Columns > Published on October 20th, 2017

Storyville: Activities to Feed Your Dark Creative Soul Around Halloween

Wander your local graveyard after dark. Sit near the most decorative mausoleum you can find. Or the oldest one. Perhaps the most ornate. Talk to the resident of that tomb, and ask it questions. Offer it forgiveness. Say you’ll keep its secrets. Leave a flower, or maybe spill a bit of wine into the earth. Sprinkle breadcrumbs around the edges of the tombstone. Recite incantations to the moon. Light a stick of incense, or a candle, and close your eyes. Rest your hands on your knees, palms up, and slowly smile. Listen for the hoot of an owl, the rustle of bat wings, the slithering of something in the grass, the early warning chirps of crickets. Feel the beat of your heart in your chest, and track the blood as it pumps through your body, filling your veins, spreading heat throughout your thin layer of flesh. Consider how something sharp could easily pierce that soft tissue, and show the world your inner beauty. Realize how fragile it all is. Vow to stop doing stupid things, dangerous things. Stand up and go home. Hug and kiss the ones you love. When you lie in bed, later that night, remember the cool grass, the cold marble, and the permanence of the cemetery. You still have time. Share your dark visions with the world. Show us how to survive it all.

Make a list of the ten things that scare you the most in this world—broad, creeping fears that are huge, powerful, and universal, as well as tiny specific triggers that get under your skin, and make you break out in a cold sweat.

Make a list of the ten things that scare you the most in this world—broad, creeping fears that are huge, powerful, and universal, as well as tiny specific triggers that get under your skin, and make you break out in a cold sweat. Did you say spiders? If so, head to the basement, or the garage and seek them out, look for the webs, and get as close to them as you can. Is there one on the ceiling, hanging down on a long, translucent thread? Let it land on your hand, and see what happens. Did you say mirrors? Seek out the largest mirror you can find, and turn out most of the lights. Most, but not all. Stand in front of that antique glass mirror that your aunt or uncle left you, the one that ripples when you look at it just right. Shake your head back and forth, letting everything blur. Then stare into your own eyes until you can no longer recognize yourself. Consider your doppleganger. Is one of your fears the idea of being forgotten, being unimportant, the world moving on, your presence disappearing? Go dig a hole in the back yard, and place in that hole a plastic container with a snippet of your hair, fingernail clippings, and whatever bodily fluids you can manage. Baby food jars work well. Use your imagination. Place inside that container a favorite book, or maybe a poem, a toy you no longer play with, and a picture of yourself. Write a short note to the future world, and warn it of the things you’ve seen, reminding those lost souls what you’re grateful for, in case they have forgotten the faces of their fathers. Live forever.

Think of the films you watched as a child, the old school horror flicks that scared you to death. Watch as many as you can. Laugh. Realize they don’t hold much power over you any longer, and feel good about yourself—your strength and fortitude. Consult lists of the most disturbing movies ever made, and then rent a few of those. Cry. Realize that you care more about humanity than you thought. Watch more of those violent, depressing movies and then ask yourself what you are willing to write about. Are there places you will not go? Topics you won’t tackle? Scenes you cannot craft, that just tear you apart, and seem senseless? Write them. Find a way to give them sense, to give them power and hope, to redeem those that have been victimized, and rendered invisible. Dig deeper. Look up catharsis in the dictionary. Look up epiphany. Look up denouement. (Hint: that last one is French.) Decide that however you portray these taboo subjects, you won’t reduce them to the simplest equations, promise yourself that you will avoid titillation, gratuitous violence on the page—go beyond that, to the psychological warfare, the emotions that are buried deep, and then lay yourself bare, holding nothing back. There, in that place, you’ll unearth gems. Be afraid. And then overcome those fears. Share that insight. Rejoice.

Take a moment to understand the difference between love and hate. Think of the many different things you love, the people you love, the places you love, and the memories you love. And then, think of the many different things you hate—chores, work, places, people, food—you name it. Consider the fact that hate is not the opposite of love; that it is actually a close relative, maybe a brother or sister, or that one cousin you never did really trust, something a bit off. And yet, still familiar. The opposite of love is indeed not hate—it is apathy. And what is apathy? It is a lack of interest, a lack of enthusiasm, a lack of concern. In order to truly hate something, you must love it first. Go back in your memories to your first love lost—that boyfriend or girlfriend that broke your heart, after you gave it so willingly. The horror that creeps close to you, the worst kind of fear, is not so much the unknown—the slinking danger out there roaming in the darkness—as it is the threat that it holds to the ones that you love. The quiet before the storm is there for a reason. The pauses are there to allow you a breath, carefully inserted between the anxiety, tension, and disgust. These moments are created so you can think and collect your emotions—put yourself back together, piece by piece. Before everything goes dark, before the horror shows up on your doorstep, before the unholy reveals itself—show us the light, the love, and the happiness. We need to know what we’re fighting for. Otherwise, we may as well surrender to the dark.

About the author

Richard Thomas is the award-winning author of seven books: three novels—Disintegration and Breaker (Penguin Random House Alibi), as well as Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications); three short story collections—Staring into the Abyss (Kraken Press), Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press), and Tribulations (Cemetery Dance); and one novella in The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). With over 140 stories published, his credits include The Best Horror of the Year (Volume Eleven), Cemetery Dance (twice), Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders (Bram Stoker winner), PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad (numbers 2-4), and Shivers VI (with Stephen King and Peter Straub). He has won contests at ChiZine and One Buck Horror, has received five Pushcart Prize nominations, and has been long-listed for Best Horror of the Year six times. He was also the editor of four anthologies: The New Black and Exigencies (Dark House Press), The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk. He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, and Thriller awards. In his spare time he is a columnist at Lit Reactor and Editor-in-Chief at Gamut Magazine. His agent is Paula Munier at Talcott Notch. For more information visit

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