Fight For Your Life

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Featured Indie Horror Short Horror Stories
Photography by Adam Wilson
Photography by Adam Wilson

Fight if that’s necessary, but run if you can, just so long as you run together. The words of Louis L’Amour echoed in her mind, she had lost so many companions already, it felt like a bad joke. She wiped the residue from her sweaty face with her charred sleeve, there was heat radiating from the building that lay in fiery ruin in front of her. She was alone now. Who could have known the only thing that would kill the creatures was immense heat? Their dying screeches echoed in the night air, but to Jenna, it was a pleasant sound, a sound that meant that sometime—maybe in the near future—that she might be able to sleep through the night without a white-knuckled grasp on her knife. She stood there in careful contemplation, the glow of the fire reflected off of the sweat that crept down her forehead, the light from the fire and the creatures’ screams were likely to bring more of them around and the last thing she needed was to have to blow up another building.

Jenna tucked her lighter back into her jeans pocket and tugged on her ponytail to make sure it was still tight, tied her loose boot laces and slung her bag back over her shoulder. If she could make it to the edge of the forest, she was sure she would be safe for the night. She turned her back to the rubble behind her and squinted into the dark, the tree-line wasn’t too far away—maybe a five-minute jog. Her heart was still racing with adrenaline, so she hopped down from her perch and took advantage of the high. Running into another one of them didn’t even cross her mind, but all the same, her hand was never more than a few inches away from the handle of her knife as she moved briskly through the remnants of the town of her childhood.

She was near to the old gas station when a motion sensor light went off across the street—her breath caught in her throat and she was thankful that her boots hit the wet pavement softly. She ducked behind a gas pump that was out of commission, her eyes were wide as she stared at the hideous creature that was now attacking the bright light above it. It let out a ghastly screech then there was a shatter when the glass hit the ground and the sound resonated throughout the now abandoned main street. She heard a clatter in the alley behind the gas station and she drew her body in as if trying to make her body as small as possible. Her body was glued to the gas pump, shaking as she drew in shallow breaths, trying to not make a sound in the darkness that now consumed her. Heavy thumps against the pavement were all around her, the handle of her knife in her clammy hand was slick with sweat. The adrenaline once again pulsed throughout her body, she readied herself to run when the gas pump was ripped out from behind her, the sound of metal hitting the ground barely noticeable over her own screams as three creatures overtook her.

Originally published on the Official Blog of Mary Farnstrom.

Frequency – A Short Cosmic Horror Story – by Tritone

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Featured Indie Horror Short Horror Stories

“Come on… Come on!” The scent of electric smoke wafted up from the soldering iron on the circuit board as Larry hastily laid down bead after bead connecting the new resistor to the board. He knew if he did not get the power connected back to the ham radio that the signal would be lost forever and the passengers of the Cessna likely would be as well–at least they would be lost to him. He squinted through his thick coke bottle glasses and at five-foot-six his face just peaked over the magnifier on his father’s workbench as he worked the soldering iron. “Yes! There we go…”

 At seventeen-years-old, Larry was dually obsessed with his ham radio and science fiction; despite his mother’s desperate plea for him to find a girlfriend and go out on dates, his preferred mistress was science and his deep desire to discover something heretofore unknown. His father, an electrical engineer, was indifferent to the struggle and disappointment his wife was enduring and instead encouraged his boy to follow his passions.

As a result of his passion-turned-obsession, the garage looked as if it were a Radio Shack fire sale. Wires of all gauges were organized according to size on the walls, circuit boards were haphazardly stacked on the workbench, and there were drawers of neatly organized resistors, capacitors, inductors, transformers, diodes, and transistors were all within the arm’s reach. The noticeable hum of the fluorescent lights kicked on and it was a sound that had grown comforting to Larry–this was his space and in his opinion, there was nothing else like it in the world. Unlike the precarious hallways of his high school, where letter-jacket jocks regularly singled him out for hazing, he was in control in this space. In this place, anything was possible.

The world of technology in 1982 was mostly limited to pre-made kits and their assembly was predetermined by fine-tuned direction manuals–these had never been in Larry’s wheelhouse. In truth, Larry’s pride-and-joy was his ham radio and he spent countless late nights scanning the airwaves for signals, for proof that he could show-off to his friends. Just like his father, he had no love for athletics, he inherited his passion for electronics and radio signals through the bond he had formed with his dad. Due to his father’s pursuits, they had a homemade dedicated high-frequency radio and antenna mounted on his roof that could reach as far north as Alaska given the right weather conditions.

Through countless hours of connecting to other Alaskan radio operators, Larry had acquired a deep knowledge of the wild country–it had quickly become one of his favorite locations to scan. Sometimes he was unfortunate enough to overhear the desperate calls from people far out in the bush begging for loved ones to return home after a death in the family, but aside from those depressing transmissions, he would listen to plane operators as they crossed the most dangerous passes in the unforgiving terrain. Quite often, as Larry learned, bush pilots would go down in the wilderness. The weather could change in the blink of an eye as the wind whipped off of the glaciers at breakneck speeds.

Alaska map including the Alaska Triangle

The wall next to the small desk where the radio sat boasted a large map of Alaska where Larry had pinned all of the locations he had isolated from coordinates of the pilots he had overheard through his transmissions. Over the past year, Larry had learned of what pilots and local Alaskans would refer to as the “Alaskan Triangle,” much like its Bermudan counterpart, it was an area where an inordinate amount of disappearances took place. More than one dinner chat had ended with his mother sighing in exhaustion over the topic, then excusing herself as Larry continued to elaborate on the impact of negative energy fields. His father, still listening intently, would be captivated as Larry shared stories of the pilots he had overheard before they would simply go dark. Larry’s father insisted that it was likely air conditions that had changed and interfered with the signal, but Larry stubbornly continued to compile his little red pins on the map of planes that he believed had disappeared–at least that’s what he could gather in the communications and from the other radio operators who had far more experience with these things.

This time things felt different–it was around seven o’clock in the evening when he had started scanning the channels according to his usual evening routine. This transmission was coming from a twin Cessna, having left Anchorage and was en route to Juneau. That’s just on the outer edge of the triangle, he thought to himself, but other than that initial gut reaction the transmissions sounded fairly standard despite some moderate to mildly unfavorable conditions. Larry assumed for an Alaska Bush pilot that was something along the lines of light snow, winds, and possibly some icing of the instrument panels–he overheard the pilot announce that things were going to be VFR until further notice and they had only been in the air for about a half-hour.

“Approximately one hour till touch down–,” Larry heard the pilot buzz in over the radio, but what came next always made his stomach churn, “six souls on board.” 

The weather took a sudden turn for the worse, the pilot signaled he would be making an emergency landing at the short airstrip in the port town of Whittier, in an attempt to wait out the storm. The pilot must have not released the PTT, because Larry could overhear the pilot being verbally accosted by one of his passengers, it sounded something like–are you crazy? I need to be in Juneau now, campaign deals don’t wait for the weather! The pilot didn’t seem to pay much mind to what Larry had dubbed “the angry politician,” or the other passengers who seemed to also be pressuring him to get them back into the air. With, what Larry assumed was, upstanding ethics, the pilot continued to note the change of flight plans over the radio. Larry could feel his brow scrunch together–he felt an almost sympathetic annoyance for the pilot, for his having to deal with such nasty attitudes.

Larry may have been slightly envious about the pilot’s ability to fly–something he had always been oddly fascinated with, despite his proclivity for tracking plane crashes–what it must be like to be in control of a metal bird defying gravity in the most astounding way. Fifteen minutes after landing the plane, the pilot’s voice buzzed back over the air. From what Larry could make out from between the crackling of the white noise and the pilot’s voice, it seemed as if he was modifying their route further inland in hopes of avoiding the storm when they headed back up. I guess that guy won the argument–he sounded like a dick, he thought to himself.

He absentmindedly scanned the other channels, but there was nothing else coming in at all. From his experience in listening in on these fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants pilots, that meant that no one else was crazy enough to fly tonight. That meant conditions in Alaska tonight must have been especially abhorrent, there weren’t many times where the most experienced bush pilots doubted their ability to keep their birds in the air. Regardless of whether or not this particular pilot had the moxie to brave the skies, this plane was going up–and they were about to fly directly into the sea of red pins on Larry’s map.

“Larry!” he heard his mother summon him, “it’s time for dinner!” He hunched a bit deeper over his workbench and pressed his headset harder against his ears, unsure of whether he would be able to eat, knowing exactly where this pilot and his persistent passengers were headed. Through the buzzing white-noise and whirls, he heard his mother’s high pitched call once again–no, I have to know–but when he heard her use his middle name, he knew that she would just get louder and angrier until he appeased her and god-help-him if he were to make her come get him herself. He’d be lucky to be back on his ham radio again for a month. Ok, ok, I’ll just eat fast and get back here to try to get back on track with this Cessna.

Larry plowed through his hungry man TV dinner, a Wednesday night special at the Donahue’s house, with barely a word. His father, pensive and deep in thought, barely noticed. His mother tried to make some small talk asking about school, friends, and of course hinting about girls. Larry placated her with the general, everything is fine, so he could get back to his radio. He dumped the remnants in the trash and tossed his used fork sloppily into the kitchen sink before he took off back to his sanctuary.

Once back in the garage he turned off the fluorescent lights, sat down at the desk with the warm glow of the radio and small table lamp then donned his white pioneer headphones and stretched the spiral cord to connect the ¼ inch jack to the silver radio. He felt like an astronaut ready for takeoff as his chest grew tight with excitement. Is this plane still up? He felt trepidation as he hunched over the radio and began to scan the range he had first found the plane in. Nothing. Just static. He switched over to 1145, a frequency that several other operators in Alaska frequented.

“This is Larryhue–come in–over.” Again, there was nothing but static, “Larryhue–radio check–come in–over.”

The frequency crackled, more white-noise, there was radio silence until, “Affirmative. Read you loud and clear,” A familiar feminine voice buzzed in through the frequency. “Sharon145 here–how are you tonight? Over.” Larry’s heart quickened, there weren’t many female radio operators and in his teenage daydream, he imagined her in that split second to be a young, beautiful redhead who admired intelligence over height. She sounded about his age, or at least she did in his fantasy image of her.

“Did you catch that Cessna out of ANC about an hour ago? Over.”

“Affirmative. I can’t believe they went back up,” the radio crackled with her concerned tone, “I got a ping as they headed west, but they’ve been silent for about fifteen minutes now. I’ve been checking the other frequencies since–there’s not another pilot in those skies, weather is too choppy. Over.”

Larry was torn between continuing the back-and-forth with Sharon145–something he was all too fond of–and trying to chase the signal that he had caught from the Cessna. His curiosity over the mystery Cessna weighed heavily on him and trumped his desire to talk to what-he-imagined-was his dream girl. “Uhh–thanks Sharon, I’m going to change frequencies to see if I can catch the Cessna again. Stand by. Over.”

“Wilco–Over that,” Sharon’s voice disappeared when Larry quickly turned the dial to scan for any signal from the Cessna. White-noise. Static. Silence. Larry huffed and continued to scan.

“MAYDAY! MAYDAY–This is White Cessna NOVEMBER-357-GOLF, VFR no longer viable–I repeat, zero visibility and high winds–RADIO CHECK–DO YOU READ ME? OVER.” This sudden break in the static knocked the wind out of Larry, he could feel his palms break out in a sweat. “MAYDAY! MAYDAY! Left-engine faulty after mid-air collision–”

WHAT WAS THAT?” Larry thought he heard the angry politician scream in the background.

“–IS ANYONE RECEIVING?” The urgency of the pilot’s voice scared him, he was unsure of what to do, he had never been in this situation. “Flying blind–heading South-Southeast approximately fifty miles out of IEM. Requesting heading for emergency landing. Over.”

A deafening silence followed the pilot’s urgent pleas for help and then he heard the pilot repeat his message, the desperation overrode his professionalism. Larry sat there, his thumb hovering over the PTT, unsure if he should respond, get his dad, or wait to hear if there was an official response by flight control. He froze, his jaw slacked, and his vision blurred–he heard the third and fourth round of the message, each time the passengers could be overheard panicking in the background.

“Cessna NOVEMBER-357-GOLF–” Larry heard himself respond before he realized his mouth was even moving, “this is–uh–ham radio operator Larryhue. Go ahead. Over.” Suddenly Larry felt as if he had never used a radio before in his life–what the hell am I doing? What am I supposed to say to this guy? I can’t help him!

“Larryhue, we need to prepare for an emergency landing–need a heading,” the pilot seemed to have relaxed if only slightly, but Larry was in full panic, he couldn’t possibly be the only one listening in–he waited a moment, hoping beyond hope that flight control would take over the transmission. “Radio check! Larryhue–there’s s-s-something outside of our plane, we need help, do you read me? Over.”

“W-what’s your bearing? Over,” he was just a kid, but he remembered hearing that over the radio, or maybe it was in a movie. Either way, it felt like it was the right question to ask.

“No bearing, VFR until we hit a whiteout, I believe we’re headed South-Southeast, but wind is knocking us off course.”

“I think I see–,” Larry heard another passenger’s voice interject over the static of the transmitter, but instead of the sound of utter fear, it was one of awe, “what is that swirling mass of light–is that the aurora? Is the sky clearing up?”

blank

“No, Senator Boggs–that’s impossible,” Larry heard the pilot respond to the interruption, he hadn’t let go of the PTT. A blood-curdling screech echoed over the static into Larry’s ears, and then a sickening crunch of metal, “what the fu–”

Larry stumbled back off of his stool, ripped his headphones off, and in the process pulled them out of the auxiliary jack completely. All he could hear now was a crackle from the radio, then what sounded like a faint plea for help.

“Crap, I am losing the signal,” he said out loud. “Think Larry… Think.” Then he got the idea to modify the radio. He quickly unplugged the radio, unscrewed the casing, and brought the board over to the workbench. He plugged in the soldering iron and began removing the resistor. He figured if he could amplify the power by adjusting resistance maybe he could catch the signal and at least find out where they were going to crash to send help. Larry expertly swapped the resistors, skipped re-attaching the case, and plugged the radio back in. 

The radio lit back up, the light only slightly stronger than before. “Cessna are you there, this is Larryhue, over.” Silence. Then a crackle. Then the ear-piercing shriek again.

“Help, we need help” cried out a terrified voice. The sound of wind rushing into the cabin made it evident that the pressurized cabin had been breached. “The pilot.. The pilot is dead. Something smashed through into the cabin and took off one of the wings! We’re going down, please help!” The passenger sobbed, horrified, and hysterical.

“I’m going to call for help” Larry replied.

Then a calmer voice came over the radio that stopped Larry from getting up “We’ve stopped descending, I can’t explain it, we’re just level–we’re–we’re surrounded by light in what looks like a swirling mass of color.”

“I think we are in the eye of the storm…” Then another loud crash, louder than before… Beeping… Screaming and a tremendous crash as if they hit another plane. Static. 

“Cessna are you there, Cessna say again.” Nothing. Radio silence and white-noise again. Five minutes passed by and there was still nothing, no transmission. There was just, nothing. Larry sat there, unblinking, and finally realized he needed his father, but he couldn’t move. “DAD! HURRY… PLEASE!” He could barely choke out the words to explain what had happened when his father arrived, they sat there in silence and listened. Larry was grateful that his father believed him, he had heard what he had heard–it was real. He knew it was real.

After a short while, Larry’s father told him to stay on the frequency while he called the authorities to report the transmission, but when his father returned the frequency was still eerily quiet aside from the normal ever-present static. After a few more hours, Larry sighed, his hands had finally stopped shaking and he stood from his stool. He picked up a red pin from the small bowl near his map and placed the pin with resignation in the location in which he believed the plane had gone down. When he stepped back and looked at the broader spectrum of his placed pins within the confines of the Alaskan triangle, it looked like it completed a symbol and it was almost familiar.

Over the next week, Larry scanned the papers for any news of a crashed plane–he even went so far as to call the Alaskan Aviation board, multiple times, but they had no new reports of missing planes. Then it hit him–the pilot had mentioned the name of that angry politician, what was his name? Baggs–something like that. Larry was resolved to find out and the next morning he called the operator, who knew his voice by that point. When Larry retold his story to the annoyed operator, he got a verbal lashing. “What do you think this is, kid? Some kind of joke? I’ve got a job to do here!”

“No–please, I know this sounds crazy, but I heard a name–Senator Baggs, or Boggs, or–”

The operator cut him off, laughing almost maniacally. “Ok kid–I’m done with you pulling my leg, so unless you’ve got a time machine, then this has been fun.” CLICK. The line went dead.

Time machine? Larry was thoroughly confused, but he proceeded back to the library to go through the newspaper archives again, but this time he could narrow it down to Senator Boggs. Or was it Baggs? It took a few hours, but he found it. A headline about the mysterious disappearance of Senator Boggs. His airplane, a White Cessna, had gone missing in Alaska en route to Juneau from the port town of Whittier, but it was the date that made his mouth go dry. October 16, 1972. The plane was never found, but the Senator and the other five souls lost that day had long been assumed dead. It was impossible, but maybe it was just because his eyes were tired after three hours of searching–he rubbed his eyes and checked the date again, 1972. Ten years ago to the date, he had been hearing a decade-old signal.

Of course, when he told his father everything he had found, his father just shook his head, “that’s just not possible Larry. You must have misheard him,” and after that Larry gave up hope convincing his father about what he had heard. Maybe Sharon145 would believe him, after all, they had discussed the Alaskan Triangle more than once before and had passed some harmless conspiracy theories back and forth. It could be a vortex to a parallel universe, or an energy field that could displace time. Larry sat down on his stool in the garage and fired up the radio, but since he hadn’t touched it in the last week, it was still tuned in to the channel from the Senator’s plane.

“MAYDAY! MAYDAY–This is White Cessna NOVEMBER-357-GOLF, VFR no longer viable–I repeat, zero visibility and high winds–RADIO CHECK–DO YOU READ ME? OVER.” There was a brief static-riddled pause. “MAYDAY! MAYDAY! Left-engine faulty after mid-air collision–”

WHAT WAS THAT?” Larry heard the words echoing back to him again and his heart sank indeterminably, through his stomach, through his feet, through the floor–he clicked the radio off. He thought of the passengers in that plane, a ghost signal that echoed over and over again throughout time and space. An infinite loop of living in terror and he simply couldn’t bear listening to it again.

Larry unplugged the radio, set it on one of the less cluttered shelves. He walked to the door that led back to the house, turned to look over his shoulder–the once comforting hum of the fluorescent lighting now made him feel as if his stomach was in a vice. Larry flicked the switch off, then closed the door behind him.


This story is based on the The Alaska Triangle and one its most famous unsolved disappearances – Senator Boggs Plane.

Infernal

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Featured Indie Horror Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers Short Horror Stories

Looking into the mirror, my eyes were bloodshot. Of course they were bloodshot, what did I expect having only slept four hours in the last three days? It was getting to be a pattern and it was starting to take a toll on me. My fluff of a ragdoll cat, Jekyll, stopped midway through weaving himself around my ankles and looked up lovingly at me—his soft mew broke my trance.

“I’m coming Jekyll, you’ve got to let me brush my teeth!” My toothbrush hung lazily in my mouth and I found it difficult to keep from drooling on my clean pajama top—thank god I was single. I caught my eyes again in the mirror before I turned the hot water handle, rinsed off my toothbrush, and spit. There was blood in the sink again, Jesus—was I falling apart? My toothbrush made a hollow clunk as it hit the bottom of the toothbrush holder. When I opened the medicine cabinet, I was greeted by the same rainbow of pill bottles that was waiting for me every night. I emptied Tuesday’s compartment into my hand and tossed the array of antidepressants, vitamins, and sleeping pills back with a handful of water that I splashed up from the spigot. Here I was thinking that these were supposed to make me feel better, but the last few days had proven they weren’t working.

The water splashed down on Jekyll—that was when he let out a pitiful cry and jetted out of the bathroom. I sighed, it was laborious and made my back creak; my shoulders stung with the pain of exhaustion. For a moment, I could have sworn I caught a whiff of smoke, but it was gone as soon as it had appeared. I hastily closed the medicine cabinet, but as the mirror swung closed with a snap, I looked back up at my reflection and my eyes succumbed to my exhaustion. It lived on my face as the puffy purpling bags under my eyes—a desperation for sleep, filled the void within me. When I finally opened my eyes again, I caught a glimpse of something over my shoulder in the mirror, I felt myself start, but before I could even think I had spun around to face—nothing. Just empty space. It felt like the entirety of the Kentucky Derby was stampeding across my chest, the wind was knocked clean out of me. There wasn’t anything there. You’re seeing things, Lorna. Dr. Mason said hallucinations were a possible side effect. Calm down.

I shuffled out of the bathroom and flicked the light switch off behind me. Just seeing things. My feet scuffed the floor in my outrageously fluffy panda slippers and I flopped down into the tangled mass of plush blankets and nest of pillows I had made for myself. Jekyll made his usual rounds after hopping up on the bed, being sure to step down with what seemed the weight of a small child on my stomach before he settled contentedly between my ankles and I drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

It couldn’t have been more than a few hours later when I jerked awake, my tangled hair at the back of my neck soaked in sweat. I had been startled awake by a loud crash that had come from my bathroom. I yelled out at Jekyll, with what I’m sure was more than a few choice swear words, but he stood up at my feet, stretched, and answered me with a trill. My breath caught uncomfortably in my chest and it churned relentlessly with the loud thud of my accelerated pulse. My eyes burned with exhaustion as I made a feeble attempt to see through the inky blackness of my room. I still hadn’t let out that breath. It didn’t feel safe to, not yet.

“Hello?” I heard how shaky my voice was as it came out of me. Yes, Lorna—the killer stalking around your house is totally going to answer you and tell you that they’re there. I reached over to my bedside lamp—CLICKwhatCLICK, CLICKwhy isn’t my lamp turning on? Rummaging through my nightstand drawer revealed a dusty flashlight, prayer aided it being brought back to life despite the likelihood of corroded batteries. If I was going to be murdered in my own home, I would rather see it coming. My bare feet met the cold laminate flooring, a shudder ran through my body, and I felt around for my slippers. My spotlight was fixed on the open bathroom door and I felt as if my eyes were bulging right out of my skull. Any moment, I was sure that I would see someone dashing from the shadows and persistent nausea met that paranoia with gusto.

By the time I had padded silently over to the bathroom door, I felt silly—the emptiness glared back at me like an innocuous April Fool’s joke. I don’t know what I had expected to be there, or what I would have done if there had been something there, for that matter. My exasperation gave me a false confidence and I was just about to turn to go back to bed when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the shower curtain rustle and heard the rings clatter against the tension rod. If I had known how to juggle, I might have caught the flashlight as it leaped out of my hand. I rolled my eyes at my apprehension and snatched the flashlight off of the floor. You’re way too high strung for your own good. It had to be the meds playing tricks on me. None of this was happening; no doubt, waking up in the morning would have me feeling foolish.

Just then, another calamitous crash came from down the hall and any renewed spirit I had gathered drained from me altogether. My knuckles must have turned white due to my vice-grip on the flashlight. Get it together Lorna. My other hand felt for the baseball bat that I had stashed behind my bedroom door. My palms were so sweaty that it felt as if they had been slicked with butter; suffice it to say, it made gripping the bat with any security quite difficult. After abandoning the flashlight on the dresser, I hefted the baseball bat over my shoulder and peeked out of my bedroom around the corner. Without the benefit of the flashlight in my hand, I struggled to see through the darkness of the hallway, but I had decided that if there was someone in my home they were going to get a fight.

I stepped down the hallway in silent trepidation, the clatter of drawers opening, closing, then opening again, and then a cacophony of silverware clattering to the floor. Each step brought me closer to the sinister orange glow that bathed the walls with flickering shadows. Another step and a sudden crash of my metal barstools caused me to jump so high I could have sworn my head brushed the ceiling. Paralyzed in fear, I grasped the baseball bat tightly to my chest and pressed myself against the wall, as if trying to make myself smaller. Go, Lorna, just go! I forced myself off of the wall and gripped the bat with new conviction, a surge of adrenaline propelled me forward and into the kitchen.

What I saw myself come face to face with was enough to elicit the kind of scream that clawed its way out from my gut. A figure of a man being devoured in flames stood hunched amid the destruction and spreading fire in my kitchen—wherever the flames danced upon his skin, the flesh hung off of him in charred strips. His black eyeless sockets turned to me, but my eyes were fixated on his twisted features, where the fire had melted his face it sagged off his jaw and exposed the charred bone beneath. I clutched the bat feebly as he rose to stand upright and began to slowly amble toward me.

My feet carried me backward, mirroring his footsteps and I saw that each step revealed scorched floorboards; I continued stepping back, unblinking, the heat dried my eyes, they began to burn. I heard a hiss at my feet but stumbled over Jekyll before I could register he was even there. The man lunged toward me and in a knee-jerk reaction, I swung the bat off of my shoulder with as much force as I could muster. I was stunned to find it only caught air on its way through the man’s form and adopted a fast-burning flame. The baseball bat burned like a torch as it sunk into the drywall on the other side of the figure. The flames spread up as if fed by gasoline and rage and before I knew it they blanketed the ceiling above me.

The man was unfazed by my assault, his arms still reached for me. Without hesitation, I scooped up a growling Jekyll and scrambled clumsily back through my bedroom door and slammed it behind me. He was squirming violently in my arms, his fearful anticipation brought his claws down hard into my shoulder, but I held him tighter as I witnessed that same orange glow filter in under the gap of my door. Shit, shit, shit… Smoke rose from under the door, flames soon followed and I felt the sharp edge of my bedside table bite the back of my bare thigh.

Fire consumed my door as if it was comprised of nitrate film—what the fuck—I couldn’t open my window fast enough and doing so while holding on to my wrathful ragdoll was practically impossible. He spit angrily at the combusting monstrosity that stepped through the curtain of fire that used to be my door. Fuck this. I gave my window a good shove and it let out a loud whine. Jekyll was the first through, but before I could follow an excruciating pain shot through my leg—and then I fell and everything went black.

When I came to, I was laying on my back and could feel the hard chill of the sidewalk beneath me. I could hear someone call, “she’s awake,” but I could only see blackness and the outlines of two people above me.

“Miss—,” I heard a deep husky voice and I knew it was addressing me, but I didn’t know how to make my body respond to it. “Miss—Jones?” Another figure appeared above me, and they all slowly came into focus. A police officer was addressing me abreast the two EMTs who then disappeared from my view—when I tried to sit up, they jumped to help me, and the dull ache in the back of my head became more pronounced.

Ten minutes went by and my eyes were still dry from being overwhelmed with smoke. I mindlessly clutched my singed and shaken blackened mop of a cat, his claws clung tentatively to the blanket I had draped over my shoulders. I was surprised they had found him at all. The cold curb bit at my exposed legs, but the heat radiating from the blaze behind me reminded me that I much preferred the cold at this very instant. I could hear as my roof cracked and caved in under the burden of the fast-moving fire. The insurance company is never going to believe this… I’m so screwed.

“Are you alright to speak with me now, Miss Jones?” The police officer was back to ask his questions. He probably thinks I did this myself. I blinked repeatedly until I was able to break my gaze away from the darkness across the street. When I finally was able to look up at him, I saw he was looking at me as if I were an escaped mental patient—the 911 operator had sent everything but the kitchen sink after a neighbor had called to report a scream and smoke coming from my home. I’ll have to find out who it was so I can thank them.

“What was it you said was the cause of the blaze?”

“I—I’m not sure.” It wasn’t entirely a lie if I didn’t know what the hell I had just seen in my home, was it?

“What happened right before the blaze broke out?”

“Sleep, I was sleeping, my cat woke me up and I was headed to the kitchen.” I still wasn’t technically lying.

“The ambulance is going to take you to the hospital to treat you for smoke inhalation and those burns on your ankles.” I had already had enough strange eyes on me tonight, so the idea of being under the watchful eye of strangers made me shiver. Even though I knew I would soon be laying in a hospital bed with a nurse dressing my wounds, I started to feel sick. It was a deep, relentless, twisting anxiety that told me the burning man may have gone up in flames with my home, but that it wouldn’t be the last time I saw him.

Interview with Horror Author Laird Barron

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Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books Short Horror Stories

Recently, Puzzle Box Horror had the privilege of speaking with horror author Laird Barron about his life, his work, and his influences. Laird, an expat Alaskan, is the author of several books, including The Imago Sequence and Other Stories; Swift to Chase; and Blood Standard. Currently, Barron lives in the Rondout Valley of New York State and is at work on tales about the evil that men do.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

Picture of author Laird Barron
Photo Credit: Ardi Alspach

I started writing as a kid. I was into science fiction and fantasy–Star Trek, Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings. The typical pop culture stuff in the 1970s. When my family relocated from the suburbs to the wilderness, things took a darker turn. I enjoyed telling stories to my younger brothers. We spent many a winter night alone with snow and wind pressing against the cabin and our parents off to town. My siblings were particularly riveted by the spookier tales. Eventually, that translated to my writing horror. I experimented with high fantasy and various kinds of science fiction. Ultimately, it became clear that my affinity for the macabre outstripped everything else.

Has growing up in Alaska influenced your writing at all?

She left a mark. With rare exceptions, I didn’t write about Alaska until more recently. I’d gained distance but needed time. The geography and climate have always strongly influenced my work. Alaska was all about rough edges and extremes. The weather, the people, the swing between months of light and darkness…

I haven’t been back since ’96, but I dream of it often. It’s a lot of psychic pressure heaving against the bulwark of a dam. Past few years, I’ve vented more of it into my stories. Still haven’t decided how I feel about that turn of events except to acknowledge what’s done is done.

The Imago Sequence by Laird Barron book cover
The Light is the Darkness by Laird Barron book cover
Occultation by Laird Barron book cover

You’ve written a wealth of short stories. Do you have any favorites?

Over time, a writer’s career reveals a sort of fossil record of their obsessions. Twenty years on, I’ve published enough stories to see them as delineating several different modes. The crime/noir mode; the contemporary weird mode; the science fiction/fantasy mode. First person posthumous… Most of it horror-inflected. Which is a roundabout way of saying, it’s tough to objectively determine a favorite or most “successful” piece of work because there’s a real apples and oranges element. But…

Personal favorite: “Andy Kaufman Creeping through the Trees.”

Best: “Parallax.”

Creepiest: (and for me, creepy is paramount) A forthcoming story I sold to Ellen Datlow called “Tiptoe” for her Shirley Jackson tribute anthology—When Things Get Dark.

Are there any anthologies or magazines that you are particularly excited to have been published in?

I’m grateful to every last editor who has made a place for me in their magazines and anthologies.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction set the tone for my career. It was, and might still be, the Holy Grail for writers tilling the science fiction/fantasy/horror fields. The heavyweights were featured there since 1949. King’s Dark Tower was serialized in those pages. Zelazny and Bradbury wrote stories for the mag. I’ve only become more aware of the importance of selling my first handful of pro stories to Gordon Van Gelder—two of which were cover novellas. There are world-renowned bestselling novelists who moan and groan to this day because they were never able to crack the ToC. So, yeah, a big, big deal.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction June cover
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction May cover

Penning introductions and afterwords for collectors’ editions of Ray Russell’s The Case Against Satan; Jim Thompson’s Pop 1280; Peter Straub’s KOKO; and Michael Shea’s The Autopsy & Other Tales.

I’m also proud to have work reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s anthologies. You’re doing all right when Ellen takes an interest in your writing.

What scares you the most?

The declining state of the world should be enough to scare anyone.

What/who are some of your major influences?

Now, there’s a topic. My blood type is labeled “the ecstasy of influence.” I break down this incomplete list into three stages of life.

Adolescent: DM’s Guide, especially Appendix N; Edgar Rice Burroughs; Robert E. Howard; Roger Zelazny; Stephen King; Clive Barker; Edgar Allan Poe; Robert Service; Louis L’Amour; etc, etc.

Adult: Shirley Jackson; Jack Vance; Karl Edward Wagner; Robert Parker; John D MacDonald; Anne Sexton; Peter Straub; Michael Shea; Charles Simic; Mark Strand; etc, etc.

Old Man Winter: Livia Llewellyn; Stephen Graham Jones; John Langan; Paul Tremblay; S.P. Miskowski; Kelly Link; Aimee Bender; etc, etc.

Blood Standard by Laird Barron book cover
Black Mountain by Laird Barron book cover
Worse Angels by Laird Barron book cover

We talk to a fair amount of new writers. What tips would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started based on what you know now?

Like plenty of other people, I’ve my share of regrets. Career missteps aren’t among them, happily. By the time I started publishing, I’d spent twenty-odd years preparing for the day. I’d done my research and had a clear vision of the writer I wanted to be. That and some career advice from Gordon Van Gelder put me in a decent position.

A sentiment I carry from childhood? If you want to make art, make art. If your family and friends are supportive, wonderful. If not, fuck ‘em. The world pays lip service to pursuing your dreams, but the cold reality is that lots of people will act as living roadblocks to your dreams. The worst of the worst will profess to hold your best interests at heart. Don’t let them steal your fire.

Can you tell us anything about what you’re currently working on?

I’m working on a dark fantasy/horror novel and a handful of stories for upcoming anthologies. If all goes well, I’ll also hand my agent the next horror collection late this year, or early 2022.

If you’re interested in learning more about Laird Barron, check out his website at www.lairdbarron.wordpress.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@LairdBarron) and Goodreads (@Laird_Barron). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.

On the Verge: Folk Horror Authors – Part 2

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Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers Short Horror Stories Women in Horror

The “On the Verge” series at Puzzle Box Horror is all about highlighting horror authors who are standouts in various genres. Some of these authors are bigger names in the industry, but many of them are indie writers who publish through small presses or self-publish. The point is to emphasize these fine folks and their contribution to a specific genre, enlightening the reader while also bringing attention to the authors and their work.

In our last post in the series we focused specifically on authors who write in the folk horror genre. Because the genre is such a favorite of ours, and because there are just so many great stories in this category, we decided to put together a second article featuring additional authors. So prepare to dive back into the realm of isolation, folklore, and supernatural mystery as we present six authors of folk horror you need to be reading!

Adam Nevill

Adam Nevill folk horror author photo

Adam L.G. Nevill was born in Birmingham, England, in 1969 and grew up in England and New Zealand. He is an author of horror fiction. Of his novels, The Ritual, Last Days, No One Gets Out Alive and The Reddening were all winners of The August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel. He has also published three collections of short stories, with Some Will Not Sleep winning the British Fantasy Award for Best Collection, 2017. Imaginarium adapted The Ritual and No One Gets Out Alive into feature films and more of his work is currently in development for the screen. The author lives in Devon, England. 

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

I’m a British writer of horror. This year’s novel, Cunning Folk, will be my tenth novel published and I have three short story collections available too. Since my Dad read me the ghost stories of M. R. James when I was a child, horror has always been the fiction I’ve wanted to write and the field that I’ve wanted to contribute to. I’ve been writing horror since 1995 and my short fiction was first published in 2003, my first novel, Banquet for the Damned, in 2004. I’m a horror lifer and an enthusiast for horror in fiction, film and comics. I pretty much set my goal on becoming a horror writer in my mid-teens, way back in the 1980s.

My break to the next level from the underground of small presses and series fiction to the international publishers happened in 2009, when my second and third novels were taken on by Pan MacMillan in the UK. They were Apartment 16 and The Ritual. Horror had been out of vogue for a long time in publishing, but when it returned to favour, a door opened.

I am now in my third decade as a writer of horror. It took me ten years to complete the first three novels so it’s been a slow, steady evolution for my career. I now have my own imprint for some of my titles, Ritual Limited, and two of my novels have been adapted into films. No One Gets Out Alive will be out this year on Netflix. The Ritual was the first film adapted from my novel of the same name.

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No One Gets Out Alive book cover with dark house

2. We talk to a fair amount of new writers. What tips would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started based on what you know now?

I developed as a writer within the old, traditional route: you had to get an agent to even get a publisher to read a line of your work. It took me 11 years to find an agent. There was no indie publishing as we know it today, or Amazon KDP, hardly any small presses, the internet was small or non-existent etc. But I guess, I’d tell my younger self not to despair so much during the first 15 years, nor to be so extreme about my mission. My endeavours seemed futile for a long time and yet I remained driven – the way of angst. Flipside, I never gave up and focused on what was important – reading, studying writing and, of course, writing more.

I’d mainly insist that my younger self be better informed about publishing and the book trade and how the business works. I didn’t really start figuring that out until 2005, when I became a fiction editor. But the basics of becoming a writer I’d mercifully grasped in adolescence: to read the best writers in the field and to read widely beyond horror. Learning to rewrite early on was transforming for my work too.

3. What are some of your favorite aspects of the folk horror genre?

I’ve always found elements of folk stories, folk culture and pagan mythology equally enthralling and grotesque – it’s that combination of mystery and the ghastly that drew me in imaginatively. Particularly certain details that seem almost credible, as if folklore has a basis in something intangible but genuinely supernormal.

In Great Britain we’ve no end of ghost stories and a long tradition of believing in witchcraft, hauntings and curses. I’m surrounded by inspiration; a sense of ancient presences, pagan deities, charmed locales that can influence the human mind and even whole communities. So much of a strange and unknowable past is buried in this island. Much of it no one understands so it’s enigma is appealing; so the idea of the present being affected by what is hidden or misunderstood or obscured by time appeals to me.

I live by two cave systems that contained treasure troves of prehistoric artefacts; I can see the scars of the last ice ages on the landscape around my home; and almost anywhere you go in Britain, you will see vestiges and relics of a darker and more superstitious time. This really distilled in my novel, The Reddening.

So, I guess my favourite aspect of folk horror would be its aesthetic, be it ancient or modern.

The Wicker Man movie poster
Midsommar movie poster
Blair Witch movie poster

4. What are your top three favorite folk horror books (and/or films)?

I’ll go with film: The Wicker Man, Midsommar & The Blair Witch Project.

If you’re interested in learning more about Adam Nevill, check out his website at www.adamlgnevill.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@AdamLGNevill), Instagram (@adamlgnevill), and Goodreads (@Adam_Nevill). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.

William Meikle

William Meikle folk horror author photo

William Meikle is a Scottish writer, now living in Canada, with more than thirty novels published in the genre press and over 300 short story credits in thirteen countries. He has books available from a variety of publishers including Dark Regions Press, Crossroad Press and Severed Press, and his work has appeared in a number of professional anthologies and magazines. He lives in Newfoundland with whales, bald eagles and icebergs for company. When he’s not writing he drinks beer, plays guitar, and dreams of fortune and glory.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

I write to escape.

I grew up in the sixties and seventies on a West of Scotland council estate in a town where you were either unemployed or working in the steelworks, and sometimes both. Many of the townspeople led hard, miserable lives of quiet, and sometimes not so quiet, desperation. I was relatively lucky in that both my parents worked, but I spent a lot of time alone or at my grandparent’s house.

My Granddad was housebound, and a voracious reader. I got the habit from him, and through him I discovered the Pan Books of Horror and Lovecraft, but I also discovered westerns, science fiction, war novels and the likes of Mickey Spillane, Ed McBain, Alistair MacLean, Dennis Wheatley, Nigel Tranter, Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov. When you mix all that together with DC Comics, Tarzan, Gerry Anderson and Dr Who then, later on, Hammer and Universal movies on the BBC, you can see how the pulp became embedded in my psyche.

When I was at school these books and my guitar were all that kept me sane in a town that was going downhill fast. The steelworks shut and employment got worse. I -could- have started writing about that, but why bother? All I had to do was walk outside and I’d get it slapped in my face. That horror was all too real.

So I took up my pen and wrote. At first it was song lyrics, designed (mostly unsuccessfully) to get me closer to girls.

I tried my hand at a few short stories but had no confidence in them and hid them away. And that was that for many years.

I didn’t get the urge again until I was past thirty and trapped in a very boring job. My home town had continued to stagnate and, unless I wanted to spend my whole life drinking (something I was actively considering at the time), returning there wasn’t an option.

Operation Congo book cover
Operation Syria book cover
Operation North Sea book cover

My brain needed something, and writing gave it what was required. That point, back thirty years ago, was like switching on an engine, one that has been running steadily ever since.

It’s been a slow and steady progression, from UK small press pay in copies markets for much of the nineties, to getting a novel published in the USA in 2001, then starting to hit the pro short story market, and finding a home for novels with the higher end small presses. I went full time in 2007 and I’ve now got over 30 novels, a whole load of novellas and over 300 short stories in print, including a success story in my current S-Squad series where a bunch of sweary Scottish squaddies fight a ‘monster of the week’ in each book. (I’ve managed to shoehorn in some folklore, Scottish stuff in particular)

2. We talk to a fair amount of new writers. What tips would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started based on what you know now?

Two things:

I’d have started earlier. I didn’t get going until i was 34ish, and now regret leaving it so late. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. That’s the simplest yet best advice you’ll get.

The other thing is to develop a thick skin. Rejection doesn’t mean you’re crap, just that you sent the wrong thing to the wrong editor at the wrong time. Keeping your bum in your chair and keeping going is the best way to cope with it.

3. What are some of your favorite aspects of the folk horror genre?

I love the sense of deep time. It’s something I miss since leaving Scotland. I have a deep love of old places, in particular menhirs and stone circles, and in the past I’ve spent quite a lot of time travelling the UK and Europe just to visit archaeological remains in places like Orkney, Salisbury Plain, Carnac, Malta and Crete.

I also love what is widely known as “weird shit”. I’ve spent far too much time surfing and reading Fortean, paranormal and cryptozoological websites. The cryptozoological stuff that’s embedded, particularly in Celtic folklore with its tales of kelpies, selkies, black dogs and lake monsters especially fascinates me, and provides a direct stimulus for a lot of my fiction.

The Ceremonies book cover
The Owl Service book cover
Night of the Demon movie poster

4. What are your top three favorite folk horror books (and/or films)?

Books:

  • The Ceremonies by T.E.D Klein – the masterpiece of the genre. I learn something new from it with each reading
  • The Owl Service by Alan Garner – fifty years plus on from my first reading and it’s still as tight and unsettling as ever
  • “Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner – OK, it’s a short story, but its just about the best folklore related fiction there is

Films:

  • The Wicker Man – oft imitated, never bettered
  • The Witch – my favorite of the recent bunch purely for the consistency of vision. A remarkable work.
  • Night of the Demon – my all time favorite, and the thing that hooked me on the genre all those years ago.

If you’re interested in learning more about William Meikle, check out his website at www.williammeikle.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@williemeikle), Instagram (@williammeikle4595), and Goodreads (@William_Meikle). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.

Tracy Fahey

Tracy Fahey folk horror author picture

Tracy Fahey is an Irish fiction writer. In 2017, her debut collection The Unheimlich Manoeuvre was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award for Best Collection. She has published two further collections; New Music For Old Rituals (2018, Black Shuck Books) and I Spit Myself Out (2021, Sinister Horror Company) and one novel, The Girl in the Fort (2017, Fox Spirit Books).

Fahey’s short fiction is published in over thirty American, British, Australian and Irish anthologies including Stephen Jones’ Best New Horror, Nightscript V, and Uncertainties III, and her work has been reviewed in the TLS and Black Static. In 2019, her short story “That Thing I Did” received an Honourable Mention from Ellen Datlow in The Best Horror of the Year Volume Eleven.

Fahey holds a PhD on the Gothic in visual arts, and her non-fiction writing on the Gothic and folklore has appeared in Irish, English, Italian, Dutch and Australian edited collections. Her writing has been commissioned by visual artist Marie Brett and the Crawford College of Art. She has been awarded residencies in Ireland and Greece.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

Horror has always fascinated me; even as a child I was enthralled by stories my grandmother told me about local dark folklore—tales of the banshee, ghosts and other supernatural occurrences. My very first job (when in school) was writing and doing readings of my own short stories on a local radio station. Those stories borrowed heavily (and unapologetically) from authors who intrigued me, Edgar Allan Poe, Guy de Maupassant, Ray Bradbury…and the writers of Misty, the British paranormal comic for girls. So my roots in horror came from folklore, storytelling, reading and writing.

However, life intervened, and for a few decades I focused on work, teaching and writing on visual arts and design. But my allegiance to horror deepened, and after a severe illness which left me in recovery mode for about a year, I started to tentatively write. I was drawn towards one of my obsessions, the idea of the dark home and its roots in Irish culture. And from this source I began to write short stories which found homes in several anthologies by Fox Spirit Press, Hic Dragones, Dark Minds Press and other small presses. Three years later, I had finished my PhD (on the Gothic home in Irish visual art) and my first collection, The Unheimlich Manoeuvre, which was published in 2016 by Boo Books, and has been reprinted twice by the Sinister Horror Company; in 2018 and again, in a deluxe edition, in 2020.

Five years later, I’ve written several more books, two of them explicitly exploring folk horror – my YA novel The Girl In The Fort (2017, Fox Spirit Press) and my second collection, New Music For Old Rituals (2018, Black Shuck Books) – and a third collection on female body horror, I Spit Myself Out (2021, Sinister Horror Company).

The Unheimlich Manoeuvre book cover with house
New Music for Old Rituals book cover
I Spit Myself Out book cover

2. We talk to a fair amount of new writers. What tips would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started based on what you know now?

Read everything. Although the primary genres I write in are the Gothic and folk horror, I have very catholic tastes. I read omnivorously, and always have. It’s through reading you find what you admire, that you find new ways to write. And because I read across genres, it gives me a bigger lens through which to analyse the writing of others—seeing what works and what doesn’t.

Write without fear, and write what you love. Tap in to what obsesses you. For me it this continues to be ideas of liminality, the uncanny, the body, and dark folklore. Explore it. Write authentically. Write what you’d like to read. Find your comfort medium; poetry, short stories, novellas, novels. And when you find your narrative, your medium and your voice, just experiment with writing out these passions and finding different ways to do it.

Submit. I can’t emphasise this one strongly enough. Although you start writing for an audience of one—yourself—it’s so wonderful to have your writing read by others. You learn so much from editors, from reviewers. Sure, it takes courage to send work out (and stamina to deal with rejection) but the simple joy of being published and having your work in the public eye is magical. And when you submit, always be mindful of what editors want, how they want it formatted, and be polite and gracious whether work is accepted or not. There are some excellent websites out there such as Submissions Grinder and The Horror Tree which advertise upcoming submission genre opportunities.

Go to conventions. Another game-changer for me was discovering the British genre scene through conventions. It’s where I met my tribe, people I have subsequently worked with, edited with, written with, and, most importantly, become friends with. It’s not only where you network but where you genuinely connect with others who are on a similar mission.

3. What are some of your favorite aspects of the folk horror genre?

That’s a difficult question, as this is one of the genres I’m most drawn to and researched most fully. In 2020 I taught a seminar programme on the Folk Horror Revival in Limerick School of Art and Design. This winter I’m delivering a workshop on Crafting Contemporary Folk Horror at the forthcoming UK Ghost Story Festival which will run in Derby this November 26 th -28 th (for more information on this follow @UKGSFestival on Twitter).

But as a writer, and as an Irish writer, my favourite aspect of folk horror is the idea of reinventing and reinterpreting the folklore of my home country. I have a huge interest in my native Irish folklore since I was a child, and through my academic research I’ve spent a lot of time researching legends, customs and superstitions to do with the home. In my own work I borrow from folklore as inspiration, but the twist I take on it is contemporary. I believe that folklore teaches us a lot about values and community, and I welcome the current folk horror revival which brings a renewed focus to the idea that stories have value, that stories can act as warnings, cautionary tales.

I’m interested primarily in my own cultural history and the idea of connecting to my heritage through folk horror. Although the legends and stories of other cultures fascinate me, I’m aware that I don’t want to appropriate or misuse tropes from other histories. But within my own culture I’m continually learning more about the way folklore changes and reinvents itself. And because Irish folklore is one of the richest in the world due to its flourishing under colonial rule, it’s a never-ending source of inspiration.

I’m also fascinated by ideas of transmission and legacy through storytelling. I’m living proof of how folklore operates in that regard; many of my seminal influences date back to a childhood spent listening to stories. As I don’t have children, writing my interpretation of folklore is one of the ways in which I feel I can actively contribute to the continued growth and diversity of the Irish contemporary folk tradition.

The Hole in the Ground movie cover
To Drown in Dark Water book cover
The Fiend in the Furrows book cover

4. What are your top three favorite folk horror books (and/or films)?

One of my favourite folk horror movies is Ari Aster’s 2019 Midsommar. I’m very interested in contemporary takes on folk horror, and I found this movie intensely satisfying. It keeps true to the tropes of folk horror – outsiders come to a remote community that operates under its own moral imperatives, the importance of tradition, and the necessity of sacrifice for the greater good – but this movie is also outstanding in the way that it becomes an avenue to explore themes like loss and the importance of community. Unlike many horror movies it doesn’t rely on the helpful adjuncts of darkness or jump-scares, instead utilising precepts of the uncanny to create an evocative and intense viewing experience. Furthermore (and without spoiling the movie) it also speaks to ideas of redemption and reconnection. And every time I watch it, I find a different layer, deeper resonances. In terms of folk horror film, also I love Robin Hardy’s 1973 The Wicker Man, and the work of Ben Wheatley – especially Kill List (2011). Special mention also for the 2019 low-key Irish folk horror movie, directed by Lee Cronin, The Hole In The Ground.

Next up on my list is a 2017 non-fiction book by Adam Scovell, Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange, which looks at the roots of folk horror and explores ways in which folk horror has expressed and continues to express itself in different media. It’s a fascinating primer on what the genre is and how it has been explored by various creative practitioners. In terms of non-fiction collections of Irish dark folklore, I’d strongly recommend Meeting The Other Crowd by Carolyn Eve Green and Irish storyteller Eddie Lenihan.

In terms of fiction, we’re spoiled for choice, but I’m going to single out Eden Royce’s 2015 Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror. Eden draws upon her rich Gullah/Geechee heritage to craft visceral horror stories through her lyrical writing and use of sensual language. I’m very much looking forward to reading her 2021 Root Magic, which takes the same source but focuses on ideas of childhood, tradition and, of course, root magic. I also love Steve Toase’s excellent 2021 folk horror collection, To Drown In Dark Water, which showcases his own background and interest in archaeology and folklore, and Priya Sharma’s beautiful collection, All The Fabulous Beasts, which deftly plays with international folk motifs and archetypes using her trademark evocative prose. Special praise also for Nosetouch Press and their folk horror anthologies, The Fiends in the Furrows (2018) and The Fiends in the Furrows II (2020).

If you’re interested in learning more about Tracy Fahey, check out her website at www.tracyfahey.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@TracyFahey) and Goodreads (@Tracy_Fahey). Finally, to purchase her books check out the author on Amazon.

Catherine Cavendish

Catherine Cavendish folk horror author picture

Catherine Cavendish is a writer of horror fiction – frequently with ghostly, supernatural, Gothic and haunted house themes. Her latest novel – In Darkness, Shadows Breathe – is published by Flame Tree Press, as well as the two previous novels The Garden of Bewitchment and The Haunting of Henderson Close. Her latest novella – The Malan Witch – is now out from Silver Shamrock Publishing. Catherine’s Nemsis of the Gods trilogy is out now from Kensington-Lyrical, and she’s had numerous novellas and novels published by Crossroad Press. She lives with a long-suffering husband and a delightful black cat who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt. When not slaving over a hot computer, she enjoys wandering around Neolithic stone circles and visiting old haunted houses.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

I have been writing since I could hold a pencil in my chubby toddler paw. Then it was mostly utter rubbish and balderdash – well, if I’m entirely honest, mainly squiggles. Then I learned how to read and write properly and we had these English lessons at school where we were required to write essays. Now, the other kids used to groan when faced with an essay to compose. Me? I would have shouted “Bring it on” if people did indeed shout that at the time. I settled for the more commonly used “Groovy” instead. (Yes, I am THAT old).

The years passed, I left school, went to work, read loads. Found my favourite fiction genres were Historical, Crime and… you guessed it…Horror. I continued to write, but essays had long given way to short stories and novels. I went through the gamut of romance, children’s, historical, and crime but found increasingly that everything I wrote tended toward the ghostly, supernatural and horror. From there it was a short step into writing my first horror novel. Ironically it could be described as folk horror as it centred on the ancient stone circles at Avebury in Wiltshire. This story was never published and has been lost along the way, but I learned a lot from writing it – significantly that of all the genres I had attempted, horror was my far and away favourite.

Some years later, an editor agreed with me, and I signed my first publishing contract.

The Garden of Bewitchment book cover
The Malan Witch book cover

2. We talk to a fair amount of new writers. What tips would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started based on what you know now?

Read. Read, Read. Now this is a lesson I learned very early on. If you want to write in a particular genre, make sure you’ve read extensively in it. Make sure you know what works and what doesn’t. Focus on authors who you admire and read their work critically. What is it that hooks you in? What keeps you reading? How can you make your dialogue sound realistic (quick tip – read it out loud as if you are rehearsing a play). Look at how they manipulate the rules of language to improve the story, quicken or slow down the pace. Also read other genres. In other words, learn your craft.

Remember a first draft is merely that. The first draft. Once it’s down on paper, that’s when the real writing begins. Whoever said “novels aren’t written, they’re rewritten” knew their stuff.

Get a first-class beta reader (or more if you prefer). This should be someone who is literate, knows how to craft a good story and is a reader in your genre – in other words, your target market. When they offer constructive criticism, take it on the chin. You’re going to need the hide of a rhino so might as well start now.

And of course, be tenacious. If you are writing what you love and loving what you write, as well as continuing to grow as a writer, chances are that one day someone is going to like what you do enough to take a chance on you.

3. What are some of your favorite aspects of the folk horror genre?

The sheer breadth, scope and variety out there. So many wonderfully different stories have been woven around the folklore myths and legends surrounding Mothman, Big Foot , the Green Man, Salem, Pendle and much, much more. I particularly find myself drawn to Asian tales handed down through generations and involving some pretty gruesome creatures and ghosts. Myths and folklore from around the world have provided the inspiration for a host of films such as The Curse of La Llorona, The Ring, The Wicker Man and a host of others.

I also love the way that, with such a wealth of extraordinary material existing out there, it is still possible to successfully create your own folk horror myth. The Babadook is but one example of this and Adam Nevill’s The Ritual and The Reddening are others. As a folk horror writer, you are never short of ideas once you tap into folklore and let your imagination do the rest.

The Hungry Moon book cover
Those Who Came Before book cover
The Ritual book cover

4. What are your top three favorite folk horror books (and/or films)?

This is a tough one because there are so many. I’ll stick with books because the minute I add films into the equation, my head explodes.

One of my favourite horror authors is the great Ramsey Campbell who has the ability to craft superb folk horror tales of which there are many examples throughout his long career to date. It’s tough to choose just one but I’ll settle on The Hungry Moon.

J.H. Moncrieff is a Canadian writer who has been emerging as a real talent, taking a creepy folklore tradition and turning it into a scary, twisted folk horror tale. One outstanding example I have loved recently is Those Who Came Before.

I couldn’t leave Adam Nevill out. His writing and ability to weave a twisted, frightening tale keep me awake at night. As with the other two, he has a number of examples of great stories within the folk horror tradition. I know I’ve mentioned it before but I’ll pick The Ritual which, if I were also to include folk horror films, would almost certainly make the cut. Read the book first though!

If you’re interested in learning more about Catherine Cavendish, check out her website at www.catherinecavendish.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@Cat_Cavendish), Instagram (@catcavendish), and Goodreads (@Catherine_Cavendish). Finally, to purchase her books check out the author on Amazon.

Tony Evans

Tony Evans folk horror author photo

Tony Evans is a crafter of horror and dark fiction, father, wildlife biologist, and member of the Horror Writers Association. Originally from the Appalachian foothills of eastern Kentucky, Tony grew up listening to stories about mountain monsters and holler witches, and his love for these folktales shows in his writing. While he enjoys all types of horror, he definitely has a hard preference for stories about dark entities, demons, witches, and boogeymen. Tony has published over twenty short horror stories in various online and print anthologies and magazines to date. His debut short story collection – Better You Believe – was released in February of 2019, and his debut novel – Sour – was released in October of 2019. He currently lives in New Albany, Indiana where he spends his time coming up with bad story ideas and trying to entertain his wife and two young daughters – his favorite little monsters.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

Well, my name is Tony Evans (not the preacher…haha) and I was born and raised in Eastern Kentucky in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. When I was about four years old, my dad started telling me stories about “holler witches”, Bloody Bones, and mountain monsters and I guess those stories just kinda stuck.

As I grew older and started traveling outside of the area, I found that people not familiar with the region really seemed to enjoy when I would retell all of those old tales from the mountains, and so I decided to start writing them down. I guess I just wanted to tell the stories that my dad told to me as a child in the hopes that someone else found them just as fun and fascinating as I did and still do.  

2. We talk to a fair amount of new writers. What tips would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started based on what you know now?

If I could go back in time, I think I would give myself two pieces of advice regarding writing.

First, I would tell myself that rejection is not a bad thing. It happens to EVERYONE who writes. No matter how good you think that story you’re writing is, and no matter how much you work on it and do everything you can to get it in the best possible shape it can be in before you submit it…chances are that it, or another one you send, will get rejected. It’s just a part of the game. I’ll never forget the first short story I ever did. I was absolutely sure it would be a huge hit. I’d send it in (to a very well known small press, actually), the editor would fall all over themselves trying to buy it from me, and I’d get rich! Boy, was I wrong! However, the editor was kind enough to give me some pointers on my mistakes, and there were many,  free to sort of help me along. Since then he and I have become pretty good friends. I’ve still not sold that story, come to think of it…but it’s going in a collection I’m putting out in a month or so. Point is, rejection happens to everyone, and it helps you grow as a writer.

Better You Believe by Tony Evans cover
Sour by Tony Evans cover

The second piece of advice, and this one I’ve found to be very important, I got from a talk given by one of the masters of short fiction, Ray Bradbury. During his keynote address of the Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, Bradbury said, and I quote, “Get rid of those friends of yours who make fun of you and don’t believe in you. When you leave here tonight, go home, make a phone call, and fire them. Anyone who doesn’t believe in you and your future, to hell with them.”. To this day, this quote makes me cry. It’s so important to surround yourself with people who believe in you and want you to succeed. I think a lot of writers are pushed away from what they love because someone in their family or some of their so called friends say things like, “that’s a fun little hobby, but…”, or “well, that sounds cute, but what do you do for a real job?”. So, as Ray Bradbury said, I’d tell my younger self to hell with them!

3. What are some of your favorite aspects of the folk horror genre?

I typically look at folk horror as something rooted in folklore/local urban legends and/or something that’s sort of derived from traditional religious backgrounds, magic, or witchcraft in general. The way that folklore, even in today’s modern age, persists in spite of all the technological and scientific advances is just amazing in my opinion. I always tell people that I don’t believe in any of that stuff, and I consider myself agnostic…but I can remember that even as a child I was scared to death that I’d walk through my house and see Jesus standing there. Very irrational, I know, as Jesus is supposed to be a symbol of good. It’s the thought of seeing something I can’t explain that scared me, and still kinda does. I guess that means that I have to believe in something, deep down, perhaps.

So my favorite aspect of folk horror is how the stories linger, the way they persist throughout the years no matter what, and the fact that the whole genera sort of falls in a realm where science can’t prove or disprove the content’s existence…kinda like the twilight zone. That has always fascinated me.

The Witch movie poster with raven
Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt cover

4. What are your top three favorite folk horror books (and/or films)?

  • The VVitch – hands down one of my favorite movies of the last 50 years.
  • The Ritual by Adam Nevill, both the book and the movie – a fantastic modern-day folk horror story.
  • HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt – one of the best witch books written. This novel is a fantastic blend of aged traditions and modern-day society.

If you’re interested in learning more about Tony Evans, check out his website at www.tonyevanshorror.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@TonyEvansHorror), Instagram (@tonyevanshorror), and Goodreads (@Tony_Evans). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.

Mary Rajotte

Mary Rajotte folk horror author pic

Canadian author Mary Rajotte has a penchant for penning nightmarish tales of folk horror and paranormal suspense. Her work has been published in a number of anthologies and she is currently querying her first novel. Sometimes camera-elusive but always coffee-fueled, you can find Mary at her website http://www.maryrajotte.com or support her Patreon for exclusive fiction at patreon.com/maryrajotte.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

As one of the resident Goths at my high school, it’s no surprise that my first dark writing was poetry. In my last year, I took a Writer’s Craft class where I wrote a vampire story inspired by Anne Rice and that’s when I realized I wanted to write for a living. My paternal grandmother was a writer. Her stories were more literary tales about her life growing up, but I’ve always been inspired by her and her drive to continue writing, even after her health declined. 

Thicker Than Water book cover with house
Women of the Woods book cover with bird

2. We talk to a fair amount of new writers. What tips would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started based on what you know now?

Don’t be afraid to experiment and let go of the reins a bit. I still have trouble with that myself. I’m a plotter by nature but I sometimes feel I can be a little too rigid so I’m trying to follow my writerly instincts more and allow myself to have more fun. I also encourage new writers to continue honing their craft by trying new things and embracing their interests. Now that I have fully embraced my own love for folklore, superstitions and darker themes, I feel I have found my voice. 

3. What are some of your favorite aspects of the folk horror genre?

I love superstition and folklore not just for the stories but the reasoning behind them. I’ve come across some of the strangest tales that make me wonder why people believed them. And there’s pretty much a superstition for everything! Like, who ever came up with the idea that taking a tooth from a dead man’s skull and wearing it on your person would prevent toothaches? Or burying the hair cut from the head of an ill person in the ground would cause their sickness to molder away in the earth and they would be cured? These little seeds are just the thing to inspire the types of strange tales I love to tell. 

The Witch movie poster
Gwen movie poster
Pyewacket movie poster

4. What are your top three favorite folk horror books (and/or films)?

One of my favorite modern anthologies is The Fiends in the Furrows from Nosetouch Press. It had all the classic folk horror elements – isolation, strange arcane rituals and paranoia, all with a modern twist.

For movies, I loved The Witch, Gwen and Pyewacket. They all have a similar tone, that sense of dread that lurks over the characters, and misfortune that they can’t seem to escape. The cool thing is that even though the first two are similar, Pyewacket is a great example that folklore and the occult can take place in a modern setting and still be unsettling.

If you’re interested in learning more about Mary Rajotte, check out her website at www.maryrajotte.com/blog. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@MaryRajotte), Instagram (@maryrajotte), and Goodreads (@Mary_Rajotte). Finally, to purchase her books check out the author on Amazon.