Tag Archives: writing dark fiction


This is a short story which I’ve used in workshops to point out that one does not have to write blood-and-guts or pure horror to qualify as a dark tale. This was published in a literary journal many years ago, and it originally appeared in a shared writing project on Everything2.com where a new person would write the next chapter of The Walking Man.

It was a dark and stormy night…

The Walking Man found that the clouds from the south were outpacing him as he trekked over the narrow ribbon of fading asphalt through fields of corn. He pulled his jacket closer to his body, willing himself to build up body heat before the first tickles of water splashed on his thinning pate.

All hopes of a quick sprinkle evaporated when he heard the roaring of the downpour approaching, savagely tearing at the cornstalks and blasting them with gusts of freezing air. As far as the eye could see, the road obliviously stretched itself east and west. There was no shelter, and he knew he would be in for a miserable night.

The howling fury of a storm rocked him when it caught up with his plodding body. In seconds he was drenched and cold; the joints of his hands began to ache with the sudden temperature change. The wind whipped the pebbles and decaying vegetation from the last harvest into a stew of stinging projectiles. The Walking Man tried to shield his eyes, but the absolute darkness that had descended on him, combined with the airborne flotsam, made it impossible to see the road. Only the change between the asphalt and the soil kept him from wandering too far off his course.

He knew it was living when he tripped over the yielding body. It was some form of animal, and it made a small gurgling noise when he crawled back to it. His bruised knees protested painfully and his hands were further injured from pebbles burrowing into bloodied palms. He gingerly reached out and touched a broken cat, run down on the roadway hours or days before. He scooped the cat up as best he could, turned his back to the wind and opened up his jacket to shelter the animal, whose head lolled about from pain and lack of strength.

They bundled together against the shrieking gale, the man shivering from the cold and the wetness and the cat shaking from spasms of pain. The jacket made a decent shelter for the cat, and it stopped gurgling enough to look up and let out a stuttered mewling of thanks.

The Walking Man began to assess the cat and discovered it wasn’t alone. A dead bird had been hidden underneath the matted cat body. Perhaps the cat had been hit when it went after the starling, a bloody chain of events as the killer was himself the victim in one ironic fell swoop. The bird had died suddenly; the cat was paying for its salvation with suffering and time.

The storm kept battering the Walking Man for the better part of the night. The cat rarely made a sound – it was several hours before he realized the cat had died in his arms. Dragging himself to the stalks of corn creating a natural fenceline on both sides of the road, he used several flattened beer cans he found on the way to dig a small hole in the rich earth. He carefully placed the two bodies in the void and thought about erecting a temporary cross until he figured the cat and bird were atheists at best. He placed two flat rocks over the gravesite, wished them well on their journey as he soggily stood up to continue his own.

squish flop…
squish, flop…
squish, flop…



About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

The Intricacies of Zombie Decomposition

Kids ask the darnedest questions, am I right? Maybe. But when it comes to strange questions, writers got kids beat. The sheer breadth of oddities a writer needs to research to pull off a convincing story is staggering, which is why you occasionally hear from writerly types who get worried that their Google search history might land them on a terrorist watchlist. They may have to look up information about how to make bombs, or how fast bullets travel, or how long it might take for a person’s blood supply to pump out of a slashed carotid artery… I’m telling you, it can get dark.

Google’s great and all, but it’s nice to be able to rely on a flesh-and-blood specialist sometimes. Like a medical doctor, for example! A few years ago, I wrote the following email to a doctor friend:

I have a gruesome question for you. Basically, I have a character who was shot in the chest with a rifle and died five days ago in story time. Now that character makes a reappearance, possessed. I’m trying to describe the appearance and general condition of this individual, but I’m just not sure what kind of decomposition is reasonable to expect after five days. Potentially a relevant story point is that the being who possesses my character can only occupy the dead body for a short time before it completely breaks down biologically, therefore rendering it an unsuitable host. Do you have any general guidelines for me?

Because of course someone with a medical degree will have an answer to this question. I’m sure the intricacies of zombie decomposition are among the first things a medical student has to learn.

But, you know, this particular question was unavoidable. It hadn’t occurred to me until I got to the scene in question that I really didn’t have any personal frame of reference to know how quickly a human body decomposes. And there wasn’t any way for me to effectively pull off the scene without this information. This was a case where my best guess just wasn’t good enough.

My friend acknowledged that his particular field of medicine didn’t bring him into contact with these kinds of bodies (disappointing), but despite his general ignorance on the particulars of neglected corpses, he was able to drop the following knowledge bomb:

By that point the body would have started to expel gases from anaerobioc metabolism; you’d see some changes to the skin, like sloughing, and loss of hair. The eyes would be sunken and there may be some insect activity. There would be rigor mortis, and the wound itself would show some more advanced decomposition than the rest.

If you’re a writer, that short but fantastic paragraph really fires the imagination. I got a lot of mileage out of that description.

So during your wanderings out in the real world, keep your eyes peeled for police officers, medical doctors, paramedics, people who work in forensics (not the accounting kind), etc.—and be extra nice to those folks. You never know the next time you’ll need to hit them up with a gruesome question of your own. After all, sometimes it’s best to keep your darker imaginings off Google’s radar.

Evan BraunEvan Braun is an author and editor who has been writing books for more than ten years. He is the author of The Watchers Chronicle, whose third volume, The Law of Radiance, was released earlier this year. In addition to specializing in both hard and soft science fiction, he is the managing editor of The Niverville Citizen. He lives in Niverville, Manitoba.