This is a guest post by Mark Matthews, editor and publisher of Garden of Fiends, a collection of addiction-themed horror stories.
The intoxication from a pint of vodka, the electric buzz from snorting cocaine, the warm embrace from shooting heroin—drinking and drugging provide the height of human experience.
It’s the promise of heaven on earth, but the hell that follows is a constant hunger, a cold emptiness. The craving to get high is a yearning not unlike that of any other blood-thirsty monster.
The best way to tell the truths of addiction is through a story, and dark truths such as these need a piece of horror to do them justice.
Reality horror is what you will find in these pages. The stories, some of which include the supernatural, are true, even if they didn’t happen. The characters who live and breathe within them experience horrors whose equivalent can be found in any city’s newspaper. The reality of addiction is darker than any fiction.
Here’s what I mean:
More people will die of a heroin overdose in the time it takes you to read this book, than die in the book. The horror of addiction which real people (who you probably know) will feel is well beyond anything that follows, and it will cling to their insides and make a permanent psychological imprint. Someone just shot up for the first time, and soon their body will be aching for heroin the way a vampire thirsts for blood. Someone right now is buying a half pint of vodka with shaky hands at the liquor store, trembling with terror. A mother just identified their daughter’s overdosed body at the hospital. Another is writing their son’s obituary.
As a recovering alcoholic and addict, I’ve lived through this. As a substance abuse therapist, I’ve seen it every day.
How can you tell these stories of addiction without horror? I’d argue that remarkable literary works of addiction such as Trainspotting, Requiem for a Dream, and Junky could be marketed as horror with a different cover slapped on top.
Horror is just the volume of life turned up so high the reality breaks through the confines of normal everyday limits and explodes in a bloody mess.
Addiction, as AA will tell you, is cunning, baffling, and powerful. Until you’ve had your mind and soul hijacked by addiction, it is difficult to comprehend the craving for substances. In the throes of a craving, the desire to obtain and use substances equals the life force for survival itself. Imagine yourself drowning and being told not to swim to the surface for air. Obsessions should be so mild.
Of course, recovery works, sobriety is possible, and learning to live with these cravings is a complex but very real process. Someone just celebrated twenty-four hours sober, someone else twenty-four years. Families get their loved ones back from the dead through the miracle of recovery. This is why, in the call for submissions to Garden of Fiends, I asked for two things: compassion for the plight of the addict, but also a thorough depiction of the insidious nature of both addict and addiction. If you’ve read this book and do not have a greater empathy for the addict, along with a more visceral understanding of addiction, then I’ve failed.
Most of the works here (but not all) are longer than most anthologies call for. This was done to allow for deeper exploration of plot and character. As much as I like reading short stories, I find I want to stay in the literary world a bit longer. You’ll also find heroin and other opiates play a major role, which is certainly reflective of the current opiate epidemic in our country.
Kealan Patrick Burke starts it off with “A Wicked Thirst,” a tale of an alcoholic who needs liquor for social lubricant but the damage he’s done follows him like a specter and will not let go. Jessica McHugh’s speculative piece of heroin addiction is so pulse-pounding, had I read her work before putting together this anthology, I may not have bothered, for everything I wanted to accomplish with Garden of Fiends, she has in her story.
My own tale, and the title track for the anthology, is a homage to parents who will do anything it takes to save their child from the devastation of opiate addiction. A marvelous piece of flash fiction follows about a girl who “could quit if she wanted to” (and she does, until Thursday). The son must bear the burdens of his alcoholic father in John FD Taff’s story “Last Call.” In Glen Krisch’s story, a demon-plagued girl named “JennyHalloween” takes a pilgrimage to her long lost father and finds him using heroin for the strangest of reasons. Max Booth III has written a story of a recovering heroin addict who relapses into horrors that makes a day using dope seem preferable. Finally, Jack Ketchum’s story, “Returns,” is a somber look at alcoholism. It ends with a tragic sadness that will have you cuddling with your favorite pet as you think about the assortment of stories you just read.