever was watching me was bad–very, very bad.

My eyes scanned the room. The farthest corners were lost in murky shadows, but the area near my window was fairly light. Next to the window was my dresser, and next to it stood something tall and dark that at first puzzled me, then terrified me. It was a deep black shadow, blacker than the blackest black, and it was in the shape of a man. This shadow man stood in front of my dresser, and even though I couldn’t see his eyes, I could feel him continuing to stare at me. I’m telling you, this wasn’t just a child’s imagination, this was real.

My dresser had a mirror attached to it, and the shadow figure blocked both the dresser and the mirror. It was very human looking. It stood about six feet tall, and apart from the fact that it was completely black, there was nothing unusual about its appearance. It had a normal sized head, arms and legs.

The thing moved its arms ever so slightly, as if it was becoming impatient from trying to stand still. That’s when I noticed its hands and the thing it was holding–a “shadow knife” about the size of a large kitchen knife. He was holding the knife in his right hand and holding it down on his right side so that it was close to his thigh, and the tip was pointed down toward the floor. The hand that held the knife moved up and down, ever so slightly.

This pitch black figure continued to stare at me, and it seemed as if it was trying to gauge the best time to spring at me. That was one thing I wasn’t going to let it do, so I called out as loud as I could to my mother.

“Mom! Mom! Come in here quick!” I shouted. The hall light came on, and my mother rushed into the room to see what was the matter.

When she came into my room I became even more frightened because she didn’t see this figure standing there. She walked right past it as if it wasn’t there at all! The dark figure never moved, even when she walked right in front of it, which I found terribly scary at the time. Now that I’m older it makes me wonder why this thing stayed so still.

Seeing how frightened I was, my mom stayed in the room with me, and all the while she was with me I could see this black figure standing there. I never told her what I was seeing because I was so scared I couldn’t even get words out of my mouth, and I thought that if I did tell her it might attack us.

Despite how young I was I could tell that it was very negative. Although I didn’t understand it at the time, the way that it made me feel only caused me to be more afraid of it. As best I can remember, it took about an hour and a half for the shadow figure to leave. It either faded out into the air, or it ran out of the room – I can’t recall which.

Years later, I came across an article that talked about the paranormal phenomenon known as shadow people. I was amazed to read that many people have seen these things, and that they described them as looking exactly the way the man in my room looked. I didn’t read about anyone seeing these creatures holding knives, but they’ve seen them moving around rooms, and they sometimes leave by walking right into walls.

I know now that what I saw the night of my seventh birthday was a shadow person, and to this day it’s something I wish I could forget.


The shadow person the little girl saw that night was clearly trying to intimate her. The knife it held was most likely something it manifested in order to appear menacing. But why would it do this? Why try to scare a little girl? What threat could she possibly pose to this incorporeal being?

I think that this particular shadow person was there as an observer, a type of alien or interdimensional being sent to gather information for some unknown purpose. It had probably been in the girl’s house for an extended period of time, and its “mission” was to simply watch the family going about their normal routines. When it was spotted by the little girl, it borrowed a symbol from her mind that it knew she would be terrified of–a knife. It knew that she would be too frightened to tell her mother about it that night. It also knew that no one would believe her if she told them about a dark shadow man holding a knife, so it would be free to continue watching the family for as long as it needed to.

There are many theories about what shadow people may be. These include aliens, ghosts, interdimensional beings, djinn, sprites, fairies, and demons to name just a few. Whatever they are, have no fear. Shadow people are harmless. They can intimidate by sending out feelings of fear and evil, but they can’t do any physical harm. They are literally ‘no body’, and nine times out of ten they’ll literally run away when spotted.


“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, Demon Encounters, on May 28th. To learn more about the Ghost Hunter, visit http://www.connecticutghosthunter.com/.

READERS: If you have personally had a real-life encounter with Shadow People, tell us about it in the comments. Better yet, write your non-fiction story and send it to us: darksiremag@gmail.com (subject: Non-fiction Shadow People Story). 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 Shadow People and then submit it to us online 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 Amazon and The Bibliophile Bookstore (Dover, Ohio).

Until we meet again, take care!

The Creative Nook with Barry Pirro

by Maureen Mancini Amaturo

The Dark Sire has paired up with Barry Pirro, ghost hunter and paranormal investigator, to bring you a new series of articles, “REALITY MEETS FICTION.” Barry will be sharing his real-life paranormal stories with you every 4th Friday of the month. His first story is on Shadow People, coming this Friday, April 23. But for now, it is our pleasure to introduce you to the man behind the real-life stories, through an interview with the paranormal expert. Sit back and relax as we delve into the investigative world of the paranormal.

TDS: What attracted you to collaborate with The Dark Sire literary magazine?

Barry Pirro: I’m a paranormal investigator, so I’ve been to every type of haunted location you can imagine–private homes, historic buildings, businesses, cemeteries, outdoor locations, you name it. I’ve seen ghosts with my own eyes, seen objects move of their own accord, and I’ve recorded the voices of spirits on my digital recorders. But my experiences pale in comparison to those of the people who actually live in a haunted house. Their experiences are ongoing, and while some of them might sound downright bizarre–they’re true.
            I’m really excited to be collaborating with The Dark Sire because these stranger-than-fiction paranormal experiences that I write about are the perfect source of inspiration for horror fiction writers. Some of the best fiction is based on fact, so I’m sure that horror writers will have a field day incorporating some of the more unusual paranormal phenomena into their works.
            The Japanese, for example, believe that there are different classifications of ghosts. There is the Funayūrei, the ghosts of those who died at sea. These seabound spirits are often depicted as scaly, fish-like humanoid creatures who sometimes resemble mermaids or mermen. Or take the Zashiki-warashi, the mischievous ghosts of children. Just imagine the horror stories that a writer could build around these mysterious entities.

TDS: What does “Reality Meets Fiction” mean to you?

Barry Pirro: Reality meets fiction is obviously not a new style of writing. There are countless examples of authors who have based their main characters on real people. Oscar Wilde based the character Dorian Grey on a real person, John Grey who was a poet, translator, and priest. Truman Capote practically invented the genre of the nonfiction novel when he wrote In Cold Blood. So why should horror fiction be any different?

TDS: How do you think the real experiences you’ve encountered can inspire writers, artists, and photographers?

Barry Pirro: I’m sure that horror writers are hungry for unusual topics, and true paranormal stories can provide an almost endless source of macabre material. People have reported seeing mysterious doppelgangers, inky black shadow people, unspeakably horrific looking demons, and the ghosts of loved ones. They describe seeing floating apparitions, solid looking people who suddenly vanish into thin air, and ghosts who leave a room by walking straight into walls. My clients have reported seeing cryptid creatures skulking in the shadows of their backyards, and black apparitions with red, glowing eyes roaming the hallways of their homes. There are chilling Ouija board stories and tales of haunted objects being brought into homes that end up causing havoc. In the hands of a skilled writer, any one of these topics can be woven into a truly terrifying horror story. I can’t wait to see the horror fiction that contributors to The Dark Sire come up with after reading my true paranormal stories.

TDS: Do you think your experiences with the paranormal are effective examples of “Reality Meets Fiction?”

Barry Pirro:  My own experiences are the perfect example of reality meets fiction. The saying “you can’t make this stuff up” really applies to most of the cases I get involved in.

TDS: What can you share that could help/inspire others to be more receptive to the spiritual world around us?

Barry Pirro: Although I can sense spirits–and I often pick up very specific information while conducting an investigation, such as suddenly blurting out the name of someone who died in the house–I don’t have any special intuitive gifts. Everyone is intuitive, they just don’t know it. Anyone can be more attuned to the spirit world. The secret? Stop blocking it! If you walk into a room and you feel uneasy for no particular reason, don’t push it away. Get in touch with that feeling. Allow yourself to feel it, and allow images to come to you. Don’t consider it as just your imagination. Start to voice your impressions and see if any of them make sense.

TDS: Do you have a sense that more and more people are accepting that the spiritual world is a reality? More believers now than in the past?

Barry Pirro: There are far more believers in the supernatural than there were a decade ago, and people are more open to talking about their experiences. Even celebrities are opening up about their ghostly encounters. These include Keanu Reeves, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Helena Bonham Carter, Kate Hudson, and Matthew McConaughey to name just a few.


We look forward to hearing Barry’s stories unfold in explicit detail. Don’t forget, his first article on Shadow People will be right here in The Dark Sire this Friday, April 23 at 11 AM (EST). Then join us again every 4th Friday of the month for more fun-filled eeriness.

Those inspired to create gothic, horror, fantasy, or psychological realism short stories, poems, and art should consider submitting their work to The Dark Sire for publication. Works based on the “Reality Meets Fiction” series will be given special consideration.

If you have any questions for Barry, please comment them below. But, if you want to learn more about him and his investigations, simply visit his website: ConnecticutGhostHunter.com. Until we meet again, happy hauntings!

Reality Meets Fiction

by Maureen Mancini Amaturo

Introducing REALITY MEETS FICTION, a new addition to The Dark Forest blog.

To kick off our Spring issue (launching April 30) and to honor the lore, legends, and influence of all things gothic, The Dark Sire will spotlight the continuing fascination gothic holds in the contemporary world by sharing experiences from modern life that mirror the haunting nature that defines gothic. To unveil our series of dark, true stories, we are honored to partner with well-established, highly respected paranormal investigator, Barry Pirro.

Ghost hunting since the age of 12, and professionally for almost 20 years, Barry has encountered the unimaginable, unexplainable, and unholy first-hand. “There are particular physical sensations you get when you are in a haunted house, areas that feel off or make you feel ill. Names pop into your head for no reason. You experience sudden pains in parts of your body, or you suddenly feel very hot or cold. The tools I use are for the benefit of the homeowner. They corroborate or expand on what my intuition is telling me.” The tools in his “ghost bag” are remarkably low-tech: digital recorder for EVP (electronic voice phenomena), EMF (electro-magnetic field) recorder, camera, and a vibration sensor, not unlike what pet owners may use to keep a cat off the couch. Barry not only conducts investigations but also does clearings. “A clearing attempts to rid a house of negative energy and encourages spirits to vacate the premises.”

Now, Barry will be sharing true stories from his experiences in all their eerie, mysterious details. Every 4th Friday of the month, one of Barry’s articles will be available to read. He will discuss Shadow People in his first article, out this Friday, and then for May he’ll discuss demons. You’re not going to want to miss it!

Writers and artists: Since truth is stranger than fiction, what Barry has to tell will be as inspirational as it is fascinating. Could reality inspire fiction? We hope so, as that’s the goal of the “Reality Meets Fiction” series. Imagine the stories, poems, and images lurking in the dark waiting for a bite of inspiration. Write a fictional piece based on Barry’s real-life encounters and then submit it to The Dark Sire for special publication consideration. And, if you have a non-fiction story to tell that aligns with Barry’s paranormal series, send it directly to the EIC of TDS by emailing darksiremag@gmail.com. Your story may be published on The Dark Forest blog, too.

Barry’s book on his life as a paranormal investigator that features expanded stories and experiences is forthcoming, and we will keep you posted on when it’s available. Until then, look forward to the articles that Barry will write for The Dark Forest. And if you’re hungry to find out more about this paranormal expert, be sure to visit his website: connecticutghosthunter.com

EXTRA, EXTRA!
As an extra treat, I’ve interviewed Barry about his collaboration with The Dark Sire, which will appear on The Dark Forest blog tomorrow. Watch for The Creative Nook with Barry Pirro beginning at 11 AM (EST).

What supernatural experiences have you had? What subjects do you hope Barry will write about? Have you already written fiction based on reality? Tell us about your stories in the comments below.