About seven months ago I saw a random tweet from @TheBestTomo asking indie authors if they wanted to be a part of a horror anthology. I'd just had my first baby, was working through post-partum depression and hadn't thought about writing anything, let alone a horror story, since a glowing window of not throwing up/being too exhausted opened between my sixth and seventh month of pregnancy. I was trying to get back into the swing of writing because it's always helped me in more ways than I can list off, but I was feeling a bit stuck with my own projects. Something about that random tweet, on that random day, by someone whom I'd only recently started following, stuck out. And so I decided to venture outside my comfort zone and join in.
I'm a co-author of The Synth Series with my fellow writer, Z. Crow, so I'm no stranger to working with others on a writing project. I know Z. Crow extremely well--we go way, way back--and even though we still act like tweens at a sleepover, we took our project very seriously, and still do (we're currently working on the third installment of the series). We've naturally had our ups and downs, because working on a passion project with another person is hard--it's about finding a level of blunt, no B.S. work standard and comradeship, which is a tricky, fine, sometimes frail line.
Like I said, I've worked on writing projects with others, but not with nine complete strangers from around the world. It was interesting, to say the least. We all got thrown into a group chat on Discord and had our new student, stand up in the class introductions. Then we got chatting a bit about this and that, made a few jokes, checked out each others work, and got down to business. Overall it was a great experience--although, to be fair, I had the easy job of simply writing a story, taking critique, and working my magic. Cory, aka @TheBestTomo, our Editor, had the difficult job of navigating that tricky, fine, sometimes frail line of putting together a spine-chilling horror anthology without making any of the writers cry or quit.
L. M. du Preez: The Dark Room
The theme of the anthology deals with the belief that you're in a safe place/situation, and then having that safety violated. My story, The Dark Room, is about a college student needing some extra cash and a Professor willing to go to any length to succeed. I’m a person that gets easily scared—I don’t watch scary movies and I don’t really read horror novels because they haunt me. Even if the movie wasn’t that scary, it’s my imagination that makes it so, or continues the story long after it’s ended. Most of my fear is self-inflicted, self-exaggerated—I really am my own worst enemy, and I wanted to play around with that concept. Internal, imaginary, desperately trying to be rational, but at the same time suspicious—the gut-ache doubt of “what if it’s not my imagination.” The Dark Room is from the perspective of the college student, June, but you get a sense of the Professor’s fear as well and how fear comes in many forms that go above and beyond—fear of failure, the unknown, distrusting oneself and stress.
Each story is unique and it made me wonder how the other writers came up with their ideas/why they found it scary. Without further ado, the nine other strangers of Don't Open the Door:
Luke Alphonso: The Ten-Fingered Man
Horror has always been something that fascinates me to write about, if only because horror is one of those genres that always strikes me as insanely hard to get right. I don’t know if people realize this enough, but it’s not enough to really just write about some harrowing situation, you have to really put in the work to make anyone reading it feel as if it could happen to them.
“The Ten-Fingered Man” is my contribution to the piece, and if I’m going to be honest, it’s one of the hardest pieces I’ve really had to write. Not necessarily that it was hard to put down, and this may sound a little pretentious, I just can’t help it, but because it’s a very real fear to come to terms with. The idea that maybe our lives don’t matter, that maybe we aren’t so special and that the culmination of everything we do is just some cheap entertainment. Of course, the only way to capitalize on this was to focus on something I always thought about, and that is what happens when the fictional realizes they are fictional.
The story follows a simple man with a simple life, Mr. Robin. He doesn’t have many huge aspirations or dreams; he simply has a house that he loves to care for, as well as the company that comes and visits him within. His simple life is challenged, however, when he reads a very strange poem, and suddenly, it seems as if his lovely home is nothing but a prison, with his routine slowly being revealed as not his own. But if this house and routine isn’t his, then who does it belong to?
Johvan Calvo: Trapped in the Haunted House & No More Time
I have a Bachelor's in Writing and Film production. I love storytelling in all its forms and try to use different mediums to tell stories in the best way possible.
Trapped In The Haunted House follows Matthew, a young boy trying to face his fears. Matthew beings questioning reality when its seems he’s being tormented by a restless spirit. It’s up to Matthew to find out for himself what the real horrors of the haunted house are. When I was younger I heard a ton of urban legends surrounding haunted houses. Dead bodies being used as props, kids going missing, maniacs using haunted houses as hunting grounds, there was this innate fear of these fake thrills being real. That’s why I was inspired to write this story, and centered the theme around figuring out which fears are actually dangerous.
No More Time is a motif of symbolism meant to make the reader think about a multitude of fears that people have deep down. Karen is a young newlywed who has a picture perfect life until she gets an unexpected knock at the door. Things slowly fall apart as the red flags start piling up, was Karen’s fate sealed when she opened the door?
Besides the obvious connection to the title of the book, I was hugely inspired by the story Where Have You Been, Where Are You Going? Rather than a religious theme I focused on “The American Dream”, vanity, inevitability, and being our own worst enemies. Sometimes the worst things happen because people were focused on the wrong things.
J. A. Sullivan: Heart of Stone
I'm a Canadian horror writer and book reviewer at Kendall Reviews. Beside scary books, I’m obsessed with horror movies and haunted locations.
My story “Heart of Stone” follows social worker Avril on a difficult new case. She’s sickened by the conditions of abducted children, chained to beds in a farmhouse basement, but there’s something even more horrifying waiting for her behind a closed door. While child abuse certainly plays a role in this story, none of the violence actively appears on the page and I avoided showcasing the perpetrator.
The inspiration for this tale was rooted in my admiration for first responders. Many of my family and friends dedicate their lives to aiding people in situations most of us can’t even imagine. Being able to walk into virtual nightmares and offer help with poise and grace is an almost superhuman ability, and Avril gives us a glimpse into how these extraordinary people cope with the worst the world has to offer.
T. H. Willoughby: Chalk & Don't Sleep
Writing them was a step outside of my comfort zone, since I don’t usually write horror, but it’s also been a fantastic opportunity to learn a new style and really improve my overall writing quality. Cory has been fantastic for this with the excellent editing notes he provided, and it has helped both stories to transform beyond the initial ideas I had for them.
The story titled “Don’t Sleep” started out, ironically enough, as a scribbled note to myself roughly describing a situation I’d seen in a dream the night before. I could tell there was something worth exploring in it but didn’t know exactly what the story was about or where it was going. My other story, “Chalk”, also started out as a dream, this time one I had repeatedly over the course of a few days. Only when I had a vivid enough picture of the world in my mind did I write it down and allow my subconscious to move on to other things.
Without giving too much away, the common theme in the stories is control, or lack thereof. It probably stems from my own dislike of being in situations where I feel like I don’t have enough control and I feel it’s a particularly fitting theme considering the book’s profits will be donated to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America @Got_Anxiety. They’re doing truly invaluable work and I couldn’t be happier to be supporting them through Don’t Open The Door.
Augie Peterson: Feed the Pigs
I’m a self published author of horror, movie reviewer, and indie artist promoter that hosts the Short Stories of Augie Peterson podcast. For this anthology, I wrote a story called “Feed the Pigs.” It’s the story of a shy, yet strong young man named Kurt. When he signs up to go with his Animal Science class on a field trip through the meat packaging process, he soon realizes the intentions of his professor are not what they seem. The story details a class trip that goes horribly wrong and tests Kurt’s strength as a person and as a future farmer. What strength will he have once his dignity is stripped away?
I was inspired to write this story after working in a deli for the last year. I often tell customers that the slices of cheese I overslice and chunks of unusable meat go to feed the pigs on farms in our area. This got me thinking about where those meat and cheese chunks actually end up. All it took was meeting some awesome characters and writing them into this sticky situation. I also decided to challenge myself with this story. Since tense changes are the hardest part of writing for me, I wanted to practice them and switch between present and past tense as the story unfolds, eventually bringing the two timelines to a head at the end.
A.J. Walker: The Woman of the House
I'm from Liverpool in England, home of the Beatles and a great football team who play in red. I have been a hobbyist writer for several years now and ‘Don’t Open the Door’ will be the fifteenth anthology I’ve been featured in. Others have included all the Flash Dogs and Infernal Clock books, the latter of which was a trilogy of horror shorts. You can find the links on the Publications page on my website: awalker.org
I spotted Cory’s invite to authors on Twitter and jumped at the chance to write a new story for this book. My story is ‘The Woman of the House,’ which wrote itself quite unexpectedly. I’m usually not a planner, more a seat of the pants: write and see where it goes person. So I’m as surprised as anyone by the ultimate destination. I decide to set it in an apartment where the protagonist was staying whilst away from home, and ultimately I decided to place it a long way away - in Moscow. It was only when I had the venue that I decided to look into folk stories from that neck of the woods, and when I spotted an appropriate dark folk story I saw it could make a good match for the Don’t Open the Door theme.
Yawatta Hosby: Nico's Blood & Man Cave
I live in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. I enjoy connecting with other writers through blogging. With a desire to escape everyday life, I create short stories, novellas, and novels. Horror and suspense, to be exact. I’ve always had a fascination with psychology, so I like to focus on the inner-struggles within my characters. I’m an avid reader, which my favorite genres are: mystery, thriller, horror, and suspense.
I wrote two stories for the Don’t Open the Door horror anthology. Nico’s Blood is about a woman filming a reality TV show. She’s trying to keep her secret safe from the producer and film crew. I had so much fun writing Nico’s Blood. I love horror and wanted to pay homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. Taking the theme of ‘don’t open the door’ quite literally, I made sure to incorporate that suspense in my short story. Beware of anyone who opens that bathroom door!
Man Cave is about a wife disturbed by the recent murders in her hometown. Is the killer closer than she thinks? Man Cave really pushed me as a writer. I wanted to build suspense throughout the entire story. What will happen if Mary opens the man cave door down in the basement? I’m interested in writing a novella based on Jack the Ripper, so this short story helped me test the waters.
Kimberly Wolkens: Noah's New Friend
When I brainstorm ideas for horror, I always ask myself “What in this very moment would scare me the most if I experienced it first-hand?” Often it has something to do with a serial killer or a demon of some sort, but sometimes what really scares me is something that can’t be explained. If I can’t define the creature that scares me, or if I don’t know how to conquer the thing that scares me, then I’m just doomed to be scared until it goes away. The bad guy in Noah’s New Friend is something no human has seen before, so Noah doesn’t know how to handle it.
For the storyline in general, I had been playing around with the idea of an alien invasion story. I had the idea of a young boy discovering that first something “new,” and it would be cute and exciting at first, but later turned out to be evil and ominous. So there is this idea that the boy’s own sanctuary - his own bedroom, which he loves - becomes the first hub from which this evil originates and then radiates out to the rest of the world. I’d like to expand on this idea into a Young Adult novel in the future.
So, a little bit about me: I work full-time as a Marketing Coordinator. I write short stories and poems, which have been published by the literary magazines Rhythm & Bones, Nightingale & Sparrow, and Lonesome October. I spend my spare time reading and reviewing horror books for the Ginger Nuts of Horror site, and I volunteer as a social media manager for Nightingale & Sparrow press. My husband and I live in rural Michigan, which can provide some pretty interesting settings for horror story ideas.
Cory Mason: The Locks
I'm a storyteller, as well as the editor, and project manager for the Don't Open the Door horror anthology. I write in all kinds of genres, but there's always a special place in my heart for horror. I wrote the story titled "The Locks." It's about a young woman who lives alone, and finds herself oppressed and mentally broken down by one simple occurrence: she comes home to find every door and window in her house unlocked. It's a story about paranoia, and the ways that small things can wear down and change a person.
I drew on my own paranoia and fear of my house being broken into, which stemmed from my parents' almost compulsive locking of doors in homes and cars. It was just a small "what-if" to let my mind chew on, that bloomed into the inspiration for this story. I hope it unnerves you as much as it does me. Make sure to check your doors tonight.
All profits from sales of Don't Open the Door will be donated to ADAA, The Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Find out more about their important work at @Got_Anxiety