What would you walk through fire for…

Cover design: Aaron Bilawchuk & Emily Pratt

November 5, 2019

Terrace VII: Wall of Fire

By Robert Bose & Sarah L. Johnson

Welcome to the Seventh Terrace of Dante’s tower of Purgatory. Here, in darkness lit only by a wall of flame, we find souls enslaved by the sin of lust. Desire, curdled by madness and desperation. From a pair of crazy-in-love criminals on a scavenger hunt at the outskirts of Hell, to a lonely custodian working in a love doll brothel, to a sinister lingerie boutique hidden behind a red door. Lust is a great and terrible thing, and this collection of dark tales follows a mere handful of the many paths leading to the wall of fire.

We review books, music, trail races, deep sea creatures, colours on the visible spectrum, and whatever else we feel like, on a rating scale of one to five sin-purging flames.

When it comes time for The Seventh Terrace Strategic Planning meeting, there’s only one place to go. Conveniently located directly across from Starbucks, midway between Purgatory Towers and the Factory. Yes, I’m talking about the much-maligned Arby’s. Willing our dreams into reality, one quarterly meatcraft gorging at a time.

Here’s the thing about Arby’s, kids. We’re not saying it’s the best. The menu is semi-monstrous. They have a weird selection of pseudo-Greek items for some reason, and their usual feature milkshake is orange. The ambience is total ass. Vinyl. Plastic. Wretchedly faded impressionist prints. But the primal satisfaction and sensual flavours? Curly fries? Half pound Beef n’ Cheddar sandwiches? They’re goddamn delicious, so stop lying to yourselves and the world. It’s okay to love Arby’s. We do, and we’re not sorry.

My point, and of course I have one, is that nothing that will make you want to throw up your hands and let it all burn like Arby’s new Garlic Butter Steak Sandwich.

WHAT. THE. HELL?

No one asked for fine dining, Arby’s. No one asked for anything with an identifiable organic origin or visible grain. No one asked for steak. We like our meat in grey-brown tatters crumpled under a blanket of hot cheese.

Arby’s has never disappointed me before, and when that happens, you really take stock of all the choices that led you to that moment. Staring down a ciabatta bun (I’ve had it with all the different buns, but that’s another review) piled with uniform strips of steak, lettuce, tomato, and a thin drool of garlic butter. If only it was vile. That would be easier to process emotionally. But it was fine. It was devastating. It was no Beef n’ Cheddar. My darlings, at this juncture I must remind you that Octoclot loves food and requires frequent feedings but I left this abomination not even half eaten on the tray. Not even Horsey Sauce could save it. Even the glorious curly fries couldn’t lift my spirits.

I can’t blame Arby’s. They’re taking risks, a quality I admire. This one is on me. There’s a time and a place to experiment with food, and Arby’s is not it. That steak sandwich broke my heart.

2/5

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

Warning: Explicit language and mature themes. If you’re offended by such things, you might want to venture elsewhere.

Facebook defines people with whom you agree to communicate as ‘friends’ and I wish they wouldn’t. Friend is a loaded word. If a person has agreed to speak with me, it doesn’t make us friends. We don’t have a relationship. We don’t even know each other. At best we might know a few people in common, which is usually my criteria for accepting a friend request.

So what the fuck is up with dudes on the internet? And Jesus Christ of course #notalldudesontheinternet Look, if you aren’t a creep, then you aren’t being kicked here, so quit yelping. And for the sake of argument, let’s not even single out dudes on the internet. Let’s invoke Kant’s Categorical Imperative and design rules of conduct that are most effective when applied to every digital meatloaf currently hammering away at a keyboard, or staring slack-jawed at their phone while masturbating in their Pontiac Aztek.

The following are Octoclot’s ten commandments for networking with new Facebook ‘friends’. Listen up motherfuckers…

  1. Thou shalt not follow up an accepted friend request with an immediate pro forma DM to like your page/buy your book/subscribe to your podcast.
  2. Thou shalt keep DM inquiries related to your common interest. Remember, you don’t actually know this person, so don’t ask personal questions.
  3. Thou shalt not stalk your new friend’s page and like old posts and especially not their old photos.
  4. Thou shalt be honest. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying “Hey, thanks for accepting my friend request. I’m trying to get to know more people in the writing community.”
  5. Thou shalt not ask for favours. Ooh, remember? You aren’t actually friends and they don’t owe you a beta read or a blurb or a review so don’t make it weird by asking.
  6. Thou shalt keep DM exchanges brief. Demanding a lengthy conversation with a near stranger is a good way to get ghosted.
  7. Thou shalt like or comment on current posts if you find them interesting. This is actually the best way to get to know your new friend. In the common area. Chat ‘em up in the living room, don’t corner them in the toilet.
  8. Thou shalt not slide into their DMs and steer the conversation into sexual territory. Fuck, that this has to be said is fucking exhausting as fuck and I’ll just leave it fucking here.
  9. Thou shalt keep your personal problems to yourself. That door isn’t open yet, in either direction.
  10. Thou shalt be cool. Can’t we all just be cool? Social media is about connecting with people that share our interests without the barrier of geography. That shit is brilliant! So enjoy it, and be cool, ffs.

That is all. Octoclot out.

Colleen Anderson is one of those versatile authors who can write in any form and any genre and you know it’ll be solid, entertaining, and probably oddly disturbing, even if you’re not entirely sure how or why.

This collection from Black Shuck Books is case in point, sixteen short stories spanning the gamut of science fiction, dark fantasy, urban fantasy, cyberpunk, and outright horror. As with any collection, some stories claw into your brain more than others, but I enjoyed them all, even the ones that left me thinking WTF.

My favourites? In no particular order: The Collector (I loved how the elemental magic worked, and I’m a sucker for soul reaping spirit stories), The Blade (who doesn’t enjoy a self serving intelligent sword?), A Book By It’s Cover (Virtual nirvanas are never what they seem and really, really be careful what you wish for, it might come true), Red (There’s ALWAYS a bigger predator in the forest), Season’s End/The Brown Woman (A pair of excellent Green Man tales), and The Book With No End (A little Indiana Jones, a lot ‘this is going in a very sinister direction and I’m not sure what direction that is.. exactly.’).

Great stuff – track down a copy, worm your way into your blanket tent, and prepare to be entertained.

4/5

The Author: Colleen Anderson

The Publisher: Black Shuck Books

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

Warning: Explicit language and mature themes. If you’re offended by such things, you might want to venture elsewhere.

Everything is connected. Each critter throbbing on this planet is at least indirectly dependant on every other critter. For food, shelter, companionship, employment, transportation, entertainment, and bulletproof alibis etc.  It’s the great social supply chain and we are all but tiny links in the mail. We give in order to get, and we don’t like to wait. We want the Amazon Prime of existential deliverables, human and environmental costs be damned.

This is a way of saying deadlines are a fact of life. The key word being “dead”. As in, something unpleasant may happen should you fail to accomplish your task in the allotted time. This is the colloquialism we use to explicitly define when things need to be done. Work projects, school assignments, household chores, car maintenance, taxes etc.

So why do we have such a hard time meeting our creative deadlines? Because we’re busy, we don’t have family support, society doesn’t value art, we’re uninspired/day drunk/on the run from law enforcement… Yeah, yeah, yeah…

Time for real talk. On the most primitive level, human beans, and almost every other sentient piece of ooze, are far more motivated by aversion than affinity. Want to avoid starving? Store up nuts for the winter. Want to avoid freezing or being eaten by a mastodon? Build that fire and keep it burning all night. Want to avoid being friendless and lonely? Don’t be a cunt and return a text once in a while.

The problem is that nothing objectively terrible happens if we don’t finish writing that novel, essay, or poem*. World keeps on turning, you know? Maybe we’re frustrated and sad, but there’s no shortage of well-meaning friends to tell you it’s okay, you’re a brilliant artist, and you’ll get around to it eventually.

Well guess what? It’s not fucking okay, you’re not that brilliant, and why on earth would you get around to it eventually when you haven’t managed to get around to it already?  I mean, is this important to you or not?

But Octoclot, you may ask, doesn’t this make you a big slimy hypocrite? Heck, yes**. But it doesn’t make it any less true. The first step is realizing that your excuses are worthless. With few exceptions, getting shit done is within your control.

Okay, hear me out… maybe we’re more motivated by punitive measures, but if no one is going to flog us if we don’t write (unless we pay for it) and rewards don’t work, what’s a writer to choose? Neither. This is about habits, children. Forming good habits, so you don’t have to rely on external validation or condemnation to be productive.

But where’s the roadmap? Don’t worry, I gotcha. I call it the 3Ps and I’ve applied them to a case study for your amusement and edification.

The subjects: Noggy Splitfoot and Lola Silkysocks are writers. They are both quite good writers. They are also unmotivated bags of hot diaper pail trash. How can the 3Ps help them meet their creative deadlines?

P1 – Prioritization

Schedule writing time. Plug it in the damn calendar if you have to, and find a buddy if you can. It’s a lot harder not to show the fuck up when someone else is waiting on you. Lola and Noggy agree to check in over FB messenger on Friday night. Like they had anything better to do?

Noggy: Hey Silkysocks, ready for our writing sprint?

Lola: Yes, indeed. Having a friend to write with creates a compelling illusion of accountability.

Noggy: Plus, depravity loves company, so there’s that (sends gif of hippos mating in a mud wallow).

P2 – Planning

Mission statements are horse shit, until they aren’t. You need a plan, man. What are you going to use your writing time to work on, specifically? Share this with your buddy.

Lola: Imma edit that Detonation about meeting your deadlines.

Noggy: I’m going to write the sex-cannibal scene in my middle grade novel.

Lola: Right on. Check in again in an hour?

Noggy: See you then!

Lola: (sends gif of lascivious typing tentacles)

P3 – Permission

You’ve got your tush in the chair, set your intention, and perhaps like our subjects you’ve poured yourself eight fingers of bourbon. Now it’s time to actually write. But here’s the thing, don’t hobble yourself by demanding greatness. You’ll never commit anything to paper with such high standards. Get over yourself. It’s okay to churn out rubbish. It’s more than okay. It’s encouraged, necessary even. So, stop whining, drink your bourbon, and embrace mediocrity.

Lola: How’d you make out, Nog?

Noggy: I wrote ten thousand words

Lola: You…in an hour?

Noggy: It’s mostly shit, but I got one salvageable paragraph, wanna read?

Lola: Hit me.

Break up the writing sprints in any way that works for you, refill your glass, tuck your crotch goblins into bed, swap more disturbing gifs (sometimes sending them to unsuspecting friends because you’ve got too many conversation windows open).

And so it goes. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Do it enough and it becomes routine. Kind of boring, right? Maybe, but this is how a body of work is generated. One sprint at a time, using the 3Ps or however you want to organize your process. Not through a system of punishment and reward, not through will power, or hauling up buckets of inspiration from a magic well, but though habitual practice.

Take it from your Auntie Octoclot: you can finish what you start. All you have to do is show up, decide where you want to go, and get there. One shitty word at a time.

*If you must

**Take all advice with a pillar of salt, and hypocrisy is the least of our sins, trust me

If you’re looking for someone to deliver impactful short sharp shocks, you’ve come to the right place. Mike Thorn has crafted two delightfully dreadful stories demonstrating that family secrets are best kept buried and once you leave home, there’s no going back.

Dreams of Lake Drukka: Two sisters return to the scene of a sinister family mystery and learn the true price for success.

I loved the sister’s strained, yet connected, relationship with both each other and their father, and the atmosphere built up as they discover what’s waiting for them in that cold, grasping lake.

Exhumation: A man returns home after many years to attend a family funeral – and gets way more than he bargained for.

This one is creepy as hell and reminded me why the next funeral I’ll go to is probably my own. Really. Don’t go to funerals and talk to people you don’t remember. Don’t!

Mike impressed me with his fabulous collection Darkest Hours, and these two tales are a solid addition to his body of work. Well worth your time! (and while you’re at it, check out the rest of the Short Sharp Shock’s series – great stuff)

5/5

About the Author: Mike Thorn

Mike Thorn is the author of the short story collection Darkest Hours.

His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies and podcasts, including Dark Moon DigestThe NoSleep Podcast, DarkFuse, Unnerving MagazineTurn to Ash and Tales to Terrify. His film criticism has been published in MUBI NotebookThe Film StageThe Seventh RowBright Lights Film Journal and Vague Visages

He completed his M.A. with a major in English literature at the University of Calgary, where he wrote a thesis on epistemophobia in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. 

Publisher: Demain Publishing