Book Review: The Ren Faire at the End of the World 3

Review by Ariel DaWintre

The Ren Faire at the End of the World: The Time of Sex, Magik, and Power Tools is Coming to an End (An Arcanum Faire Novel) 3, by Josef Matulich is a fun tale of the perils of building a Ren Faire in a town of witches and demons. Who knew so much was happening in Arcanum, Ohio?

I was immediately attracted to this book because of the title. It was so long, it had me curious. The start took me a bit to catch on. I was about 2 chapters in before I really understood what was happening. I would suggest reading books one and two first, because I felt I was missing something because this is part three. I think I would have understood it more and had more background on the characters, mostly the bad guy.

The book centers around Marc who is building the Ren Faire and his girlfriend. a witch named Brenwyn. There is an interesting cast of characters helping build and run the Ren Faire. I loved a lot of the side characters, Eleazar is awesome but I did keep wondering if he was from a different time or that this guy really stays in character! I really liked Michael and OCD list guy, they were right up my alley. Some of my favorite scenes were with Marc and his staff because they were funny. I didn’t like the bad guy, but his sister Cassandra, I REALLY didn’t like her., which is the point if you think about it.

I felt the story had a nice flow and it kept my interest. I was engaged and wanted to know the outcome of the story. I was worried about the main characters and really wanted the bad guys to get what was coming to them. If you like a story with witches, zombie farm and wild animals, and demons this is the series for you. The book kept my interest to the end and I have to admit I am a little scared to go to Arcanum, Ohio.

Ariel DaWintre is a writer and voice actor. She has performed in several audio works including “JoJo” in’s production of GothAmazing Race, “Ember” the novel Dusk’s Warriors, and “Claudette” in the novel Artistic License. She’s currently working on a fish out of water tale about an American living in Hong Kong. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Book Review: Her Dark Inheritance Meg Hafdahl

Book Review: Her Dark Inheritance by Meg Hafdahl

Don’t be alone. Not at Night. Not in Willoughby.

Willoughby, Minnesota is an idyllic small town in Middle America. It boasts one café, one motel, and a population of five-hundred-nine. But, there are more than small town secrets hiding in the shadows of the town square. Something lurks just out of sight—and out of mind—from the residents. A bloody history of accidents, violence, and murder plagues Willoughby and threatens the town even in the present.

In July 1982, someone brutally murdered three members of the Bergman family with an ax in their Willoughby home. For decades, town suspicion has fallen on the sole survivor of the bloody massacre: Caroline, the Bergman’s teenage daughter.

But Daphne Forrest knew her mother not as Caroline Bergman, but as Jane Downs-Forrest. It wasn’t until Jane’s death that Daphne found out that her mother was the suspected murderer that newspapers had dubbed The Minnesota Borden.

Daphne visits Willoughby for the first time, looking for answers to questions about the woman she thought she knew. She may not have grown up in Willoughby, but Daphne quickly finds that she shares a connection with the town that not even the residents can fathom. Willoughby wants to show her something, something that can save the town and, maybe, Daphne herself.

Thrust into memories of unfathomable violence and fear, Daphne must face her own mistakes and find a strength that her mother never had. If she wants to get out of Willoughby alive, she must face an evil that has stalked the small town since its founding.

Her Dark Inheritance follows in a glorious tradition of American ax murderers, but it’s far from the typical tale.

Meg Hafdahl creates characters real enough to climb off the page, including a monster that stalks you long after the novel’s last sentence. The town of Willoughby itself is as real as any character. Vividly described, it’s delightful and terrifying in equal measure. It embodies an abusive relationship that traps the residents in a situation where manipulation masquerades as protection and “this is for your own good” can be just as sinister as any threat. The story raises questions that strike to the core of all of us: What does it mean to be evil? What does it mean to be weak?

Hafdahl weaves an intricate tale of betrayal, murder, and small town intrigue. Her brilliant narrative style keeps you guessing from beginning to end about the next shocking twist. Whether it’s the truth about the Bergman murders or Daphne’s ultimate fate, Hafdahl keeps you at her mercy through every page.

I haven’t read a book in one sitting in a long time, but I couldn’t put down  Her Dark Inheritance. ‘One more chapter’ led to ‘one more chapter’ and ‘one more chapter’ after that. The book is labelled for Young Adults, but is just as gripping for adults. I recommend it whole-heartedly, especially for those who like to see the darker side of the American Dream.

March Madness: The Splits by MV Clark

In honor of March Madness month, MV Clark has shared with us an excerpt of her novel, The Splits.

Can you keep out The Splits, or is it already inside you?

A global zombie plague known as ‘The Splits’ is kept under fragile control, but nobody feels safe.

Anna, a young journalist, fears she’s infected. She learns all she can about the disease, which brings her to the attention of Lupe – a maverick scientist working on an unconventional cure. As Anna discovers the secrets of the disease, her world begins to fall apart.

Meanwhile, what is going on with Anna’s sister Claire, and her strange little boy Michael?

“[The Splits] does all the things quality horror should do – builds suspense, delivers shocks and distorts everyday reality to great effect. And creates a creeping feeling that something is very very wrong.” Louise – amazon reviewer

“The story started with some grotesque and thrilling scenes, so I expected that it would be a clichéd zombie survival horror at the beginning. But it wasn’t! It was a good mixture of Western and Japanese horror with psychological horror. I enjoyed it so much!” Yuuki, Goodreads reviewer

Enjoy this excerpt from The Splits

2015 – Anna

I have a garden now, and often I sit there and think about how the plague began. The plants change from season to season – in spring there’s a mass of purple alliums, in summer there are dark red roses, in autumn, white anemones riot. But my favourite place is always on the weathered bench by the back wall, where the winter jasmine climbs. I sit and I recall 1969, the year the sickness started.

Patient zero was covered by the US section of the Sunday paper. Nobody realised who he was at the time. Schoolteacher Bites Pupil ran the headline, and the violent attack was given just one paragraph.

I didn’t pay much attention. It was just after my sister had her son Michael and whenever I saw them he was screaming. I was shocked by his perpetual misery and annoyed by Claire’s masochistic dedication. I wasn’t really concentrating on events overseas. I tossed the edition on a pile and forgot about it.

But the following week the paper devoted a whole page to the incident. According to the report, Mr Driscoll had been explaining genetic and chromosomal aberrations to his twelfth grade science class. Over the course of the lesson, an odd rash came up on his left eyelid. Mid-sentence, he tailed off and stared at the class as if he didn’t know where he was.

I did actually go to New York a while back, with Michael of all people, but in 1969 I’d never been. Thus, I tried to imagine what that day must have been like. It was February, so it would have been freezing outside. It might also have been raining – drumming on the glass, sluicing down the sidewalks. One of those dull, dark days when the light is just a tarnished silver trickle. Beautiful in its own way, but not much use when you’re in a school science lab, under that harsh fluorescent lighting so beloved of the education system, which makes everything look plastic.

The victim, a capable student called Tina Beneventi, asked Driscoll if he was okay. He looked frightened, “like he’d seen a ghost,” said students. Something startled him – not Tina – and he raised his arm as if warding off a blow.

But a moment later he lowered it, walked slowly out from behind his desk, and towards her. When he was close he cocked his head strangely. She described seeing ‘a bright light in his eye’.

He reached out and stroked her shoulder, which was bare. She flinched. He smiled, as if to reassure her. There was silence in the classroom.

Then, with the speed and precision of a striking snake, he seized her arm and bit it.

The other students, shocked into action, surged at the pair and pulled Driscoll away. One boy raised his arm ready to land a punch. At that moment, Driscoll’s left eye began to bulge and, to his pupils’ abject horror, the eyeball shot out of its socket, not unlike a champagne cork. It sat on his cheek for a moment, suspended by the optic nerve, then fell to the floor where it rolled under a cabinet.

Curiously, this seemed to snap him out of it. He raised his hands in a gesture of surrender and, spitting blood, mumbled an apology.

I was captivated, especially by the phrase ‘a bright light in his eye’. I cut the page out, retrieved the shorter piece from the previous week, and put them in a folder. But I won’t go over how I chose each cutting. I know the story so well I prefer to run through it in my own way rather than follow the zigzag of dawning comprehension that was my actual experience.

At first Tina displayed her usual resilience, but within hours she became agitated and took to her bed. Her parents assumed it was shock, a reaction to the trauma of being attacked by a trusted adult. When she complained about hard, numb patches on her hands and feet, they thought it was a side issue.

Driscoll was let out on bail with a bandage over his eye. He hired a prostitute, brought her back to his apartment and attacked her. They made so much noise a neighbour called the cops, but by the time they arrived the woman was dead. Back then the cause of death was considered unusual – he had buried his head in her stomach and eaten her organs. When they broke down the door they saw his head was caked with blood. The bandage was long gone and where the eye had been was just a black pit.

But there was something even grimmer. The infection had spread to the rest of his body and patches of raised, purplish skin were peeling away like bark, leaving angry red lesions. These gashes were weeping vast quantities of fluid – the floor was sticky with it. The rapid dehydration made him gaunt to the point of emaciation, and yet his strength was almost superhuman. It took ten officers to subdue him, two for each limb and two for his head.

There was concern for the state of the officers, but nobody expected the hooker to reanimate and murder a member of the forensics team. She gained entry to another apartment and killed the tenant, tearing out his stomach right in front of his girlfriend. The papers did not even try to explain it. Mystery of Injured Spree-Killer read one headline.

A day later the girlfriend was found feasting on a young intern in a bathroom cubicle at her place of work, the New York Bank of Ambrose. The alarm was raised but it was too late to stop the bizarre syndrome sweeping the building.

The police were first to respond. They quickly discovered nothing could stop the infected except a gunshot to the head. Even this was not completely reliable and often several rounds were required, but using this method they were eventually able to secure the area. By the time the crisis was contained seventy people had been taken away in body bags.

New York grieved for the wound inflicted on its oldest bank. Ambrose offered to fund six months of therapy for surviving staff, and after a while business resumed.

City, state and federal experts worked to determine the cause of the violence. Their initial finding was that it was down to a new kind of infectious illness outside all existing categories. One newsroom launched a serious investigation into the possibility that it came from outer space.

The attacks began again, all over the city now, carried out by the Beneventi family and by the same police and forensic staff that had dealt with Driscoll and the prostitute. This time there were nine separate clusters and that was it – before long there was a fully fledged epidemic. Throughout the summer it spread down the East Coast, through the Carolinas and Georgia and into the South.

I live in London, always have done. At the time I was working for a local newspaper, The Haringey Tribune. I was twenty-three and a senior reporter. I went to court cases, council meetings, road accidents and police briefings. I knocked everywhere from the huge gated mansions of Bishop’s Avenue – Millionaire’s Row as it was known – to the flimsy modular front doors of Broadwater Farm, a high-rise housing estate inspired by utopian ideas about ‘streets in the sky’. I liked the job. My mind was quick and my work was appreciated.

The tiny salary allowed me to rent a studio flat on the ladder roads near Harringay Green Lanes, an area at that time notable for its Greek Cypriots. The room came with a worn-out brown sofa bed, a surprisingly deep and comfortable armchair, also brown, a grimy kitchenette and a shared bathroom. I did my best to beautify it with pot plants and ornaments from jumble sales. I had read somewhere that peacock feathers were bad luck, but I put three in an empty wine bottle and stood them on the sideboard.

The flat was no palace but two things redeemed it. First, its closeness to my sister Claire and her family – just a twenty minute walk.

Second, a big bay window overlooking the tree-lined road as it sloped down to Green Lanes. By late afternoon the sun would be at the perfect angle to throw gold squares on the walls, which shimmered and streamed as if the light had passed through deep waters. I loved to sit in my armchair with my feet up and gaze at the street while the glimmering parallelograms slid slowly across the room. At such moments, even on a cold day, the air in the flat would feel hot and still.

I remember vividly the moment I realised the disease was coming here. It was August and the flat was genuinely hot. I was sitting in the armchair drinking iced lime cordial. It was too early for the streaming squares of light and I’d pulled the blind halfway down to keep the sun out of my eyes. I picked up the newspaper and the front page story was the disappearance of Heathrow-bound BA502, which had crashed in the middle of the Atlantic after a crazed passenger went on the rampage.

It was obvious why the passenger was crazed. And if a sick person could board a plane to the UK once then they could again. Sooner or later the disease would arrive on our tiny, insignificant shores.

We had all seen an infected by then, in photos or on the TV. We knew how the sickness was transmitted and its appalling course. For a while after you were bitten – minutes or even hours – you might act fine, look fine, feel fine. But eventually you began to change. Nobody knew what it felt like from the inside because nobody had recovered to tell the story. There was only one end – a perpetual half-death, your mind gone and your body disintegrating as you hungered for the flesh of the living.

Yet despite months of investigations nobody knew what caused it. No new virus or bacteria had been isolated from any of the bodies.

I remember looking down into the street at the people walking past. An old man with a flat cap. Two girls with secretive smiles on their faces. A young guy with a barely there moustache. I shivered and uttered a silent prayer for them. I hoped they would do the same for me.

After that a restrained panic spread through the population. Sales of gas masks, knives and bludgeoning sticks soared, as did home security enhancements of all kinds. But nobody took to the streets. Nobody went on strike over something that was so obviously an act of God.

Then came a cold winter and the first attack on British soil. It took place at the 29 bus stop in Wood Green, a patch I reported on for The Trib. I wrote the following story:

Flesh-eating OAP Arrested

A woman was bitten on the face and neck as she waited for a bus.

Donald Carey, 72, of Lordship Lane, was arrested and charged with the attempted murder of Katie Logan, 23, of Hewitt Avenue, who is in Chase Farm Hospital in a critical condition.

Charlie Coombes, 18, of Lyndhurst Road, rescued Miss Logan. He said: “I noticed [Carey] because he was swaying in the middle of the pavement and something was dripping down his legs.

“He was staring, then he went for her, making a horrible gargling noise. He was eating her. There was blood everywhere, I got covered in it. He was strong, after we got him off her we had to keep hold or he would have gone for us.”

Police say Miss Logan and Carey are unknown to each other. They are seeking to establish if Carey had recently been in the US. Doctors say Miss Logan will have permanent scars.

For the UK the infection started there, at the 29 bus stop in Wood Green. At first authorities used the vernacular US term for the disease – the Frenzy. Then it was called severe scleroderma desolati – ‘scleroderma’ for hardening of the tissues and ‘desolati’ for melting. Neither term caught on with the general public. In 1982 it was officially named Scott–Lapidot Disease after two US scientists who isolated the particle thought to cause it.

But the name most of us used took its inspiration from the leaking crevices that opened up in the skin as the infection took hold. It was homegrown and informal, and thoroughly British. The Splits.


MV Clark grew up in London. She worked in journalism for 18 years. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian newspaper, and Museums Journal and Spirit and Destiny magazines. The Splits is her first novel. She lives in West Sussex with her husband and two children.

Kidnapped! How a Video Game Shaped “At the Hands of Madness”

How a Video Game Shaped “At the Hands of Madness

by Kevin Holton

“To think that once I could not see beyond the veil of our reality… to see those who dwell behind. My life now has purpose, for I have learned the frailty of flesh and bone… I was once a fool.”

Pious August

There’s a chance some of you are horror readers as well as gamers, and there’s a chance you already know what game I’ll be talking about. There aren’t any others like it. For those of you who’ve never played Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, let me assure you, the title isn’t the only bizarre part of the experience, and this is one that, once you go through it, you never really leave it behind.

I was a kid, probably twelve, when I first picked this up. It stuck out to me from the shelf at a local GameStop. Not literally, mind you, but as I walked along, trailing my gaze down the row of used discs, I just… stopped. Dead in my tracks, staring at this one case, as if I’d been put on this Earth to play it. What followed fueled an ongoing obsession with abnormal psychology, and a life-long obsession with metaphysics.

Even for back then, the graphics weren’t great. The combat was predictable and simple, the enemies easy to work around, and even the final boss never posed too much of a threat. This game was never about being a game, though. This was the closest thing the early 2000’s would get to a fully immersive, augmented reality experience.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is deeply rooted in the writings of H. P. Lovecraft. You play as Alex Roivas, who ventures to her ancestral home upon her grandfather is found beheaded. Shortly thereafter, you find something tucked away in his belongings: The Tome of Eternal Darkness, which is exactly as world-ending as it sounds. Through it, you relive the short, awful lives of those who read it before you, acquiring the magic they learned along the way—at the expense of your sanity.

That’s where this game thrived. Like many supernatural adventure games, you got a health bar and a magic bar. The sanity meter is what set it apart. As it began dipping, spells would backfire, causing you to explode, then you’d reappear in the previous room, unharmed. Massive enemies you have no hope of killing would overwhelm you, then disappear. Statues would turn their heads to watch you as you pass. Books would fly from the shelves, rearranging as they saw fit.

But, the developers didn’t stop at merely screwing with the character. The game also begins to screw with you. I’d examine a bathtub, and see Alex lying dead with her wrists slit. I tried to save, and the game pretended to delete my saves. The volume would spontaneously lower to nothing, or flash the Gamecube start screen, as if I’d hit reset. At one point, my character screamed, “Stop following me!” and shot the screen.

The character tried to kill me.

Not for real, of course—it’s a simple program, not Skynet—and it couldn’t even if it had artificial intelligence, but that moment! That broke the fourth wall. In the process, it broke open a barrier in my head. What could books really do? Why simply tell a tale, when I could create a whole reality, then thrust it upon this one?

That’s what I’ve strived for ever since. Writing a story, designing my characters, plot, tension, in ways that could go beyond tension and actively disturb the reader’s sense of the what the universe really is. I thrive on ambiguity and suggestion, relishing the moments where I can insert little bits that remind the reader, This story isn’t static. It can affect you.

This game impacted a number of my stories, not just my recent release, At the Hands of Madness, a novel that draws obvious influence from Lovecraft as well. Medraka, the kaiju in my novel, was inspired by Xel’lotath for sure—both are four-armed, psychic, sanity-ending beast (albeit with far different powers and origins). Another upcoming novel of mine, These Walls Don’t Talk, They Scream is rooted in the chaos of overlapping dimensions. Would I have ever had such thoughts if I’d never witnessed this game’s three gods kill each other, separately yet simultaneously, in overlapping realities? What would my life have been like, had I not, as the player, orchestrated the way they died, in a manner that proved time and space are illusions?

I’m honestly not sure. People knock video games as mindless or violent, but that one, this single game, opened up a galaxy in my head, with each new idea a glittering star, ready to burn.

Writers know their inspiration can come from many sources, but Eternal Darkness, I know, with its strange plot, subtle terrors, and unrestrained attack on the psyche—on the very definition of reality—make this a title that deserves a remake. Like the Silent Hill and Resident Evil franchises, this has a place in any horror enthusiasts’ library. Expensive to get at this point, but if you’re dedicated, you’ll find a way. It taught me how to make stories that don’t end—or begin—on the page.

So, try not to think about breathing, ignore how your tongue feels in your mouth, and go check out At the Hands of Madness.

Kevin Holton is the author of At the Hands of Madness, as well as the forthcoming titles The Nightmare King and These Walls Don’t Talk, They Scream. He also co-wrote the short film Human Report 85616, and his short work has appeared in dozens of anthologies.

He can be found at, or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Patreon @TheHoltoning.

Kidnapped! (Love)crafting the Perfect Monster

(Love)crafting the Perfect Monster

by Kevin Holton

We all love a good monster story, no matter how loosely you define ‘monster.’

To some, ‘monster’ is exclusively a lab accident, cryptid, or some other big, nasty, never before seen (or, at the very least, only mentioned in mythology) creature. The Minotaur, or a Gorgon, would both probably fall under even the strictest definition of the term. A half-human, half-animal, supernaturally charged hybrid generally makes the cut (although, it’s interesting to note how unusual powers push a being toward monster status, even if relatively human).

On the other hand, there are those who don’t mind applying the label to pretty much any not-quite-human to stumble, squirm, or slither. Frankenstein’s Monster, as he’s commonly known, was just a human being assembled from other human beings. Some might consider vampires, werewolves, zombies, and similar horror classics to be monsters. Then there are also humanoid creatures, like the creation from Splice (2009) and alien horrors, like The Thing. Many Marvel and DC characters would fall under this looser interpretation.

So what makes a monster compelling? What drives us to say, “Damn, I’d read that again,” or “Let’s binge the series” or “No, let’s put on The Simpsons, I can’t sleep after watching that.” Why are Xenomorphs, or The Predator, so compelling and beloved? What leaves people staying up all night, terrified of Pennywise, when other clown-based horror titles get laughed at (and not for the good reason)?

Most people think life is about balance, and a good monster design is no different. Let’s break down what makes these Big Bads work.

The “Army of One” Balance

We’ve seen this before. Alien. Predator. The Terminator. There are few ways of making a creature more terrifying—or more interesting—than making it unstoppable, but alone. Granted, yes, the Alien had many eggs laid elsewhere, and Dracula had a harem, yet you don’t think about these when you’re busy watching or reading the latest exploit. It’s why the Alien: Isolation game was so successful, but Alien: Colonial Marines flopped (well, in fairness, it wasn’t the only reason). These creations are great for building suspense, because the only weakness they apparently have is the fact that it can’t be everywhere at once. Hide out in a secure enough corner, and you’ll be fine—until it realizes where you are. That’s what makes these so much fun.

The “Unyielding Loner” Balance

Dracula. Frankenstein’s Monster. Virgil from Devil May Cry. The Cyclops, and pretty much every other mythological beast. These are the entities that are perfectly content to go it alone, even though they aren’t all-powerful. They simply assume they’re all powerful, or so highly skilled, that nothing can stop them. These are great for character development, though they often lead to some degree of moralism and preaching at the end, since this arrogance, combined with some other fatal flaw, is usually how they’re defeated. The charismatic, eccentric, or identifiable elements of someone so unflinchingly confident are hard to ignore. Give the readers a monster they know is deeply, tragically human. Although, I suppose Frankenstein’s Monster wasn’t technically defeated.

The “Beyond This World” Balance

Demons. Ghosts. Mama from Mama. Diana from Lights Out, who technically wasn’t either. It’s far too easy to make these overpowered. After all, if a spirit, entity, whatever, comes back from the grave, or Hell, or another dimension, how are you supposed to even remotely fight it? One of my favorite movie scenes—ever—has to be when a police officer fires at Diana in Lights Out, only for her to disappear in the flash of the muzzle, teleporting just a little bit closer every time. But, she’s not invulnerable. Her inability to stay in lit areas is how most of the characters survive, finding new, clever, last-second ways to brighten things up and escape. It’s also how they beat her. The trick to this category is that the source of power is also the source of weakness, i.e. how Mama is lulled into pacifism by her need to nurture, or the demons of The Conjuring series being inevitably defeated by the weird, specific rules of their occult nature, like how knowing their name allows you to command them. Survival usually involves the death of your expert, since that’s the first person these creatures will go after, then placating them with a ritual or sacrifice. Nobody’s a winner here.

The “Sweet Holy Hell, What Are You?” Balance

It’s in the name. Whenever you have no idea how to fight something because you have no idea what you’re fighting, you’ve landed in this category. Slenderman. The Thing. The Thing from It Follows. Any other creature known as ‘it’ or ‘The Thing.’ Sephiroth. The Endless Thing with Piebald Sides, from Lisey’s Story. Pennywise. The Bodachs (Odd Thomas). There aren’t rules. Nobody has any clue as to what’s going on. Maybe it’s supernatural? Maybe it really was just an accident. All anyone knows is that you’re screwed, so you better learn quick, because there are rules, and following them is the only way to survive. Admittedly, this isn’t balance so much as it is loosely structured chaos. Creating a good story with this type of monster is about pacing. Let the characters learn one rule at a time, and let them learn it the hard way. Readers will keep following that blood trail to the end.

There are, of course, more ways to build characters, but these are the tried and true methods—these ways don’t simply get people paying attention, they glue them to the seat with their eyes pried open like in A Clockwork Orange. I’ve used all of them to great success in the past. Which did I use for my newest novel, At the Hands of Madness? You’ll have to read and find out.

Kevin Holton is the author of At the Hands of Madness, as well as the forthcoming titles The Nightmare King and These Walls Don’t Talk, They Scream. He also co-wrote the short film Human Report 85616, and his short work has appeared in dozens of anthologies.

He can be found at, or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Patreon @TheHoltoning.

Kidnapped! Void: Using Absence as Fear in At the Hands of Madness

Void: Using Absence as Fear in At the Hands of Madness 

By Kevin Holton

Writing a good novel about a giant monster is tough work. You have to balance destruction against development, providing room for the characters to grow even as their world falls to pieces around them. Even the monsters need some development (I’ll save that for another article), but if you don’t walk that line well, the story falls flat. No one wants to read three hundred pages of “this got smashed, then these people died, then THAT THING got smashed!”

When I was writing At the Hands of Madness, I learned another important lesson: it’s also hard to keep readers afraid of a monster that isn’t there. So, I played that to my advantage. Medraka, the four-armed, psychic, Lovecraftian kaiju monstrosity serving as the Big Bad of my book, can teleport, even into alternate dimensions.

If your antagonist is going to spend a good chunk of time off page, don’t worry about making people afraid despite it not being there. Focus on making them afraid because it isn’t there. Sure, it’s not smashing your face in now, but what’ll happen ten minutes from now? A day? A year?

The key—at least, from my experience—is peppering the narration with details about what it’s capable of. If your monster can burrow under the ground, like in Tremors, then it’s actually a lot worse to not see the damn thing, instead feeling its burrowing rumble and shake the earth. A Xenomorph is a terrifying creature, and you don’t want to mess with it, but would you prefer to have eyes on it, or simply hear its clangs echoing through the ventilation system? Predator knew this absence-is-worse feeling well, given the eponymous Predator’s cloaking technology.

With Medraka, I couldn’t use sound and touch to my advantage. When it isn’t on the page, it simply isn’t there, gone entirely from this plane of existence, with no ability to alert the characters by knocking something over, or digging, or screeching, or what have you.

So, here are a few tips for building that sense of dread—without resorting to flashbacks.

Play with extra sensory work

Can your character mysteriously ‘sense’ when the Big Bad is coming? Does another, maybe a cop, have a foolproof gut instinct, or intuition, that might clue people in to when it’ll show up? Consider, for instance, any given thriller or Law & Order episode where the detective looks at something totally innocuous, like a half-eaten sandwich, and says, “Captain, this is the work of a serial killer.” Why? How? Who knows—what we do know is that there’s a lot more at stake now, and you can’t defend yourself from what you can’t see.

Give us something else to lose

Use those down moments to reflect on what’s important. What’s the protagonist(s) first move after escaping death? Hugging that attractive ally? Checking in with the commander? Tending to the wounded? The more a character has to lose, and the more others would be hurt if that character dies, the more we can dread that monster’s reappearance. The heroin who limps to the medical bay with a broken leg so she can administer first aid to others is going to make us care a lot more than the guy who just reloads his weapon.

Hold a funeral

As long as it makes sense for the pacing, allow your characters to mourn the dead. Aside from being a normal part of the human experience, it’ll also give the readers opportunity to see just what each loss means, and why they so thoroughly fear the next. The absence a character leaves behind will also remind us of the absence the antagonist has left, too.

Increase its power

Okay, this is a little cheating, since it’s still technically doing something, but if you want to increase the tension, have somebody report about its wild antics in another location. At one point in At the Hands of Madness, Chicago disappears. The whole city, teleported right out of existence. I won’t say more, of course, but needless to say, the main crew freaks out a bit when they hear this. Knowing that they barely survived, then hearing it can do even worse things, will crank that fear dial up to eleven.

There are, of course, other ways to make people afraid, but when there’s literally nothing to be afraid of—when all you have to work with is fear itself—creature features can risk facing a bit of derailment. So, steady on! That beast may have slipped out of sight, but don’t let it ever slip out of the readers’ minds. The more you make people fear what isn’t there, the more terrible it will be when that monster finally returns.

Kevin Holton is the author of At the Hands of Madness, as well as the forthcoming titles The Nightmare King and These Walls Don’t Talk, They Scream. He also co-wrote the short film Human Report 85616, and his short work has appeared in dozens of anthologies.

He can be found at, or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Patreon @TheHoltoning.



Book Review: Black Magic Women

Black Magic Women : Review of an Anthology of Horror

by James Goodridge

Mystical is how I like to label profound work and that’s how I label the work between the covers of Black Magic Women: Terrifying Tales by Scary Sisters, an anthology of well-crafted horror stories by a congress of well-established and up and coming group of women of color.

In recent years there has been a emergence or reemergence of black speculative fiction parallel to the Afro-futurist movement (I took the red pill and have been a creative member since 2013). This anthology will for years to come, be an important must-have book documenting the era.

A labor of love, the anthology is edited and curated by Sumiko Saulson and proof read by Jessica Glanville with contributions by: Valjeanne Jeffers, Kamika Aziza, Crystal Connor, Dicey Grenor, Nina Polina, Nuzo Onoh, Delizhia Jenkins, LH Moore, Kenya Moss-Dyme, Lori Titus, Kai Leakes, Rhonda Jackson Joesph, Cinseare S., Tabitha Thompson, Nicole Given Kurtz, Alledria Hurt, and Kenesha Williams. These women give you a buffet of different writing styles.

In the black community we have a saying that most people have heard and it applies to the contributors: “These ladies can burn!” True horror fans can appreciate horror in all its forms and sub genres. The horrific rush from a movie, web series, or television show. The straining of your hearing at the purported sound of a ghost caught on tape. The widening or squinting of your eyes at a just read gory part of a novel, anthology, or graphic novel. I’m a squinter, and this anthology didn’t fail in that department.

I’ll put it this way, there are no weak links in this anthology. I will not spoil things by going through all of the stories in the anthology, but I will comment on a few.

Valjeanne Jeffers “The Lost Ones” is a Werewolf/Love story/Crime noir story laced with Steam Punk/Funk set in an alternate time line United States, the progressive North America at odds with the conservative True America . The passion between characters Namia and Miles makes for a great read.

Kamika Aziza’s “Trisha & Peter” is a wonderful short story about two people forming bonds while fighting off swarms of bodies aka zombies. The child Trisha has to grow up fast and finds a mentor in Peter.

“Sweet Justice” by Kenesha Williams finds paranormal investigator Maisha Star on the trail of a serial killer and receives help from beyond the grave with a splendid plot twist at the end.

This anthology is an automatic read more than once gem released by Mocha Memoirs Press. Enjoy!

 jamesgoodridge headshot

Born and raised in the Bronx, James is new to writing speculative fiction. After ten years as an artist representative and paralegal James decided in 2013 to make a better commitment to writing.Currently, he is writing a series of short “Twilight Zone” inspired stories from the world of art, (The Artwork) and a diesel/punkfunk saga (Madison Cavendish/Seneca Sue Mystic Detectives) with the goal of producing compelling stories