Tag Archives: Horror Fiction

TDS Serializations: Revamped

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

Monthly Release

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

Chapters

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

On-Going Run

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

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

Completed and In-Progress

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


What’s Next?

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


The 3 original serializations are as follows:

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

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

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


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

TDS SERIALIZATIONS

darksiremag.wordpress.com/serializations


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


The Creative Nook with Lisa Rose

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


Featured Author: Lisa Rose

When they tore from the hospital, fleeing panic-stricken from the encroaching darkness, when they unplugged the oxygen and tucked screaming infants under their arms, they slammed, locked, and boarded the doors. In the sick rooms and long empty hallways they left only terrible, echoing silence. And Ainsley.

She stood on her toes, clinging to the rough-hewn wood that blocked her path. A twisted nail protruding from the haphazard blockade of busted furniture and broken planks scratched the back of her hand and drew blood. “Marta! Mother Marta!” Ainsley held up her injured hand for the woman on the other side of the windowed door to peek through the crevice from her place. Ainsley glimpsed the gold-brown eye, wet with tears, through the cracks in the wood.

“Yes, yes, girl,” Mother Marta called. “I am sorry! Believe me! I am so, so sorry! Some day, I will come back to you! Stay inside, Ainsley. Stay inside no matter what!” Tears dampened the bloodied collar of her disheveled habit. 

She wasn’t opening the door. Ainsley’s heart iced over and then thundered through her veins. She screeched and pounded her fists on the boards. “Let me out! Where are you going! Let me out!

She could see the nun’s dark form retreating now, away from the building’s bright fluorescent lights, into the growing dark. 

Ainsley screamed. She screamed until the rage and fear blinded her and the mucus and tears choked her into quiet sobs. She slid down onto the cool vinyl floor and wiped her face on the back of her sleeve. At least Mother Marta was not here to scold her for that. The thought made Ainsley’s shoulders shudder with another sob, but she had exhausted herself and couldn’t cry anymore. Instead, she lay there for a long time and stared out into the emptiness.

She listened for any voice, any sound, of anyone left. She whimpered. Waited. 

Silence. No beeps, no alarms. No buzzing chatter. Not even a groan. The silence reached down the halls and clawed into her chest, taking hold there. Alone. 

Ainsley wasn’t sure how long she lay there in that silence watching the last rays of light fade into fiery crimson and then purple and black. Her arms and legs ached, and her skin started to itch unpleasantly. A light cough escaped her lips, and the sound reverberated down the abandoned hall.

She dragged herself to her feet, wobbling a little from exhaustion. Her sneakers seemed to pull her down, and when she picked them up to take a step, they seemed to stick to the floor.

The lights were still on, at least. 

She inched forward, chilled by the quiet. Breathing in and wiping her face again, Ainsley started forward to search. She would look in every room and under every bed. Surely someone else had been left behind. 

She found corpses. Some still warm. Those too sick to escape—their machines had gone quiet. No beeping, no suck and squeeze of air through the endless tangled tubes draping like morbid decorations over their beds. The wires lay like ripped umbilical cords, strewn in the blood across the floor. Some of the others had pillows covering their faces. Ainsley did not disturb them.

She followed the blood.

She knew where they kept them all this time. In the past, straining from her bed to peek out the window, she had caught glimpses of the ones they had wheeled out to burn. Ollie had said their blood boiled black in the flames. But Ollie had left with Mother Marta. 

Now, wandering the austere corridors, Ainsley smelled the charred flesh. The smoke. She traced the blood, splattered and muddied with ash, spread along in scattered shoe prints. The ties dragged from her sneakers and wove labyrinths in the dark, wet red.

Mother Marta and the others had boarded this door too, closing up the whole wing before setting the fires to try to burn out the last of the sickness. She wouldn’t be able to see them after all. 

A wail pierced the heavy silence. A cry from the other side of the door. 

At once, Ainsley raced to find something, anything to break down the door. She scrambled up and down the hall and eventually settled on a discarded hammer. She began attacking the barrier between her and whatever made that cry. Hurriedly, she pried at each nail, yanked and shoved and kicked and screamed again. The wailing intensified.

“Hello?” she shouted as she worked. “Hello? Are you there? Hello! Please!”

She cracked at the wood with the back of the hammer and felt the sweat soak her back. Too long. Whoever it was would suffocate from the smoke before she could reach them. They would abandon her, too. They would die or escape and run out into the night through a broken window, leaving her alone again. 

“I’m coming! Just hang on! I’m coming!” Ainsley screamed with every swing of the hammer.

At last, she broke through. She kicked open the doors. Hot choking ash and a storm of smoke. 

Something small and black wriggled on the ground. Ainsley screeched and jumped back. Then it wailed again.

“A baby?” She scooped it up and tucked it against her chest. She tried her best to shield it from the smoke, coughing again. The baby cried shrilly. It clung to her. Ainsley raced back through the door away from the scorched hall. Away from the charred bodies and the ash and smoke and embers. She kicked the door shut again, shoved a wheeled bed toward it, and ran.

On the other end of the hospital, once more sitting beneath the door that Mother Marta had run through, Ainsley wrapped the naked infant in a striped blanket and cradled it in her arms. “Shh, shh,” she cooed at it. She cleaned the little face with a wet washcloth, gently scrubbing away the soot and grime.

The tiny thing was unharmed as far as Ainsley could tell. No burns. No bruises even. “I’m here now,” she said, remembering what Mother Marta told the little ones in the room next to Ainsley’s when she checked on them at night. “Everything’s alright, angel.”

The baby had finally stopped crying. It closed its eyes and cuddled against Ainsley’s shoulder. She kissed the top of its head. “You’re not alone,” she promised.

Ainsley didn’t remember falling asleep, still cradling the baby, but she remembered when she woke to the crack of the wood and the spray of shattered glass, and she instinctively tucked the baby deeper into her embrace to protect it.

The door opened. Just a fracture. Dark spilled in.

Long white arms reached through the blackness, pitch black night that had consumed everything, toward Ainsley and the baby. Ainsley jerked away, but a sickle claw caught her arm, needling through skin and muscle and bone. The pain ripped through her, too intense. She collapsed, losing her vision momentarily and stumbling. Darkness reached for her, but she caught her footing and the adrenaline found her instead. She recovered from the pain, threw every speck of effort into making her body move–and started to run.

The clawed hand still held the baby.

Ainsley stopped when she realized the child was no longer in her arms. She breathed in her fear and the cold wash of horror as she glimpsed the hand that held the squirming babe. On the other side of the door, standing there in the dark, stood something that resembled a man.

The silhouette of a man. But its shape was all wrong. Its body too tall, its limbs too long. It was grotesque…but strangely alluring, and its eyes seethed a liquid light that burned into her and sucked her closer. Ainsley found herself drawn to it in the same way she was drawn to the horror in Mother Marta’s features when she spoke of the closed-off wing, or when she snapped at Ainsley for asking to see the bodies burned, and the breathtaking terror when she told Mother Marta she had admitted to brushing her fingers against the dripping ooze that seeped beneath the door marked with ash. 

“Stop!” Ainsley commanded the creature, though it did not move. It held the baby still. It tucked the child into the crook of its arm and then—almost lovingly— against its chest. Ainsley’s voice was a hesitant squeak. She tried louder, “Give…give me back the baby and go.”

“This child is ours.” Its voice was the sickening sweet pitch of sugared death.

“Then…” Ainsley started, unsure of what she said but believing in the pulsing depths of her heart that she would not be left alone. “Then am I not, too?”

The creature blinked its moon-white eyes at her.

“Mother Marta said I’m infected,” she said quickly. “With the thirst plague.” She glanced at the baby in the too-long arms. Wrapped so snugly in the blanket, held against the hollow chest in the night. The baby was unharmed. No wounds. A giggle erupted from its little pink mouth, and a trickle of greasy liquid. Ainsley told the creature hurriedly, “Mother Marta–she said she would come back for me, but I had to stay here for now because I’m infected.”

The creature tilted its head.

“I’m sick,” she explained further, panic rising. It simply hadn’t heard her. It didn’t understand. She clutched her injured arm where the creature had struck her. She felt hot blood flooding over her hand. She told the creature, “They left me. They left me because I’m sick with the plague.”

The creature considered. A black tongue extended slowly from between sharp teeth and slipped across its own claw to taste Ainsley’s blood.

Ainsley said again, so sure, “It’s the plague.”

The creature said simply, “It’s not.” It turned toward the night.

Ainsley reached toward him suddenly, demanding, “Wait! Wait, wait!” 

The creature examined her for a moment. He studied the small cut on the back of her hand. The blood clotted bright red. 

Ainsley scrambled to get out, to get past it, to not be left alone again in this place.

“Wait! Wait!

The door closed. She punched the wood, driving splinters into her hand. She watched the creature carrying the baby away into the night. Alone again. 


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

Featured Extra!

TDS: What was your inspiration for writing this piece?

Lisa Rose: This piece started when I read a prompt about abandoned places. A few of my writer friends and I decided to write some short pieces based on this idea. We also made a rule of no abandoned houses to challenge us away from cliches, too. I started thinking about the wider concept of abandonment and what that could encompass. I tried to weave a few levels of abandonment into this story. Fear of abandonment is one of those visceral universally human fears and perfect for horror. From the beginning, if we find ourselves abandoned, we cannot survive. What does it mean to be abandoned by your friends or family or anyone, especially when you need them most? What does it mean for your physical and psychological survival? Hospitals are a common setting in horror for good reason since they are so often a place of life and death.

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

Lisa Rose: I like to look at images for inspiration when I am still shaping my story. I throw some words into an image search to get a feel and mood for what I might want. “Abandoned hospital,” “creepy hospital,” “empty hallway horror,” etc. After that, my process is usually the same no matter what I write. Do a mini outline of sorts that gives me a big picture to focus on, draft as much as possible in one sitting, and then go back and edit, edit, edit. I used to teach essay writing, and I’ve worked as an editor for several years—I think my approach is kind of mechanical, but it works for me. The hard part for this story was figuring out the end and keeping it focused. I was excited by the possibilities of the setting and had to reign it in.

TDS: Who influenced you as a writer?

Lisa Rose: I was born in the 80s, so I was fortunate to have a plethora of spooky media to consume. I read a ton of YA and middle grade fantasy (e.g. Tamora Pierce) growing up, but I’ve also always had that relatively darker side, and again I feel lucky to have been able to grow up consuming Anne Rice, Tim Burton, Jhonen Vasque, Courage the Cowardly Dog, etc. I was probably channeling some Silent Hill and Resident Evil vibes in this piece too. I also have degrees in English Literature, so I can’t discount the Romantics. I’m frequently inspired by and look up to contemporary authors like Hailey Piper, Sylvia Moreno Garcia, Erica LaRocca, Cassandra Khaw, and many authors whose work I read in anthologies and magazines. 


What do you think of Lisa Rose’s story? Let us know in the comments below. And… If you want to learn more about Lisa’s creative process and works, tune in Dark Sire Radio on April 28 to learn more about this fascinating author!


As always, if you’d like your gothic, horror, fantasy, or psychological realism work featured, be sure to Submit.


The Creative Nook with Keegan Milano

The forest. It’s a setting that has made numerous appearances in various forms of art. The forest is a place of inspiration and exploration. Yet there’s definitely something sinister about the forest, too. Sometimes a darkness dwells there, and Keegan Milano gave us that perfect dark and disturbing twist in his poem Crimson Sap. Keegan made the forest the monster. I enjoyed the pleasure of chatting with Keegan. In this interview you will learn fascinating facts about Keegan’s creative mind, influences, and creative process.


TDS: Do you remember the particular moment when you realized you wanted to become a writer?

Keegan Milano: I always knew I wanted to do something creative when I was young, but I didn’t get into writing until the end of high school and as I started college. My biggest inspirations can be drawn from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and the Souls Series video games by FromSoftware. They’re very different mediums and genres, but they are both so captivating in their own universes that I always wanted to be able to create a world as rich as theirs.

TDS: What attracted you to the Gothic and Horror genres, and what would you say are your favorite books and movies amongst them?

Keegan Milano: I used to be terrified of anything remotely within the horror genre as a kid, but as I got older, I grew to enjoy it more and more. One of my favorite horror movies is Lake Mungo, directed by Joel Anderson. It is a documentary style horror movie that stands apart from traditional movies of that type. It is able to keep you scared through tension and suspense as opposed to the  jump scares found commonly in these type of movies. You can explore so many avenues with horror; life is scary and everything can be horrifying in its own way.

TDS: What do you find to be the most difficult task when approaching a new project?

Keegan Milano: I struggle with the distraction of other ideas. If I’m still in the beginning phases of a concept, and I think of another idea that I enjoy, it’s easy for me to drop the current one and go to the next. That cycle might repeat itself for some time, but I’ve gotten better at seeing these ideas through and resisting the siren’s call.

TDS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about writing?

Keegan Milano: Do not be afraid to take things. If you liked how a certain movie executed a scene, how an author delivered dialogue, or how a game seamlessly trickles in their exposition, don’t be shy and make it your own. Use techniques from those who you see are successful, and put them under your toolbelt. In any practice, others will learn from the successful and adopt their techniques. There’s nothing wrong with doing that in writing, as long as you make a fun and unique story.

TDS: How do you feel your personal beliefs influence your creative projects? Any fascinating experiences or ideas that become infused in your creative work?

Keegan Milano: I’m really into philosophy. In the projects I’m currently working on, I try to incorporate philosophical ideas with the story. If a story makes you think outside of reading it, not just of the story, but the concepts and ideas brought up within the story, that is a good way to know whether the writer did a good job or not. Specifically, I enjoy existentialism and whether or not we are autonomous in our motives, decisions, and the significance of that within the bigger picture of our lives.

TDS: Do you believe in writer’s block and, if so, what methods do you use to combat it?

Keegan Milano: One hundred percent. I deal with writer’s block a lot, and it’s not an easy fix. I try my best whenever the smallest idea comes into my head to jot it down, no matter the time. If I save all these little blurbs of thought onto something I can look back on, I’ll look through them and either use one idea, or a combination of them, to help continue my work, or to come up with something new. Watching new movies, reading new books, or playing new games helps. Emphasis on the new. Watching the same movies doesn’t always produce new ideas for me, but watching something I’ve never seen before will have me thinking of things I never would have thought about without that experience.

TDS: Other than writing short stories, what other creative outlets do you enjoy? What are some of your other interests and hobbies?

Keegan Milano: I’m a big Dungeons & Dragons nerd, and I love homebrewing all kinds of things for my games. One of my big aspirations is to put out content for others to use in their own games, and the horror genre is definitely a fun route to take tabletop games. I can create horrifying monsters and places for players to feel that looming terror lurking in the shadows.

TDS: Thank you so much for your time. One last question: Do you have anything new you’re working on right now? Would you like to give us a teaser?

Keegan Milano: Currently, I’m working on short horror stories that take place in a science fiction setting. The goal is to keep it as grounded as the genre can be in terms of technology. What types of horrors can we expect when we eventually set out and expand beyond earth? What are all the ways it can go wrong, and how would we deal with it? I’d love to make these horrifying stories not about monsters, but from our own failures and ambitions.


Keegan Milano is a creative writing student at Columbia College, Chicago. His interests are within fiction and game/narrative design for tabletop role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons. Genres that interest him are Horror, Fantasy, Sci-fi, and everything in between. Would you like to connect with Keegan? You can find him on Instagram (@keegz_mgee).


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


Featured Poet: Keegan Milano

In blood soaked soil, plants grow with pulsing veins

and sensitive roots, to feel the vibrations of those who lost their group.

The trees shift, confusing their prey.

From their bark, crimson sap leaks,

glowing bright,

capturing curiosity to draw in the prey.

The tall grass tastes the flavor that awaits.

The bramble moves, preventing escape, yet they hope it tries.

The thorns quiver in anticipation,

barbed and dried.

Thirsty and impatient.

The rustling leaves cry.

The roots rise from the ground, grasping the Feet. The Feet shake loose, and attempt to flee.

The bramble shakes excitingly, as it’s coiled branches catch the Torso, the Arms, the Legs.

The brush embraces the Flesh.

The trees sway.

The leaves emit a cacophony through the violent wind,

deafening the Screams.

The roots extend, wrapping again. The Feet squirm.

The roots tighten. It pulls.

The thorns tear streaks of skin. Blood spills onto the soil.

The earth opens beneath the Body. It pulls.

The Body sinks into the pit. Decaying corpses embedded in its walls.

The earth closes, the Body is gone.

The leaves sigh with the breeze as the bramble recedes.

The trees lie still.

The night is dark.


Keegan Milano is a creative writing student at Columbia College, Chicago. His interests are within fiction and game/narrative design for tabletop role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons. Genres that interest him are Horror, Fantasy, Sci-fi, and everything in between. To connect with Keegan, follow him on Instagram (@keegz_mgee).

FEATURED EXTRA!

We loved CRIMSON SAP and had to know more about the poem and its creator. So, we asked Keegan Milano some quick questions to learn more about his writing and creative process.

TDS: What was your inspiration for writing this piece?

Keegan Milano: The original idea came from a subreddit prompt simply put as “monster,” but  you couldn’t use the word monster, you had to convey the idea. I thought about having a monster in a forest and eventually transitioned to the idea of having the monster be the forest. From there, I thought about how each individual plant and their parts could be used to assemble a monster.

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

Keegan Milano: I tend to throw all of my thoughts out at once. If the idea comes to my head, I put it on paper as soon as possible, so I don’t lose the original concept. After that, I move everything around to where I think it fits best and adjust accordingly. I originally was going to have a specific person in mind fall victim to the forest. While moving stuff around however, I found it more compelling to have the victim remain anonymous to allow the reader more freedom with the scene. 

TDS: Who influenced you as a writer?

Keegan Milano: I take huge amounts of inspiration from the games I play. When it comes to horror, I specifically take inspiration from games like Bloodborne and Darkest Dungeon. I hope to achieve the heights of Hidetaka Miyazaki in FromSoftware with my own writing. The sense of horrific awe from Bloodborne has always stuck with me, and I aim to get that same feeling across with my own work.


What do you think of Keegan Milano’s poem? Let us know in the comments below. Be sure to come back to The Dark Forest on April 23 at 11:00 AM (EST) to read an extensive interview with our featured poet. It was fascinating learning about the writing advice Keegan found most useful to him, along with many other interesting topics we discussed.


As always, if you’d like your gothic, horror, fantasy, or psychological realism work featured, be sure to SUBMIT to us.


The Creative Nook with Logan McConnell

SHOULD I SCREAM? by Logan McConnell appeared in The Dark Forest on April 13. I loved the exquisite and poignant twist of this story’s climax. Thankfully, Logan was willing to speak with me in a more in-depth interview. I learned so much more about this fascinating and amazing author.


TDS: Do you remember the moment when you wanted to become a writer? Did a particular book, movie, or experience inspire you?

Logan McConnell: I don’t have one specific moment. I loved reading as a kid, and writing my own stories felt natural. There was no particular book or movie; it was the act of reading itself that inspired me to write. In some ways I think of reading and writing as two sides of the same coin.

TDS: What attracted you to the Gothic and Horror genres, and what would you say are your favorite books and movies amongst them?

Logan McConnell: Horror takes all the things you were told to avoid in life (murder, violence, death, monsters, danger) and puts those all in one place for you to experience at a safe distance. I think we all have a morbid curiosity, and horror fiction presents these themes in a way to satisfy our curiosity, sometimes with a visceral reaction, without overwhelming us like the real experience would. That is what attracted me to horror.

For books, I’ve always liked the classics: Dracula, Frankenstein, Shirley Jackson, and Edgar Allan Poe. Other contemporary short story horror authors: Thomas Ligotti, Christopher Slatsky, and Philip Fracassi.

Honestly, no horror movies inspire me. I do not enjoy most horror movies. That said, there are movies that are not labeled horror that still terrify me and served as inspiration for my stories. Those include Being John Malkovich, Requiem for a Dream, and anything by David Lynch.

TDS: What do you find to be the most difficult task when approaching a new project?

Logan McConnell: Logistics. As a writer I enjoy coming up with a premise and a powerful ending, but hammering out the details, such as how the character gets from the start to the end of the story and making sure there are no plot holes, is a challenge. Even having a character walk from one end of a hall to another can be more challenging than writing their abstract thoughts. Writing the stage direction of characters is a weakness I’m still working on improving.

TDS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about writing?

Logan McConnell: When you finish a first draft, put it away for a long time, at least 2 weeks for short stories. Then come back to it. You’ll see your own writing with a fresh pair of eyes that helps you polish the story in a way you couldn’t have done immediately after finishing your first draft.

I will also give a shout out to two books that have immensely helped my writing: On Writing, by Stephen King, great for writing any genre of fiction, and Writing in the Dark by Tim Waggoner, essential for any beginning horror writer.

TDS: How do you feel your personal beliefs influence your creative projects? Any fascinating experiences or ideas that become infused in your creative work?

Logan McConnell: One belief that drives my writing is to find some universal notion (existential dread, identity crisis, loneliness in a crowd, questioning the existence of God or free will) and turn those abstract experiences into stories that will resonate with people now and in the future. That is the one belief I try to adhere to for every story I write. That is why I will never reference political beliefs (may exclude some readers) or mention pop culture (may not be relatable in the future). We’re all suffering in some way, and I aim to write a story that can touch as many readers as possible.    

TDS: Do you believe in writer’s block and, if so, what methods do you use to combat it?

Logan McConnell: Yes, I very much believe in writer’s block. When I have time to write but can’t decide what, I’ll open a blank word doc and write the first sentence that comes to mind. I never know where the sentence will lead, but if I write four or five beginning sentences with an unusual premise, one is bound to inspire my imagination, and I go where the story takes me. That is how I try to beat writer’s block.

TDS: Other than writing short stories, what other creative outlets do you enjoy? What are some of your other interests and hobbies?

Logan McConnell: Running and hiking. Especially hiking in forests. Sometimes when I’m burned out from writing or my day job, I’ll go on a hike with my fiancé to clear my head.

TDS: Thank you so much for your time. One last question: Do you have anything new you’re working on right now? Would you like to give us a teaser? 

Logan McConnell: I always have four to six short stories ready to submit; it’s just a matter of finding a good home for them. I don’t want to give away what they are about, so I’ll just list one word from each story:

                Decapitated. Stalked. Glutton. Shrink. Forever. Dolls.

Also, I can be found on twitter, where I’ll tweet/ celebrate any time a story of mine is accepted and published.


Logan McConnell is a 30-year-old health care worker. He is a lifelong reader but is new to writing fiction. He has upcoming short stories for the webzines Schlock! and Yellow Mama. He is influenced by the works of Mary Shelley, Octavia E. Butler, and Thomas Ligotti. He currently lives with his boyfriend in Tennessee. To connect with Logan McConnell, find him on Twitter (@LMwriter91).


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


Featured Author: Logan McConnell

The sunrays were so intense they stung the farmer’s eyes, and for moments the daylight was as blinding as pitch black. Long sleeves and a wide brim hat shielded his skin from the brutal sun, growing wet and sticky with sweat by noon. Looking out on land this flat and remote, the farmer felt abandoned and isolated. Nobody to threaten him, nobody to aid him. He toiled alone.

The farmer caught sight of nothing but his home, which was really a large gardening shed, and land that disappeared beyond the horizon, dipped beneath the curvature of the planet. That and haze from suffocating heat that had lingered for days.

Only a week ago, the farmer had collapsed from a heat stroke, later waking up face down in the dirt, stinging with sunburn. He was naked with no memory of removing his clothes. Delirious ramblings had wheezed out through his cracked lips. He used his remaining strength to crawl to the water pump to avoid death. Never again. Never again would he allow that to happen, and he wouldn’t begin farming without being fully hydrated and protected from the sun.

He wiped sweat from his brow and pondered how farming provided a precarious kind of freedom that only seemed glamorous until you tasted it. Until he actually started farming, he couldn’t fathom the crushing hardship of watching his plants wither. Now it’s all he knew. These barley-living plants haunted him night and day.

Dull. That’s what his crops were. Dull green, bordering on brown colored, languishing in the hardening dirt. A few were bright green though, managing to look healthy. He felt a kinship with the vibrant hue, as if nature noticed and appreciated his hard work.

He crouched down to hold one of the few green leaves between his fingers, the reedy texture, so different from the unhealthy flaky crackle of the other plants, could be felt through his thick gardening gloves. The farmer tugged upwards a little on the stem and saw…white. White. That shouldn’t be. He wasn’t growing anything white. He yanked a little harder, lifting up the plant to reveal that the stem and roots were made of something round with firm turgor pressure. This was soft, fresh bone. 

When he pressed a finger on the surface he created an indent that popped back into position. He pulled the plant all the way out of the ground to come face to face with a human-like skull, with the start of a spine growing at the base, three vertebrae long. People were forming under the soil.

He plopped the skull in his hand, brushed off dirt around the eye sockets and teeth, and swished his own tongue around his gums, as if he too had dirt in his mouth. Squeezing the skull again, his stomach churned as he watched the skull squish in his hand. The farmer shut his eyes and shuddered.

Underneath his boots could be others. This field, that he thought held feeble produce, may very well contain hundreds of corpses forming in the earth, ready to be born in graves. Questions swirled in his mind, too quickly for his attention to seize just one, and he became dizzy with dread.

One question finally settled in the forefront of his mind. Not how this happened, or why, but what would these appear as when ripe in the autumn. Skeletons need skin, and there was no guarantee the bones would grow an outer layer of human flesh. Or that the bodies would be adorned by nature with human souls.

The farmer grabbed the nearest leaves and pulled again, revealing a second skull. Then a third. After ten different samples from random spots in the field he feared this was the entirety of the farm. His knees buckled and his body lowered until he stopped himself from sitting on the ground, disgusted by the thought of brushing up against the crowns of these crops.

While the farmer had slept these past summer nights, an evil something must have floated over his farm —his livelihood— and tainted it with a touch of grotesque ingenuity, warping the terrain he thought he had understood so well. That had to be the origin of this nightmare. The farmer slowly stumbled away from the plants, as if the dozens of heads would worm their way out to writhe and mew the second the air hit their faces, biting through his boots in a confused, newborn-like anguish. 

Possible that this was another heat stroke, another assault on his mind from the unforgiving sun and he simply needed shelter. His home was a hundred yards away. So he walked, then jogged, then ran, putting as much distance between himself and the macabre roots as he could.

At the water pump, through slurps of water, he found no clarity as to what was happening. He turned his back on the skulls he had unearthed, still resting right where he left them. After more sips of water, he marched up to his shed, went inside and shut the door behind him.

Finally in shade, he bowed his head, took long, deep breaths, and listened to his speeding heartbeat begin to slow. When he looked back up he gasped, his heart once again pounding in his chest. He saw, through the window, a crowd of people, maybe twenty, walking to his shed. In the heat they undulated like a mirage. They were not. They were very much real, and getting closer.

All the men were bearded and wore identical clothes: white shirts, black pants, and suspenders. The women wore plain dresses with muted colors. They had the same grim expression he possessed in the morning when he began the laborious duties for the day.

These could be the monsters who contaminated his farm with evil for their own, unknown purpose. These could also be helpful strangers, Good Samaritans who have come to aid him. Either way, they were coming to his shed. Escape was impossible. The farmer straightened his back, clenched his hands into fists, and stepped outside to face them.

The horde of people dropped to the ground in terror. Some cried out. Some turned away. Each one cowered at the sight of him, swung their arms up and covered their ears, hands pressed so tight their arms trembled.

“How?” one of the women cried, “how did the mandrake get himself out?”

Mandrake?

“Cover your ears!” yelled a man.

Why?

The crowd slowly backed away, but the farmer walked after them and they froze. He opened his mouth, but no words came out, just garbled gibberish. He hadn’t spoken to a person since… since… he couldn’t remember. He couldn’t remember seeing a person before, or what exactly it was that he thought was growing on his farm, or how long he’d been there. Really nothing before the heat stroke when he woke up in a daze.

The farmer wanted to talk to the terrified people but more disjointed grunts came out, his face twisted in frustration. He locked eyes with the husband and wife who led the group.

“You woke up too early,” the husband said, not taking his hands away from his ears. “You’re a mandrake. We grow you and collect your roots. You… you weren’t supposed to wake up yet.”

The farmer looked down and slowly pulled one glove off, peeking at his skin. Brown and course, not soft like the flesh on these frightened faces. Last week there was no heat stroke, that was his birth. All thoughts after that were wishful thinking. Born to be uprooted, killed before a chance to scream. A life seconds long. He was the evil something.

The wife turned to the crowd. “It thinks it’s people.”

But I am. I’m a farmer. 

“It thinks it lives in the tool shed.”

I do. This is my home.

The husband eyed the mandrake. “Can it understand us?”

Stop calling me ‘it’! The mandrake tried to respond but only muttered incoherent murmurs.

Again, everyone pressed their hands to their ears. The wife whispered to her husband, “if it screams…”

The wife didn’t need to finish, the mandrake understood. His screams killed. He covered his bare hand again, and pressed his gloved palms up to his forehead, shaking, now feeling stems where his hair should be.

The husband pulled a knife out from his pocket.

What are you doing? Don’t hurt me!

The husband crept closer, pointing his blade at the mandrake’s throat.

Should I scream?

Other members of the crowd took out weapons.

Don’t make me scream!

The wife clasped her hands together. “Kill it!”

The mandrake tilted his head back, filled his lungs with air and emitted a piercing cry. The echo of his own scream reverberated for miles as bodies struck the ground.


Logan McConnell is a health care worker. He is a lifelong reader and new to writing fiction. He has upcoming short stories for the webzines Schlock! and Yellow Mama. He is influenced by the works of Mary Shelley, Octavia E. Butler, and Thomas Ligotti. He currently lives with his boyfriend in Tennessee. To keep up with Logan, follow him on Twitter.

FEATURED EXTRA!

We loved SHOULD I SCREAM? and had to know more about the story and its creator. So, we asked Logan McConnell some quick questions to learn more about his writing and creative process.

TDS: What was your inspiration for writing this piece?

Logan McConnell: Skulls. I was coming up with ideas for a story premise, and the image of a skull popped into my head. I knew I wanted a story where multiple skulls were featured. 

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

Logan McConnell: I came up with the first half of this story spontaneously, but I didn’t know the ending when I started Should I Scream? When I got half-way through, I took a break and spent hours thinking of the most obvious/likely endings, then ruling them out. I wanted something unexpected, and eventually came up with an ending I liked. 

TDS: Who influenced you as a writer?

Logan McConnell: Fyodor Dostoevsky and Vladamir Nabokov are my two favorite authors. I discovered them in high school and have been reading them ever since. They aren’t horror writers, but they do explore the darker side of human nature using creative narratives. 

As far as horror influences, I would list Mary Shelly and Thomas Ligotti. I think Shelly tapped into the relationship of man/monster really well in her writing, and I admire Ligotti’s creative out-of-the-box thinking in crafting stories.


What do you think of Logan McConnell’s story? Let us know in the comments below. And… If you want to learn more about Logan’s writing process and other works, be sure to come back to The Dark Forest on April 16 at 11:00 AM (EST) to read a more extensive interview with him.


As always, if you’d like your gothic, horror, fantasy, or psychological realism work featured, be sure to SUBMIT to us.


The Creative Nook with Samir Sirk Morató

Samir Sirk Morató’s story STAND NOT AT YOUR GRAVE was featured in The Dark Forest on April 6. I was enthralled from the start by this story’s bleak, harsh atmosphere. The climactic moment was so intimate and disturbing. I wanted to learn more about Mx. Morató’s creative process, influences, and other works, so I requested an interview. Join me as I delve even deeper into the fascinating world of this amazing author.


TDS: Do you remember the particular moment when you realized you wanted to become a writer? Did a particular book or movie inspire you? Or something you experienced or observed?

Samir Sirk Morató: I don’t think I ever had the realization “hey, I want to be a writer.” That desire overtook me the same way boiling water overtakes a frog. I was a voracious reader and scribbler from day one; as a child, I littered countless composition notebooks with plagiarized retellings of stories I had just read. Horror story anthologies, science fiction, and dark swashbucklers – escapist fiction that embraced horrific outcomes without flinching – were lifeboats for me. I wanted to create those for someone else too.

TDS: What attracted you to the Gothic and Horror genres, and what would you say are your favorite books amongst them?

Samir Sirk Morató: Moody atmospheres, monsters, body horror, and the layered decadence of decay all attracted me to the Gothic and Horror genres at an early age, though I was a B-roll creature feature fan before I was anything else. Full disclosure: I prefer short stories to novels. Peter Watts’ “The Things,” Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” Jeff VanderMeer’s “Annihilation,” and Alan Moore’s 1980s “Swamp Thing” are all favorites of mine. If we started getting into my favorite movies we’d be here all day.

TDS: What do you find to be the most difficult task when approaching a new project?

Samir Sirk Morató: Figuring out how to turn ideas and a handful of notes into a fully realized, fleshed out story is always the hardest part for me. Without fail, every time I start a project, I overwhelm myself by imagining all the themes / threads in the final product, then despair over how complicated it seems. The solution to this is always simple: just write the damn rough draft. Worry about editing in finesse later.

TDS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about writing?

Samir Sirk Morató: Few pieces of writing, or sentences, are irreplaceable. Learn to let go. Don’t be afraid to reframe or restart if something isn’t working. In ceramics, there’s a tradition of taking failed works outside and shattering them before zealously trying again. That’s the attitude to have here too.

TDS: How do you feel your personal beliefs influence your creative projects? Any fascinating experiences or ideas that become infused in your creative work?

Samir Sirk Morató: For better or worse, who I am permeates my writing. My rural upbringing and longtime fascination with death influence everything. As a nonbinary person who has suffered from Depersonalization/derealization disorder (DPDR), I also have strong feelings – and questions! – about what it means to perceive and inhabit a body. What scares you when you spend every day longing to crawl out of your own skin? What is flesh, really?

My DPDR in particular influences my approach to Gothic and Horror. Mental illness is a staple in both genres. Sometimes its inclusion is compelling; oftentimes, it’s cruel. Disorders that include hallucinations or disconnection from reality tend to be portrayed with malignant ignorance. I’ve become numb to these depictions, but in my own projects, I reject them.

I aim to create horror that viscerally discomforts readers without mocking them. If they feel uncomfortable but understood, that’s even better.

TDS: Do you believe in writer’s block and, if so, what methods do you use to combat it?

Samir Sirk Morató: To me, writer’s block is all too real. Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut to getting around it. If I’m facing writer’s block I’ll designate time to write something, anything, and see if that helps. Sometimes, in severe cases, I abstain from writing and focus on other hobbies to let myself recharge. When I feel rested, I’ll buckle down and try to write again. There’s no point in looking for water in a dry well. You need to let it replenish itself. I remind myself that it’s also impossible to write if I haven’t been consuming new material or absorbing new experiences to write about. There’s a life outside the rough drafts.

TDS: Other than writing short stories, what other creative outlets do you enjoy? What are some of your other interests and hobbies?

Samir Sirk Morató: I love to embroider, create collage art, hike, and send postcards. I’m also a casual birder. That being said, fellow birders, please don’t ask me to identify any bird via calls. If it’s not a Red-winged Blackbird, a Red-tail, or a nuthatch I won’t know it.

TDS: Thank you so much for your time. One last question: What stories have you published since appearing in TDS?

Samir Sirk Morató: I haven’t been too active this year, but I have a forthcoming short story in Cuir Kitchen Brigade’s queer ecology anthology, which I’m thrilled about. Thanks for having me!


Samir Sirk Morató is a scientist and an artist. They draw much of their inspiration from their love of horror movies and their experiences in rural landscapes. Some of Samir’s work can be found in The Hellebore Issue #5, Color Bloq’s RED collection, and Somos En Escrito’s 2021 Extra Fiction Contest honorable mentions. To connect with Samir, visit them on Twitter (@bolivibird) and Instagram (@spicycloaca).


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


Featured Author: Samir Sirk Morató

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Maybe out of duty. Maybe out of love.

            She comes at night.

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

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

            The window creaks open in sound alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Carolina’s broken claws tug at your quilt.

            “I’m hungry,” she says.

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

            Carolina grunts.

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

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

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

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

            “Mother,” you say.

            Carolina’s not-body settles against you.

            “What of her?”

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

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

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

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

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

            Carolina shrugs.

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

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

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

            “It’s naught but a coffin.”

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

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

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

            “Hungry,” she gurgles. “Hungry.”

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

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

            Carolina’s nails pierce the quilt.

            “About what?”

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

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

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

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

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

            This detachment must be victory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “Kisâkihitin, Lucy,” your sister says.

            The potential that she means it kills you.

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

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

            Maybe out of duty.

            Maybe out of love.


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

FEATURED EXTRA!

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

TDS: What was your inspiration for writing this piece?

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

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

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

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

TDS: Who has influenced you as a writer?

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


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


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


Fiona’s Guardians: A Review

Rating: 💀💀💀💀💀

“When she hires you, you’ll wish you were dead” is the tagline for Fiona’s Guardians by Dan Klefstad. After following the main character, Daniel, through his day-to-day life as a guardian for the vampire Fiona, the sentiment of the tagline is certainly understandable. Life has changed for vampires in the modern world. Now that modern policing includes far more sophisticated means of detection, vampires can’t so easily hunt down people like they used to. Humans nowadays have become their partners in crime, hired on as guardians to not only protect the vampires they serve, but they also must supply the blood, using an investment portfolio to buy the blood from secret suppliers who steal from hospitals. Fiona is a 250-year-old vampire. She requires 10 pints of blood every night, otherwise she begins to waste away, shriveling into a hideous, monstrous shell of her former self: “…her hair starts to fall out on the second. Then her skin wrinkles and begins to smell, and her eyes harden to the point where I think she’d eat an entire schoolyard of children. I work very hard to make sure I never see that look again” (234).

The one who makes the tremendous commitment as a vampire guardian must be willing to give up any connection with their family and friends and say goodbye to vacations. The plus sides of the job: recreation with the finest wines and Cuban cigars. Oh, and how about a frocking great retirement settlement, somewhere in the realm of 10 million dollars. When we are introduced to Daniel, he is in the process of retiring. He’s given his all to Fiona, even lost an arm in his service to her. Daniel is a man nearly stripped of all his sense of humor; the rosy tint has completely faded from his view of life, and it’s easy to understand why. Enter Wolf, Daniel’s upcoming replacement for the job, who’s ignorant and arrogant, though not necessarily stupid. Daniel hopes to quickly get him trained and hand over the reins for good, though there’s a little complication that gets in the way. Yes, little is an understatement. How about a complication hundreds of years in the making?

Mors Strigae is an order of monks existing within the Catholic church. The full name for this group is a mouthful: “The Prefect for the Sacred Congregation for the Inquiry into all Things Preternatural.” Back in 1900 they battled the vampires, and now they’re on the rise again, also adapting to the modern world with more sophisticated weapons and technology for hunting down vampires, and their devotion to the mission has been deepened by hundreds of years of tradition. Both vampires and guardians alike are being hunted down and executed.

The novel jumps between the point-of-view of those in the vampire clan and those serving within Mors Strigae with quite a balanced approach throughout the narrative, meaning the reader attains a very in-depth understanding of the intentions of both sides. This produces an intriguing effect. It never becomes clear who the good or bad guys are. The reader can easily sympathize with either side for various reasons. The vampires are hell-bent on surviving. Obtaining blood is their only purpose in life, and they will reach to any extreme to attain it. Many of those sired to become vampires become so without a choice. They are victims in the purest sense, damned to their state of endless lust and done so completely against their will. The reader can easily sympathize with this wretched state. Yet, one can easily sympathize with those who serve Mors Strigae. They are the protective force surrounding humans, preventing us from falling to either death by the vampire or the worse state of becoming a vampire. It should be obvious that we root for them. Right? It’s not, because the novel shows the contradictions that exist within Mors Strigae, their own moments of ignorance, moments when their own lust for power destroys them. One of the great strengths of this novel is its ability to explore with depth the contradictions between both sides.

Well-executed dialogue is another strength. The dialogue crackles with life and feels genuine to the characters. One of my favorite passages involves a conversation between Daniel and Wolf during their first meeting:

            I grab my fresh drink. “And how do we pay for all this bloo—”

            “The product?” Daniel’s voice drowns me out, and he
scolds me with a look. “You invest her money.” Then he
swirls the dark, heavy liquid under his nose before sipping
“Lately we’re staying away from tech stocks. New admini-
stration, playing it safe. We’re in toothpaste, deodorant—
stuff people use every day.”

            “So they smell good if we experience a ‘hang-up.’”

            “Very funny.”

            “Tell me: How often will I… disappear people?” (pg. 27)

This exchange between Daniel and Wolf depicts their personalities well. Daniel’s sense of humor is all dried up; he’s all business and knows the serious cost if things aren’t done right. Wolf is ignorant and arrogant; he’s still not sure if he believes any of it or not. The dialogue flows so naturally and reveals so much about the characters. The reader will find that Klefstad’s deft touch with dialogue drives the narrative along. Much of the time the wonderful dialogue keeps the reader turning pages.

The narrative is told in the first-person form, jumping from different characters’ point-of-views. One chapter in particular, titled “Epistles,” utilizes an epistolary method, taking us back to 1900 when the order of monks Mors Strigae first battled the mysterious vampires near a small village called Campoleone. This chapter is pivotal, lending a sense of depth and intrigue to the story as a whole. Letters between Abbot Martinez and Cardinal Soriano tell the story, unveiling much of the folklore surrounding the vampires. We learn of the origins of Mors Strigae as well as the meaning of the vampire name— “striga”—meaning “evil spirit” or “witch.” The vampire hunters come to learn during encounters with the strigae that much of their folklore is debunked. For instance, crucifixes and holy water do nothing but make the vampires angry. Yet silver does have an effect on them, prompting the monks to produce armor made of silver. Also, the old practice of stabbing the heart and removing the head before cremation is unnecessary to those who are victims of a vampire attack, for it takes more than mere exsanguination to transform someone into a vampire. The old conflict between science and religion comes up as well, when Abbot Martinez mentions the continued rise of diarrheal diseases due to the haphazard disposal of waste amongst the men of the camp. The Abbot had been reading scientific journals and realizes better hygiene practices such as providing shovels in the brethren’s travel kits for the purpose of waste disposal could protect the men from the growing plague of dysentery. We well know that the standard-bearer for the vampire genre—Bram Stoker’s Dracula—is suffused with themes about advancing technology prevailing and/or conflicting with age-old superstitions, and that’s the other reason this chapter in the book is so entertaining—it lends depth and intrigue and serves as a homage to Bram Stoker’s vampire tale.

Fiona’s Guardians by Dan Klefstad displays the full entertainment package. Some moments are dark, gritty, and disturbing. Others are lightened by fun, comedic timing. And still other moments are titillating and lustful. All of it resonates with a strong sense of adventure. You will find unexpected plot twists and complex characters wrestling the contradictions within themselves. I strongly recommend reading this book.    

You can find Dan Klefstad’s Fiona’s Guardians on AMAZON.


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!


Do you have a short story, piece of art, poem, or screenplay that you think might be a good fit for Dark Sire? If so, visit darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

A Brief History of Gothic Literature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

TDS Turns Two: An Interview with Founder, Bre Stephens

October 31, 2019, The Dark Sire was born! To celebrate our birthday, the new EIC of TDS, J.L. Vampa, sat down for an interview with our founder, Bre Stephens.

Bre has 13 years of experience as a writer, publisher, educator, literary judge, and editor. She has worked as Editor-in-Chief of a TDS and has taught university composition, technical writing, and creative writing. Bre holds an MA in English and Creative Writing, an M.Ed. in ESL, and a BA in Art History. In her spare time, she loves attending Japanese festivals and learning more about world cultures.

“Give a Voice to the Voiceless.”

-Bre Stephens, TDS Founder

TDS: We’re turning two! Congratulations to you, our founder. Can you tell us a little about what led you to begin a literary magazine, now a journal, especially one such as TDS?

Bre Stephens: While studying for my second masters degree, one of my professors asked the class how we would give back to the writing community. At the time, I didn’t think I could. I mean, I was a graduate student who was a writing professor. I didn’t think there was anything left to do other than write my stories. But then, after searching for publication opportunities, I found a major gap in publishing and became aware of all the censorship that magazines employ. The answer to my professor’s question was clear: Start a magazine that specializes in genre fiction and run it without censorship. To this day – 2.5 years after its creation, TDS has provided opportunities for writers that have given them a voice, which is our motto: “Give a Voice to the Voiceless.” 

TDS: You’ve poured your heart and soul into this phenomenal literary magazine. What are some of your favorite memories with TDS over the last two years?

Bre Stephens: There are literally too many to list, but I’ll try to highlight a few. By Issue 2, TDS was an international magazine – in readership and in represented creatives. I was honored to publish some works that were rejected elsewhere due to censorship; authors told me that it took them, at times, years before finding TDS and getting their voices back. The 1st Annual TDS Creative Awards is a special memory to me because I was able to give back to all my authors; we all had fun and everyone loved the skull trophies. And, I will never forget the joy of working with my authors, sometimes with content or editing, and other times with creative consultations. Most of all, though, my ultimate memory is creating a family, where creatives come together, get support, and are uplifted because we are all TDS Family.

“A magazine that specializes in genre fiction and run it without censorship.”

-Bre Stephens, TDS Founder

TDS: So much has changed for TDS since the inception of your idea and the release of Issue One. Even more has changed recently with a new EIC, a fresh, incredible logo, and more. With a new year and a new era descending upon TDS, what are some of the things you’re looking forward to? 

Bre Stephens: Everything! I know the new EIC is going to be amazing. She’s all about aesthetics and sticking to the original TDS brand. She’s the one who crafted the newest cover and TDS logo. If I had to narrow it down, I’m looking forward to seeing the covers for Issues 10-12, the new TDS Book Boxes, new TDS merchandise (mugs, shirts, mousepads), and a brand-new website that will be for a JOURNAL (not magazine). All of those things are just around the corner.

TDS: What would you say is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned on this journey as founder and editor of TDS?

Bre Stephens: This journey has taught me so much about publishing, genre, and craft of writing. When I first started TDS, I didn’t really know much about the industry; I learned by doing – and making mistakes. Now, I’m a professional in the publishing industry, a literary agent, and an even better editor. All these skills, and my career growth, is directly influenced by my work at TDS. I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not undergone this wonderful adventure.

TDS: TDS has distinct roots in our founding fathers, but what would you say are the three books that most influenced you personally, as both Founder/EIC and in your life?

Bre Stephens: Instead of books, per se, let’s talk genre and specific pieces. Poe was a heavy influence on me as a child. I remember writing like him when I was just 8 and 10 years old. By the time I was a teen, I was crafting short fiction daily in the vein of Poe. A few of his works that are my favorites, and still influence me today, are Tell Tale Heart, Hop-Frog, Fall of the House of Usher, and, my favorite poem of all time, Annabel Lee. Also as a teen, I loved Anne Rice. Her Vampire Chronicles was my bloodline. I combined my love of Poe with the vampires of Rice to create a writing style all my own. To this day, I use that style; though, now, it’s more sophisticated. Put these together and you have the major influencers of TDS. Just add Tolkien for high fantasy and Dostoevsky for psychological realism, and you have the major players needed to create a magazine (nee journal!). 

“My ultimate memory is creating a family, where creatives come together, get support, and are uplifted because we are all TDS Family.”

-Bre Stephens, TDS Founder

TDS: You are an author yourself. What originally sparked your love of writing and editing as well as the desire to champion other authors? 

Bre Stephens: The championing of others comes naturally with my personality. However, championing writers, specifically, comes from my professor’s questions of how I was going to give back to the writing community. With my education and natural energy, I easily became an advocate for the writing community. My love of writing started when I was 6 years old, which is when I wrote my first stage play (5 whole pages!). My 1st grade class had read a play – or maybe discussed plays, and I immediately was interested in writing one. Writing stuck with me from that point. As for editing, I’ve always loved grammar and after studying it when I was earning my undergrad degree, I just fell in love with the process of editing. Add some courses for my second masters degree (in English & Creative Writing) and it was just destiny. 

TDS: When did you know this was a career you wanted to pursue? Has it always been a dream of yours to start a literary journal?

Bre Stephens: I never considered a career in creative writing. My writing is for myself, no publication really needed. However, after about 1.5 of running TDS, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue more seriously. It led me to founding a small press (bscpublishinggroup.com), where uplifting authors is the number one governing rule, and to becoming a literary agent. I am now in the best position to advocate for and uplift writers, making their career goals a reality. I didn’t find the career, the career found me – and I’m glad it did.   

“I didn’t find the career, the career found me – and I’m glad it did. “

-Bre Stephens, TDS Founder

TDS: Since the journal’s inception, you’ve handled everything from submissions, to editing, to publication and event planning. What is your favorite part of working on The Dark Sire?

Bre Stephens: Layout!!! Taking the raw stories and editing them to fit the TDS Style Guide; formatting the pages for consistency; inputting settings; planning the artwork to go with the works accepted for the issue, which includes pairing the artwork with a specific story. All of that would go under publication, of course, but specifically, layout is my favorite – and I’m going to miss it. 

Help TDS celebrate our 2nd birthday by sharing on social media and don’t forget to get your copy of our newest issue, which is Issue 9, and available now!


TDS proudly brings you gothic, horror, fantasy, and psychological realism
from talented creatives. You can order past and current issues
from the TDS Store.

Spirit Photography: Hoax or Reality?

Spirit Photography, or the capturing of a spirit on film, first became known in the 1850’s and 60’s with the rise of photography in general. As more individuals gained access to cameras, as well as the means to sit for photographers, the greater chance there was to witness spirits of the dead or supernatural beings captured on film. At least, that’s what photographers like William H. Mumler would wish us to believe.

Mumler was among the first to see spirits lurking in his freshly developed photos. Allegedly, after sitting for a self portrait and developing the film, Mumler noticed an otherworldly image hovering behind him. Assuming it was merely his inattention to detail and the result of not properly cleaning his lens, Mumler sat for the photo again. After development, the figure appeared once more and Mumler claimed it was the spirit of a deceased cousin of his.

With this newfound ability of his, or his camera, Mumler became the first to turn such a gift into a well-oiled, lucrative business, photographing multitudes of people with the spirits of their loves ones. That is, until P.T. Barnum sat for Mumler just after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Lo and behold, the president’s spirit haunted Barnum’s sitting, appearing behind the circus tycoon in his photo. As it turns out, the self-acclaimed trickster of all tricksters simply enjoyed a good humbug and wanted to see if Mr. William H. Mumler and his medium wife were the real deal.

When Mumler was charged with fraud, Barnum was called as a witness as, according to Oxford University Press papers, an expert on “humbuggery.” Upon reciting his encounter with the spirit photographer, Barnum admitted that he saw the process and even examined the glass himself. Nothing was out of the ordinary, and Lincoln’s ghost appeared as soon as the photo was developed in the dark room. Regardless, Barnum claimed it all to be a hoax. Other spiritualists came forward in Mumler’s defense, claiming their deceased loved ones had truly been there and Mumler had captured them. More skeptics came forward claiming to have seen some of the ghosts in Mumler’s stills walking the streets in living color, alive and well. Ultimately, the court found no true evidence of Mumler’s supposed fraud and he was acquitted. However, his career as a Spirit Photographer was over.

Many skeptics claim that spirit photography is simply a trick of the light, or the result of budding photographic techniques of that day and age. Two methods often blamed for hoodwinking the general public are Double Exposure and Stereoscopic Illusion.

Double Exposure. For an explanation of this technique, we must first understand that in the early days of photography, exposure time was 20-40 minutes at the very least. This means the subject(s) had to remain as perfectly still as possible, lest their image appear blurry. Therefore, if a subject, say, rose from their seat and moved to another, their image would appear twice in the final shot, most assuredly a little blurry at the edges and rather translucent. This effect would also occur if someone shrouded in white linens jumped in the frame for a moment and then jumped back out. This effect can also be achieved post-shooting in the dark room. This is a delicate process, but the layman’s gist is that the photographer essentially sandwiches two negatives together and exposes them for longer than a single-negative image. 

In our day and age, it is commonplace to shoot double exposure, or manipulate it easily within moments using editing software like PhotoShop. To show how easily this can be accomplished, I created this graphic in about five minutes’ time.

Another technique often used was stereoscopic illusion. 

Stereoscopic Illusion creates depth in an image by moving the subject ever so slightly. The brain combines the two (or more) images to create depth. Again, anything recorded with movement during a long exposure time would appear transparent and ethereal.

We can all see where the skeptics are coming from now, yes? But let’s take a journey with the believers…

To delve deeper, we must traverse the difference between Spirit Photography and Ghost Photography. Spirit Photography is when an individual, or individuals, sits for a photo, specifically waiting to see the spirit of one of their loved ones. Ghost Photography occurs when a photo is taken without knowledge of a spirit’s presence and that spirit is only visible on the film or digital camera after the fact.

Here are some of the greatest, inexplicable ghost photographs from the ages between Humbuggery and PhotoShop. 

In 1919 Sir Victor Goddard’s RAF squadron encountered a recently deceased air mechanic, Freddy Jackson, who died two days prior.

In 1963, The Spectre of Newby Church absolutely shattered the conceivable. Reverend K.F. Lord was particularly fond of the altar area of his church and snapped a photograph of it, along with several others detailing the interior of the building. Upon developing the film, the reverend was flabbergasted to find a blurred figure ascending the steps.

Many believe this to be a hoax because the figure is somewhat posed. However, as he claims, the reverend was entirely alone in the church when the photograph was taken. No double exposure was used, and, allegedly, the photos were developed by no one with means to tamper with it. When skeptics came forward, the reverend, guarding his reputation, sent the photo off to scientific experts. The report came back stating that, though the figure in the photo was perfectly poised on the steps and looking at the camera, it was nine feet tall and the photo had not, in any way, been tampered with by any means.

On August 17, 1997, a loving granddaughter, Denice Russell, snapped a photo of her grandmother as they visited that afternoon. Prints were made and almost everyone in the family had the photo of Grandma. It wasn’t until they all sat around one Christmas three years later, looking at old photos, that someone noticed a foggy shape of a man behind her head. The family immediately stated it was the exact representation of their grandfather who had died in 1984.

There is also a distinct case that occurred in Manila in the early 2000’s.  Two young girls in the Philippines posed for a photo, not sensing anything out of the ordinary. When the photo popped up on the screen of their digital camera, the ghostly image of a third person could be seen holding onto one of the young women. They have absolutely no explanation for this occurrence.

There are all kinds of theories and camera tricks, but what do you think? Can film truly capture the spirits of the dead, or is it all a hoax? Leave us a comment with your thoughts.


READERS: Do you have a paranormal true story to share with us? We’d love to read it and maybe even publish it on our blog. Send your non-fiction story to: eic.tds@gmail.com (Subject: Non-Fiction Paranormal Story).

CREATIVES: Did this article inspire your paranormal storytelling? Please write that short story, craft that poem, paint that picture, and then submit it to us for publication consideration: https://www.darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

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

The Creative Nook with John Kiste

John Kiste’s short story, Kettering Hall, first appeared in the second issue of THE DARK SIRE. As a winner of Best Fiction at the 1st Annual TDS Creative Awards, Kettering Hall also graced the pages of the special edition collector’s issue, The Dark Sire: Accolades, with best-selling author and owner of Cemetery Dance Richard Chizmar presenting the award.

“Even as the coach rumbled beneath the great wrought iron gates that announced
Kettering Hall, I strained my eyes through the side window without ever catching a
glimpse of the manor through the crisp late afternoon air”.

Kiste had me in his grips with this first line of Kettering Hall. His visceral descriptions pulled me into the story so smoothly that I didn’t even realize the real world had slipped away. After reading Kettering Hall, the epitome of gothic horror, interviewing Kiste became a need rather than a simple desire. I had to interview him to find out more about the mind that created such a splendid piece of writing.

TDS: You’re from Ohio. Were the town of Kettering or the real-life (Virginia W.) Kettering Hall (the residential facility at the University of Dayton) inspirations for the setting and its name? If not, why did you choose Kettering Hall as the name of the story and its setting?

John Kiste: I wish I could say I had a stroke of inspiration for the name Kettering Hall. I did not. It sounded like a manor from a Sherlock Holmes story – very old-fashioned.

TDS: What was the inspiration for the story itself, then? Was it Holmes or maybe Edgar Allan Poe?

John Kiste:
Though Poe infuses most of my haunted house tales, Kettering Hall owes a great debt to a humorous ghost story from John Kendrick Bangs, The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall.

TDS: Your narrator goes unnamed – why did you decide to leave him so?

John Kiste: Poe often left his narrators unnamed. I always felt it gave them an added layer of mystery.

TDS: Lord Kettering describes the cultists on his land as “wicked offspring who were blossoming into wretched adults” and “children.” Why did you decide to have them be children /young adults instead of the adult laborers?

John Kiste: Thank you for this question. I wanted to show Lord Kettering as a benevolent landlord who had cared about his laborers for decades. It was the next generation that destroyed that bond. This was not an indictment of teens or even peaceful pagans.

TDS: Lord Kettering is tormented by the victims he accidentally caused the deaths of. In Kettering Hall, it is explained as a curse placed on him by the cultists he’s driven away. To your mind as the author, do you think that is the sole reason he has the nightly visits, or could his own guilt or some twisted karma also play a role?

John Kiste: Readers are invited to draw their own conclusions about Kettering’s state of mind. I did intend the curse to be real, as others have also experienced its effects.

TDS: After reaching the end of Kettering Hall I was left wanting to know more. Do you plan on continuing the tale of Lord Kettering and the unnamed narrator? Will we ever know if they found the cultists and reversed the curse?

John Kiste: Interestingly, I got several paragraphs into that very sequel before I gave it up as diluting the mystique and the purposely unanswered questions of the first work. I rather like it as is at present.

TDS: What’s your writing process? Are you a plotter, pantser, or plantser? Have you researched for your stories, or do you rely solely on your imagination?

John Kiste: I am embarrassed that I have never heard the word plantser for someone who does both – but it is definitely me. I sometimes start with just a first line, and the story then retaliates by going off wildly. However, others have required a massive amount of research. As an example, one story that took place in the 1890s could not include modern terms, metaphors, or slang. It was amazing as I researched every phrase, to learn how many things we say came into usage in the Twentieth Century.

TDS: Would you share a bit more about your writing process? How many hours a day do you write? What are the most difficult and most enjoyable parts of your writing process? What risks have you taken in your writing that have paid off?

John Kiste: I only write when an idea comes to me. I keep these ideas as notes on my phone and muse them over, sometimes for a very long time. I generally write my first draft late at night in bed on my phone, then transfer it to my computer for editing. I love creating the proper atmosphere, and when I have written tangled mysteries, I love seeing the threads come together. I have authored a number of bizarre and unusual works, but many have not found homes. I once penned a banshee story called Thincoldnightwindkeenslikeabanshee (all one word for reasons explained in the telling) and Unnerving Press picked it up for the anthology, Haunted Are These Houses, the title notwithstanding.

TDS: Speaking of brainstorming ideas… Do you believe in writer’s block and, if so, what methods do you use to combat it?

John Kiste: Walk away. Do something unrelated. That’s the best way for me to work through it, though everyone has their own process.

TDS: Other than writing short stories, what kind of other creative outlets do you enjoy?

John Kiste: I proofread for my daughter, Gwendolyn, and I have a collection of Aurora monster models. I run planetarium shows at the McKinley Museum (in Canton, Ohio) and have done a one-man show of Poe dozens of times – in chapels, on trains, in theatres, for tour groups, and in schools. I am busy two months before Halloween preparing what neighborhood children say is one of the best houses for trick-or-treaters in the whole town: haunted walkway, graveyard with real coffins, guillotine, full-sized Hershey bars and bags of other candy for each. This October 31st will mark the 40th wedding anniversary of my wife Lonna and me.

TDS: Speaking of Poe and your Poe impersonation. What draws you to Poe and how long have you been an impersonator of him?

John Kiste: My childhood bedtime stories from my father were Poe and plots of Universal Horror movies. I have been a fan of dark fiction and all things Halloween as long as I can remember. Happily, my wife Lonna is the same, and we passed along this love to our three-time Bram Stoker Award winning daughter, Gwendolyn. I started impersonating Poe when I was President of the Stark County Convention & Visitors’ Bureau. My tourism manager needed entertainment for a bus tour group at an old mansion, and she asked if I would perform as Poe. I have since done dozens of various Poe presentations.

TDS: Since you have a love of Poe and gothic literature, I’m very interested in your perspective on a current debate. Some readers/writers have expressed that the style of Poe is outdated and that a new gothic form of literature is needed. Today, gothic is combined with aspects of horror to create the gothic-horror subgenre, which, to some, is not true gothic literature as Poe (the father of American Gothic literature) envisioned it. The debate then is whether or not there is a market for real Poe-esque gothic literature. What are your thoughts on this?

John Kiste: Good heavens, I hope Poe is still relevant. Some complain of the flowery prose of classic authors like Poe and Hawthorne and Shakespeare, but these storytellers still show us the beauty of the English language, even as it evolves. Joseph Conrad’s native language was Polish, but he loved English so much that he learned it in all its nuances for his novels. The generation of Hemingway decided to write in a basic, straightforward way, and Papa H. and others like Steinbeck created barebones styles, but I truly believe there is room for old Gothic and new. And I can enjoy even hybrids of both.

TDS: Thank you so much for your time today. One last question: What stories have you published since appearing in TDS?

John Kiste: It’s always a pleasure! As for my work, Tinhorn Tintype, has appeared in the anthology Six Guns Straight from Hell 3; a flash fiction piece, Night Chat, was picked up by Third Flatiron; With Painted Words published Reflections on Reflection; and a Jolly Horror anthology called Coffin Blossoms came out last October with my humorous horror story Carl the Fortuitous. Most recently, however, was my short story An Inverted Haunting, published in the anthology Terrifying Ghosts by Flame Tree Press.

*   *   *

John Kiste is the author of over one hundred short stories and one trilogy. He has also written with his daughter, Gwendolyn Kiste, a three-time Bram Stoker Award winner. John and Gwendolyn will be presenting at The Creative Quill Writing Conference on 10/23 at The Dover Public Library (Dover, Ohio) from 12-6pm. Join them by registering for the event at https://forms.gle/u95wPM7GxyqEapHU9. To learn more about this talented writer, visit his website or find him on Facebook.


TDS proudly brings you gothic, horror, fantasy, and psychological realism from great creatives. You can order past and current issues from the TDS Store.

Finches: A Review

by Kausambi Patra

Rating: 💀💀💀💀

Release Date: October 1, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The spirits, too, answer her hate. 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Reality Meets Fiction: Voodoo Dolls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Until we meet again, take care!

The Creative Nook with Corey Nyhus

by Zachary Shiffman

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

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

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

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

https://youtu.be/cxboVaL3JHM

September New Release Books

It’s time to look ahead and see what the publishers are offering in our favorite genres. What mouth-watering, mind-expanding delights are awaiting us in the up-coming month? There are a few on this list that I, personally, can’t wait to sink my teeth into. How about you?

GOTHIC

September 21th

The Bronzed Beasts by  Roshani Chokshi. This is the third book in The Gilded Wolves Series. After Séverin’s seeming betrayal, the crew is fractured. Armed with only a handful of hints, Enrique, Laila, Hypnos and Zofia must find their way through the snarled, haunted waterways of Venice, Italy to locate Séverin.

Meanwhile, Séverin must balance the deranged whims of the Patriarch of the Fallen House and discover the location of a temple beneath a plague island where the Divine Lyre can be played and all that he desires will come to pass.

With only ten days until Laila expires, the crew will face plague pits and deadly masquerades, unearthly songs and the shining steps of a temple whose powers might offer divinity itself… but at a price they may not be willing to pay.

September 28th

Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow by  Christina Henry. In this atmospheric, terrifying novel, everyone in Sleepy Hollow knows about the Horseman, but no one really believes in him. Not even Ben Van Brunt’s grandfather, Brom Bones, who was there when it was said the Horseman chased the upstart Crane out of town. Brom says that’s just legend, the village gossips talking.Twenty years after those storied events, the village is a quiet place. Fourteen-year-old Ben loves to play Sleepy Hollow boys, reenacting the events Brom once lived through. But then Ben and a friend stumble across the headless body of a child in the woods near the village, and the sinister discovery makes Ben question everything the adults in Sleepy Hollow have ever said. Could the Horseman be real after all? Or does something even more sinister stalk the woods?

The House of Dust by Noah Broyles. Deep in the heat and silence of rural Tennessee, down an untraveled road, sits the forgotten town of Three Summers. Mere miles away, on an overgrown river island, stands the house that once presided over the grand plantation of Angel’s Landing, moss-draped, decrepit. Waiting.

Failing crime writer Bradley Ellison and former prostitute Missy Holiday are drawn to this place, fleeing a world turned against them. For Brad, it is work—he must find a compelling story before the true-crime magazine he writes for judges him expendable. For Missy, it is recuperation—four years at “the club” have left her drained.

But the price of peace is high, and soon Brad and Missy discover that something hides behind the quiet. Something moves in the night. Something that manifests itself in bizarre symbols and disturbing funeral rites. Something that twists back through time and clings in the dust of the ancient house. A presence they must uncover before their own past catches up with them.

The Liar Of Red Valley by Walter Goodwater. Don’t trust the Liar. Don’t go in the River. Do not cross the King. In Red Valley, California, you follow the rules if you want to stay alive. But even that isn’t enough to protect Sadie now that she’s unexpectedly become the Liar: the keeper and maker of Red Valley’s many secrets.

In a town like this, friendships are hard-won and bad blood lasts generations, and when not everyone in town is exactly human, it isn’t a safe place to make enemies.

And though the Liar has power—power to remake the world, with just a little blood—what Sadie really needs is answers: Why is the town’s sheriff after her? What does the King want from her? And what is the real purpose of the Liar of Red Valley?


HORROR

September 7th

Certain Dark Things by  Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is just trying to survive its heavily policed streets when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, is smart, beautiful, and dangerous. Domingo is mesmerized.

Atl needs to quickly escape the city, far from the rival narco-vampire clan relentlessly pursuing her. Her plan doesn’t include Domingo, but little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his undeniable charm. As the trail of corpses stretches behind her, local cops and crime bosses both start closing in.

Vampires, humans, cops, and criminals collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive? Or will the city devour them all?

Empire Of The Vampire by Jay Kristoff. Twenty-seven years have passed since the last sunrise, and for almost three decades, the creatures of the night have walked the day without fear. Once, humanity fought bravely against the coldblood legions, but now, we exist only in a few scattered settlements—tiny sparks of light in a growing sea of darkness.

Gabriel de León is the last of the Silversaints, a holy order dedicated to defending realm and church, now utterly destroyed. Imprisoned for the murder of the vampiric king, Gabriel is charged with telling the story of his life.

His tale spans years, from his youth in the monastery of San Michel, to the forbidden love that spelled his undoing, and the betrayal that saw his order annihilated. Most importantly, Gabriel will tell of his discovery of the Grail—the legendary cup prophesied to bring an end to the eternal night.

But the Grail was no simple chalice; and its secret was held by a smart-mouthed teenage urchin named Dior. Their journey with a band of unlikely allies would see Dior and Gabriel forge an unbreakable bond, and set the broken paragon on a road to redemption.

But now, the Grail is shattered. And with the cup of the Savior destroyed and the last Silversaint awaiting execution, what can bring an end to this unholy empire?

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull. One October morning, Laina gets the news that her brother was shot and killed by Boston cops. But what looks like a case of police brutality soon reveals something much stranger. Monsters are real. And they want everyone to know it.

As creatures from myth and legend come out of the shadows, seeking safety through visibility, their emergence sets off a chain of seemingly unrelated events. Members of a local werewolf pack are threatened into silence. A professor follows a missing friend’s trail of bread crumbs to a mysterious secret society. And a young boy with unique abilities seeks refuge in a pro-monster organization with secrets of its own. Meanwhile, more people start disappearing, suicides and hate crimes increase, and protests erupt globally, both for and against the monsters.

At the center is a mystery no one thinks to ask: Why now? What has frightened the monsters out of the dark? The world will soon find out.

The Bones of Ruin by Sarah Raughley. As an African tightrope dancer in Victorian London, Iris is used to being strange. She is certainly a strange sight for leering British audiences always eager for the spectacle of colonial curiosity. But Iris also has a secret that even “strange” doesn’t capture…​ She cannot die.

Haunted by her unnatural power and with no memories of her past, Iris is obsessed with discovering who she is. But that mission gets more complicated when she meets the dark and alluring Adam Temple, a member of a mysterious order called the Enlightenment Committee. Adam seems to know much more about her than he lets on, and he shares with her a terrifying revelation: the world is ending, and the Committee will decide who lives…and who doesn’t.

To help them choose a leader for the upcoming apocalypse, the Committee is holding the Tournament of Freaks, a macabre competition made up of vicious fighters with fantastical abilities. Adam wants Iris to be his champion, and in return he promises her the one thing she wants most: the truth about who she really is.

If Iris wants to learn about her shadowy past, she has no choice but to fight. But the further she gets in the grisly tournament, the more she begins to remember—and the more she wonders if the truth is something best left forgotten.

The Haunting of Leigh Harker by Darcy Coates. Sometimes the dead reach back… Leigh Harker’s quiet suburban home was her sanctuary for more than a decade, until things abruptly changed. Curtains open by themselves. Radios turn off and on. And a dark figure looms in the shadows of her bedroom door at night, watching her, waiting for her to finally let down her guard enough to fall asleep.

Pushed to her limits but unwilling to abandon her home, Leigh struggles to find answers. But each step forces her towards something more terrifying than she ever imagined.

A poisonous shadow seeps from the locked door beneath the stairs. The handle rattles through the night and fingernails scratch at the wood. Her home harbours dangerous secrets, and now that Leigh is trapped within its walls, she fears she may never escape.

Do you think you’re safe? You’re wrong.

The Summoning by J.P. Smith. When it comes to contacting the dead, it’s easy to go a step too far. Every year, as the anniversary of 9/11 inches closer on the calendar, Kit Capriol scans the memorials published in the New York Times. It’s a simple thing to look up a name and phone number, to reach out to surviving family members who might still be yearning for connection with their lost loved one… to offer assistance. After her husband went down in the north tower, Kit scraped by as an actress, barely supporting herself and her daughter. But now Zoey is in the hospital, bills are due, and the acting work has dried up. Becoming a medium is almost too easy for someone used to pretending for a living—and desperate clients aren’t hard to come by.

Now, though, something has changed. The seances Kit holds in her apartment are starting to feel unsettlingly real, and the intriguing man she met at a local bar could be more complicated than he seems. As the voices of the dead grow louder in her head and the walls of her apartment close in, Kit realizes that despite her daughter’s absence, she hasn’t been quite as alone as she thought…

September 28th

Court by Tracy Wolff. This is the fourth book in the CRAVE SERIES. This series is a TWILIGHT-like YA series written especially for modern youth and filled with your typical brooding teenagers both vampire and normal. The series follows the adventures of Grace who, after the death of her mother, moves to a small part of Alaska where her uncle and cousin run a boarding school which is not your normal boarding school.

The Ex Hex by Author Rachel Hawkins, writing as Erin Sterling. Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones nursed her broken heart like any young witch would: vodka, weepy music, bubble baths…and a curse on the horrible boyfriend. Sure, Vivi knows she shouldn’t use her magic this way, but with only an “orchard hayride” scented candle on hand, she isn’t worried it will cause him anything more than a bad hair day or two.

That is until Rhys Penhallow, descendent of the town’s ancestors, breaker of hearts, and annoyingly just as gorgeous as he always was, returns to Graves Glen, Georgia. What should be a quick trip to recharge the town’s ley lines and make an appearance at the annual fall festival turns disastrously wrong. With one calamity after another striking Rhys, Vivi realizes her silly little Ex Hex may not have been so harmless after all.

Suddenly, Graves Glen is under attack from murderous wind-up toys, a pissed off ghost, and a talking cat with some interesting things to say. Vivi and Rhys have to ignore their off the charts chemistry to work together to save the town and find a way to break the break-up curse before it’s too late.

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik. Book 2 in the Scholomance Series. A budding dark sorceress determined not to use her formidable powers uncovers yet more secrets about the workings of her world in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education, the start of Naomi Novik’s groundbreaking crossover series.

At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . .

September 30th

Shaula by A.M. Kherbash. The second book in The Stringer Series. The sight of the body did not sicken Ben. Not right away. Guilt was what got him: the mounting consequences rising in his throat, and the truth which would inevitably come spilling out.

Sometime after the events at Duncastor (See Lesath), two men are dispatched to make a delivery. It was a straightforward assignment: take the sealed cargo—a container roughly the size of a child’s casket—and deliver it to a reclusive specialist residing in a lakeside cabin. What this specialist did or specialized in was never mentioned. Not that it mattered, when the task was simple—simple enough that even a young and inexperienced bureaucrat like Ben could handle it. If only he weren’t charged with keeping an eye on his wayward senior.

The lakeside cabin was the last remnant of a closed down resort, which Ben guessed was bought by a dummy corporation belonging to their employers. All the other cabins were torn down, leaving them with an empty property that served to distance the lakeside cabin from public grounds. Something about it reminded Ben of the horticultural practice of pruning spent flowers to further enhance the beauty of the crowning blossom. Not that it did anything to improve the cabin’s appearance he observed, as they stood in front of the stocky wooden building, sheltered under interlacing branches of towering evergreens. Much like the faded photos, an eerie hush permeated the place: no breeze ruffled the reflected image on the lake’s surface, nor whispered through the green needles above. It was all very quiet.


FANTASY

September 14th

A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell, When her siblings start to go missing, a girl must confront the dark thing that lives in the forest—and the growing darkness in herself—in this debut YA contemporary fantasy for fans of Wilder Girls.

Defy The Night by Brigid Kemmerer. A fantasy about a kingdom divided by corruption, the prince desperately holding it together, and the girl who will risk everything to bring it crashing down.

The kingdom of Kandala is on the brink of disaster. Rifts between sectors have only worsened since a sickness began ravaging the land, and within the Royal Palace, the king holds a tenuous peace with a ruthless hand.

King Harristan was thrust into power after his parents’ shocking assassination, leaving the younger Prince Corrick to take on the brutal role of the King’s Justice. The brothers have learned to react mercilessly to any sign of rebellion–it’s the only way to maintain order when the sickness can strike anywhere, and the only known cure, an elixir made from delicate Moonflower petals, is severely limited.

Out in the Wilds, apothecary apprentice Tessa Cade is tired of seeing her neighbors die, their suffering ignored by the unyielding royals. Every night, she and her best friend Wes risk their lives to steal Moonflower petals and distribute the elixir to those who need it most–but it’s still not enough.

As rumors spread that the cure no longer works and sparks of rebellion begin to flare, a particularly cruel act from the King’s Justice makes Tessa desperate enough to try the impossible: sneaking into the palace. But what she finds upon her arrival makes her wonder if it’s even possible to fix Kandala without destroying it first.

September 21th

The Leopard Behind The Moon by Mayonn Paasewe-Valchev. There are three important laws in Ezomo’s village: Do not go to The Valley, do not go out at night, and never, ever, ever open the magical door that protects them all. But when Ezomo encounters the leopard believed to have killed his father, he and his two best friends embark on a journey that leads them past the boundaries set by their elders.

With his friends by his side, Ezomo chases after the leopard, certain that it has the power to cure all, and in the process he discovers the true history of his village, and that cautionary tales exist for a reason.

The Wolf’s Curse by Jessica Vitalis. Twelve-year-old Gauge’s life has been cursed since the day he witnessed a Great White Wolf steal his grandpapá’s soul, preventing it from reaching the Sea-in-the-Sky and sailing into eternity. When the superstitious residents of Bouge-by-the-Sea accuse the boy of crying wolf, he joins forces with another orphan to prove his innocence. They navigate their shared grief in a journey that ultimately reveals life-changing truths about the wolf––and death.

September 28th

Beasts Of Prey by Ayana Gray.

Magic doesn’t exist in the broken city of Lkossa anymore, especially for girls like sixteen-year-old Koffi. Indentured to the notorious Night Zoo, she cares for its fearsome and magical creatures to pay off her family’s debts and secure their eventual freedom. But the night her loved ones’ own safety is threatened by the Zoo’s cruel master, Koffi unleashes a power she doesn’t fully understand–and the consequences are dire.

As the second son of a decorated hero, Ekon is all but destined to become a Son of the Six–an elite warrior–and uphold a family legacy. But on the night of his final rite of passage, a fire upends his plans. In its midst, Ekon not only encounters the Shetani–a vicious monster that has plagued the city and his nightmares for nearly a century–but a curious girl who seems to have the power to ward off the beast. Koffi’s power ultimately saves Ekon’s life, but his choice to let her flee dooms his hopes of becoming a warrior.

Desperate to redeem himself, Ekon vows to hunt the Shetani down and end its reign of terror, but he can’t do it alone. Meanwhile, Koffi believes finding the Shetani and selling it for a profit could be the key to solving her own problems. Koffi and Ekon–each keeping their true motives secret from the other–form a tentative alliance and enter into the unknowns of the Greater Jungle, a world steeped in wild magic and untold dangers. The hunt begins. But it quickly becomes unclear whether they are the hunters or the hunted.


PSYCHOLOGICAL REALISM

September 7th

The Final Child by Fran Dorricott. Erin and her brother Alex were the last children abducted by ‘the Father’, a serial killer who only ever took pairs of siblings. She escaped, but her brother was never seen again. Traumatized, Erin couldn’t remember anything about her ordeal, and the Father was never caught.

Eighteen years later, Erin has done her best to put the past behind her. But then she meets Harriet. Harriet’s young cousins were the Father’s first victims and, haunted by their deaths, she is writing a book about the disappearances and is desperate for an interview. At first, Erin wants nothing to do with her. But then she starts receiving sinister gifts, her house is broken into, and she can’t shake the feeling that she’s being watched. After all these years, Erin believed that the Father was gone, but now she begins to wonder if he was only waiting…

The Magician by Colm Toibin. An epic family saga set across a half-century spanning World War I, the rise of Hitler, World War II. The novel opens in a provincial German city at the turn of the twentieth century, where the boy, Thomas Mann, grows up with a conservative father, bound by propriety, and a Brazilian mother, alluring and unpredictable. Young Mann hides his artistic aspirations from his father and his homosexual desires from everyone. He is infatuated with one of the richest, most cultured Jewish families in Munich, and marries the daughter Katia. They have six children. On a holiday in Italy, he longs for a boy he sees on a beach and writes the story Death in Venice. He is the most successful novelist of his time, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, a public man whose private life remains secret. He is expected to lead the condemnation of Hitler, whom he underestimates. His oldest daughter and son, leaders of Bohemianism and of the anti-Nazi movement, share lovers. He flees Germany for Switzerland, France and, ultimately, America, living first in Princeton and then in Los Angeles.

In a stunning marriage of research and imagination, this novel explores the heart and mind of a writer whose gift is unparalleled and whose life is driven by a need to belong and the anguish of illicit desire. The Magician is an intimate, astonishingly complex portrait of Mann, his magnificent and complex wife Katia, and the times in which they lived—the first world war, the rise of Hitler, World War II, the Cold War, and exile. This is a man and a family fiercely engaged by the world, profoundly flawed, and unforgettable.”

September 9th

Keep Me Close by Jane Holland. Someone is hurting the most vulnerable person in your life, but they can’t tell you who it is. What would you do?

When shy publisher Kate Kinley finds mysterious bruises on her mother’s arms she assumes the worst. Suffering with early onset dementia, her mother insists that nothing is wrong; it was just a clumsy accident. But was it an accident, or has her mother’s illness made her forget what really happened?

In desperate need of someone she can trust, her isolation and paranoia grow as the closest people in her life become key suspects.

With each heart-stopping revelation, Kate begins to realise that the perpetrator is no longer interested in inflicting bruises; they want blood.

Keep Me Close is a compelling story of gross immorality, a cautionary tale of how easily wicked people can take advantage of the vulnerable elderly people in your life.

September 14th

Dark Things I Adore by Katie Lattari. A Gone Girl-esque tale of atonement that proves that in the grasp of manipulative men, women may momentarily fall. But in the hands of fierce women, men will be brought to their knees.

Three campfire secrets. Two witnesses. One dead in the trees. And the woman, thirty years later, bent on making the guilty finally pay.

1988. A group of outcasts gather at a small, prestigious arts camp nestled in the Maine woods. They’re the painters: bright, hopeful, teeming with potential. But secrets and dark ambitions rise like smoke from a campfire, and the truths they tell will come back to haunt them in ways more deadly than they dreamed.

2018. Esteemed art professor Max Durant arrives at his protégé’s remote home to view her graduate thesis collection. He knows Audra is beautiful and brilliant. He knows being invited into her private world is a rare gift. But he doesn’t know that Audra has engineered every aspect of their weekend together. Every detail, every conversation. Audra has woven the perfect web.

Only Audra knows what happened that summer in 1988. Max’s secret, and the dark things that followed. And even though it won’t be easy, Audra knows someone must pay.


So many amazing books coming out next month!
Which will you be reading?


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 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 September for our late Fall and early Winter new releases.

And don’t forget to ORDER TDS’ DARK SUMMER Issue 8. More details available at darksiremag.com/issue8.html.

Reality Meets Fiction: Psychomanteum and Seeing the Dead in Mirrors

by Barry Pirro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Until we meet again, take care!

The Creative Nook with Dan Stout

by Zachary Shiffman

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

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

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

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

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

https://youtu.be/g5du2Cgz-mo