Fiction Vortex 2014 Horror Issue

Horror 2014 2nd Place: The Friends

The Friends by Luke Dykowski, reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode but with better special effects. A perfectly seasoned festival of horror tropes and moods. It’s get under your skin and takes your breath away. — Johnny Worthen
By Luke Dykowski

Conner Nilsen did not leave his property often. At least — not anymore. But that didn’t matter. Even though he lived on Haskell Lake, twenty-four miles from the nearest town, Rockville, and had to go in often to buy bread and milk and toilet paper and fishing lures, it didn’t matter. Not since he had met his new friends.

It had been a week now — no, two weeks. Or was it a week? Who knew? Not Conner. A month?

It didn’t matter anymore.

He had found the fungus … three days before he met his friends? It was hard to tell.

Read more

Tananarive Due

A Moment with Tananarive Due

Interview by Z.M. Quynh

For this year’s horror issue, I thought it would be a good idea to sit down with Tananarive Due, who is an African American horror writer and one of my favorite authors. She’s known for such amazing stories as In the Night of the Heat (with Blair Underwood and Steven Barnes) for which she received the NAAACP Image Award and The Living Blood, for which she received the American Book Award.

Tananarive is a versatile writer with amazing range in the genres of supernatural thriller, horror, mystery, memoir, and historical non-fiction. Of all her works, my favorite is her civil rights memoir, Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights, which documents her journey with her mother, Patricia Stephens Due, a leading African American civil rights activists, through the Civil Rights Movement.

Read more

Fiction Vortex 2014 Horror Issue

Horror 2014 3rd Place: The Things We Carry

The Things We Carry by Amanda Crum is a personal and pervasive psychological horror. A dark character sketch of the lonely and numbed, the boy next door. — Johnny Worthen
By Amanda Crum

When the storm rolled through, Jason Krauss was still sitting in the ambulance, safe and dry. The bubble lights threw strobes of red and white across the passing landscape, illuminating the pines in brief flashes. Their shadows were still too deep for the lights to puncture, and so all he got was a momentary glimpse of branches before the night stole them away again.

He was out with Bobby tonight, his least favorite coworker. Brenda was his usual partner but she was out with the flu. Brenda was a nice older lady. She never made Jason uncomfortable, unlike Bobby, who told the most disgusting jokes about having sex with dead bodies. It was disrespectful, Jason felt, and unprofessional. He hadn’t gone to school for as long as he did and gone into debt to pay for it just to listen to an ignorant ass make off-color jokes about the dead. And they weren’t even funny. Somehow that was just as insulting. Jason had a great sense of humor and it really pissed him off when people thought they were funny but weren’t. Also — and Jason tried really hard to overlook this fact, since it was unkind to think such things — Bobby was really overweight and had body odor. Sometimes, when they were working closely together, Jason had to hold his breath to keep from gagging.

Read more

Fiction Vortex 2014 Horror Issue

Horror 2014 4th Place: Collection

When does the strange become commonplace, horror the norm? In Collection, Rebecca Ann Jordan takes us to another world of dark seasons and demons where community is everything and a mistimed union damns them all. — Johnny Worthen
By Rebecca Ann Jordan

I wish that death were more final.

One year ago, Evangeline’s mother, Maya, was beheaded. They sent her body back to be dropped in a river, buried, worshipped, melted, or eaten in the respective traditions of the five villages. As is right and good.

I oversaw the feast preparations myself — Maya was my only daughter, after all, and a man has certain obligations when it comes to selecting just the right spice. Maya had always been a devoutly contrary woman. Cayenne would go well with her.

Jacobi, Evangeline’s father, clutched his little girl in his fat cacao arms. He dwarfed her; at six, she was a frail, spindly thing, with a head that was too big for her body, and eyes that were like the pits our hunters dug to catch tigers — yawning. Sharp-edged. Consuming everything that dared to step near. That was the reason I had never really held my granddaughter’s gaze. I was afraid of being swallowed.

Read more

Johnny Worthen on Dark Fiction and Horror

Before I begin to tell you why dark fiction and horror are so wonderful, perhaps you want to know who I am. Well, I’m going to tell you anyway.

I am Johnny Worthen. Next year I’ll release three different books from two different publishers and be a household name in some of my friend’s living rooms. “Why won’t Johnny leave?” they might be saying. “Has he been kicked out of his own house again?”

But now all my published works are dark.

My debut novel BEATRYSEL, an occult thriller/horror was released in 2013. It’s an adult look at the occult and the dark sides of love. If you don’t own it yet, rush on over to Amazon and get one. While you’re there, pick up DR. STUART’S HEART, it’s a little companion piece to BEATRYSEL. You’ll be glad you did. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Done? Good.

This year, my Young Adult Paranormal series, THE UNSEEN launched with the award winning, ELEANOR. It received a Gold Quill as the year’s best published young adult novel by the League of Utah Writers. The same group, having great taste but low standards, named me this year’s Writer of the Year. I got a plaque to prove it.Johnny Worthen

There is a monster in ELEANOR and thus it has found a horror following along with a young adult, literary, and familial audiences. It’s a great freaking book and if you don’t already own a copy, rush to a bookstore or back to Amazon and pick one up. I’ll wait. Go ahead. Do it. It’s a wonderful book and will go far to making you a better person for having read it. Got it? Good. I’ll continue.

I didn’t intend to be a horror writer when I wrote BEATRYSEL and ELEANOR. It just happened. I needed to push the bounds of fiction and horror was the way to do that. The edges of dark fiction are blurry and binding. Fear faced deeply, honestly, starkly and raw-ly must by definition be horror.

But that’s a lie. Horror is just a name. Genre is a completely made-up thing. It’s a label critics use to associate and book stores use to shelve. That’s it. Most bookstores I visit have actually taken horror out of its own shelf and put it with general fiction, science fiction, of if they’re really bright in ‘speculative fiction.’

Still we all must agree that horror is a thing, if only for the fact that it names a certain type of writing that has a physical effect on us. It and porno are the two types of fiction that can have measured physical responses to reading it. I’ve never tried writing porn; I’m no good at flash fiction (ba’da-ching!) but getting my heart rate up as tension builds and terrors — both real and imagined — seep into my consciousness is a thrilling experience I create and crave.

But horror goes beyond scares and tension. The best horror is an insidious stream of rationalization and twisted reality, a lingering feeling that is akin to a smothering blanket more than a knife edge. These are the dystopians (Hunger Games) and the invasions (War of the Worlds), the paranoids (Body Snatchers), the plagues (The Stand) and the hopelessnesses (The Road). These are the ones that seep into the imagination and linger. These are the ones where even after the victim has died, there is no respite.

These are intellectual horrors. Often and most pronounced, they are supernatural, but there are horrors enough in real life to go around. Disease, war and famine. The four horseman are as deadly and as present as ever. Perhaps it is these horrors we wish to escape in the pages of fictional ones.

In the ‘controlled’ context of a page, we can visit the dark stay and stay as long as we dare. We have only to look up to see the comfortable room around us to find security again, even if we see the colors are now a little darker than we remember them.

There’s an adage I know that compares one’s life to a tapestry. The dark threads are as important as the light ones in defining who we are. So too I believe is life and reality. Thus, dark fiction has its adherents rightfully so.

We can choose to shelter ourselves behind happy endings and uplifting fantasy, make a true escape from the world, or we can seize the darkness and make it a part of us. We can understand and recognize the yin and yang of the universe. We can celebrate the decay as we would growth, roil in fear to feel the life therein as acute as a joyful laugh. That is what dark fiction offers.

Someone, I think it was Chaplain, said that comedy is wide angle and tragedy is close-up. Horror is close-up.

That’s not to say that horror can’t have a happy ending, but it is decidedly optional and damn well better be deserved. Dark fiction with its open ends demands an honesty that other genres do not. Endings, good or bad, must be earned.

This is strange to say, I know. How can I, who write about demons and monsters, killers, and ghosts, argue for truth in these things? Well I can. And I am. A writer is one who tells the truth through lies, and in horror with its stretched realities and weird angles is really just exaggeration: close-ups.

We are emotional creatures, we humans. We love and we hate, we hope and we fear. Writers deal with all these, exploring the dark along with the light, facing their fears as well as realizing their hopes. It’s all part of the wonderful experience of life. There is a season to each of these things, and Fall, Autumn, Halloween, Samhain, as the Wiccans call it, or the Season of Witch by others, is most definitely a time for fear and wonder. It is time for the dead to speak and for the unspeakable to teach, and words to cast shadows while illuminating.

I welcome you to Fiction Vortex’s celebration of dark fiction and horror – October, 2014. Go buy my books and enjoy the chills here there and wherever you find them.

Blessed be and Happy Halloween!


Johnny Worthen


Some of my links:

Twitter: @JohnnyWorthen


Fiction Vortex 2014 Horror Issue

Horror 2014 5th Place: Dormant

In Grimm Webster’s story Dormant, we listen for the scratches in the walls. It is a tale of vulnerable youth, grandmotherly affection, and ancient slumbers. — Johnny Worthen
By Grimm Webster

A small hand gripped his shoulder with crushing force, dragging Peter to a halt. The new shoes he wore squeaked in protest on the polished floor of the mall. His heart pumped faster and his breathing quickened. The exit was only a few feet away. He pictured himself tearing out of his captor’s death grip and heading for the door and never looking back.

Images of police cars with flashing lights and being led away in handcuffs flooded his mind, all while the shoes squeaked like damned mice.

“Do you like them?”

“Uh … What?” He was confused by the kindness of the voice. He turned to see, not Mall security but an elderly woman.

“The shoes, dear child. Do you like them?”

“I … uh … Yes?”

Read more

Fiction Vortex 2014 Horror Issue

Johnny Worthen Kicks Off Fiction Vortex Horror 2014

It’s October and time for horror! Our Special Guest Judge has prepared a few words.

So, heeeeeeeres Johnny… Worthen!

Johnny Worthen Kicks Off Fiction Vortex Horror 2014

Johnny Worthen- 2nd Annual Fiction Vortex Horror Contest Judge

There are two types of fiction meant to induce a physical reaction in the reader: Pornography and Horror. Putting aside the smut, let us play in the shadows, see those things and visit those places that send gooseflesh down our backs, sweat to our palms, and make us switch on more lights in a perfectly bright house.

This year’s Fiction Vortex Horror Contest has some of the best short fiction horror I’ve ever seen. Entries ran the gamut from personal to apocalyptic. Filled with strangeness and terror, madness and fear, these stories are a tour to the dark places of the imagination. Guided by expert writers who build tension upon fear and lure us into places of wonder and fright these stories that do not end at the final word but haunt the reader for days like a dark secret memory.

As this year’s Special Guest Judge, I journeyed through the top five stories, basing rank on both visceral reaction and technique. Fiction Vortex will be sharing these top stories on the site, one a week, all month so you can get into the spirit of the season. This is October, the in-between time, Samhain, Fall, the season of change and decay, when things are not alive but neither are they wholly dead. This is the season of the witch, make no mistake. Welcome to the fair!

The week of Halloween is when my pick for top story will be announced, and the contest winner will be awarded gifts and prizes and possibly a visit from either a psychiatrist or an exorcist. Stay tuned and let us begin…

The top stories are (in no particular order) are:

‘The Things We Carry’ – Amanda Crum
‘Other Side of the Tracks’ – Daniel DeLong
‘Collection’ – Rebecca Ann Jordan
‘Dormant’ – Grimm Webster
‘The Friends’ – Luke Dykowski

*A Note From the Editors – For those of you that want your horror in larger doses and can’t wait a whole month, the Horror Issue ebook is available now! And if you want to know who won before the end of the month… then you will have to buy the issue as well. Bwahahaha. Here is the Kindle version, and for all other formats, check the Smashwords version.

Art by David Revoy/ Blender Foundation

I’ll Go With Her, but Not Yet

By Sean Ealy

The first time I saw the little girl was in the field.

Appearing out of the wheat, she came to me like an apparition, and I almost hit her with the combine.

“What’s the matter with you?” I said, wiping sweat out of my eyes. “What are you doing out here?”

Her eyes were as black and as indifferent as the dress she wore, her blonde hair pulled back from her scalp in tight braids. Her skin was the color of winter moonlight. She might have been ten or maybe eleven, but something about the way she inspected me seemed mature beyond her years. Almost ancient.

Read more

Art by David Revoy/ Blender Foundation

Take the Standards

by Kallirroe Agelopoulou

There were holes in his head where certain memories should lie. Any attempt to recreate events, any attempt to watch the movie in his mind and it became some foreign, art-house existentialist exercise. Without subtitles.

Spared from the ravaging, only bits and pieces. There was a woman, really young. Her face blurred, but the color of her hair unmistakable. The yellow of the brightest sun. Standing in the middle of a cropped field, the endless blue above shielding her whole body, she was the sun. Read more