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Night Swimming- Short Story available at Double the Books

My flash fiction story Night Swimming (click for link) is available to read in the Double the Books Magazine November issue (#16). Drowning, nowhere hotels, useless keys, cosmic mermaids, and death kisses in a tidy 1,000 words.

Thanks to Candace Robinson for encouraging me to submit. Also, KayCee (no relation) and Natasha, the editors at Double the Books. Check them out, short stories, poems, and all the writing posts you’d ever want.

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Rainbows and Resentment

Rayne decided she didn’t like Barbara. It was the wrong century to be named Barbara. And, truth was, she didn’t particularly care for the name in the last.

However, she had chosen Barbara, setting her beach towel down in the unoccupied square of sand next to her. Rayne figured her beach-mate had the curves and bikini to draw some eyes, and perhaps those a little out of Barbara’s league would settle on her slightly older, less shapely neighbor.

So far, no luck.

What irked her most wasn’t Barbara’s relative youth or superior figure, but her flippant attitude. Rayne thoughtfully had offered her some suntan lotion. However, Barbara rebuffed her gesture with a dismissive story about how her towel prevented her from burning.

Did she take her for a  fool?

Let her fry then. Rayne secretly wished for something in the second degree range.

However, after two hours of midday Florida sun, her sunscreenless friend didn’t appear to color let alone burn. Rousing from a nap, Barbara stood. As she picked a wedgie and adjusted her top, Rayne searched for tan lines. Astonishingly, she found none.

“I’m going for a dip,” Barbara announced. “Would’ya watch my stuff?”

“Sure,” Rayne lied.

Barbara stood on the edge of her towel as if it a cliff. Finally, she took a giant step off, jogging toward the water.

Rayne studied the supposedly enchanted towel. Even accounting for her Barbara-resentment, she determined it a pitiful, tired-looking thing. The edges were frayed like mice had gnawed it, and a corner had unraveled. Its color was faded, the hues and tones weary. The pattern itself was odd—frowning rainbows stitched at chaotic angles into an exhausted blue background.

She couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for it.

Do it.

Rayne didn’t know from where the impulse came, but over the years she had learned to listen to her inner voice. Quickly, she gathered her things. Her red thermos was missing its top. She kicked at the sand, but couldn’t locate it. The container would be useless without it, but it couldn’t be helped, she needed to go. Snatching up Barbara’s ratty rainbow towel, she crammed it into her carry-all and left.

***

She couldn’t sleep. Muffled voices and applause seeped through the thin walls of her apartment. Through the steady cadence and intervals of laughter, it was the familiar soundtrack of late-night television. The words were too distorted to make out, but still Rayne frustrated herself trying. It would go on until morning, the half-deaf old lady in the apartment next to her having fallen asleep despite the racket.  There was no use calling her phone, or pounding on her door. She was dead to the world until morning; not even a fire alarm could wake her.

However, tonight, the intruding television noise wasn’t the cause of her restlessness.

Climbing out of bed, Rayne shuffled to her dresser.  She turned on the lamp and removed its shade. It would take a little while for it to heat up. Her carry-all was by the front door, not that her apartment was big enough that it took much time to retrieve it. Grabbing the hastily balled up rainbow towel, she shook the sand away before carrying it back to her bedroom.

She placed a finger on the exposed lightbulb withdrawing it quickly. It was already dangerously hot.

Do it.

Setting the towel on the floor, she stood on it. She drew in a deep breath and grabbed the bulb.

Nothing.

Rayne counted to ten before letting go. Her fingers were unblemished and unburned.

Do it!

Kicking the rainbow towel into the bathroom, she twisted the shower knob to her usual hot setting. However, she reconsidered and cranked it all the way. By the time she took her pajamas off, steam filled the room. Throwing the towel onto the sizzling shower floor, she jumped on top of it.

The water ran over her, dousing her hair, pouring over her torso, and cascading down her legs, but there wasn’t any pain. With more curiosity than fear, she examined her skin. It wasn’t red, bubbly, or otherwise scalded.

DO IT!

She exited the shower, turned off the water,  and wrung out the sopping towel. Not bothering to redress, she stumbled into the living room leaving a snail’s trail of water behind. Digging through the coffee table drawer, she found the lighter. After a few dry flicks, she managed to hold a flame. She used it to light her spiral patterned curtains. The old, dry fabric caught quickly. The fire raced upwards to the ceiling where it rolled like a tidal wave across room.

Spreading more quickly than she expected, Rayne hurriedly placed her towel in the middle of the room.  As the flames jumped to the walls and furniture, she leapt on it. It didn’t take long for the fire to surround her. For a moment it seemed to hesitate, but then it closed in.

Rayne bathed in the conflagration, soothed by the inferno’s luxuriant caress. For the first time in her life, she felt free—a weightless, unburdened soul. The chaotic passion of the blaze was everything she dreamed it to be. All those elusive night fantasies of flame realized, she basked in its grandeur until blacking out from the lack of oxygen.

***

Deafened by a thunderous rushing in her ears, Rayne woke under a bare night sky.  But it was everything below that mesmerized her. Glowing prismatic bands swirled in the depths of the rectangular abyss on which she lay, spectral arcs drowning in the emptiness of a god-like tapestry. With a vertigo dizziness , she wanted to melt into the infinite nothingness, but was thwarted by a stubborn buoyancy.

Like lava cooling, the terrifying beauty of the void subsided, as did the loud vacuum’s rushing in her head. The sights and sounds of the world in all its staleness returned, rumpled and worn like the towel beneath her.

She stood alone inside a skeletal ribcage of charred post and beam. The apartment was reduced to a smoldering husk, weightless ash swirling around her like black snow. In the distance, she could hear blaring sirens that incrementally grew louder. Soon, they would drown out the screams. Fires raged several doors down, her combustible gift spreading downwind. The tinny smoke alarm bleeps from the close-cropped apartments seemed feebly apologetic in response to the raging smoke and flame.

Rayne wrapped the towel around her to cover her nakedness. However, the residents on the other side of the street who had shuffled out to gawk at the pre-dawn mayhem didn’t notice. On the opposite sidewalk, coughing soot-smeared survivors shook and cried, the confused barking and mewling of their pets adding to the bedlam. In the dejected triage line, Rayne didn’t see the old woman from next door.

Strobes of electric red, white, and blue lit the street. The police and firemen made the scene at the same time. Rayne adjusted the tuck of the towel, the stitching of the rainbows rough against her cool skin. Standing on ground zero, she needed to leave before an overly attentive cop would put two and two together.

Joining the crowd, she hid in the milling of the herd. Despite her odd dress and ash snarled hair, no one noticed her walking against the current. She left the chaos behind exiting into a back alley.

The sky ahead was clean, the first light just coming over the horizon, a red blush in the eastern sky. She had nowhere to go; no home, close family, or close friends nearby. She had no money or credit cards for a motel room. Yet, the only thing that mattered was that sunrise, a strange optimism pushing her forward.

It wouldn’t be long before the sun would show itself. Rayne sensed the towel’s rainbows stirring as if anticipating a bigger and better fire. But this was ridiculous, she couldn’t just stride off the horizon into the dawning sun.

Still, she pushed on, leaving the bustle of the residential district behind. The grass was cool on her feet. Across the empty fields, the sunrise bloomed, the first rays curling around the shadows of the twin hyperbolic cooling towers of the power plant.

Like horns of some great atomic bull, they cut the horizon. And she found herself running toward that brazen beast and the radioactive fire shimmering in its belly. Somehow, she would open the yawning void wider this time and melt down into its core.

END

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Author’s note: I wrote this story last fall for an “evil rainbow” short story contest run by bizarro author Madeleine Swann, writer of the short novel Rainbow’s Suck (click for Amazon Link). My story didn’t win (and if read into the order she posted the stories, I may have finished second to last), however, I enjoyed writing it and after much procrastinating, I finally added some words and did some necessary editing.

Thank you, Madeleine! Bask in what you and your evil rainbows have wrought! Everyone would do their souls well to check out Madeleine Swann on twitter, youtube, and any other corners of the internet she haunts!

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What is a tickle jar?

Tickle Jar (n.) – an accumulation of recurring thoughts, material objects, or events over a period of time which are hoarded leading to obsessive fascinations and mythical pathologies.

My latest story Tickle Jar has been posted by FlashFictionMagazine.com.  Andy finds a curious object at the pool one otherwise plain summer day.  He decides not to tell anyone and a secret collection is begun.  Adding piece by piece to it over the years, will it become too much of a handful?

Everyone has a tickle jar.  What is yours?

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  TICKLE JAR- CLICK FOR LINK

New Story- Memories of Farrowlee Beach- in Utter Fabrication (Mad Scientist Journal Presents #4) Anthology

The speculative fiction publisher Mad Scientist Journal’s Utter Fabrication: Historical Accounts of Unusual Buildings and Structures anthology is live and available for purchase.  My story: Memories of Farrowlee Beach is one of twenty-two in this hefty collection.

As the title of this particular issue would suggest, Mad Scientist Journal’s Utter Fabrication issue will feature stories about haunted and liminal places written confessional style in the first person perspective. The original idea for my story came two years ago while sitting in the church for my Grandmother’s funeral. I suppose it’s a tribute to her as the story does center around a strong grandmotherly figure, as well as taking place on a cold New England winter’s day, as was the case. It is a piece of quiet horror, the protagonist a destructively introspective, morbid sort.

Many thanks and best of luck to Mad Science Journal! It was a pleasure working with the editors, thanks Dawn and Jeremy. There was a lot of work that went into this anthology so please consider supporting an indie press, and 21 other authors, by checking this out.

Back cover blurb:

No one understands strange places like people who have been there. Mad Scientist Journal has brought together twenty-two tales of people who have visited places both beautiful and horrifying. Some places heal, some places destroy, some places just want to see the world. Haunted houses share a neighborhood in these pages with dimensional rifts, hidden skyscrapers, and abandoned spacecraft.

Included in this collection are stories from Ali Abbas, Nyri Bakkalian, S. E. Casey, Julian Dexter, Evan Dicken, Carolyn A. Drake, Dorian Graves, Diana Hauer, Georgie Hinojosa, Michael M. Jones, Gwendolyn Kiste, M. Lopes da Silva, Christine Lucas, Audrey Mack, Lyndsie Manusos, Alanna McFall, Alexander Nachaj, Timothy Nakayama, Betty Rocksteady, Ian M. Smith, Kathryn Yelinek, and E. R. Zhang.

Includes art by Ray McCaughey, Kristen Nyht, Scarlett O’Hairdye, and Luke Spooner.

Click HERE for Goodreads link:

And Amazon, click HERE.

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Creeping Waves by Matthew M. Bartlett: An Existential Book Review

Creeping Waves is New England.

Matthew M Bartlett’s sets Creeping Waves (Muzzleland Press) in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts.  I grew up in the same state, albeit over on the southeastern shore (Moby Dick and Jaws territory), so it is a credit to Bartlett’s imagination that he can mine such apocalyptic darkness out of a region known for its pastoral tranquility and bucolic towns.

Atmosphere jumps off the page in Creeping Waves.  There is a great dedication to the setting, mood, and voice. While the book may appear a gathered collection of short stories, flash fiction, vignettes, discarded newspaper articles, and transcripts of Satanic radio broadcasts, there is a devoted world building here. Bartlett mindfully constructs a grotesque, maggot teeming memory-town from all angles which he transposes over the banal modern-day.  It is the rotting past versus the prophylactic present: a battle silently waged in many rustic New England towns with a foot in two eras.

Bartlett’s wicked imagination and calamitous prose make for a deliciously deep dive into this Stygian playground. Over and above the individual story narratives, I found myself craving more description, background, and history of this degenerate world, its denizens, and its shy morbid capital of Leeds.

creepingwaves2There is a dynamic spirit achieved through this overarching metaphor. The juxtaposition of time and place hints at the solemn pull of the past has on the present. Like many towns, mine is littered with old houses affixed with historical plaques reading 1891, 1815, 1737, and before. There is an empty and forgotten grange hall. Mysterious old men and women fuss about in my town’s Historical Society, only their ubiquitous flyers proof of their existence. There are bygone graveyards where the stones have worn to smooth surfaces, rock walls in the middle of the woods, and blackened ash circles of (what I hope are) old fire pits.

Creeping Waves is ripe with New England’s eerie history of sinister Puritanical ministers and Salem witches.  It is sepia stained pictures of weathered slumping churches.  It is water damaged daguerreotypes of grave looking men and women in black formal attire as captured by some arcane camera obscura.

Creeping Waves is New England.

While maybe best described as a fragmented novel, there is a consistent central premise to its chaos. Bartlett does not set a straight-line narrative towards a climactic destination, rather he sends the reader in orbit around a thematic epicenter allowing a look at its many facets.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of a vision of the America in which he lived into many of his stories. Fitzgerald hung an omnipresent sense of the corruption of the American Dream over his settings, characters, and plots. In Fitzgerald’s world, the idealistic capitalist dream that inspired America and fueled its ascension was doomed to an inevitable disillusion. Fitzgerald presents a ballistic theory of everything: business, government, culture, and even our lives following this unfortunate bell curve. What comes up must come down.

Matthew Bartlett inverts Fitzgerald’s curve as he presents his own ballistic theory of stagnation.

Creeping Waves is an ode to the consequence of rot. Every small New England town has its aristocracies, whether they be its founders, benefactors, or heroes. However, the gifted and ambitious progeny of these leading families are most often lured away to the big city or exotic locales, their dreams too large for a small town. It is only the less enterprising and less altruistic ones who stay. These dull men and women cling to the past dependant on the family’s past deeds and inheritance. They are hostile to strangers. They fight change entrenching themselves and their institutions with a septic bitterness. Even in death, they are loathe to give up what not they had worked for but what had been bestowed unto them.

creeping wave3Creeping Waves is the cautionary story of a town in full spoil. It is systems failing miserably from neglect and indifference. Bartlett’s protagonists: the Dithers, the Sloughtons, the Shinefaces, and the Goldens scrabble and cling to their stagnant kingdoms. So too, the anarchic business enterprises of Radio WXXT and Annelid Industries International radiate a mad nihilism as a consequence of being unchecked and uncurbed. Reality erodes in the town of Leeds, even time becoming a casualty.  The only winners are the leeches and maggots. In Leeds, only the conqueror worms thrive.

And this is why we should care. We know what happens when an unexplained puddle in the basement goes ignored and untreated. The musty smell may be masked, but in time a virulent mold will bloom and be released through the air ducts. We know what happens when institutions go unregulated. Markets fail, pollution sickens, and ordinary citizens lose. Psychologists know what happens when a phobia or other post-traumatic stressor isn’t treated. It will grow and manifest into all manner of pathological and self-destructive behavior. Only when our deepest anxieties are named and confronted can our health be restored. However, if we ignore our disorders, they will fester leading to paralyzing neuroses and violent psychoses.

This is the ballistic theory of stagnation. This is the real Leeds.

Creeping Waves gets an enthusiastic recommendation from me. For those who crave atmosphere (especially the dark and sinister), this is essential reading, one of the most fascinating, fully fleshed out literary worlds I have had the pleasure to visit in a long while. It is not for the faint of heart, however, it should be read in the same spirit as Carl Jung’s Red Book—an unexpurgated, uncensored exploration of the unconscious. This is an artist dedicated to a vision, not a promulgation of an ideology. Creeping Waves is a work done in the phantasmagoric borderlands of the rational and the psyche’s symbolic weirdness. It is an important book to be individually interpreted, more questions than answers inside. In Leeds, all cats are grey.

creepingwavesSo as an unsolicited service to Massachusetts tourism, please consider a visit to Leeds. Come in the fall when the Berkshire’s foliage is in peak if you like. Just drive, it doesn’t matter the roads or the direction. Turn on the radio, sling the dial all the way to the left, and sing along to the apocalyptic polka (you and your family will know all the words). When you see the trees stripped of their leaves, the fat branchless trunks stretching into a blood sunset, you are close. Hit the gas and take your hands off the wheel.  Almost there!  And when the car veers into the woods as if on its own accord, and the trees whizzing past become so straight to be tent poles, and the radio gets dangerously loud, and the black canvases billow in the gale to blot out the moon: close your eyes and rejoice.  Welcome to the real Leeds.

Purchase information:

Link: Creeping Waves – Amazon Kindle

Link: Muzzleland Press, Storenvy – Paperback

Also, Check out the precursor to Creeping WavesGateways to Abomination by Matthew M. Bartlett for more Leeds.

And finally, Matthew M. Bartlett website: http://www.matthewmbartlett.com/

– S.E. Casey

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[Note: this is the second of my ‘Existential Book Reviews’, which are unsolicited reviews of my own choosing, the ideas and opinions all my own. My first review in this series of Jon Padgett’s The Secret of Ventriloquism can be read here.]

 

 

Beauty of the Outgoing Tide – Short Story

 

He constructs the walls and erects the towers. She carves the decorations and styles the treatments. In the safe, shimmering heat of the beach, the boy and girl build the sandcastle.

Stealing glances during his frequent water-fetching trips, he decides she is beautiful—the first girl he has ever considered so. Her attractiveness goes beyond the sleight double curve of her lips, the symmetry of her face, and the delicate slenderness of her legs. Something intangible in her whole resonates with him, an electric aura that stirs a palpable ache and longing.

Constructed below the tide line, the ocean advances to lick the castle’s southern wall. It won’t be long before it will be breached, the leaning towers behind toppled. He considers reinforcing the bulwark, or diverting the water using a system of French drains, but decides against either delaying tactic. The castle isn’t meant to be permanent, only an afternoon fancy to be briefly enjoyed. The structure and design would rest in their memory for a short while, in time replaced by newer thrills and charms.

She, however, continues to toil over the details of the doomed palace’s grand entrance. Using the tip of a plastic shovel and the subtle angles of a scallop shell, she carves elaborate figures into the door of sand. The twisted faces and gargoyle torsos seem too complex for the medium, but in youth, under the magical summer sun, anything is possible.

“Wow. You’re really good at that!”

A sunburn disguises his blush. However, deep in concentration, she ignores the compliment, continuing her work in silence.

Her indifference thrills him.

The boy continues undeterred, “Who should we have living here? Maybe talking starfish . . . or how about mermaids!”

Still etching her crooked compositions without pause, she absently responds.

“Not mermaids—murderers. And the madness in insanity’s heart. And cursed human threshers with spinning blades made from the most dreadful nightmares sharpened by whetstones of misery.”

He grins wildly luxuriating in the words meant for him and only him.

Finishing, the girl stands, her narrow shadow falling over the door. A dark spark is struck. Her shade doesn’t dull, but rather animates the contorted figures stitched into lintel and jamb. Nonetheless, she only manages a bored sigh as if disappointed. She turns to the parking lot squinting back into the lowering sun.

“I have to go. Promise to stay until the water washes it away?”

The boy nods. His smile dims as he watches the most beautiful girl in the world walk away.

Dutifully, he remains as ordered. In the setting sun and emptying beach, he makes his parents and brothers wait until the tide drowns the castle and dissolves the ornate door.

***

The first girl he kissed wasn’t as beautiful as the girl on the beach. The girl who turned him down five times before finally agreeing to go to the prom wasn’t as pretty. Neither was the brunette in the philosophy class with whom he had a crush freshman year, nor his junior-year roommate’s blonde girlfriend. And despite the many wedding day compliments she was afforded for her shapely radiance, it was the same with his wife.

The pony-tailed barista who worked in the coffee shop forty minutes out-of-the-way from the office wasn’t as beautiful. So too, wasn’t the secretary with whom he had an affair. The beauty of his second wife also fell shy.

No one measured up to that girl on the beach. No day compared. No thrill rivaled.

His third wife wasn’t beautiful by any standard, but she had money. They spent their retirement traveling the world, he content in following her whimsical itineraries.

***

On yet another excursion to another old, historic city—he lost track of the name and significance—the old man lags behind the tour as usual. Without warning, on a plain street lined with a most ordinary wall, there is cut a most magnificent door. He has seen it before. The bronze figures and anguished faces that jut from the portal remind him of those carved from wet sand.

Pressing his weathered hands on the heavy iron, he feels it give. This door has no lock, begging to be opened. If he had once been told what resides behind, he has forgotten. However, it doesn’t matter. Only her face, her shining green eyes, and the sparkle of the golden sun dancing in her hair matters. A longing that had never washed away kindles and burns.

He hears his name being called from down the street. The shrill voice belongs to a strikingly ugly woman dressed in an awful tourist outfit similar to his own. He doesn’t heed the call of the old woman, rooted in the soft sand beneath his feet.

He smiles—back on solid ground after all these years.

Before the tide sweeps him back into that desperate, quiet sea, he pushes the doors wide loosing those beautiful, wailing wonders within.

END

(Story originally published by FlashFictionMagazine.com 3-11-17)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I couldn’t help rereading Beauty of the Outgoing Tide while posting it here and making some edits/changes. As this is one of my first stories of mine to be published, it makes me happy that I can self edit and improve this, my writing knowledge and awareness becoming more advanced in the last year and a half. I revived this story here as I have another flash fiction piece recently accepted by Flash Fiction Magazine. My story Tickle Jar will be published online on October 1, 2017. Again, it deals with obsession (a common theme of mine apparently): what starts as a curious hobby threatens to become a real handful. Hopefully, my new story will show a jump forward in my writing and story building skills. I believe Tickle Jar flows much better and is more natural.

Thanks for reading. If anyone is interested in two other companion flash fiction stories concerning the sinister aspects of Beauty please check out A Broken Oath (Spelk Fiction) and Last Meal of Adonis (Deadman’s Tome).

Also, I hope everyone enjoys the summer. And for those young, optimistic romantics heading to the beach to find love, I will leave with Sartre’s words of wisdom about love…

‘I know that I shall never again meet anything or anybody who will inspire me with passion. You know, it’s quite a job starting to love somebody. You have to have energy, generosity, blindness. There is even a moment, in the very beginning, when you have to jump across a precipice: if you think about it you don’t do it. I know I’ll never jump again.’ – Jean-Paul Sartre

Beach blue– S.E. Casey

Horror Anthology: Monsters Exist- Release Day

My story Playing Dead is one of the stories featured in the new horror anthology, Monsters Exist (published by The Deadmans Tome) which has released today (7/1/17). This book features 14 stories all concerning monsters, urban legends, and other cryptozoological mayhem. In truth, Monsters are everywhere as the external representations of things we internally fear: man’s many hobgoblins, strawmen, bugbears, and other bogeymen. Thanks to Mr. Deadman and the Deadman’s Tome, editor Theresa Braun, and all the other contributors who helped write, market, beta-read, and support this independent project.

Excerpt from Playing Dead:

Under the golden eye of Saturn, the only celestial light visible in the pre-night sky, the field vomited up a monstrosity. Rickety poles tilted at odd angles. Slug-like tents squirmed from the ground like nightcrawlers after a downpour. Deflated minarets rose reluctantly, topped with flaccid banners that didn’t look like they could be aroused in a gale. Dark outlines of amusement park rides contorted in fossil shapes of prehistoric skeletons. Faded neon lights blinked and flickered, the dashes and dots spelling out some forgotten mariner distress signal.

Notes on my story, Playing Dead, and its Goya Saturn/Willy Wonka connections can be found here.

To purchase (and support independent writers/publishers) please click here.

List of authors:

Wallace Boothill, Theresa Braun, S.J. Budd, Gary Buller, S.E. Casey, Mr. Deadman, Calvin Demmer, Philip W. Kleaver, Sylvia Mann, William Marchese, John Palisano, Christopher Powers, Leo X. Robertson, and M.R. Tapia.

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Book Excerpt: From the time we are young, we fear the monster under the bed or in the closet, making it impossible to sleep without a nightlight. Then, we hear stories of Bigfoot, and maybe even the Mothman around campfires. When we are adults, we wonder if there might actually be supernatural creatures lurking in the shadows. Are these tall tales and urban legends only metaphors for what horrific things humanity is capable of—or do monsters exist?

Go to some terrifying places with this cast of authors. You will be dragged into mystifying realities where demonic fairies hide, where devil monkeys lure carnival-goers to their demise, where Goatmen seek to destroy their prey, and where the goddess of death puts out a hit on victims of her choice. These shocking tales will have you biting your nails and locating that childhood nightlight. Because, in the end, we all know monsters do exist.