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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.

American Southern Gothic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A Brief History of Gothic Literature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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).

TDS Enters a New Era

With TDS’ second birthday just around the corner (Halloween), a new era of all-things THE DARK SIRE has come. With the new look and feel comes a new Editor-in-Chief. But let’s start from the beginning…

If you’re new to TDS, we are a quarterly speculative journal for the unconventional reader, founded in 2019 by Bre Stephens to appeal to those who love the darker-toned fiction, poetry, art, and screenplays. TDS’s founding fathers are the ever-talented and influential Edgar Allan Poe (Gothic), Mary Shelley (Horror), J. R. R. Tolkien (Fantasy), and Fyodor Dostoevsky (Psychological Realism).

Major Changes

First, TDS has updated its branding. The covers, as you might have noticed in the feature image of this post, have completely changed. One of the most notable differences is the name: TDS will no longer be a literary magazine, but a literary journal. This slight difference in verbiage going forward really encompasses the overall feel of TDS and the professionalism we offer to both our readers and writers. That’s because a journal lasts longer than a magazine, seen as a valued piece of writing for years to come. Since we value our creatives, seeing them as family members – and are always thinking of how better to uplift them, being a journal just suits us better. That said, TDS will continue to publish the same great content you’re accustomed to.

Second, we have a great new logo. Simple yet dynamic, the powerful image encompasses TDS’ gothic roots, while also holding onto the traditional black and red coloring.

To go along with the new logo, TDS has a new title design. Though not red, it highlights the gothic and harkens back to Edgar Allan Poe, himself. It’s perfect to usher in this new TDS Era!

The third major change is none other than the introduction of a brand-new Editor-in-Chief, Jane Lenore (J.L.) Vampa.

J.L. Vampa

J.L. Vampa is a published author of Dark Fantasy and Victorian Gothic fiction. She has a background in journalism and in editing, both short and long fiction. J.L. also owns a macabre-style bookish shop and lives in Texas with her musician husband and their two littles who are as peculiar as their parents. 

As the new EIC, J.L.’s main focus is two-fold: To preserve the pillars that have established the TDS brand and to uplift even more creatives for a stronger community.

“I want TDS to be a place where the often-overlooked can
sit at the table and have their craft appreciated, published,
and read by readers who truly thirst for the unconventional.
In addition, I’ll strive to continue to build a strong community
for our authors, poets, and artists, as well as our readers.”

Saying that TDS is changing is an understatement. A better way of putting it is that we’re rebranding, reinventing, and revitalizing ourselves. And you are NOT going to want to miss any part of our new look and feel reveal. More information, updates, and content will be released throughout October, our birthday month.

Look out – The New Era of TDS is now!

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

The Psychology of Psychological Realism

Psychological Realism is a narrative genre that explores the internal thought processes and motivations of its characters.  The method of narration in the story explores the characters, both protagonists and antagonists, spiritual, emotional and mental lives in order to put meaning to their behavior.  At THE DARK SIRE we hold the works of Fydor Dostoevsky to be the pinnacle of this genre; however, authors like Henry James, Stendhal, and Knut Hamsun are also to be considered at the top of the list.

The success of a Psychological Realistic novel rests solely on the painstaking detail with which the author describes/examines/dissects the various relationships, desires and struggles of the characters.  Much of it boils down to the whole idea of what is real.  A person’s reality is the product of their individual perception of what is happening around them.  We tend to thing of reality as what we can see, feel, hear or experience in some way.  But in reality, no two people see, feel, hear or experience the same event in the same way.  Each person filters that event through the psychological veil that makes that individual an individual.  It is the classic problem of the accident that is viewed from three different vantage points by three different people.  Each person has seen the event, but that does not necessarily mean that each person will describe the event in the same way.  Kurosawa’s RASHOMON is a perfect example in movie form of this phenomena.

This genre allows authors to explore the gritty underbelly of human nature as a character interacts with their environment whether that environment is the slums of St. Petersburg or the social elite enclaves of the New York 400.  However, one of the most interesting facets of this genre is that it also includes the reader’s response to what he or she is reading.  The author of a psychological piece is also asking for the readers to make an interpretation on the actions, thoughts and emotions of the characters in the story… which leads us to an interesting juxtaposition.

The very nature of a psychological realism story forces the reader to internalize that which they are reading.  Is the character correct in what they are doing?  Or is that character mistaken because of their internal thought process is in error?  Like the witness to the accident in the example above, each reader must decide, based on their own psychological make up, whether or not the character in the story is reacting properly to the basic situation at the story’s core.  Which leads us to the interesting conundrum that readers from different generations will interpret the same story differently.  One generation might find a story amusing and the following generation might take offense at it.  Mark Twain’s HUCKLEBERRY FINN is a prime example of this.

So, what we have in Psychological Realism is a confrontation between the character’s social and environmental realities interpreted by a reader’s social and environmental realities.  Maybe that’s what makes Psychological Realism so fascinating: the author forcing the reader to confront the characters’ psyches through the veil of their own.

Fyodor Dostoevsky is known for delving into the psychology of humanity and wrote that psychology into his work. And that’s what we at THE DARK SIRE love about the psychological realism we publish. The tales delve into the psyche of the characters – their motivation, emotions, reasoning. A good psychological tale – and some would say a crossover from Gothic Literature – conveys the the torment of the character itself, through world building, mood, and tone.

We’re always looking for those stories that examine the psyche of its characters, especially those with dark sensibilities. Issue 4 is our favorite for its psychological realism content. But, we need more!

If you write psychological realism, submit at darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

The Creative Nook with Richard Chizmar

by Zachary Shiffman

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

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

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

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

https://youtu.be/YvQbIBsaWU0

July and August New Release Books

Time.  There is no getting around it.  It takes time to write a book and put it through the process that eventually gets it into the hands of readers.  And all we can do is wait.  To help pass the time, here are a few of the anticipated books in our favorite genres:

GOTHIC

AUGUST 19

A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Perry
Fans of the Perry collaboration should look forward to this tale in which a person’s status cannot evade a fate written in blood. Dr Will Raven is a man seldom shocked by human remains, but even he is disturbed by the contents of a package washed up at the Port of Leith. Stranger still, a man Raven has long detested is pleading for his help to escape the hangman.


HORROR

AUGUST 3

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee This is s a twisted, atmospheric thriller about a girls’ boarding school haunted by history and witchcraft.

The Perfect Place to Die by Bryce Moore Jack the Ripper meets the Devil in the White City.  When Zuretta’s youngest sister disappears during the Chicago World’s Fair, she follows in her sister’s footsteps taking a job an hotel called the Castle.  The job turns into more than she bargained for.

AUGUST 5

Long Shadows by Jodi Taylor This is the third in Ms. Taylor’s supernatural series. The identity of Elizabeth Cage has always been a mystery. Even she doesn’t know who she is. But someone has suspicions.

AUGUST 10

Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko This story follows the adventures of a middle-grade student, who, although she loves ghost stories, never expected to live one.

Mark of the Wicked by Georgia Bowers   A young witch tries to unravel the mystery of who is framing her for dark magic.

AUGUST 17

Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar Mr. Chizmar masterfully blends Horror and True Crime.  It’s clever, heartrending, and terrifying in the best tradition of Stephen King. In the summer of 1988, the mutilated bodies of several missing girls begin to turn up in a small Maryland town. The grisly evidence leads police to the terrifying assumption that a serial killer is on the loose in the quiet suburb. But soon a rumor begins to spread that the evil stalking local teens is not entirely human. **Look for the TDS interview of Richard Chizmar on 8/10, where we talk about the release of Chasing the Boogeyman.**

AUGUST 24

Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis   Is a live body worth more than a dead apparition?  I guess you’ll have to read the novel to find out.


FANTASY

AUGUST 3

A Dragonbird in the Fern by Laura Rueckert
When a princess is murdered, her vengeful spirit is doomed to remain with her loved ones until that murder has been avenged.

Monster Hunter Bloodlines by Larry Correia The chaos god Asaq has been quite since the destruction of the City of Monsters, but Monster Hunter International knows that he is still out there, somewhere, plotting for his chance to unravel reality.

August 10

Escape from Puroland by Charles Stross
Bob Howard has been assigned to police the Yokai, traditional magical beings.  A simple assignment turns into a deadly confrontation.

The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino   Tess finds herself working at her boarding school’s library dealing with the intolerable patrons.  The worst of whom is Eliot Birch who is constantly requesting forbidden grimoires.  Together the two of them accidentally unleash a book-bound demon.

The Other Me by Sarah Zachrich Jeng One minute, Kelly is a free-spirited artist in Chicago.  The next, she opens a door and mysteriously emerges in her Michigan hometown.  Suddenly her life is unrecognizable.  She’s got twelve years of the wrong memories and she’s married to a Eric, a man she barely knew in high school.

AUGUST 17

The Endless Skies by Shannon Price  It will be released August 17th.  Shape-shifting warriors are sent on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines to find the fabled cure for a disease that is affecting their children.

AUGUST 19

Red Wolf by Rachel Vincent   For as long as sixteen-year old Adele can remember the village of Oakvale has been surrounded by the dark woods.  It is a forest filled with horrible monsters and that light cannot penetrate.  Adele is one of a long line of guardians, women who are able to change into wolves whose jobs is to protect the village without letting any of the villagers know of their existence.

AUGUST 31

Forestborn by Elayne Audrey Becker
Rora, a shifter with magical powers, uses her abilities to spy for the king.  When a magical illness surfaces in the kingdom, it’s up to Rora to discover the truth.

Fury of a Demon by Brian Naslund This novel is the thrilling conclusion of the Dragons of Terra trilogy. Action-packed and full of fast-paced adventures, the story follows Bershad, the most successful dragon slayer in history—he’s never lost a fight. But now he’s faced with a dangerous conundrum: kill a king or be killed.

Requiem of Silence by L. Penelope This is the fourth book in the Earthsinger Chronicles.  Former assassin Kyara will discover that she is not the only Nethersinger.  She will need to join the others to harness a power that can save or end Elsira.  But time is of the essence and they may not be ready by the time the True Father strikes.


PSYCHOLOGICAL REALISM

AUGUST 3

Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson Told through three different points of view, it is the compassionate portrait of a community and a vanishing way of life amid the perils of environmental degradation.

AUGUST 5

The Perfect Life by Nuala Ellwood Vanessa has always found it easy to pretend to be somebody different, somebody better.  When things get tough in her real life, all she has to do is throw on some nicer clothes, adopt a new accent and she can escape.  Until she couldn’t.

AUGUST 24

A Million Things by Emily Spurr This story follows 55-days in the life of a 10-year old after she wakes up one morning and finds her mother gone.  It’s a gut-wrenching tale of abandonment and what it’s like to grow up in a house that doesn’t feel safe.  It’s an astonishing psychological portrait of resilience, mental health and families we make and how they make us.


So much to choose from, so little time to read everything!
Get your TBR lists ready, because you’re not going to
want to miss any of the above new releases.


TO OUR READERS: Do you have a favorite author that you would like THE DARK SIRE to keep track of? Or did we miss a title that came out in July/August 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 August for our Fall new releases.

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

Celebrating TDS Issue 8: DARK SUMMER

Let’s celebrate the July 31st release of Issue 8!

To celebrate the release of Issue 8, we’re hosting a TDS Authors Event! The events is this Saturday, July 31st, from 11am – 1pm at The Bibliophile Bookstore in Dover, Ohio. Issue 8 authors will read their work from Issue 8, discuss their writing processes, and sign paperback copies of Issue 8. Come meet John Kiste (Kettering Hall, Issue 2; Tropical Excursion, Issue 8), S. M. Cook (Kyuuketsuki, Issues 1-5; Vampire – Intense, Issue 8), Krista Canterbury Adams (Erebus: Darkness, Issue 4; Nyx Unnested and Phantom Queen, Issue 8), and Rami Ungar (Blood and Paper Skin, Issue 8). And did we mention that literary agent Bre Stepehens (brendaleestephens.com) will be there to talk to any authors? Yep, get your pitches ready because she’s building her list! Anyone attending the event will be eligible for a free giveaway drawing, with prizes including digital and paperback copies of Issue 8, copies of attending author’s books, and other TDS swag.

And now for the Issue 8 reveal of content…

THE DARK SIRE strives to bring you the best in Gothic, Horror, Fantasy and Psychological Realism literature, and Issue 8 doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it’s packed full of original, spine-tingling stories, poems, and artwork by top-notch authors. And this time, we even have a fantasy screenplay! Here’s what you will find inside:

SHORT FICTION

Grave Fools by Maureen Mancini Amaturo — (Gothic) — A vampire’s loyal servant works diligently to find the best resting place for his master.

The Bookworm by Taylor Hood — (Psychological Realism) — A story-starved boy confronts his zealous father in a darkened room lit only by a halo of light. Their struggle, the consequence of a family destroyed, pits two worldviews against each other. Either the boy must go on endlessly reciting his father’s beloved holy text, or he must at last find freedom.

Tropical Excursion by John Kiste — (Horror) — A man finds fun in the sun, but his day out is interrupted when he’s confronted about his crimes.

We by Alyssa Netters — (Psychological Realism) — A relationship gone wrong until one stood strong to overcome the debilitating effects of being held down. This story was inspired by the need for mental health awareness in today’s society.

Hand in Hand, Dear Sister by Connor Pope — (Horror) — A distraught sister must do the unthinkable to save her sister. This piece is a 100-word flash fiction short story.

Thirst by Zachary Toombs — (Gothic) — In the night, Lex must hunt to survive, but he must listen to more than just his fangs to successfully fetch his prey.

Six Feet by Julie Zack — (Dark Fantasy) — As with most things, it was the mother’s fault. She hadn’t seen the harm in letting the boy run around the cemetery on a summer evening. It was socially distant, after all. That was until they came across a man in a hat, and their lives would be forever changed.

POETRY

Skewered Memory by Casey Aimer — A couple must overcome a psychological break, caused by infidelity, if they are to survive. This poem touches on mental health awareness.

Nyx Unnested by Krista Canterbury Adams — The night is not as dangerous as when the Nyx appear, there to hover, haunt, and devour. The moon will not save you this eve, for the Nyx are utter and pure darkness. Nyx Unnested won 1st place in the TDS Gothic Summer Contest in May 2021.

Phantom Queen by Krista Canterbury Adams — The woods glow brightly, hungering for destruction and chaos. Will it ever find peace?

Vampire – Intense by S.M. Cook — A vampire awakens, hungry, and goes out for a bite.

The Beginning by Dee Espinoza — Dracula, a fallen angel who was cast out of heaven after a holy war and banished to Earth, creates an army of undead blood thirsty creatures.

HOMETOWNWOTEMOH by E. M. Roy — A free-verse poem about the familiar becoming strange the longer you look at it. The longer the speaker exists within her hometown, the more places she knows like the back of her hand start to eat her alive. HOMETOWNWOTEMOH won 2nd Place in the TDS Gothic Summer Contest in May 2021. 

ART

Shaun Power’s This Is Fear is our feature cover art for this issue.  The look, even the style of his pictures, vary wildly on his state of mind. Fortunately for us, he was in a dark mood when he created this pastel on A4 paper.  Other artwork by Shaun in this issue include Hand of Fate and Perchance the Dream.

Also featured in this issue are the abstract works of Christian-Rhen Stefani.  Her style, known as COLORISM, is a mix of Abstract Expressionism and mood creation.  In this issue we present her The Land beyond the Surface and River of Consciousness.

SCREENPLAY

Hobgoblins by James Hancock — (Fantasy) — A young woman ends up trapped in an enchanted storybook and must complete the story to escape.

SERIALIZATION

Blood and Paper Skin by Rami Ungar — (Horror) — Several young adults go out to buy drugs one night, only for some of them to be kidnapped and held in a mysterious jail by their would-be dealer. Their captor, whom they call Old Man, lets them know he has a horrible purpose in mind for them. And if they don’t find a way out of the jail, more than just their lives will be lost.


Well, that’s it – like that isn’t enough! We know you’re going to love our delve into DARK SUMMER, our only themed issue of the year. Copies are now available. Order your copy through Bibliophile Bookstore (support indie booksellers!) or by visiting darksiremag.com/issue8.html.

Reality Meets Fiction: The New England Vampire Panic

by Barry Pirro

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


“Reality Meets Fiction” is a series on non-fiction, real-life stories as experienced through personal accounts and investigations conducted by Barry Pirro, a paranormal investigator known as the Connecticut Ghost Hunter. Barry has over a decade of paranormal investigation experience and will share his stories every 4th Friday of the month. Don’t forget to catch his next article on August 27th. To learn more about the Ghost Hunter, visit http://www.connecticutghosthunter.com/.

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

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

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

Until we meet again, take care!

The Art of Writing Gothic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

The Creative Nook with Villimey Mist

by Zachary Shiffman

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

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

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

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

https://youtu.be/uxiLJw6G5io