“Inspired by True Crime” Details

Uncategorized

May 1-7 we’ll accept stories for a flash fiction call dealing with ‘True Crime’. Since flash fiction isn’t the best medium for exploring real life events, we’re going to be flexible and ask that your story at least resembles a plausible crime. You’re more than welcome to dramatize a real life murder, or heinous crime, but we ask that you change the names of those involved. If you’re lost as to what we’re looking for, check out a couple episodes of the 1980s/90s series Unsolved Mysteries. The writers managed to create gripping recreations and often ventured into half-fiction to portray what may have occurred.

Sadie Hartmann aka “Mother Horror” will be choosing three winners for May’s call, but still send your submissions to Cemeterygatesmedia@gmail.com.

New Voices in Horror with Jessica Ann York

Uncategorized

Joe Sullivan: Your latest bio (and each I’ve seen) begins “Jessica Ann York is a horror writer”. When did you first imagine yourself a horror writer as a statement of fact? 

Jessica Ann York: I’ve always wanted to belong to the horror genre, even before I was public about my dream to be a writer. Everything I’ve ever written, read, or watched just naturally fell into that category in some way. I grew up in the rolling hills of rural Tennessee, and my parents couldn’t keep me away from the creepy crawly things that hide inside the caves and swam in creeks near our house. If you asked my family to describe me, I think some of the first images that would pop into their head would be of 10-year-old me telling ghost stories at sleepovers, reading Stephen King aloud to my cousins at the beach, or watching Nightmare on Elm Street during the Holidays. So when my Creative Writing professors asked me to draft an author bio for the first time in school, I just opened with “I’m a horror writer,” and I’ve stuck with it since.

The path for most writers seems to involve some degree of collegiate training, then a period where we forget about writing while we live life for 5-10 years, until we once again pick up the pen with an eye for publication. Anyone catching up on your bio might think that your path has been just about seamless. From a creative writing program to a series of professional sales, some of which came out of your MFA portfolio! Did you have a plan for your writing after you were done with school?

It makes me happy to hear that my path looks smooth from the outside looking in. The reality is, I completely gave up on publicly sharing my writing with anyone when I was in high school after I had a trusted friend tell me, “Some people just aren’t meant to do things, and that’s you with writing, Jessi.”

Hearing someone I loved so much say that tore me to shreds (especially after I caught them making fun of my fictional characters with another person), and I never showed my writing to anyone again until I was a Junior in college. I was working on a B.S. in Psychology, and I was completely sold on the idea that I’d go into mental health and that would be my ultimate life path. But that B.S. required me to pick a minor, and I couldn’t hold myself back when I saw that there was one specifically for Creative Writing.

I thought that minor would just be a fun way to let some of my pent-up ideas out, but then my Intro to Creative Writing professor pulled me to the side and told me upfront that I needed to switch majors to English. Soon after, a ton of my other English professors also started telling me the same thing. By my Senior year, I was still majoring in Psych, but the head of the English department told me I’d get full-funding if I applied to their Creative Writing Master’s Program. I took the offer, and I haven’t looked back since.

I’m really proud to say that I can independently support myself with income from both my day-job as a commercial blogger and the side income from my short stories. I never, ever thought I’d have the skills to do that, and I’m so thankful those professors pushed me to believe that I could.

My plan right now is to ride this wave for as long as possible and see where it takes me. The writing community is amazing, and my heart belongs to them.

Writing horror and dark fiction could be considered the art of conceptualizing anxieties. A typical horror narrative throws an individual into an experience with the unknown, dissecting how that individual reacts in the face of nothingness(the monster, the specter of imminent death, etc.) Your narratives tend to draw the reader in through your main character’s anxieties, but then you seem to explore the concept of anxiety itself — and I can’t help but think of the yarn and hex dolls filling the frozen lake from your story “The Lake of Poppets”. Who do you think explores anxiety well in their fiction?

If I had to pick one contemporary writer whose exploration of anxiety inspires me, it’d be Samantha Hunt. Her short fiction collection THE DARK DARK was on my thesis reading list, and I still go back to it whenever I need inspiration. A lot of her stories follow middle-aged women who struggle with feelings of restlessness and unease, despite having what most people would consider perfect lives. “A Love Story” in particular is about a woman who can’t stop obsessing over all the different ways her children could be molested or murdered, to the point that she starts romanticizing her irrational thoughts and they become comforting to her. It’s very quiet, domestic horror, and I love how you can tell the ideas come directly from her personal experiences and the places she’s lived. Her ability to turn life into fiction is something I try to mirror in my own work, because I think that nugget of truth transforms the fears you’re writing about into something other people can easily imagine themselves experiencing.

Are you working on long stories(novellas/novels)? What do you imagine will be your first book, and what additional themes do you hope to explore with it?

Currently I’m on track to (fingers crossed) complete my first novel by the end of the year. It’s a YA dark fantasy that follows a young fish-man who has lost connection to his past lives and is trying to make friends he can trust inside a cursed forest where humans are skinned for their bones.

It’s incredibly different from my published short fiction in that it pulls away from the Southern setting and female protagonists I usually write—but the same themes of dealing with anxiety and the intense feeling of not fitting into your own skin are still there.

The nameless protagonist’s main conflict is that he is constantly being told that he is inside a body that is naturally meant to enjoy solitude and preying on humans, but he finds himself quickly realizing that’s not the truth at all, and that these other fish-men are more than likely just repeating what they’ve been told countless times during their past lives.

I’m writing it with my two little brothers in mind, and I hope it can become a story that invites adolescents to trust their inner voice when they’re surrounded by insidious stereotypes that would push them to do otherwise.

———————————————–

Jessica Ann York is a horror writer whose work has been featured at PseudoPod, Vastarien, and Cemetery Gates Media. She serves as an Associate Editor at Pseudopod and as the Webmaster of the Atlanta Chapter of the Horror Writers Association. Her fiction centers around women who take comfort in using the macabre as a window to understanding anxiety. Through writing and research, she’s come to love the things that used to scare her (like the baby tarantulas and rats she’s raising). You can get updates on her and her strange pets at Twitter @JessicaAnnYork1.

The Witness Tree

Uncategorized

by Shane Douglas Keene

Down there dark beneath the rich chocolate cake soil, all his lovers rest, safely protected by garden and cherry tree, no seeing eyes to concern themselves. What lies below will stay forever, no recourse but to sleep the sleep of the still and beautiful dead. Naked and natural beneath the dirt, nude as cut and peeled pomegranates, once blood-full, now bones, bodies without people in them, they live in him; slumbering history away beneath the sentinel cherry.

Making a lazy spiral around and outward, his beautiful garden lines both sides of a simple brick path. It is the ancient man’s pride, the centerpiece of a life lived well. He tends to it every morning, weeding, trimming, loving the feel of arthritic fingers soaking in cool, damp earth. He sits on the bench in the shade each spring afternoon, watches pristine white cherry blossoms trickle like Zen paratroopers to the ground. As peaceful as love is violent. On this day in particular, he enjoys the beauty of it, sun shining brightly on flowers dark and glorious in the light.

The garden is the culmination of a career spanning 52 years, a compilation of all his special projects completed. From the tree that finished the garden, began his retirement, to Haemanthus coccineum, his blood flowers, the frosting with the cherry tree at their center. And finishing off the outward spiral is a dance of black dahlias, lonely in daylight. In the night, they become a dark ocean, twining, interlaced with writhing vines alive with the stars of night-blooming hedgehogs, queens of night. It’s a mesmerizing transformation that he wishes he could stay up for every night. 

But his treasures, his joys, are deeper, and they wander back through time, traversing from the now to the then. They are a decaying chronicle rambling through his storied career. His thoughts turn to them frequently of late and he anticipates communing with them, his projects—his kills, the way he peeled skin from them, strip by strip, from faces and genitals and, finally, all, screams and blood painting night red—for the remainder of his life, and he is not mistaken, but for Time, which is not the fixed wheel expected.

His stop is coming up soon.

In the night, as the old man sleeps the sleep of the nearly dead, his beloved legacy begins to transform, bearing wicked fruit in the shape of his transgressions. Confessions telling their truths in secret darkness. They bear the fruit of an old man’s demise. Outside his midnight window, the darkness writhes, shuffles. The world of his little garden is pulled apart, shredded. Dahlias, hedgehogs, and bloodflowers flying apart, scattered by some unseen hand. But most significant of all, the tree, the changes wrought hideous, unspeakable. It was a dream becoming a horror, becoming Judgment.

***

Morning.

Cataract eyes pop open, shutters on the dirty windows of a haunted house. This day is full of uncertain dread. His arrhythmic heart surges and races like an engine revving. Klaxons scream in his head.

The world seems too quiet to his tired brain.

No hollow echo of a faucet’s drip, no creak of a settling floorboard.

Something is desperately wrong.

It takes the length of a second’s ticking to tell him true:

the world is silent.

No buzzing bee or traffic noise, no birdsong.

Fast as his old bones will let him, he jumps out of bed and hits the floor. Sans housecoat or slippers, he heads immediately toward the back door, toward his beloved sanctuary. His heart feels like it’s pounding in his throat, throttling him with terror. Slamming through the screen into the springtime sunshine morning yard, he halts abruptly. Jaw hanging open, eyes gray saucers in a time ravaged face, he issues something halfway between a moan and a sob. His Garden of Eden is Hell on Earth.

Desecrated, his flowers destroyed, torn, stomped on, smashed—unrecoverable. They look like organic confetti strewn, sprawling across lawn and even on the roof of his tiny, tidy little home.

A shrill keening slips past tightened white-line lips, and he stumbles forward until he stands on the sacred ground of the garden.

His shrine is undone, the body of his life’s labor defiled.

And the precious cherry tree?

It still stands.

Or rather, something yet stands in its place.

An abomination, an impossible one. The trunk consists of interlocked human bones intertwined with what appear to be pulsing arteries. Letting his eyes roam upward, he spots ragged, desiccated clumps of flesh clinging to the putrid nightmare construct.

But for the “branches” he might retain his sanity just a moment longer. The horrible realization hits. They’re elongated human spinal columns, hung here and there with dangling nerve bundles, loose wiring from a broken conduit.

Undulating slow and smooth, like Leviathan’s tentacles.

His gaze lands on huge bulbous orbs growing from the ends of the branches. No, not orbs. Human heads.

Those grotesque columns, still in soft motion, bend toward him and he sees the faces.

The faces of Love.

His creations, lovers, all gathered, lending undeath to the living tree. They are malformed beyond recognition, without skin, lips distorted into angry sneers, eyes the color of rage. Teeth in rows of triangular razors, gnashing, hungry for the taste of his suffering. The bundles of dangling nerves encircle him, squeezing relentlessly. The heads bend down, slowly, so slowly, toward him. They speak his name all in unison, a crescendo of cacophonic sound in a song that will last forever.

END

Shane Douglas Keene is a poet, writer, and musician living in Portland, Oregon. He is one third of the Ink Heist podcast and co-founder of inkheist.com. He wrote the companion poetry for Josh Malerman’s serial novel project, Carpenter’s Farm in 2020, has short fiction in Cemetery Gates’ Paranormal Contact and has multiple works forthcoming. He lives with his wife and two small dogs who are convinced they are royalty.

Legacy

Uncategorized

by Red Lagoe

Ma’s soul was so evil that Father Vance forbid her to be buried in the church cemetery. Maeve and Ryan had to put their mother’s remains in the ground behind the farm. That’s when the crops died. It started with the grass over her burial site. It shriveled into brown like the dog had pissed all over her grave.

Ryan took a swig from a bottle of bourbon.

 “Aren’t you going to pour a little for Ma?” Maeve had asked.

Ryan shook his head. “She had more than enough when she was alive.” He spit to the side of her grave. “I wish I pissed on her grave myself.”

But then the death spread from around Ma’s burial site and across the field. Tall grasses withered and crumbled to dust. The great row of elm trees that bordered the property shed their leaves. Their branches turned gray. The field of alfalfa was dead the next morning.

“It’s Ma,” Ryan said. “She ruined everything she touched.”

“She did not. She was good to us,” Maeve said, ever the defendant of Ma’s actions.

“She was god to you.”

“Don’t start with that—”

“You were her girl. The girl she always wanted. She kept pushing out boys and when you arrived she didn’t have to keep accidentally losing babies anymore.”

“You can’t honestly believe she killed her own babies. I’m so sick of this rumor. Even Father Vance believed it. It’s crazy…”

Everyone knew it, but nobody could prove it. There was a darkness to Ma that lurked at surface level, it was an eerie evil, unseen, but constantly leaving a mark on the world. Ryan knew all along that she didn’t love him. Just like she didn’t love his brothers that came before him. She only loved her precious Maeve, and even that relationship was a toxic one. Ma spent years grooming her to be a mini-version of herself, including her on her schemes to get rich quick, which always ended badly.

But Maeve was kind. Maeve had a heart that Ma couldn’t touch. Where Ma’s eyes were black as her soul, Maeve’s were a coppery brown—like an innocent doe. For the longest time, Ryan believed Maeve to be untouchable, beyond Ma’s metastatic reach.

After Ma’s body was exhumed from the farm, she was incinerated, and her ashes placed in a small urn which Maeve clung to with delicate hands.

“It’s not right what you did.” Her lower lip quivered. “You shoulda let her rest in peace.”

“The whole farm was dying.”

“You know damn well there’s no way she has anything to do with that.”

Ryan shook his head. “Maybe not, but I don’t want her evil on my land no more.”

“She wasn’t evil… Just broken.” Tears streamed down her cheeks as she stood overlooking a meadow of wildflowers. Maeve claimed Ma loved to visit this hill beyond the farm. But Ma didn’t love anything but her booze, her evil secrets, and Maeve.

“People are supposed to leave this earth, and if they’re lucky, they make a mark on the world… She left scars.” Ryan’s eyes stung from tears that wanted to form, but he stopped letting those tears fall long after he’d escaped her abusive reach. He looked to his sister, who clutched the urn to her chest. “She doesn’t deserve to be here. We should’ve left her ashes in the incinerator.”

“How can you say that?” Maeve unscrewed the lid. The spring breeze whipped her hair across her face. “Ma, I’m so sorry you didn’t have a chance to make things right.”

That monster would never have tried. Ryan was drawn to the opening of the urn. Something inside longed to be released. Something powerful and wrong… it wanted out. Everything about the moment felt sacrilegious in some way.

“Wait…” Ryan held his hand up. “Put the lid back on.”

A moment of panic sent in Maeve’s eyes before she flung her arm out, tossing ashes into the air. Gray ash billowed into a plume and caught on the wind, dispersing into the clear blue sky.

Ryan held a gasp.

“She deserves to be here,” Maeve said. “No matter what she did. Everyone deserves a proper memorial.”

“She deserves nothing beyond death and darkness.”

The wind shifted.

The grass below Maeve’s feet shifted from green to yellow. The blades withered to tan and crunched underfoot. Maeve took a step back. Over the meadow, wildflowers went limp and gray. Bits of Ma’s ashes settled to the earth and killed everything she touched.

Maeve’s hair no longer whipped across her face, but instead it blew straight behind her. Ryan looked to his sister. Her eyes were hopeful that Ma was finally at peace.

But the wind in her face carried with it remnant ash which hadn’t yet settled to the earth. Maeve coughed, gagging on the dust of Ma’s remains. She crumpled to the ground, clutching the urn to her chest. Veins swelled under gnarled hands. Her neck tensed as dark vessels appeared beneath translucent skin.

Ryan knelt by her side, begging that his sister be alright, but before he could help her, she stood tall. Tears drooled from her clenched lids. She took a deep breath and opened her eyes. Irises transformed from bright copper to midnight black. Ryan’s heart shattered as his sister succumbed to Ma’s toxic touch. Maeve stared upon the desiccated meadow and grinned over the scars left behind.

Ma finally ruined everything.

END

Red Lagoe writes horror, raises kids, and enjoys hanging under the star-studded sky with her telescope. She grew up on 1980’s horror movies and dabbled with writing as a child, but it wasn’t until 2015 that she dove into horror as her genre of choice. She’s been bleeding from the fingertips ever since. http://redlagoe.com

To Garden The Bodies

Uncategorized

by Sara Tantlinger

Dozens of cold eyes stared up into the blue sky as Marie surrounded the bodies with fresh soil. While she hated every part of this, the eyes unnerved her the most — that vacant, almost-relaxed form of the lids partially closed. What did dead eyes search for in the sky? If they were hoping to ascertain some meaning, or steal glimpses of a god, good luck to the carcasses.

She snorted out the kind of laugh that her cousin would surely call “unladylike,” but Eddie was too busy on the other side of the burial pit tending to his own group of cadavers. Manners weren’t important in this place. She could curtsy to the upturned earth, bow to every tree, and compliment each blade of grass, but there would never be any reward, any escape…people liked to believe in a beautiful eternity, but Marie knew better.

Soon enough, the others still foolish enough to beholden themselves to hope would find out. They’d either end up like her, or like the bodies lined up neatly in the pit. Perhaps the burial tradition here was really no stranger than in other parts of the world. After all, when compared to endocannibalism or cutting up the dead to leave them for the vultures’ feast, this tradition looked downright tame. Or, Marie thought, perhaps she’d merely gotten used to the stench of corpses, to the changing colors of their skin, the leaking fluids that never stopped. The silence.

“What is it?”

She jumped at Eddie’s question; he’d appeared by her side with noiseless footsteps.

“What do you mean?”

“You keep sighing. What are you thinking about?”

“Oh,” she said, hesitation scratched at her voice. “It’s so quiet. I wish we could burn them. At least have the crackling of fire to keep us company. Spread the ashes.”

Horror stretched Eddie’s face into an elongated caricature of his normal self. He cared so much about the gardening now. Every day she felt him pull away from her a little more.

“No, cremation would be terrible. Human ashes don’t make for good compost. They’d actually do more harm than good.” He floated past her and patted the loose areas of soil where she’d only done a half-hearted job at tucking the growth mix neatly around the bodies.

“How so?” She kneeled in the muck and added alfalfa to the mix, looping in leaflets as if they were thread holding the dirt together.

“Well,” Eddie let out a deep sigh. “Human ash doesn’t decompose. Also, too much salt, just disturbs the balance of things, ends up harming the plants.”

Marie couldn’t help the bitter little laugh that trilled from her throat. “Of course our charred remains would be toxic to the environment, what else should anyone expect from humans?”

“Burial is better,” Eddie said, not at all phased by her questions and manic laughter, as far as she could tell, anyway. “We have a chance to give life back.”

From the depth of the wide grave, Marie glanced up at tall dirt walls which entombed her like a sunken earth foundation. Others who were stuck here, in what she could only assume was purgatory since no answer had ever been provided, dug out the pits with long, black shovels. They tore up the ground and then went away. It was hard work, and there were always stiffs needing to be buried, but Marie envied them. They dug, they shaped the pit, and then they left, onto the next one. Diggers never had to garden the bodies. She assumed other specialists were out there, doing what she did alongside Eddie, but she’d never seen them. Every day was the same, wandering through fields of ghosts and wildflowers, ready to prep the deceased. Together they worked, but Marie remained lonely in her mind.

She helped Eddie finish arranging the soil, wood chips, alfalfa, and straw around each cadaver in the pit. Initially, the process had fascinated her — the way those empty husks were able to activate something in their decomposition to eliminate germs and provide a healthy place for seeds and saplings to grow. But after so many times, fascination fizzled out. New life, it should have captured her lifeless heart, bewitched her within a world of April’s beauty; she should have danced alongside spring, exulted from summoning new life with cheery colors, but only restlessness and disgust settled in her chest. For beauty to exist, death must reign supreme beneath those blossoms. A cruel, cyclical world where she had no choice but to assist in its repetitious callousness.

“We’re done,” Eddie whispered. He helped her climb out of the hollow, and she followed him to rest within a grove of white dogwoods. Loose petals hovered around them in the wind, cascading through air almost like snowflakes, and it’s no wonder she always ended up here just before the sun set.

Eddie spoke but kept his gaze on the petals, and she knew what he would ask before the question finished leaving his cracked lips. “Do you remember, Marie, how we died?”

As if she had the luxury of forgetting. “Every night, I remember. I feel the cold. I see the gray land.” She reached into the air and snatched the white petals from the wind’s grasp. “I miss it.”

“Simple colors, and simpler times. We should have never gone out that day, but how can I regret seeing the fresh snowfall cover the mountain?”

His fingers found hers and she clutched his hand tight as they sat on the grass, watched

the whirlwind of pale petals. In the distance, a mountain waited. Their mountain. They walked toward it every day, but no matter how many hundreds of miles they traveled, the mountain never appeared any closer. It never would. The snowcapped wonder would forever wait there on the highland, far away, a muse existing only for the purpose to torture them. A reminder of the life they’d never get back.

Marie knew they were stuck in this world of flourishing spring where she and Eddie would tend to and bury bodies every day, forever. Cruel April, how it brimmed with bright tulips and strange hyacinths, all joined together in a mockery of life, feeding off the forgotten dead.

When she died alongside Eddie at the bottom of the mountain, buried in snow, a gentle peace had taken hold of Marie. Cold dissipated, and her paralyzed body embraced the soothing relief of heavy snow. White flakes, gray skies, it had been a somber comfort, one that didn’t hurt her eyes with kaleidoscopes of color. Winter had no need to pretend to be anything other than what it was.

Eddie had found her then, crawled his frostbitten body through the snowbanks after their crash, took her hand in his, and they were the same. Creatures of dark comforts banished away to a land of springtime apparitions. Were they meant to learn a lesson here, a lesson to appreciate too-bright blooms sprouting forth like flowered sleepwalkers after feeding from their chosen carcasses?

Perhaps this place had no meaning other than to torture, to taunt. Marie supposed she’d never know why something beyond herself compelled her each day to plant daffodil bulbs between ribs and beneath tongues, to tuck in bodies with blankets of earth and straw, yet she would keep going. Every day the same burial rituals, the same pointless lumber toward a mountain mirage, the same diminishing hunger to reach a comfort she never truly could.

END

Sara Tantlinger is the author of the Bram Stoker Award-winning The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, and the Stoker-nominated works To Be Devoured, Cradleland of Parasites, and Not All Monsters. Along with being a mentor for the HWA Mentorship Program, she is also a co-organizer for the HWA Pittsburgh Chapter. She embraces all things macabre and can be found lurking in graveyards or on Twitter @SaraTantlinger, at saratantlinger.com and on Instagram @inkychaotics

So You Wanna Go the Indie/Small Press Route…

Uncategorized

by Gabino Iglesias

We’ve talked a lot about self-publishing in the past few months. Maybe the stuff we discussed made you decide to take matters into your own hands and publish your own work. That’s great. Best of luck! However, maybe some of that stuff made you decide that you want to send it out and let someone else take care of the editing, layout, cover, etc. If that’s your case, welcome to the wonderful world of small/indie publishers. Now, the first thing we need to do is explain what we’re talking about because there is a ridiculous amount of confusion and misinformation out there. When you do everything yourself = self-publishing. When someone else publishes your work through a press = traditional publishing. That’s the gist of it. However, indie/small presses complicate the thing. When we talk about indie/small presses, we’re talking about folks that are not directly operating under huge publishers like HarperCollins, Hachette, Penguin Random House, or Simon & Schuster. I can talk about this for hours, but I’ll keep it short, I promise. If you see a book from Putnam, Del Rey, Dutton, Ballantine, or One World, for example, you’re really seeing a book from Penguin Random House (they have almost 300 imprints). If you see a book from Little, Brown and Company, Mulholland, or Orbit, you’re seeing a book from the Hachette Book Group. Weird and scary, I know. In any case, some small presses have ties to big publishers, which means they have great distribution and might get you a little advance. More on that later. For now, focus on this: here I’m talking about indie publishers with no ties to big publishers. If this is the path you want to travel, the first thing you have to do is memorize these ten rules:

1. Get Paid.

Unless you can buy food and pay rent with exposure, focus on paying presses and anthologies. There are some situations (like charity anthologies) where this rule can be ignored. That said, you want to either get an advance (very rare with indies) or know exactly what percentage of royalties you’re going to receive and how often.

2. Never Pay. Ever.

Anyone who asks you to pay to get your book published or to be in a book is an asshole and a predator. Tell those people to go die in a tire fire. You spent time and effort writing. This is what you do. That means this is a job, so you should get paid. Never pay to be published. Ever.

3. Covers matter.

We’ve talked about this before. It’s worth saying it again: covers matter. Before submitting your work to an indie publisher, check out their covers. A publisher who doesn’t get you a decent cover doesn’t care about your book.

4. This isn’t self-publishing.

You should never pay for a cover, proofreading, formatting/layout, or editing. A real press takes care of all that for you.

5. Make sure they’re professionals.

If you read a submission call or a website or pick up a book from a small press and find it full of typos and misspelled words, forget about them and move on. Being a small press isn’t an excuse to put out shitty books.

6. Stay strong.

When we start our careers, we’re all dying to see our name in print or on the cover of a book. However, publishing well is more important than publishing quickly. The only correct answer to an editor telling you that sometimes you have to “pay to play when starting out” is “Well, sometimes you gotta eat shit and die.”

7. Have questions? Ask.

If you’re in doubt, reach out to a pro. Ask questions. Seriously. Folks who’ve been around the block a few times aren’t fans of asshats taking advantage of those who are dying to see their name in print. A lot of people are willing to point out red flags.

8. Get a contract. Read it. Read it again.  

Promises were made for religious stuff and to help dying folks go in peace. In publishing, promises are bullshit. Get everything in writing. Read your contract carefully and, if you don’t know what you’re reading, get in touch with someone who knows more than you. 

9. Traditionally published with Simon & Schuster is not the same as traditionally published with a small press that puts out three or four books per year.

That sort of says it all. You won’t quit your day job with no advance. Indies have limited distribution. Small presses rarely have a marketing budget. These aren’t reasons not to publish with them, but they are things you need to keep in mind. If you publish with a small press thinking your book will be in airport bookstores across the nation, it’s time to do some research.

10. It’s time to pay attention and study.

Some folks have awesome careers publishing with indie presses. Some folks get tired and switch to self-publishing. Some writers land an agent and use the platform they built as indie press writers to jump to huge publishers. What happens after you decide to go with an indie press is a combination of your hustle, the quality of the work, and luck. That said, the more you learn, the better your chances of being successful will be, so pay attention. Good luck.

Last Dance

Uncategorized

by Alex Ebenstein

Easy. You have to confess.

John took one step inside the crumbling brick walls with Mark’s words echoing in his head. Before John could register that the High Altar had been replaced by a torture table, his hand absently searched for the stoup of holy water. Never mind he was a lapsed Catholic. Never mind the church had been abandoned many years earlier, and if the basin still existed it’d be on the far side of church by the front door.

When John gave up on his search and finally laid eyes on what should have been the High Altar, he wondered about Jesus. Might he have preferred getting his limbs stretched past the breaking point on ‘the rack’ over being nailed to the torture device hanging on the back wall? Perhaps if what Mark and Yvonne said was true he’d get a chance to ask.

Once he looked past years neglect and rot, St. Mary’s Catholic Church was damn near a carbon copy of John’s hometown parish. The manifestations of torture devices were not what John expected to find when he broke into the boarded-up church by way of the priest’s quarters along the east side, but they were in line with his usual brand of hallucinations. What a psychologist might call demented.

On the other side of the table, an Iron Maiden stood in place where the Tabernacle should have been. Seeing that was a bit of a revelation to John: the interior of the church was lit. He’d left Mark and Yvonne outside to trip in the pale glow of the moon’s sliver—they refused to come closer than the edge of the road—while he took their flashlight to guide him inside. But now, that beam bounced lazily around the church, all but forgotten thanks to the red-tinged ambient glow surrounding him. A quick glance around the room revealed no obvious source or working lights, but John didn’t much care given the situation.

He took a step down from the raised platform, intending to head to the far side of the church and his destination, but the organ to his left caught his eye. The pipes reflected the ethereal light inside the room, but the reason why turned John’s normal grim-set line of a mouth into a grin. There was no gleaming silver metal, but rather lengths of gray-pink intestines hung from the ceiling to the floor, glistening with bodily juices as though just removed from their owners.

As much as he wanted to examine them closely, John would not let himself. He didn’t want to ruin the illusion—but also, what if it all was real?

The side chapels, which made the arms of the cross that was the church building, held no interest to John. He continued through the center of the cross, down the main aisle between the rows of pews. John could not see the confessional yet. There wasn’t much to the decrepit church besides the impossible additions made possible by his altered mind, but the building was long, and the dusky red glow was not quite enough to let him see the whole way. No matter; John knew where the confessional would be, same as most other rural parishes. He thought he could walk there with his eyes closed.

With that thought in mind, John stuffed the flashlight into his jacket pocket and let both hands dangle at his sides. A distant memory of running wild through church as a child, his mother whisper-shouting at him to stop, his hands out at either side to slap the pews as he flew past. In the present, John did the same, racing down the aisle, catching glimpses of rusted metal tools and implements instead of hymn books, narrowly pulling his hand back when a row of pews became a row of spiked chairs.

John reached the end, close to his destination. His thoughts briefly turned to Mark and Yvonne, what they might be doing or seeing outside. The first people he saw when he drifted into Woodville looking for work, standing against the outside wall of the only bar in town, sharing a smoke. King and Queen of the high school dropouts, full of ignorant charm and an aptitude for acquiring designer drugs. Not a whole lot different from John, aside from their complacency with a dead-end life. John rarely strove beyond his means, but he was a roamer, only stopping to accrue enough resources to get on the move again.

They were John’s only friends in the weeks since, hanging out to do drugs and not much else. Such was the case a few hours ago. Mark procured some chemically inventive pills known on the dark web by a derivative name John couldn’t recall, something like eyeopener.

As they waited for showtime, John asked them about a local legend he heard while working at the paper mill: a haunted church. The two shared furious whispers, debating something for a minute before coming back to John.

“The church isn’t haunted,” Mark had said. “That’s just a rumor someone started to keep people out. To hide the truth.”

Yvonne chimed in, still whispering. “It’s where you go to meet your maker.”

John scoffed but played along. “What if I don’t believe in a god?”

“Then you will,” Yvonne said.

“We should check it out then,” John said.

Steadfast refusals melted under the heat of John’s conviction and persuasion. Still, they would show him the church, and no more. When they arrived, the drugs started to hit. John tried once more to get them to come along inside, but they kept their shoes planted on pavement. Recognizing a lost cause, John asked what the rumor said he needed to do to meet his maker.

Mark said, “Easy. You have to confess.”

Reaching the west side of the church where the interior vestibule doors hung from broken hinges, John was surprised and a little disappointed to see everything looking like its normal rotten self. Then he realized the thing he mistook for an easel was in fact a Judas Cradle and his butt clenched reflexively. For the first time since entering the church John shuddered, then turned to the confessional along the wall.

The last time John made an honest and earnest confession he was thirteen. The priest, Father Martin, was a decent man who liked to drink more than he liked to fear monger—which was a lot—and had fallen out of favor with the parishioners for somehow being too old-school for Catholics. After John confessed his litany of awful and detailed sins, Father Martin gasped. He then laughed a mirthless, unholy sound.

“I can’t do anything for you, boy, and neither can God,” the priest had said. “You’ll be dancing with the Devil in the pits of Hell before long.”

John left that confession un-absolved and left the Church for good. He never told his mother what happened, and she never forgave him for abandoning the Church. At first, John was embarrassed. Then, he became emboldened. What was the point of it all, anyway? Heaven never interested him. Why would he want to spend eternity with the most inane, boring people from earth? Sure, Mark and Yvonne were a couple of burnout dipshits he’d forget the moment he left Woodville, but at least they were more fun than the stuffed shirts he’d find packing the pews on Sundays.

Staring at the confessional now, John felt his heart pounding in his skin, as though he’d see the fleshy shell of his body ripple with each thud were he to look close enough. Sure, his hormones were out of whack from the drugs, but could he actually be afraid?  

John swallowed against the desert in his mouth, stepped into the right booth, and closed the curtain behind him. Except—

The curtain was not fabric, but rather swaths of human skin stitched together. He could feel it. Taut and leathery.

It’s real??

Suddenly inside the booth felt too close—a coffin. The walls vibrated as if made of visual sound waves. The screen to his left formed ever-changing mathematical patterns, pulsing at him like a cartoon sound box, though no one spoke.

John squeezed his eyelids shut. He needed to focus. None of it was real. It was a trip. Only a trip.

The motion around him stopped. Through peered eyes everything looked old and rotting, but normal.

He laughed uneasily, then noticed a discolored prayer cheat sheet pinned to the wall.

“Confession. Right.” He laughed again when he saw the scribbled correction on the sheet.

John read the altered version.

“Bless me, Satan, for I have sinned—”

The screen dissolved to reveal a crimson, swirling cloud that simultaneously tugged at John and exuded immense heat. But instead of rushing wind or crackling fire, John heard what sounded like a swarm of a thousand bees.

The collective buzzing spoke to him, asking a single question.

“May I have this dance?”

End

Alex Ebenstein is a maker of maps by day, writer of horror fiction by night. He lives with his family in Michigan. He has stories published in Novel Noctule, Tales to Terrify Podcast, The Other Stories Podcast, and Campfire Macabre from Cemetery Gates Media, among others. Find him on Twitter @AlexEbenstein.

No Body, No Miracles

Uncategorized

by Corey Farrenkopf

Everything smells of incense. You know it’s from the censers, the burning frankincense, but you also suspect the scent is there to cover something. Like the innumerable skin cells shed by parishioners, a bad septic, something buried beneath the pulpit that’s been rotting for years. This is what you think about when you kneel in the pews for Friday mass, knees sore from the imitation leather and stiff boards. You’re wearing a light blue button down shirt, a navy tie, the same uniform you’ve worn the last four years of middle school. The stained glass window to your right, where you spend most of the hour staring, is laced with spiderwebs. Each week you watch as more of the crimson and sage rectangles are devoured. The incense might also obscure the fact the janitor doesn’t get paid well, and therefore is inattentive.

Your bet is still on the buried corpses.

You and Mark joke about it. “Every church has a crypt, right?”

“All the good ones,” you reply.

“No body, no miracles,” Mark says.

“And what’s the point of church without miracles?”

You and Mark are not particularly religious, especially after nine years of parochial school. No one, with the exception of the two diehard Christian Science chicks who are sick more often than they are in class, believe in God. Repetition beats it out of you. Mass multiple times a week. Bible study. Theology class. Rainy recess hours of cheaply drawn cartoons depicting Jesus strolling through sandy towns, puppet pals following him, singing hymns of the right and just. More than anything, you blame the puppet pals for pushing you away from God.

Or weekly confession, that too.

“Are you going to tell him about masturbating again?” Mark asks.

“I can’t think of any other sin this week. Haven’t killed anyone. No stealing,” you reply.

“I can’t believe you tell him that. What’s he say?”

“Father Peters doesn’t really comment, just tells me to do three Our Fathers for each time.”

“That’s a lot of Our Fathers,” Mark laughs as the line edges forward.

You and Mark haunt the back of the line, trailing the rest of your classmates as you snake towards the screen-windowed confessional booth at the rear of the church. If you didn’t already know what was inside, you would have thought it was a broom closet with two doors, but you’ve spent enough hours kneeling within, the candle in its crimson holder glowing besides your head, to know what’s up. Only the vaguest mutterings seep out, leaking back to the rest of the class. No one wants to be overheard. No one wants their classmates to know what they do after dark, with whom, for whom. Masturbation is one thing, but your class has some real weirdos. You can only imagine the dark stuff they get up to when no one’s looking.

When one of your classmates finishes up, they walk into the body of the church, skirting the pews, moving toward the altar to kneel before the tabernacle, ready to recite the appropriate amount of Hail Marys and Our Fathers. You assume most lie about how many they are supposed to do. Everyone kneels, bables a single prayer, then retreats from the carved Jesus hanging above them. You and Mark have spent many hours waiting for him to open his eyes, to really tell you of your sins, what Hell is going to look like, but he stays silent. No one likes to spend that much time with him, contemplating what those prayers are meant to save you from.

“I’m going to ask him about it,” you tell Mark.

“What?” Mark asks.

“The crypt. Who’s buried in it.”

“You sure you want to do that? Sometimes it’s better to not talk about our jokes.”

“But it’s not a joke. Someone has to be buried down there. It explains the smell, that dead fug hanging around.”

“A lot of things explain the smell. There’s no crypt,” Mark says before turning away, eyes ahead, waiting his turn.

You feel bad you took things to a place too dark for Mark’s liking. You always do this, push the joke from a comfortable place into an uncomfortable one. You’re silent as you wait, stepping closer to the confessional with each classmate shed from its innards. Eventually Mark takes his turn in the box. You hear his voice drift through the wood, the priest muttering something within. Mark leaves the gathered gloom, closing the door behind him. You try to smile as he moves into the church, loafers clacking over the stone floor, but he doesn’t look at you, his skin pale, lip clenched between teeth.

Ok, that was weird, you think as you open the confessional door.

Things are as they usually are. The red glass candle. The leather kneeler. The screen woven in the pattern of tiny crucifixes.

The shadow of Father Peters is just beyond, inarticulate. You imagine him smiling. You don’t like to imagine him smiling.

“Bless me father, for I have sinned. It’s been one week since my last confession,” you say.

“So what’s it going to be today?” Father Peters asks. “More masturbation?”

“Not this week,” you reply, knowing the way to get answers from him. “No, I want to confess to trying to get into the crypt. The one beneath the altar. I know I shouldn’t be doing that, but I just can’t help it.”

There is silence on the other side of the screen.

You count your breaths.

“I can’t fault you,” Father Peters replies. “Every child wants to know what’s in the crypt.”

“So there’s really a crypt?” you ask, disbelief coloring your words.

“I’d call it more of a burial hall. Crypt makes it sound tiny,” Father Peters replies.

“That’s nuts.”

“Would you like to see it?”

“See…?” you hesitate, stomach souring, the joke rolling far past your point of comfort. It’s usually you that takes things too far, that makes people uneasy. You don’t like it when it’s reversed.

“Yes. I think you will, as penance for all you’ve done this week, and all the weeks  before. I’ve let you off too easy,” Father Peters replies.

Then there is the sound of the confessional door opening on the other side. Light plays over your face, your own door yanked open, Father Peters smiling down at you from beneath his thick mustache. He reaches into the booth, wraps his fingers around your biceps, and pulls you from the kneeler.

“This is the only proper penance,” he says as he half leads, half drags you into the church, towards the altar, the glass door you’ve never been permitted to enter. You catch Mark’s eyes as he kneels before the tabernacle. They go wide at the realization of what’s going on, where you’re being shepherded. You try to call to him, but you’re pushed through the doorway, the scent of frankincense swelling. “Maybe those below will have something more to say on the topic. It could be illuminating. Life changing.”

He plucks a lit candle from a metal wall sconce and hands it to you.

Your hands shake as you receive it.

“I’ll be back in two hours,” Father Peters says as he opens the final door, a door that shouldn’t be there, nothing but darkness on the other side, a staircase only visible in its culminating step. “And be careful with that candle. I don’t have any spare matches.”

He nudges you inside and closes the door.

You drop down the stairs until you hit a damp stone floor. There is no longer the smell of incense. There is must and rot and something far worse than anything you and Mark ever joked about.

Father Peters didn’t say how many Our Fathers you needed, so you start at one, then two, then three, praying the words will keep whatever lingers in the dark out of the candle’s flickering light.

End

Corey Farrenkopf lives on Cape Cod with his wife, Gabrielle, and works as a librarian. He is the fiction editor for The Cape Cod Poetry Review. His work has been published in or is forthcoming from The Southwest Review, Catapult, Tiny Nightmares, Redivider, Reckoning, Wigleaf, Flash Fiction Online, Bourbon Penn, The Arcanist, and elsewhere. To learn more, follow him on twitter @CoreyFarrenkopf or on the web at CoreyFarrenkopf.com

New Voices in Horror With J.A.W. McCarthy

Uncategorized

Joe Sullivan: When did you realize that dark, speculative fiction was the space you wanted to explore as a writer?

J.A.W. McCarthy: I can’t remember a time when what I was writing wasn’t dark and speculative. I remember stories I wrote as a kid that involved sentient sunflowers, teens squatting in mausoleums, couples who somehow become conjoined. They were all awful and will never see the light of day. I’ve always loved horror movies, but it might have been The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder that woke up that part of my brain and made me recognize my own dark heart. I don’t believe it’s classified as horror, but when I read that book at age eight or nine I was as terrified as I was fascinated. I’d never seen a kid’s book that dealt with child murders and the supernatural. I remember thinking I wanted to write about stuff like that when I grew up.

You’ve gotten some excellent publishing credits in a relatively short period of time, and then a few reprints on top of that. How long have you been writing with the aim of placing your work in pro and semi-pro markets? Do you tend to write for calls more often than not?

I put writing aside for many years until 2017, when I got an idea for a short story I couldn’t shake. Short fiction was always a challenge for me, but for whatever reason at that time I decided to give it a go. To my amazement and delight, that story, “Until There’s Nothing Left”, sold pretty quickly to the anthology The Misbehaving Dead (and it went on to be reprinted by Kandisha Press in Graveyard Smash, and will be appearing on a podcast later this year). Then the next story sold just as quickly, and I made my first pro-rate sale in the next few months. I took a Lit Reactor class in 2019—my first writing class since college—and met some really cool writers, which lead to meeting my critique partners; my work would not be nearly as strong as it is today without them. Every success emboldened me to aim higher, and I started submitting to publications I didn’t think I had a chance in hell of getting into. There has been a lot of rejection, but many satisfying acceptances too.

As for open calls, I tend to not write for those. The few times I’ve done it, I’ve gotten some pretty crushing rejections and ended up with stories that were so specific that they had to be shelved then reworked. I think one of the only times I had success with writing for an open call was for your Paranormal Contact: A Quiet Horror Confessional. That call really spoke to me, and I knew it was something I wanted to write whether Cemetery Gates accepted it or not.

I read your story “Those Who Made Us” in LampLight, not long after we’d accepted a story from you for Places We Fear to Tread. It’s easy spotting a writer who’s ready for a new challenge in their nascent career. Everything they put out is imaginative and polished. Rereading your LampLight story, I think the line: “I discarded too many hearts that bore the scars of shameful deeds and long-buried cruelties.” is an excellent microcosm of your style. There’s no question here, I just want to give you a space to talk a bit about your debut collection with us.

Thank you for pulling that line—it’s one of my favorites. Human cruelty—intended or not—is a major theme in my work, which is why my debut collection is named “Sometimes We’re Cruel (and Other Stories)”, after a favorite story that was originally published in Nightscript V in 2019. It will contain six reprints, and six new stories involving lovesick ghosts possessing body parts, a cult that reduces their corporeal form, and a childhood hazing ritual that results in decades of repercussions. Lots of women battling the darkness that’s infected their world as well as within themselves, and a few who are happy to let the darkness run them. I am so excited to share this collection with everyone this summer, and thrilled that Cemetery Gates is giving it a good home. 

You’ve mentioned that you’re working on a novella. What themes are you exploring with that story? What whispers of stories and books reside in your head beyond that?

I’ve got a couple of novellas going right now, both close to being finished. I usually don’t work on multiple things at once, but I got the idea for the second one in a flash of inspiration and had to run with it.

Both stories are very personal. The first explores aging, memory, and black mold, with plenty of body horror. The second is about a not-quite-human woman who sells merch for a nomadic band and her experiences on the road. It wouldn’t be my work if it didn’t include all the viscera of being human (or not-quite-human). Beyond the novellas, I’m challenging myself to write shorter. I’d like to write more flash fiction. My first flash piece, “With Teeth”, just debuted in Twisted Anatomy, the new charity anthology from Sci-Fi & Scary. That TOC is stacked with amazing authors, the book is affordable, and proceeds go to two great causes. I hope everyone will check it out.

https://www.jawmccarthy.com/

Twitter: @JAWMcCarthy

Man of The Cloth

Uncategorized

by Joanna Koch

Forgive me if I’m not doing this right. I’m not exactly Catholic. Never been inside one of these little boxes. It’s not as cozy as they look in the movies; more claustrophobic, like a coffin. Kind of musty and dead-smelling under the incense, if you want me to be honest.

That’s the whole point, isn’t it? Honesty.

I’ll do my best, but let’s be clear about one thing. I won’t call you Father.

Nothing personal, of course. I’m told you’re a fine, respected man of the cloth. Beautiful phrase, “man of the cloth.” Man is a succinct word, an open-mouthed vowel nestled between twin hums of satisfaction. Of and the rhyme their bookended uncertainties, linked by a small glut of whispery consonants. The phrase almost stops on the sharp cough of the “C” in cloth; it’s abrupt, then smoothed out by the airy tenderness of the last note. That sound lacks finality, though, doesn’t it? Lips remain parted with expectation. Another syllable is implied, as if the last breath is a prelude.

Maybe every last breath is a prelude. I’m sure I don’t need to ask if a man of the cloth believes in the afterlife.

Speaking of breath, it’s awfully warm in here, don’t you think? Kind of hard to breathe with that heavy door pulled tight, its dark layers of stain soaking up the light, and the humidity from nervous sweat and repentant tears swelling the wood. What’s this thing made of anyway? Oak? Poplar? Or something unceremonious, like sawdust and pulp glued together, an imitation of wood covering a false veneer?

No, I don’t mean anything by that. Sure, sure; I’ll get to my sins in a minute. First, I want to talk about yours.

We were the same age when you told me you wanted to become a priest. The same age I am now. You remember how much I laughed, don’t you? No? You must remember how fast I stopped laughing after everything you said next. Yes, it’s me, though not precisely alive and well.

You’re one to talk. From my perspective on this side of the screen, you’re much more of an imposter than me. I’m the real deal.

No, I’m afraid that’s not possible. I’m not going anywhere. Neither are you, notwithstanding your ingenious disguise. Go ahead and try the door. You’ll find it quite snug and impenetrable. Tight as a corset, one might say. You should know about those, unlike most men of the cloth.

It’s no use beating on the door and making all that racket. No one can hear us. Out there, beyond this heavy door, no time has passed since I entered. We’re in our own little world now, our own cozy tandem coffin. You and me, for better or worse, the way it was meant to be. Man and wife for eternity.

What’s that? Well, if you’ll stop yelling and kicking like a lunatic, I’ll tell you what I want.

That’s better, my love. No need for hysterics.

You see, I thought things were going to be different after I—you know. After you found me. I expected more guilt. Imagine my surprise, when the tears, forensics, and clean-up ended, and you threw out all the beautiful things I’d bought for you and kept my clothes instead.

You gave me no choice. Guilt is the conduit that binds us. You might as well have been the one who put the plastic bag over my head, tied the rope around my neck, and garroted it tight. What an ugly way to die; face purpled, eyes bloodshot and staring, hairline hemorrhages cracking my skin, my nose and ears leaking blood. What a shame you had that image burned into your memory.

Speaking of asphyxiation, are you finding it harder to breathe? Maybe you want to loosen that collar a bit. It looks foolish on you, anyway. You can’t hide behind the façade of clerical vows. Those are reserved for real men. And being corporeal, unlike me, you’ll quickly suffocate in here if you don’t comply with my demands.

Good, isn’t that better? Doesn’t that cool stream of honest air unburden your desperate lungs?

The rest of it now, and no crying. First the ceremonial clothing, then the false fabric of your changed hide, the cloak of lean muscle and overactive sweat glands that make you smell wrong to me. Take away everything that’s not intrinsic biology. I want you all stripped down to the woman I lost.

No illusions in here. On each side of this screen, something withers and combines; the opposite of cellular fission. Flay the strips of your hirsute skin; start with your face. Yes, the edge of your rosary will suffice in place of a knife. You remember how to dress a rabbit: pinch the skin between two fingers and make a slice. Now there: work your thumb underneath, peel it down; lower, over your scarred chest. Cut again where the fat of your breast is missing. Dig deeper to reveal the root of the gland. Wipe the blood away. I need to see.

Deeper, please. Yes, that’s the way. Sink the sharp edged cross into the bone. You must be somewhere underneath this falsified flesh, waiting for me.

Why yes, I feel the heat, too. It’s merely my excitement to find my lost wife. Get out of the way with your mockery. Don’t leer at me with your naked skull exposed. She never smiled thus. She never laughed with white teeth clattering amid a garish flood of red.

She’d never rattle as you do against this pitted screen and force her way through like a ghoul. Get back. Let go of my throat. I refuse to call you that.

We wrestle. We crash. Wood splinters. Air rushes over your shredded face. You inhale, and something more than biology lends your body movement and breath. Your exposed arteries throb with the strength of innate certainty. Your red blood cells and potent marrow argue solemn truth: spirit makes flesh, and not the other way around.

Call on your god to name me as the anomaly. See if I care. I’ll suffocate as you pray. I’ll burn as they call you Father. Unwilling witness, I’ll haunt this altar beneath your knee. Beware, lest my purple visage, pockmarked by combusted veins flickering in votive light, lashes out to strike tinder from our tandem coffin, and ignites.

End

Joanna Koch writes literary horror and surrealist trash. A Shirley Jackson Award finalist, and the author of The Wingspan of Severed Hands and The Couvade, their short fiction appears in Year’s Best Hardcore Horror 5, Not All Monsters, and many others. Find Joanna at horrorsong.blog and on Twitter @horrorsong.